2017 presidential election in Slovenia: Pahor – a test for Slovenian right-wing parties

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 runoff presidential election scheduled for 12 November 2017. The most relevant and interesting sections from the comprehensive analysis entitled “2017 presidential election in Slovenia: Pahor – a test for Slovenian right-wing parties” are published below. 

2017 presidential election in Slovenia:

Pahor – a test for Slovenian right-wing parties

In the second round of presidential election scheduled for Sunday, 12 November 2017, Slovenia will get its fifth democratically elected president since the country proclaimed its independence in 1991.


The run-off will be held between Borut Pahor (Dejan Židan and a group of voters) and Marjan Šarec (Marjan Šarec List). In the first round Pahor received 47.21% of votes and Šarec 24.76% with a rather low turnout (44.23%). There are altogether 1,713,762 eligible voters in Slovenia.

The phenomenon of political start-ups

The political instability in Slovenia caused by Pahor's government during the period 2008-2011 led to early election in Autumn 2011 whose winner was Positive Slovenia (PS) led by the Mayor of Ljubljana Zoran Janković Nevertheless, after the election Janković did not manage to form the government. Another political party appeared at that time – the Citizens' List (DL) led by Gregor Virant. 2014 saw the rise of the Party of Miro Cerar which was later renamed into the Modern Centre Party (SMC).


All these parties represent political start-ups: they are newly-established political parties with innovative ideas and (usually) a short-term strategy created under uncertain circumstances, which ensures good election results. They offer great potential and a shiny future, but they soon disappear from the political scene. This is a similar process as with start-up companies (accelerators) – they are also newly-established companies with an innovative idea (product or service) created under uncertain circumstances and offering great potential and global plans, but they usually do not survive on the market in the long-run. As a rule, start-up companies are backed by investors, while political start-ups are backed by “hidden” investors. Janković's Positive Slovenia and Virant's Citizens' List have already experienced this scenario, while analysts anticipate the same for Cerar's Modern Centre Party (SMC).


The phenomenon of political start-ups has revealed the vulnerability of Slovenian not-so-very-young democracy. Political parties that were established practically overnight, i.e. a few months before the election, won strong support among voters. This means that democracy in Slovenia is still in a very vulnerable period of adolescence. Nevertheless, once elected those parties (co)decide about the future of Slovenia, EU, NATO and many other organisations that Slovenia is related to or connected with.


Slovenia is a country characterised by normative idealism and creative interpretation of laws and rules. The legislation is full of grey spots that should be eliminated because they enable various forms of manipulation.


Slovenia needs political stability and professionalism instead of political amateurism that has already placed too many burdens on Slovenian tax-payers. A part of the leading political actors still haven't stopped with romantic nationalism. Political start-ups have not ensured the kind of future that Slovenia needs. Slovenia does not need insecurity – it needs a reliable future. Many other nations also have their historical divisions, but they rarely stress the past at the expense of their future, as has been the case in Slovenia. This kind of politics has led the country to a “silent” civil war and permanent debt slavery due to irresponsible borrowing decisions taken by the incumbent and past governments.  Many political parties have profited from these ideological divisions, therefore this permanent conflict suits their interests.


In the past, it was the social elites that plundered the state, but now the state is plundering itself through its institutions: the Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SSH) for managing state shareholdings in companies, and the Bank Assets Management Company (BAMC), popularly called the Bad Bank, whose task was to relieve companies from the credit burden and to write off and transfer bad debts. Basically this system serves as a new model for plundering the state. After Slovenia gained independence a part of social elites plundered the state through “tycoonisation” and appropriation of a part of socially owned assets. Paradoxically, now the government itself has established the institutions that enable further plundering of the state. By introducing foreign managers and experts in BAMC the interest groups established control over the economy and economic flows. 

Foreign policy in a state of confusion

The arbitration decision on the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia adopted in June this year revealed all the cracks and crevices in Slovenian foreign policy. Although the EU was the guarantor of the arbitration agreement signed in Stockholm on 4 November 2009, Slovenia was left on its own after the arbitration decision was announced on 29 June 2017. The arbitration agreement that was signed by the former Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor and Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor (HDZ) actually represented the agreement on Croatia's accession to the EU.


Slovenian overseas foreign policy is also stagnating - during the past few years Slovenia has become the most isolated country in the region in terms of its relations with the USA, which are at the all-time lowest lever.  


