03/10/2004 - Analysis
After twelve years of government by the Liberal Democrat Party (apart from a six month interval in 2000), Slovenia is about to experience its fourth general election since independence on 25th June 1991.
The party of the President of the Republic, Janez Drnovsek, and Prime Minister Anton Rop (Liberal Democrat Party, LDS) underwent a setback on 13th June last during the first European elections in the country's history. The Liberal Democrat Party, that was beaten by just a few points by the two main centre right parties of the opposition, New Slovenia (Nsi) and the Democrat Party (SDS), who jointly won 41.5% of the vote, only scraped together 21.94% with its ally, the Democratic Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) winning two of the seven seats that Slovenia has in the European Parliament versus four for the opposition. The defeat of the Liberal Democrat Party must however be analysed with care given the low number of voters who turned out at the European elections: 28.24%. This weak participation rate came as a surprise since Slovenia is considered to be, amongst those States that integrated the Union on May 1st last, the most Europhile.
The Slovenian Political System
There are two chambers in the Slovenian parliament. The Drzavni Zbor, the National Assembly has 90 members, elected every four years by proportional vote (the Italian and Hungarian minorities are each guaranteed a seat by the Constitution). The second chamber, the Drzvani Svet, the National Council, is elected every five years by an indirect vote and comprises forty members: 18 representatives on the part of professional and socio-economic interests (four for employers, four for employees, four for farmers, small companies and independent workers and six for non-profit making concerns as well as 22 representatives of local interests. The National Council plays a consultative role.
Eight political parties are represented in the present National Assembly:
the Liberal Democrat Party (LDS) is the country's main political party and since 1992 has been a member of all the government coalitions exception for an interval of a few months in 2000. It comprises 34 MP's;
the Democrat Party (SDS) is the main opposition party. It lies to the right on the political scale and is led by Janez Jansa. It comprises 13 MP's;
the United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD), a party that lies to the left politically; it was formed from the former Communist Party (PCS) and is presided over by Boris Pahor, the present president of the National Assembly. It comprises 11 MP's;
the Popular Party/Christian Democrat Party (SLS/SKD) was created on 15th April 2000 as a result of the merger between two hitherto independent parties. The Popular Party participated in the government coalition in February 1997; its president Marjan Podobnik was then Deputy Prime Minister. The Christian Democrat Party that is chaired by the former Prime Minister and present Foreign Secretary, Lojze Peterle was part of the government between 1992 and 1997. Both parties took part, along with the Democrat Party, in the ephemeral government coalition from May to October 2000. The SLS-SKD that became the SLS in May 2002 is now presided over by Franc But. For its part the Christian Democrat Party merged with New Slovenia;
New Slovenia/People's Christian Party (NSI) is an opposition party led by former Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk. It comprises eight MP's;
the Democratic Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) presided over by Anton Rous, is presently part of the government coalition. It has four MP's;
the National Party (SNS) presided over by Zmago Jelincic is an extreme rightwing movement that has, as during the last term of office, four MP's;
the Youth Party (SMS), led by Peter Levic, comprises four MP's.
Since the last general elections on 15th October 2000 Slovenia has been governed by a coalition that combines four parties: the Liberal Democrat Party (LDS), the Popular Party (SLS), the United List of Social Democrat (ZLSD) and the Democratic Pensioners' Party (DeSUS).
After twelve years leading the State the Liberal Democrat Party has been effected by a loss of power. In December 2002 Anton Rop, former Finance Minister took over from Janez Drnovsek as Prime Minister and leader of the LDS, the latter replacing Milan Kucan as President of the Republic. When he took office Anton Rop discovered a party whose unity and balance had been shaken by internal fights that existed between the three trends within the party (that of the former members of the Communist League of former Yugoslavia, that of the economic elite and that of the Liberals). Over the last two years Anton Rop has been accused of being "too much of a Prime Minister and not Party leader enough", which as the elections draw close is a difficult situation to be in.
The issue of the "struck off"
The Prime Minister has also been accused of not having known how to handle the political problem of those who have been "struck off", ie the 18,000 citizens from the other countries of former Yugoslavia (Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia-Montenegro, Macedonia) who have been living in Slovenia and struck off the administrative registers by "mistake" after the country's independence.
