Alenka Krašovec – Is recent history about to repeat itself in Slovenia? Early elections and new parties

This is a guest post by Professor Alenka Krašovec, Chair of Policy Analysis and Public Administration at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

On the evening of 14 March 2018, PM Miro Cerar announced at a press conference that he would submit his resignation to parliament. He did so just a month before the normal termination of his government’s term and after President Borut Pahor had already consulted with representatives of parliamentary party groups about the date of regular parliamentary elections. Pursuant to Slovenia’s Constitution, the PM’s resignation meant the fall of the government. Consequently, an early election is being held.

In 2011 an early election was also held. This election was won by the List of Zoran Janković – Positive Slovenia. In 2014, another early election was held due to the resignation of PM Alenka Bratušek. This election was won by the Party of Miro Cerar. So, this is now the third early election in a row.

In 2014, PM Alenka Bratušek resigned after her defeat in an internal battle over the party leadership with the party’s founding father Zoran Janković, who wanted to take back the leadership of Positive Slovenia. In 2018, however, PM Cerar resigned for different reasons.

In the press conference on 14 March, PM Cerar explained that what pushed him over the edge was the Supreme Court’s decision to annul the 2017 September referendum on the Law on the Construction and Management of the Second Rail Track of the Divača to Koper Railway Line. This is a big infrastructure project (worth EUR 1 billion) to build a 27 km line designed to speed up freight traffic between the city of Divača and Slovenia’s state-owned Adriatic seaport at Luka Koper. The law was opposed by the civic initiative, Taxpayers Don’t Give Up, led by Vili Kovačič and was supported by the main opposition party, the Slovenian Democratic Party. Most controversial was the proposed path for the second track as well as its management as proposed by the government.

At the referendum, which was held in September 2017, the law was supported. However, the referendum’s initiator challenged the result before the Supreme Court, arguing it was unfair of the government to use public funds to advocate a particular position (in favour of the law) and that instead it should have presented arguments for and against. The Constitutional Court declared that parts of the Law on Referendum and Popular Initiative as well as the Law on Election and Referendum Campaign were unconstitutional because they allow the government to participate in the campaign using public funds. The Court held a public hearing at which PM Cerar also participated and several hours later it decided to cancel the referendum result and order a new referendum to be held on the same question.

This is the specific context in which PM Cerar resigned. However, the PM and his government were also facing a wave of strikes and protests by public sector workers demanding not only an end to the austerity measures introduced to cure the financial and economic crisis, but a salary increase amid the good economic results. In the press conference, PM Cerar also criticised his coalition partners, claiming that in several cases they had erected obstacles to urgent reforms, in particular the reform of the healthcare system.

Due to the PM’s resignation, President Pahor has become more heavily involved in the political process than usual. In Slovenia, the President does not hold a discretionary right to dissolve parliament, but he is obliged to do so in certain constitutionally-defined instances. One such instance is if the PM resigns. When the PM resigns, the President has the right to propose a candidate for PM. In the second or third round of voting in parliament, a parliamentary party or group of MPs can do the same. However, if no candidate is proposed, the President must dissolve the parliament and set a date for new elections. In 2018, President Pahor immediately announced that he would not propose a candidate for PM. The parties did not propose a candidate either. So, the President called elections for 3 June.

Apart from being the third early election in a row, the 2018 election may see the confirmation of another trend in recent Slovenian politics – the rise of new parties. For more than a decade after the democratic transition, Slovenia was one of the few post-socialist Central and Eastern European countries with a relatively stable party system. This was despite not having very demanding requirements for the establishment of a new party and an electoral system that favoured new parties. Even though new parties were common, none ever received more than 10% of the vote.

In 2011, however, a party that had emerged just before the elections, the List of Zoran Janković – Positive Slovenia, actually won the election with 28.5% of the vote. The story was repeated in 2014, when the Party of Miro Cerar, which again was formed only just prior to the election, won with 34.5% of the vote. What is more, in 2014 Positive Slovenia was unable to pass the electoral threshold.

A new party may again do well in the 2018 election. In the presidential election in autumn 2017, Marjan Šarec – the mayor of a small town close to Ljubljana – seriously challenged the incumbent president, Borut Pahor. Now, Šarec with the support of his local party (Lista Marjana Šarca) may also make a mark at the upcoming parliamentary election. According to the opinion polls, his appeal for a ‘new politics’ has assured him and his party a leading position. In June, we will see whether or not recent history repeats itself in this aspect too.

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