Liberal political newcomer Robert Golob beat Slovenia’s three-time prime minister, populist conservative Janez Janša, in an election in a country divided by bitter political divisions over the rule of law.
Golob’s Freedom Movement (GS), which he only launched in January, relied on anger against Janša’s rule in the former Yugoslav state.
The opposition accuses Janša of trying to undermine democratic institutions and freedom of the press since returning to power in 2020.
With almost all the votes counted on Sunday in the country of around two million people, the GS won 34.5% of the vote against 23.6% for the Slovenian Democratic Party of Janša.
“Our goal has been achieved: a victory that will allow us to bring the country back to freedom,” Golob told cheering supporters on Sunday evening.
“People want change and have expressed their faith in us as the only ones who can bring about those changes,” he said earlier via a live stream from his home where he was isolated after contracting Covid-19. .
The 55-year-old former electricity company chief has vowed to restore “normalcy”, after calling the election a “referendum on democracy”.
Political analyst Miha Kovac said civil society and young voters in particular have been mobilised. Analysts expected increased turnout and voters to turn against Janša’s style.
The turnout stood at around 70% of the 1.7 million voters, significantly higher than the 52% of the last legislative elections in 2018.
“The vote was a vote against Janša,” Kovac said. “Against Slovenia on the Hungarian path, against illiberal democracy in Slovenia, against government takeover of public television, against control of justice.”
But he warned that GS had no government experience – although he could join the more experienced Social Democrats (SD), who have 6.7% of the vote with nearly all the ballots counted.
“It’s like a company that suddenly grows,” Kovac added. “He has no infrastructure, no know-how, no people who know how to work in parliamentary bodies.”
Janša, 63, an admirer of former US President Donald Trump, had campaigned on promises of stability.
“Before the new government there are many challenges, but during our tenure we have established a solid foundation for peaceful navigation,” he said on Sunday evening.
“It’s easy to pay for billboards, to have the support of all the media and the so-called civil society,” he said. “But then the hard work and the challenges come, and none of that can help you.”
Uroš Esih, a columnist at one of Slovenia’s leading daily newspapers Delo, told Agence France-Presse ahead of the elections that they represented a “breaking point” with the “clash of liberal and illiberal political forces” in Slovenia .
Golob’s rise began when he took control of a small Green party with no parliamentary seats in January, renaming it the Freedom Movement.
He tapped into the protests that had grown since Janša came to power, when tens of thousands regularly attended anti-government rallies.
“I hope the situation will change… It’s obvious that most people are not happy with this government and the way it governs,” Sara Rigler, a university student, told AFP. psychology, 21, at a polling station in the capital Ljubljana earlier on Sunday.
Janša’s image has been tarnished by rows with Brussels over his decision to suspend funding for the national news agency and drag out the appointment of prosecutors to the bloc’s new anti-corruption body.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine did not take center stage in Slovenia’s election campaign, although Janša was among the first foreign leaders to visit kyiv on March 15.
Janša previously served as Prime Minister between 2004-2008, and 2012-2013.
However, just a year into his second term as prime minister, he was forced out by a corruption scandal.