September 30, 2023


Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša’s party suffered a heavy defeat in a parliamentary election Sunday, losing out to a left-leaning party that was only formed at the beginning of this year. 

The Freedom Movement, taken over and revamped by businessman Robert Golob in January, received around 33 percent, according to the National Election Commission, with more than 99 percent of the votes counted.

Janša’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) received around 28 percent, with its main coalition partner New Slovenia–Christian Democrats on about 8 percent.

The Freedom Movement won 40 seats in parliament. The Social Democratic Party won seven seats and has already announced they will join Golob’s government, securing the necessary majority for one to be formed. They could also be joined by the Left party, creating a broad coalition of left-leaning parties.

“Janez Janša is the biggest loser of these elections,” said political scientist Alem Maksuti.

“We expect him to challenge the legitimacy of the elections, just like he supported Donald Trump’s claim that the U.S. elections were fraudulent,” Maksuti said.

Pro-SDS media outlets published several articles after polls closed claiming Russian interference in the election. While this claim has not appeared in reputable Slovenian media, the European People’s Party — of which Janša is a member — tweeted from its official account on Sunday that it was concerned about “possible Russian interference in the Slovenian elections, which is clearly a consequence of Slovenia’s firm and unequivocal support for Ukraine.”

Janša has stated that his opponents support Russia’s claims on Ukraine because of their left-wing political orientation.

The outgoing SDS government took office after former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec resigned in March 2020 following a dispute over healthcare legislation.

Instead of widely expected new elections after Šarec quit, Janša’s SDS gathered support for a coalition of right-wing parties and formed a new government via a parliamentary vote.

The period since then has been marked by a decline in democratic standards. A recent Freedom House report indicated that Slovenia faced the sharpest democratic decline of all 29 countries that it monitors, based on factors such as the legislative process, media independence and corruption.

“The damage that has been done in these two years is significant. The transition or return to some pre-Janša state will take time, and expectations are large,” said Maksuti.

From placing cadres loyal to SDS in key institutions, to questionable deals involving state-owned companies, to continuous attacks on critical news outlets, Janša’s government was often compared to those in Hungary or Poland in terms of democratic backsliding.

Janša spent the past two years fostering the belief that Slovenia was under attack, either by international left-wing conspiracies or remnants of the communist elite that he claims control the political scene in the country.

“Janša’s main political ideology has become inventing non-existent enemies and trying to remove anyone who stands in his way,” said Maksuti.

Yet unlike other populist parties in power in Europe, SDS has had consistent polling at around 20 percent since it first formed a government in 2004 (in the 2018 election, SDS won 24.9 percent of the vote, according to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls).

The Freedom Movement’s victory was only a slight surprise since the party topped the polls ahead of the election and also because Slovenian voters often tend to elect newcomers to power.

Voting behavior in Slovenia is “very volatile. Around 20 percent of voters regularly shift their voting preferences in every election,” said Maksuti.

“Political parties that were previously successful in the elections fail and fall apart by the time the next elections come around,” he said.

According to Tea Jarc, a trade unionist who was a key figure in the civil society movement Voice of the People, these elections have been a long time coming. 

She joined thousands of other Slovenians in protesting the Janša government every Friday for 105 weeks, with many saying they felt cheated out of elections that were supposed to take place when Šarec resigned.

“The Friday protests started as soon as it became clear Janša was not going to allow early elections — this was what the previous government promised when it collapsed,” Jarc said.

Jarc and around 100 other civil society organizations decided to form Voice of the People in September of last year in order to aggregate the issues voters felt the most strongly about across the entire country.

“No one expected them to continue for two years. You would have thought the government would have taken the fact that thousands of people protested each week seriously,” Jarc said.

Jarc was the subject of several smear campaigns by news outlets affiliated with SDS, as were countless other activists, journalists and opposition politicians. She said many in the country are still in shock at how fast the country slipped into “a more autocratic system.”

“We never thought a democratic system could change so fast,” said Jarc.


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