Rarely does a country experience European, parliamentary as well as local elections in a period of less than 6 months, but that is exactly what is happening in Slovenia right now. Results of recent European elections, being the first election of the three to be held, are therefore even more telling than they would be otherwise. On the basis of the outcome for these elections, it is tempting to draw conclusions or at least make predictions about the other two, especially the upcoming parliamentary elections. But before we immerse ourselves in the broader analysis of the Slovenian political scene, let us first focus explicitly on the aftermath of the European elections. The elections are held in accordance with the system of proportional representation, which is combined with the ranked voting system, i.e. preferential voting. The entire country counts as one electoral unit and received votes are distributed according to the D’Hondt system. The election threshold is not known in Slovenia, and members of European Parliament (EP) are selected in accordance with the above stated procedures. As a country, Slovenia has 8 members of European Parliament (MEPs).
Since the country joined the European Union (EU) in 2004, these were the third EP elections to take place in Slovenia. Therefore, putting the data into perspective will help us to gauge the current mood and aspirations of Slovenians with regard to the EU. When a referendum was held on whether Slovenia should enter the EU more than ten years ago, voter turnout was more than 60%, and almost 90% voted in favour of EU membership. Great hopes were invested in the project of EU accession; somehow it seemed as though there was a bright, well-deserved future that finally lay in store for us within the broader European family of nations. At least that was the idea a majority of politicians from both right- and left-wing parties were promoting. Nationalists enthusiastically proclaimed that Slovenia would finally and once again become a part of Europe, as if having been part of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia had somehow erased it from the map. In this sense, EU accession was an explicitly ideological project. Even though the country stayed very much right where had been since the end of World War II, it seemed there was a lot of effort involved in changing its geopolitical position. We were told that we were finally leaving the Balkans, and that we were moving towards the centre which had always been our rightful place. At the time, when trying to introduce new laws, a popular argument many politicians put forward was that it (the new law) was “a well‑known practice in other European countries”.
However, this enchantment with Europe did not last very long. Already the first European elections in 2004 had a very low turnout of 28%; five years later the turnout was also 28%, but this year it has fallen to 24%. According to the latest opinion polls gauging attitudes across Europe, the Slovenians trust in the European Union is well below 30%, which is a dramatic drop from the 90% who supported the organisation when the country entered the EU. But Slovenians are not alone: all in all 60% of Europeans in the EU member states no longer trust the EU. The majority of those questioned in 20 out of the 28 member states are even convinced that the EU is heading in the wrong direction. So, when analysing the perception of the EU and its elections, one must bear in mind that it was a project fully invested with hopes and aspirations, and one which is systematically encouraged by Slovenia’s politicians. But, at the same time, this project has obviously seen a dramatic about-turn in how it is perceived by ordinary people. Politicians who once exalted the supposedly impeccable examples of policies and legislature that other, more advanced EU countries had adopted, are now delivering a very different rhetoric. Now, Slovenian politicians have been using the threat of the Troika and its politics as one of their core issues when talking about the EU. Here, one can see the true essence of the cynicism that pervades modern day liberal politics; politicians, whether they are conservative, liberal or social democratic, use the same rhetoric and implement the same policies. Ironic as it may seem, the fact is that, at least in Slovenia, nominally left-wing governments have been much more successful in implementing neoliberal policies than their conservative colleagues.
Their rhetoric towards the EU is identical insomuch as they all perceive the threat of the Troika as an inevitable, natural and even justified fact: as something that cannot be questioned in any meaningful way. What we are actually facing is a “grand ideological coalition” where any substantial differences between conservatives, liberals and social democrats disappear. At the end of the day, they are all devoted austerians, regardless of their nominal political affiliations. The iconic phrase that the protagonists of such a grand coalition like to repeat ceaselessly is that they themselves “must implement the harsh austerity measures, otherwise the Troika will come and do it in a much harsher way!” At least two things are obvious in this often repeated sentence. We must be our own Troika: we must carry out cuts and ignore democratic rights and procedures, otherwise, and this is a second point, the actual Troika will come, which is even more undemocratic and even more relentless in its demands for restructuring public debt, cutting the public sector etc. So there is a blunt admission that the Troika is a threat to the national sovereignty of member states and that feeling the Troika breathing down your neck is by no means pleasant. But, as we have already emphasised, at the end of the day, the Troika is perceived as an inevitable, natural and justified fact.
