2017 presidential election: In search of a vision for Slovenia's future

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has analysed the situation in Slovenia in view of the upcoming presidential election scheduled for 22 October 2017. The most relevant and interesting sections from the comprehensive analysis entitled “2017 presidential election: In search of a vision for Slovenia's future” are published below. 

2017 presidential election:




Nine candidates will compete at the first round of election for the president of the Republic of Slovenia scheduled for 22 October 2017, of which five women and four men. Slovenia will get its fifth democratically elected president since the country proclaimed its independence in 1991. So far this function has been carried out by Milan Kučan (two terms in office), Janez Drnovšek, Danilo Türk and Borut Pahor. The eventual runoff will take place on 12 November 2017.


The nine candidates standing for election are: 1. Ljudmila Novak (New Slovenia – Christian Democrats), 2. Marjan Šarec (Marjan Šarec List), 3. Maja Makovec Brenčič (Modern Centre Party – SMC), 4. Borut Pahor (Dejan Židan and a group of voters), 5. Angela (Angelca) Likovič (Voice for Children and Families), 6. Boris Popovič (Forever Slovenia), 7. Romana Tomc (Slovenian Democratic Party – SDS), 8. Suzana Lara Krause (SLS – Slovenian People's Party) and 9. Andrej Šiško (Movement for United Slovenia).


There are altogether 1.716.039 eligible voters in Slovenia.


The lost goals of Slovenian state?


Slovenia became a full member of NATO and EU in 2004, joined the eurozone in 2007 and became a member of OECD in 2010, and it is also a member of numerous other international organisations. After reaching the clearly set goals of gaining membership in those organisations, Slovenian politicians were left without any new goals for the future. Once those goals were reached, the political elites were completely unprepared for any further visionary action. For example, they have not sufficiently exploited EU membership for national interests, like Poland, Slovakia and some other member states have done


The situation in domestic and foreign environment has changed to the detriment of Slovenia. Data shows that over EUR 150 billion annually disappear due to corruption in the EU. Crime and corruption have turned into a monster that jeopardises the very essence of the state. This has led to the phenomena that can be defined as politisation of crime and criminalisation of politics.


Since 2008 Slovenia has been facing a difficult economic and political situation. In performing their analyses of Slovenia some credit rating agencies have recently reduced political risks, which means that political situation is gradually improving in this country. Ever since Slovenia gained independence in 1991 it has been marked with strong political polarisation with a fierce struggle between the so called forces of continuity (former communists) symbolised by former President Milan Kučan and the Slovenian Spring led by the former Prime Minister and leader of Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) Janez Janša. During the years of cyclical boom and high economic growth, political polarisation did not cause any significant problems to this most successful novice among the countries of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). However, with the economic crisis and recession growing in the world and Europe, all the problems came to light in Slovenia – the crisis has revealed all the mistakes the country has made since it gained independence. Most of them stem from the processes of privatisation of former socially owned property. Certain individuals became rich practically overnight, usually through management buyouts of companies backed with enormous loans granted by state banks. When the economic crisis caused the prices of shares to fall, the so called tycoons were no longer able to pay high loan rates. In the clash between the political and economic elites some parts of political elites stopped providing loans for internal buyout of privatised companies from public banks. Once large and successful companies went bankrupt one after another, especially in industries such as construction, textile etc., which led to a surge of unemployment. The so called comradeship economy prevented proper implementation of the rule of law in Slovenia. Thus, none of the high political representatives and only a few selectively chosen business people have been convicted by a final judgement for numerous frauds and criminal offences they committed during their terms of office.


Analysts believe that despite being an EU member state, Slovenia needs its own new goals. Excuses that the state as a rule follows the policy set by the EU or Brussels point to the fact that Slovenia has no clear vision for the future. It should look for its own solutions and follow its own interests, which means that it should develop strong bilateral relations beyond the EU and look for new markets where Slovenia has not been present yet or where its presence has been very week so far.


A strong influence of informal centres of power


No one has taken any serious action to consolidate the state and eliminate the numerous mistakes made during the transitional period or to prevent internal clashes in which politicians are dealing with themselves and with each other. The informal and parallel centres of power have actually been leading the country from the backstage and caused problems to any government that wanted to act transparently and in the public interest. According to some analysts it is these centres of power together with lobbies that have the main control over the state of Slovenia. The question is who is actually leading Slovenia?


