Elections in Slovenia

On December 4, 2011 Slovenians voted for parties vying to win a proportion of the 90 seats of the lower house of Parliament – the National Assembly (Državni Zbor). In fact, this is the only directly elected chamber of the Parliament in this small, two million strong country.

The National Assembly

The upper house, the  National Council (Državni Svet), containing 40 seats, is constituted based on corporatist principles, its members representing either the regions of Slovenia, or each major socio-economic group in Slovenian society. Thus, the NC has 18 seats reserved for representatives of business, trade unions, farmers, crafts, students etc., while 22 seats are elected by regional electoral colleges. This arrangement reflects the strongly consociative nature of the Slovenian political system, another sign of which being the relatively frequent (constitutional) use of the referendum, as a means of passing decisions (in Europe, this might be second only to Switzerland).  Another feature of Slovenian politics, namely its decentralized nature, might be a reflection of the peculiar history of the country, who only acquired independent existence very recently (early 1990s);  throughout history, Slovenians have been just one group among many, or a smaller part of, large and powerful states (mostly under Austrian / German influence). The German connection is still very much evident, in the daily life of both politics and the economy, and also in the political self-understanding of the Slovenian society. Indeed, corporatism, regionalism and consociational arrangements are key aspects of German politics and society.

But back to the elections for the National Assembly: they were early elections, called after the center-left government of Borut Pahor was toppled, through a vote of no confidence, as a result of general dissatisfaction with its economic policies, its overall performance, and recent corruption scandals. This came only two years after Pahor’s Social Democrats had won the elections, replacing Janez Janša’s center-right Slovenian Democratic Party, notwithstanding the economic boom Slovenia had experienced under that government.

Zoran Janković

In the preamble to these early elections, several new forces appeared on the political stage in Slovenia. Was this a sign of general disappointment with the entire spectrum of the existing, established parties, in addition to the growing economic difficulties? It is very possible, given that the main parties and leaders have been around basically since independence (early 90s). This is also confirmed by the profile of the new political groups: Zoran Janković’s List – Positive Slovenia is formed around the attractive populist profile of a successful businessman, former head of the handball federation, and current mayor of Ljubljana. Although with some previous affiliation with the Social Democrats, his entry into national politics (only about a month and a half before the elections, when he formed the new party) has not been greeted with cheers by the establishment. The other brand new political force is the Citizen’s Alliance of Gregor Virant; again, formed only about a month and a half before the elections, around a stand-out personality. The non-ideological,  generic and positive names of these new groups, and their very recent “history” suggest a  generalized rejection of the political establishment, and of the existing partisan alternatives – and the need for fresh faces, and (possibly) new solutions.

Indeed, the results of the elections seem to back this explanation: the Citizen’s Alliance of Gregor Virant obtained an excellent 8% – and this, after less than a couple of months of existence! During the weeks prior to the election, Janez Janša’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) constantly led in the polls; they are, after all, the main center-right (and previously successful) alternative to the recently failed center-left (Borut Pahor’s Social Democrats). And yet the elections brought the surprising victory of Zoran Janković’s List – Positive Slovenia, who won 28% of the vote, compared to the 26% collected by Janša’s party. Here are the results, in full:


List of candidates NA seats Percentage
Zoran Janković List – Positive Slovenija 28 28.51 %
Slovenian Democratic Party 26 26.19 %
Social Democrats 10 10.52 %
Citizens’ Alliance of Gregor Virant 8 8.37 %
Democratic Party of Slovenian Pensioners 6 6.97 %
SLS of Radovan Žerjav – Slovenian People’s Party 6 6.83 %
New Slovenia – Christian People’s Party 4 4.88 %
National communities 2

[Source: http://volitve.gov.si/dz2011/en/index.html]

Of course, and as it is usually the case with proportional electoral systems, winning the most seats (a plurality) does not mean that one can govern alone; a majority is still needed in Parliament, thus coalitions need to be formed. The party with most votes has a natural and legitimate right to attempt that; but if they do not succeed, the President will have to ask the leader of another party to form a ruling coalition. Right now, therefore, Janković is trying to forge a coalition including the Social Democrats (he has significant center-left leanings), with the Citizen’s Alliance of Gregor Virant, and probably with the Democratic Party of Slovenian Pensioners (a niche party with a stable constituency, who can enter into various coalitions, if its very specific demands are met).

Lubljana, Capital of Slovenia

As mentioned, the center-left establishment was not happy at the time of Janković’s entry into politics; in fact, Borut Pahor, the current leader of the Social Democrats, publicly expressed his skepticism (or disagreement) with the idea of entering in a coalition with Janković and hs people. However, the SD being one of the two largest established parties (and the main center-left force), this would essentially destroy any chance for Janković forming a coalition, and would deliver the government to SD’s rivals, on the center-right side of the spectrum, Janša’s SDS, who are now the second-largest parliamentary party. Understandably, then, the leadership in SD has been less than happy with Pahor, publicly dismissing his statements. His position has thus been weakened, and he will probably step down from party leadership, in the not too distant future (especially if a governing coalition will be formed by SD and Janković).

The negotiations with the other presumptive coalition partner, Gregor Virant’s Civic Alliance, are also slow-moving. Meanwhile, the President of Slovenia, whose powers are limited mainly to head of state attributions (given that Slovenia is a parliamentary system – while the Prime Minister is the head of government),  but who has certain essential roles, such as formally asking the leader of the largest party, after an election, to form the government – the President, then,  has announced that he intends to do this by the end of this year. As mentioned, if Janković will not succeed in forming a coalition with these other parties, the President will have to ask Janez Janša and the SDS do so. The negotiations are going on, therefore, feverishly, as there is not much left until the end of the year, and the center-left would not want to be left out of government, for four years or more.


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