In 1991 the Slovenian authorities decided to grant Slovenian nationality to all those living in the country when it became independent, adopting a law that enabled people to hand in a request for citizenship within a six month time limit. One hundred and seventy thousand of them were able to take advantage of this. The others were struck off the residents register without any warning. One hundred and thirty thousand people, many of whom had been living in Slovenia for many years, some had even been born there and had never left the country, found themselves deprived of all legal status. The "struck-off" have been deprived of all of their rights (access to social benefits, a passport, a bank account, social security, retirement, property, the right to vote or to stand for election etc ...). It is thought that in 1998 ie six years after being having been struck off ninety thousand people had left Slovenia, and forty thousand were still living in the country from which they were still excluded. After pressure from the European Union a law was adopted by Parliament on 8th July 1999 giving back the right to residency to any person who had lived permanently in Slovenia before and since independence and who had not left the national territory over the previous three months. Twelve thousand people gained the right to residency. Although the government and legal experts believe that a judgement of principle taken by the Constitutional Court in 1999 declaring the "striking-off" illegal and giving back to the former citizens of ex-Yugoslavia their rights has to be respected, there is no law in existence today that makes it possible to apply the Court's decision.
On 4th April last Slovenia organised a referendum on the retroactive acknowledgement of the nationality of four thousand "struck-off" whose situations were legalised between 2000 and 2002, acknowledgement that was voted in by Parliament in October 2003. 94.7% of the electorate rejected this suggestion, 3.8% voted in favour. The participation rate was however very low: only 31.45% of the electorate turned out to vote. Prime Minister Anton Rop had called for a boycott of the referendum and the President of the Republic Janez Drnovsek, had personally revealed that he would not take part either. We should remember that the request for the acquisition of Slovenia nationality is only possible after ten years of permanent residency, the modification of the "striking-off" period would therefore considerably speed up the process. The opposition, that was against the October 2003 law because of fears that new legislation would lead to request for compensation that would be too much for the State to pay, was at the source of this popular consultation. After the failure of the referendum the Social Democrat Party (SDS) vainly requested the resignation of the Home Secretary Rado Bohinc (ZLSD).
The Stakes of the General Election
The European Elections on 13th June last, when the parties in the government coalition were beaten by the opposition, heralded the launch of the electoral campaign for the general elections on 3rd October. The last general elections in 2002 had already revealed the fragility of the party that has dominated political life since independence.
In 2002, although his victory in the presidential election was expected as early as the first round, Janez Drnovsek did however require two rounds to take over from Milan Kucan. His adversary, former Justice Minister and present State Prosecutor, Barbara Brezigar, who had the support of the Social Demcorat Party (SDS) and new Slovenia (Nsi), achieved a very honourable result during the first round of the election winning, to everyone's surprise, 30.75% of the vote. Lying on the centre of the political scale she succeeded in conveying the message of change and put herself forward as a real alternative to the power of the Liberal Democrat Party. Barbara Brezigar's result was considered by political analysts as the expression of the lassitude felt by part of the population after ten years of rule by Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek and his party.
In addition to this and in the same year the Liberal Democrat Party recorded a set back in favour of its allies in government on 27th and 28th November during the elections of the representatives on the National Council, the second chamber of Parliament comprising forty MP's and on 10th November during the local elections. During that election the LDS lost the town hall of the capital Ljubljana where Viktorija Potocnik was beaten by Danica Simisc (ZLSD) - neither did it manage to win in Maribor, another of the country's major towns, where Boris Sovic (ZLSD) was re-elected with 60.9% of the vote opposite Milan Petek (LDS).
On the eve of the general election the centre right opposition (New Slovenia and the Democrat Party) really do hope to repeat their June result. At the end of July both parties had planned to censure the government because economic growth was lower than what had been forecast and because of its inability to control public deficit, unemployment and inflation. A special meeting of Parliament is planned on this subject this month, with both parties however seeming to have abandoned their plan to censure. The latest opinion polls grant the Liberal Democrat Party with 23% of the vote and the Democrat Party with 18% thereby taking second place. "I think my party will win these elections, jointly with New Slovenia," declared SDS leader Janez Jansa recently. Although the authority of the Liberal Democrat Party seems to have been shaken somewhat, victory on the part of the opposition seems far from being a foregone conclusion and the battle promises to be a tight one on 3rd October next.
Reminder of the general elections on 15th October 2000 in Slovenia
Participation rate: 69.9%
Source Europe centrale et orientale 2000-2001, Vers l'intégration européenne et régionale, Paris, La Documentation française, 2001
* : They automatically have two seats