Analysts have noted that the influence of informal centres of power has led Slovenia to make the key strategic mistake when it allowed to be influenced by certain individuals from behind the political stage and when it informally changed its strategic foreign policy orientation. During the past few years Slovenia has become the most isolated country in the region in relations with the USA. Who is responsible for the (self)isolation of Slovenia and stagnation in relations with the USA, bearing in mind that the USA provided key support for the establishment of the young Slovenian state? What is the role of President of the Republic of Slovenia Pahor and other key actors in Slovenian political scene who are responsible for foreign policy?


Pahor devalued the function of president of the state


The incumbent President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor, who competed at previous election as the leader of Social Democrats (SD), this time runs as an independent candidate. His victory at previous presidential election raised hope that the president of the state would be a moral authority. If he/she carries out this function properly during the first term of office it is almost certain that he/she would be re-elected for the second term. However, Borut Pahor publicly announced that he does not consider himself a moral authority. During his term of office as president this  function was further devalued. His SD party did not present him again as its candidate, so now he runs as an independent candidate with the voters' support.


The voters expect the president to be above any party politics, and the president's involvement in party politics may cause a loss of trust among the electorate. Analysts have noted that as a rule President Pahor did not interfere in any important issues, but was rather an observer or follower of events. Some even believe that he did not perform his function in line with his powers, and suggest that besides the president Slovenia actually needs the vice-president who would actually run the state.


At the beginning of his presidential term of office it was expected that Pahor would bring new impetus into Slovenian political sphere and gain recognition at the regional and international level. But he failed to meet those expectations, too. At the regional level he was expected to compete with the former Croatian President Ivo Josipović who was a very reputable president in the region and enjoyed respect at the international level.  However, President Pahor was not only unable to win regional and international recognition – his reputation was fading even among his voters when he introduced elements that represented improper behaviour for a president. Despite the fact that the powers of the President are very limited, he was expected to contribute significantly to creating a fresh and positive atmosphere.

Analysts have noted that Pahor wants to present himself as a president who promotes unity, although Slovenia was no less politically disunited during his term of office. Most of the public does not really understand what he wanted to unite and what kind of uniting action he took.  


Moreover, President Pahor is burdened with heavy encumbrances from the period when he was the Prime Minister – according to some estimates he was the worst Slovenian prime minister. The question is to what extent he is responsible for the unnecessary bank recapitalisation with enormous amounts of taxpayers' money, for the TEŠ 6 (Šoštanj Thermal Power Plant) project, for the alleged laundering of Iranian money in the NLB bank and the laundering of Italian money in the NKBM bank, for the poor situation in Slovenian Armed Forces, for the fiasco with the arbitration agreement on the border between Slovenia and Croatia that he signed, for the termination of the arbitration process by Croatia etc.


Slovenia should focus again on the Western Balkans where Croatia has increased its dominant presence in recent years, especially after it joined the EU.


The crisis of leadership in Slovenia


Analysts have noted that there is not much interest in presidential election in Slovenia, although this is the highest position in this country that urgently needs avant-garde politics for the new era and challenges for the future. There are no key Slovenian politicians among the candidates and the election campaign has not attracted much attention from the general public.


Besides the incumbent President Pahor, the candidates that drew public attention are the Mayor of Kamnik, comedian and actor Marjan Šarec, Member of the European Parliament from the largest opposition party (Slovenian Democratic Party) Romana Tomc, the successful Mayor of the Koper city municipality Boris Popovič and the President of New Slovenia – Christian Democrats with experiences in foreign politics Ljudmila Novak.


The present political and economic elites that have taken part in the plundering of Slovenia will definitely not provide a better future to its citizens, notably the young generation that is increasingly emigrating for economic reasons.


A worrying fact is that the present political elites have been using any means to prevent the rise of new political elites and the creation of political competition which represents the essence of democracy. This is evident from the list of candidates standing for the upcoming presidential election. Individuals and political parties that are responsible for past mistakes cannot be the new pillar of Slovenia's future. In Slovenian political scene there should be no place for ideologically and corruptively burdened politicians.


Analysts believe that Slovenia needs a president with a vision who will find, together with other actors in the political and social scene, the general consensus on the future of Slovenia with the clearly set goals, taking into account the tremendous geopolitical changes that will affect all the stakeholders. This would strengthen the position and re-establish the devalued role of “the first man in the state”.


Ljubljana, 20 October 2017