By Simona Kustec
After the last parliamentary elections in 2018 the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDP) was a relative winner. Nonetheless, they were not able to form a coalition government. Instead, Marjan Šarec, as the second best by the election results formed a minority left-centered government. Still, he resigned just before the Covid-19 pandemic became widespread. Under normal circumstance new elections would have likely followed, but few wanted to call elections during a public health crisis. Moreover, Slovenia was among the first European countries to face the contagion in significant numbers. The crisis spurred the creation of a surprising new government led by the right-centered SDP and New Slovenia, but also including two left-center parties from the previous coalition, Party of Modern Centre (PMC) and DeSUS.
The government focused primarily on pandemic policy measures. However, it also faced widespread protests against those measures and some directed against the SDP and its coalition partners itself. Still, the bizarre parliamentary 2018 – 2022 mandate in which two ideologically different governments reigned ended with ordinary parliamentary elections. This was the first time Slovenia held ordinary elections after twelve years of early elections. Moreover, it was generally successful. As elections approached, covid prevention were manageable and the economy was strong with high economic growth, low inflation, and low unemployment rates. In the international arena, Slovenia held the presidency of the European Council in 2021for just the second time and expressed robust support for Ukraine with a forceful condemnation of the Russian invasion.
Slovenia held its 10th parliamentary elections to the National Assembly on April 24th, 2022. The winning party was a recently established left-center party called Freedom Movement. The movement began as a fresh opposition to SDP from the left. Robert Golob, a former president of the management board of the state owned energy company Gen-I(https://gen-i.si/en/), leads the party. He also served as the state secretary for energy policy in the LDS government from 1999 until 2001. Later on he was a visible member of newly established political parties on the left beginning with Positive Slovenia and later on also as a vice-president of the Party of Alenka Bratušek.
The Freedom Movement won a historically high 34.55% of the vote that delivered 41 parliamentary seats out of 90. It was an enormous total, because they only needed 46 seats for an absolute majority. Golob acted decisively and established a coalition with the Social Democrats and the far left party Levica that provided a comfortable majority of 53 parliamentary seats.
The previous ruling parties, SDP and New Slovenia, placed second and third. They won a combined 35 parliamentary seats which were two more than in the prior election. However, neither of their other left-wing coalition partners of PMC and DeSUS met the threshold to enter parliament. The other left-center parties from the earlier coalition, List of Marjan Šarec and Party of Alenka Bratušek, did not win any seats in parliament either.
So, in a way the Freedom Movement’s win wiped out all the previous social liberal left-center parties from parliament. Indeed, it swallowed most of the new center-left parties into a broad coalition. The notable exceptions are the PMC (for the purposes of 2022 elections renamed in Konkretno) and DeSUS, although neither passed the threshold to earn seats in parliament.
The Election Process
A mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights at the OSCE monitored and evaluated the elections. Their report affirmed trust in the electoral process and the professionalism of the electoral authorities. However, it also noted the need to reevaluate the laws and regulation election campaigns with an emphasis on the transparency of campaign financing, media reporting, and even the media environment in general. Nonetheless, they did note some concerns in the conduct of the State Election Committee. Some of the issues involved misprinted ballots, paper shortages, delays in handing over election materials, insufficient number of ballots in some polling stations, and alleged contamination of ballots.
On a more positive note, particularly for democracy, was an electoral turnout of 70%. It was a significant improvement over past elections where turnout was just 52.63% in 2018 and 51.71% in 2014. At the same time, the influx of so many new voters may not contribute to the stabilization or consolidation of the parliamentary arena. However, it does portend an era of fresh political beginnings even though many of the leaders are not entirely new to the political scene.
So, we are now a good half a year removed from the elections. Since then, a political peace has returned to the public and media sphere. At the same time, the economy now faces headwinds even as overall state budget expenses increased around 20%.
Where Does Democracy Stand in Slovenia
The paradox of democracy, following the work of political scientist Robert Dahl, centers around the answers to a some basic questions. What does democracy mean to the people? Why do they value it? If people in democratic countries continue to express their support for democracy, what is it exactly that they wish to support? What do they value in a democratic system?
The recent elections in Slovenia demonstrate that its people value democracy. They exhibited their support through an exceptionally high turnout in this year’s elections. Moreover, this post-communist European country enjoys an active form of participation in democracy. They have discovered a winning coalition of ex-communists socialists and liberals, and far left-wing party of Levica. Recognizable figures from the non-political public world have formed this latest incarnation in the last decade and a half and enriched its appearance with an entirely new party platform.
Still, the government coalition really consists of traditional parties from the same ideological dimension. The Freedom Movement simply absorbed the other older left parties after the last elections. Meanwhile, a small, predominantly right-wing share of traditional parties’ political elite remains to provide some political stability and predictability. These patterns of popular support creates parliamentary volatility that enable opportunities for always fresh political leadership.
In this manner, Slovenia has entered the second-half of its independence. It looks for whatever is new, regardless of the ongoing economic, financial and social stability, rather than important public affairs, while maintaining a constant war against the right-wing opposition’s proverbial totalitarianism.
Slovenia reframes Larry Diamond‘s ontological question about the existence and purpose of democracy and hybrid regimes. Do matured people mature democracy or does a matured democracy mature people? So far the only stable constant is constant change among the post-communist social-liberal parties as a guarantee for electoral success and continued political control.
About the Author
Simona Kustec is a full Professor of policy analysis and the Head of the Centre for Knowledge Development and Transfer at the University of Primorska, Faculty of Management in Koper, Slovenia. In times of her political career, she was serving as a Member of the Parliament and the Head of the Parliamentary Deputy Group of the Party of Modern Centre (2014 – 2018), as a Minister for Education, Science and Sport of the Republic of Slovenia (2020 – 2022) and the President of the EU Councils in the fields of Education, Research, Sport and Youth (2021).
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