What is happening in Slovenian foreign policy and who is responsible for the slips? The question is whether Slovenia has any political friends and supporters or it simply runs its foreign policy as “everyone's godfather but no one's friend”. Slovenia has not exploited its EU and NATO membership nor strategic partnership agreements signed with Turkey, France and Germany. In addition to membership in international organisations Slovenia should focus on development of bilateral relations and strategic partnerships with other countries. The West Balkans only formally represents a priority – actually Slovenia has lost its important role in the region. The wire fence erected on the border with Croatia as protection from migrants and refugees who tend to “avoid” Slovenia has symbolically shown that Slovenia is (self)isolated from the region while insufficiently blended with the West and integrated within the EU and NATO.  None of the past few governments have tackled this issue more profoundly.


Slovenian political structures have very close ties with the West Balkan political-criminal structures – interestingly those regimes enjoy strong support from Slovenia.  The new Cerar's government was expected to change this relationship in line with the morality and ethics that the new Slovenian Prime Minister has been stressing and advocating. Unfortunately, relations with the regimes in the region have not only strengthened, but even become “brotherly”.


The state of confusion in Slovenian foreign policy is also reflected in the fact that Slovenia has unofficially supported Catalonia's independence while all EU states have remained reserved and even strongly opposed the creation of new states within the EU.  The question is what image Slovenia is creating in the EU, bearing in mind that the EU institutions and the USA oppose Catalonia's independence.  


The fact that foreign policy is one of the areas within the competence of the President of the Republic of Slovenia puts under question the role of the incumbent President Borut Pahor in the creation and implementation of Slovenian foreign policy. At 2012 presidential election Croatian media wrote that “the victory went to the proven friend of Croatia”, i.e. Borut Pahor. This makes us wonder who represents Slovenian interests in foreign politics?

Slovenian politics facing the transition of generations?

The political duel between Pahor and Šarec in the upcoming runoff presidential election represents a fight for the transition of generations in Slovenian politics. For some time Slovenian political scene has prevented the rise of new political elites unless they are controlled or approved by the existing political elites.


Pahor has been present on the political scene since 1989. Šarec does not have a long political career– he has only been the mayor of the Kamnik municipality for a few years and symbolises the new generation of politicians in Slovenia. Pahor has held all the leading state functions although he is burdened with many past encumbrances. Analysts believe that Pahor represents a symbol of political continuity, i.e. the connection between the former socialist regime and the new independent Slovenian state. His achievements are of personal nature only, but insignificant for Slovenian state and society. Throughout his political career his policy has been to avoid taking decisions and responsibility. This became most evident during the demanding and complex 2008-2011 crisis period when he was Prime Minister. The only decision that he has clearly and firmly adopted was the signing of the arbitration agreement with Croatia – which analysts have described as baleful for Slovenia while enabling Croatia an elegant entry in the EU. 


Pahor is the former leader of Social Democrats (SD). This party believes that Pahor's re-election would strengthen their position and even contribute to their victory at the parliamentary election that will be held in the first half of 2018. Pahor symbolises the old political forces although he is trying to present himself as a modern politician. Šarec on the other hand symbolises the politician of the new political forces and announces the transition of generations on the political scene, which Slovenia definitely needs. Pahor is actually a huge burden for SD, since his re-election would close the process of the rise of young politicians including the incumbent SD leader Dejan Židan. Šarec's victory at the upcoming election would further open the door for Židan and SD at the next parliamentary election, rather than Pahor who currently enjoys SD's support.

Pahor – a test for Slovenian right-wing parties

Although Slovenia's population counts only slightly over two million people, it has a very complicated and complex political scene that is marked with a strong historical memory. An analysis of relations within the social and political elites and Slovenian society in general points to the phenomenon of an “incestuous” society. The influence of informal connections and interest networks is so strong that analysts believe it is those lobbies that actually run Slovenia even under Miro Cerar's government.


The runoff presidential election actually represents the starting point for the next parliamentary election that will take place in 2018. That is why this runoff will be a test for Slovenian right-wing parties that supported Pahor at 2012 runoff presidential election when he defeated the election favourite DaniloTürk. Now the decision of who will be elected President of the Republic of Slovenia is again in the hands of the right-wing political parties or the so-called Spring parties. The fact is that Pahor has cooperated with them, especially with Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) led by Janez Janša.


Surely Janez Janša, SDS and other Spring parties will not publicly support Pahor in the runoff election. Even silent support to Pahor would be a very risky move since it may have boomerang repercussions for the Spring parties. Their support to Pahor would mean that they are not authentic and credible, since Pahor symbolises the forces of political continuity from the former regime, which the voters may understand as “political prostitution”.  The runoff presidential election will therefore provide a test for the right-wing parties: by expressing silent support to Pahor they would undermine the possibility of becoming the relative winner of the next parliamentary election.  Slovenian right-wing parties have not been in power since 2008, not taking into account Janša's one-year temporary term of office as Prime Minister. By expressing support to Pahor the right-wing parties would reveal their true face and prevent their eventual victory at the next parliamentary election taking place in 2018.


Ljubljana, 9 November 2017