Sun Sep 21st, 2008 at 08:25:38 AM EST
Today, Slovenia elects a new parliament. Update [2008-9-21 13:11:21 by DoDo]: Ballots closed now; see exit poll results in the comments.
From low support in polls prior to EU accession, it was clear most Western Europeans only knew Slovenia as just another ex-Yugoslav country. However, in many ways, the small Alpine state was (and is) the most advanced among the EU's formerly 'communist' new members. It even looks more like a poor Austria than say the Sarajevo region. No wonder Slovenia was first to join the Eurozone.
|The most beautiful spot in Slovenia: lake, island and castle of Bled (photo, like all others, from Wikipedia). For those who'd complain that they only ever see this one scenery from the country, I posted a selection of other sights here.|
Below the fold, a short review of the country's politics in the last two decades and the last few years, and some details on the elections.
The state of Slovenia
An independent country named Slovenia never existed until 1991. Formally part of the Holy Roman Empire, there have been a number of Slavic principalities on the area, which later came under Habsburg control. For centuries, most of today's Slovenia was incorporated in Austria. Like in other parts of the Monarchy, there were significant German-speaking populations when the post-WWII independent states were born.
Yugoslavia began to break apart after Slovenia's declaration of independence with the Ten-Day War, that started on 26 June 1991. Compared to successive conflicts, casualties were few (62 dead on both sides), and no large-scale ethnic cleansing followed.
Ever since, Slovenia had relatively good reations with all its neighbours. The question of having place-name signs in the language of local ethnic minorities, always a flashpoint in Central and Southeastern Europe, was non-issue in Slovenia (in contrast with even Austria, where Jörg Haider and others saw a problem in signs in Slovenian). There were some historical complaints from Italy regarding former Italian territory near the Adriatic Sea, but without much consequence. With Croatia, there were some disputes regarding a jointly ran nuclear plant at the border, and one more serious confrontation: at the disputed naval border; yet, relations are generally good.
In one thing however, Slovenia is not much better than the rest of Central & Southeastern Europe: the treatment of the Gypsy minority. Like in the Czech Republic, the new state's laws on citizenship rights made some 18,000 people stateless, most of them Gypsies (but also Serbs), and not without purpose. This played a role in more recent events (see below).
|Slovenia was the most industrialised and richest province of former Yugoslavia. After independence, it was ahead of even the Czech Republic on per capita GDP (both nominal and PPP) -- what's more, it managed significant growth, despite rather high taxes, and without the downturns and drastic structural changes (shock therapies) seen elsewhere in the region.
Politically, the country has been dominated by liberals, of the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) party; other forces rose up more recently. To be more precise, LDS was dominated by former reformist/separatist communists turned liberals, above all Janez Drnovšek (right), who left his mark like no other: PM 1992-2002 with a brief interruption, President for the next five years.
Slovenian politics in recent years
Slovenian politics today more or less maps to Western Europe: there is a not just in name center-left, liberals, center-right, and unfortunately a far-right, too.
The long domination of the liberals came to an end in 2004, and then they sank into internal crisis. Several prominent members left, including even then-President Drnovšek, who became something of a hippie while in office. Some social-liberals split off in 2007 to form the "For real" party (Zares). It has some of the spirit of a Green party, and also gets the support of well-known hard-left philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
They were succeeded by a center-right coalition, which held power for two brief periods previously (the independence period in 1990-1992, and a few months in 2000). The major partner was the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), a recent union of smaller parties.
Despite one of its origins being in a Solidarność-like eighties trade union, SNS was at first right-liberal dominated: one major campaign theme was significant tax cuts. Once in government, they were indeed pro-business, but had to scale back the tax-cut ambitions because of their smaller right-wing coalition partners (one of these, the Christian Democrat NSi, later split on the issue of "too much liberalism"). More recently however, PM Janez Janša (right) began to rail against "tycoons".
Another right-wing platform was, well, nationalism. When the then liberal government introduced a bill to finally grant residency rights to the stateless people, the right-wing opposition pursued a referendum to deny those - using the immoral and hypocritical argument that reinstating rights would cost a lot. On 4 April 2004, half a year before elections, a left-wing total boycott made the referendum a failure with only 31% turnout (of which 95% voted yes), but once in government, the center-right sabotaged the law.