We have already noted that voter turnout was the lowest for any European election held in Slovenia: less than a quarter of the population with voting rights actually exercised their right. Such a low turnout is in itself telling, and it indicates a vote of no confidence in the elections as such, as well as in the EU. An ever increasing amount of people are aware that current austerity policies are drastically worsening their living conditions and future prospects. More and more people are beginning to realise that what is happening in Athens is done at the hand of Brussels and that solidarity between European nations cannot exist in a Europe built like this. Therefore, it is not that surprising that a great many people did not bother to vote and that even amongst those who did, a significant number decided to submit invalid ballots (more than 17,000 people). Before we turn to the specific results, there is another general observation that is worth reaffirming, which is that voters of right-wing parties are traditionally more disciplined, and a low turnout always means that these parties will profit. Indeed, this was also the case in these elections.
The absolute winner in the Slovenian European elections was the SDS (Slovenian Democratic Party) party which gained 24.88% and managed to have 3 MEPs elected. The SDS party also won the 2009 European elections. A coalition of parties comprising the NSi and SLS (New Slovenia and Slovenian People’s Party) finished second and received 16.56% of the vote and 2 elected MEPs. It is already known that SDS, as well as the coalition of NSi and SLS, will enter the political family of the European People’s Party, strengthening the party with 5 MEPs from Slovenia. Before we examine where the final 3 of the 8 MEP seats were allocated, the results of the right-wing SDS party first need further contextualisation. Janez Janša, president of SDS since 1993, was recently sentenced to two years’ imprisonment because of corruption charges in arms transactions during his mandate as prime minister (2004-2008). His response to the conviction was that he had been sentenced by a judicial system that wanted to damage public trust in his party, the SDS. Obviously, this conviction did not harm his level of public support or the results of his party in the last elections.
The other three seats were distributed among three social democratic or liberal parties. The Social Democrats (SD) suffered the biggest defeat. During the 2009 European elections SD received 18.43% of all votes and finished second with 2 MEPs. Five years later their electoral results were catastrophic: gaining only approx. one third of their previous votes the SD received only 8.02% and lost 1 MEP. Furthermore, their president Igor Lukšič who heads the party’s list, was not elected because a former MEP of SD, Tanja Fajon, was re-elected with preferential votes. The presidency of Igor Lukšič was characterised by an ever increasing lack of support of the SD, tinged by arrogant and cynical statements about new leftist parties. He blamed the United Left coalition, for the loss of SD votes. The day after the election his party accepted his offer of resignation.
Furthermore, the Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (Desus), a rather peculiar party and perhaps one unique to Slovenia, won the 7th seat in parliament and notched up 8.14% of vote. Their policies can be described as social-democratic, bearing in mind that modern day Social democrats often pursue neoliberal policies. They have also already announced that their MEP (Ivo Vajgl an MEP for a second term) will join the European parliament’s liberal group, ALDE.
A newcomer, Igor Šoltes, former president of the Court of Auditors, was actually the most successful of the three parties, receiving 10.45% of votes and securing himself a mandate in the EP. In an interview he stated that he will most likely return to Slovenia after the first 6 months at the European Parliament, i.e. a period he must complete if he wishes to be entitled to the benefits given to former MEPs. He clearly aspires to become a major political figure in Slovenian politics. One of his “political assets” was his supposed moral integrity, which he enjoyed as the president of the Court of Auditors. However, journalists uncovered the inconvenient truth that Šoltes was living in a municipality apartment where he paid a significantly reduced rent. Even after he rose to the position of the president of the Court of Auditors, he continued to live in this apartment for a further 5 years, arguing that his salary (which was more than EUR 5,000 before tax) did not allow him to move out. It remains to be seen whether voters will punish such hypocrisy.
Whilst analysing losers among winners is interesting, it is equally fascinating to analyse winners among losers. But first let’s look at losers that are simply losers. One such example is the Positive Slovenia (PS) Party which, up until recently, led the government and had an incumbent prime minister. Things started falling apart when the former president of the PS ZoranJanković, who was also the incumbent mayor of the capital and facing various criminal charges, decided to run for the party presidency once again against the incumbent prime minister, Alenka Bratušek. He managed to win, causing the collapse of the government, early elections and a split in the PS. Consequently, the party that enjoyed all of the resources, media coverage and had a popular candidate achieved only a meagre result of 6.61%.
