Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Tiny Slovenia Votes, Larger Eurozone Watches with Wary Eye

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Tiny Slovenia Votes, Larger Eurozone Watches with Wary Eye

Article excerpt

A populist campaign by former socialist Prime Minister Borut Pahor saw him surprise pundits by coming out top in a first-round poll for the presidency of economically troubled Slovenia.

Mr. Pahor, the Social Democratic candidate, won 40 percent of votes, beating out the current president, Danilo Turk, a left- leaning independent who garnered 35 percent of the vote. The candidate of the conservative ruling Democratic Party, Milan Zver, managed just 24 percent, his popularity dented by a painful austerity program. A recent poll said only 21 percent of voters supported the government.

Pahor and President Turk must now go head-to-head in a second round on Dec. 2.

While Slovenia is a young member of the European Union, and a small player on the diplomatic stage, its election is garnering substantial attention, set as it is against the larger economic woes of the EU. The financial troubles of the country of just 2 million are of concern beyond its borders because it has adopted the euro currency, and some fear it may be the next country that will need a bailout, largely to rescue its banks.

How much the presidency, which has a five-year term, can affect policy is uncertain. The position is largely ceremonial, but the president does have political sway. This could be particularly important as Slovenians weigh very different views on austerity measures, and consider holding a referendum on whether to recapitalize banks, whose excessive lending is considered to have contributed to the current financial woes of the once-prosperous country. (Read about how Slovenia ranks in per capita GDP among former Eastern European countries.)

Different visions

The first-round winner, Pahor, is fighting for his political life after his government collapsed in September last year. He then lost his party's chairmanship in June. His campaign has sought during this election to identify him with the daily struggles of the average Slovenian, and he has struck a conciliatory tone toward conservatives.

Turk is more firmly opposed to what he calls "excessive" austerity measures in dealing with Slovenia's economic crisis, and has argued for the preservation of the social welfare state. …

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