Another bad moment, where the government demonstrated inaction (unlike President Drnovšek), was the scandalous expulsion of the Strojans, a Roma family, by the village they lived in. At the same time, the Slovenian National Party (SNS), a chauvinistic far-right party, began to rise in the polls.
In the 2007 Presidential elections, the center-right suffered a major defeat: the winner was opposition candidate Danilo Türk. While LDS and Zares supported Türk's candidacy, he was originally nominated by a third party: the Social Democrats (SD).
The Social Democrats rose recently thanks to the popularity of their centrist leader, Borut Pahor (right). SD (and Pahor) are direct successors to the reformist wing of the Slovenian communists, who quickly moved to the center-left. However, unlike other post-reformed-communist parties, they were only a small party for long years, thus the party's politics is in closer relationship with its name, rather than with the maintenance of the corrupt network of old apparatchniks.
What's more, after the internal battle in the LDS, several prominent left-liberal members joined the SD.
Still another platform of the current government was strong Western integration in an Atlanticist spirit. They got to be in position to celebrate when Slovenia joined the EU (2005), the Eurozone and Schengen (2007), and held the rotating presidency of the EU Council for the first time in the first half of this year (see diary on ET). However, not two months later, a newspaper leak (which enhanced the PM's on-going battle with independent media) revealed how crude their Atlanticism was.
It transpired that US diplomats were preparing the ground for Kosovo's 'spontaneous' declaration of independence months ahead, and the Slovenian government played the part of yes-men: upon US request, they prepared the ground in the EU institutions (see New Europe...LQD by melo).
PM Janša got into one more scandal at the beginning of September: according to Finnish TV YLE, he was among those bribed by Finnish arms manufacturer Patria (with altogether €21 million), to ensure the sale of 135 armoured carriers to the Slovenian army. Janša denied the claims and demands evidence (perhaps knowing it would be forthcoming only after the elections), claiming machinations by former communists - which, looking at the polls (below), may have worked for him with the Slovenian public.
But yet another scandal grew out of this a week ago, when Janša gave an "exclusive interview" to private channel TV Idea-Kanal 10 -- which proved to be a "paid media appearance".
Slovenia is a parliamentary democracy with a popularly elected figurehead President (what's that? For a graphic guide see European Tribune - European countries' confusing political systems...).
Parliament is bicameral. The upper house is the 40-seat National Council, which consists of representatives of interest groups (local, employer, employee). The lower house is the 90-seat National Assembly. One seat each is elected by the Italian and Hungarian ethnic minorities, the rest is currently elected for four years in mixed-member proportional elections. (This was introduced by the short-lived right-wing government of the year 2000, who then lost elections to LDS.)
There are two particular features of National Assembly elections worth to mention. One is a general 4% threshold to pass. The other is the geographic solution of seat distribution (there are no party lists).
There are 8 territorial voting units, each further divided into 11 precints, in which candidates have to run. How many seats a party gets in one territorial unit, depends on its share of the total vote in that territorial unit. As to which candidates of a given party get to fill those seats, is decided by who got the most votes in their respective precints.
(Say, in one territorial unit, the 11 candidates of party SXS got 25% of the vote overall, with Andrej A. getting 35% in precint 1, Bogdan B. getting 33% in precint 2, Cvetka C. getting 31% in precint 3, Dušan D. getting 29% in precint 4, ... Karel K. getting 15% in precint 11. Then SNS will get 3 mandates, filled by Andrej A, Bogdan B. and Cvetka C.)
Remaining seats are filled up at the national level with the d'Hondt method.
According to data collected on the Slovenian Wiki page, opinion polls are wildly apart. The only thing that seems certain is that coalition forming will be difficult, with no clear winner. The results of the last two polls (both 13 September), loosely from right to left:
|Party||Delo Stik||Dnevnik||2004 result|
|NSi (Christian Democrats)||3.0%||2.7%||9.09%|
|DeSUS (pensioners' party)||10.0%||8.0%||4.04%|
|SLS+SMS (a Christian Democrat farmers' party|
and a Green-ish youth party[!])
Polls opened at 7h, they will close at 19h. First detailed results are expected around 23h.
The official election site is here, also in English.