Another loser among losers was two-time MEP, Jelko Kacin, who did not manage to get his third mandate (4.88%). Yet further down the list is the Slovenian National Party, a long-time oppositional party whose xenophobic president Zmago Jelinčič Plemeniti/ Zmago Jelinčič the Noble, won only 4.04%. However, the ultimate loser amongst losers was a neoliberal party called the Civic List, another coalition party which was part of the former government of Alenka Bratušek. Civic List managed to get only 1.12% of the votes. That same night its president, Gregor Viranthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregor_Virant, resigned as party president and it is most unlikely that the party will ever become a significant political player again.
However, one definite winner among the losers was the tripartite coalition United Left (UL), consisting of Initiative for Democratic Socialism (IDS), Workers Democratic Party (DSD), and Party of Sustainable Development of Slovenia (TRS). The coalition was another political newcomer (IDS having been founded as a party only this March), but it had an explicit agenda of democratic socialism and strongly criticised the EU’s existing structure and its (mal)functioning, especially in terms of its austerity measures and grave inequalities between countries of the centre and on the periphery. The coalition was staunchly against any kind of fascism, even more so in the current situation where the continent is seeing a powerful surge in nationalist or even fascist parties within the EP. The coalition did not have any substantial financial resources and had to make ends meet with the little that it had. Media coverage was hardly present and a great majority of public polls have projected that the result of the UL might be around 3% but will most likely be much lower. However, the actual results of the UL during the European elections were almost double the projected figure, i.e. 5.47% (21,590 votes). Their performance was therefore definitely the biggest positive surprise of the whole European elections.
One can immediately see that this new-born force, which chose to follow a radical socialist agenda and operated with an extremely limited budget as well as other resources, was able to show that there is widespread distrust of other, nominally leftist parties. The difference between UL and SD was 2.6%, and the party’s even smaller margin compared with the PS (1.14%) is very telling, especially, if one takes into account the fact that the PS won the last parliamentary elections in 2011 and achieved 28.51% of all the votes. Considering the UL’s media blockage and, as a result, all the other setbacks it suffered, this is indeed a splendid and unexpected result. As such, it shows that other left-wing parties, ranging from those championing social democracy to those advocating social liberalism, are becoming increasingly bankrupt and unable to address the real issues Slovenian people are facing today. The UL was therefore the only player to consistently argue that the EU, as it exists today, is causing social disasters and needs to be radically reformed, with the ultimate goal of forming a United States of Europe that would be an organisation of socialist states. Other parties have stubbornly supported the EU without voicing meaningful critiques.
The UL was also very successful in holding its founding congress and hosting Alexis Tsipras of Syriza,as well as Dominic Heilig from Die Linke. With this gesture, it has shown its clear commitment to international solidarity and cooperation with progressive socialist forces. The founding congress and the presence of Tsipras and Heilig guaranteed huge media coverage and helped promote the UL in the wider public space. As we mentioned at the very beginning of this report, Slovenia is currently facing turbulent times politically and it seems that very shortly (as early as the second half of July) early parliamentary elections will be held, followed by local elections at the end of September or at the beginning of October. Although the results of the European elections cannot be mechanically applied to the logic of parliamentary elections, it is still significant that the UL could enter Parliament if it achieved the same result; one could say that this was one small step for the European Left and one giant leap for the Slovenian Left. New and much more difficult challenges already lie ahead, to which one can only say – the struggle continues!
Coordinator of International Affairs, Initiative for Democratic Socialism
PHOTOS: See also the attachments at "Documentation" on the right
Splendid result of 5,9% which is above all expectations for “United Left”.
The left coalition “United Left” that consists of three parties (TRS - Sustainable development of Slovenia, DSD - Democratic Workers Party and IDS - Initiative of Democratic Socialism) achieved a splendid result of 5,9% which is above all expectations and actually a better result than any of the projections have given us. If we would get the same result for Slovenian parliamentary elections (most likely this autumn) we would enter the parliament (threshold is 4%).
Coordinator of international affairs, Initiative for Democratic Socialism
IN POWER: SD (centre-left)
The radical Left in the EP: 0 seats of 7
In the run-up to the European elections, the “Party for Sustainable Development of Slovenia” (TRS), the “Democratic Labour Party” (DSD) and the “Initiative for Democratic Socialism“ (IDS) have formed an electoral alliance with the name “United Left” in March 2014.