New Government in Slovenia

Mojca JJ via Pixabay // Pixabay License

At the end of January, Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec resigned and called for new elections in the EU member state, after his minority government had continuously failed to pass key bills in parliament. After tough coalition negotiations, right-wing conservative opposition leader Janez Janša has now succeeded in gathering a new majority of defectors from the previous coalition.

Only about 16 months ago, the minority government led by Marjan Šarec and his liberal party LMŠ, which only held 43 of 90 seats in parliament, came to power. The center-left coalition consisted of the LMŠ, the Social Democrats, the liberal party SMC, the party of Alenka Bratušek (SAB) and the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS).

From the beginning, however, the government had problems passing bills, as it was mostly dependent on the support of the left-wing Levica party.

The coalition partners agreed on the necessity of fundamental structural reforms – but at the same time they had to admit that this would hardly be feasible under a minority government.

The left-wing Levica party supported the coalition and was thus able to push through parts of its own agenda – but at the same time prevented the implementation of a large part of the commitments formulated in the coalition agreement.

After Levica withdrew its informal support for the Šarec-led government in November 2019, it became virtually impossible to pass bills in parliament. Above all, the government kept Slovenia’s economic upswing going, with record budgets planned for 2020 and 2021.

After the Left Party withdrew from the partnership agreement at the beginning of November, the governing coalition pushed ahead with the reform of health financing and redesigned the Left Party’s draft law. As a result, Finance Minister Bertoncelj resigned, although he did not give a clear reason for this decision.

Šarec also resigned immediately afterwards, although he insisted that his resignation was not due to the differences between Health Minister Aleš Šabeder and Finance Minister Bertoncelj.

New Government Agreement

Current polls show that in the event of early elections, three of the five previous coalition partners would have to fear for their entry into parliament. Their only chance to avoid new elections seemed to be a coalition with the right-wing conservative Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) under the leadership of Janez Janša.

SDS, a member of the European People’s Party, is the strongest force in parliament, with 26 seats, but failed to form a coalition after the 2018 elections.

The center parties accuse the SDS and Janša of radicalism, authoritarianism and anti-immigration rhetoric. In addition, the public broadcaster TV Slovenija reported that a special police unit to combat economic crime is investigating the financing of some SDS-related media.

The media are suspected of having received funding from Hungarian businessmen closely linked to the right-wing conservative Hungarian ruling party Fidesz under Viktor Orbán.

Šarec and his LMŠ party had spoken out clearly in favor of new elections when they announced his resignation.

The liberal Modern Center Party (SMC), the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) and the conservative opposition New Slovenia Party (NSi) were open to negotiations with opposition leader Janša and his party SDS from the outset. The other parliamentary parties had refused to participate in the talks conducted by the SDS.

The small center-left party of Alenka Bratušek (SAB) called on all parties – except the SDS – to form a “project coalition” which would remain in office until the electoral law was reformed and some urgent bills were passed. Since the existing electoral law favors large parties and SDS has little interest in amending the law, the chances of success for the SAB initiative were low.

On February 25, the representatives of SDS, SMC, NSi and DeSUS announced that they will join the coalition led by Janez Janša. The SDS proposal to appoint Janša as Prime Minister was submitted to Slovenian President Borut Pahor, who formally nominated him last Wednesday. The National Assembly is expected to vote today in a secret ballot on the appointment of Janez Janša.

Outgoing Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said he was not surprised by this scenario, as he saw the formation of a new government under Janez Janša as one of the possible outcomes of his resignation from the outset.

In fact, Slovenia is considered a thoroughly liberal country. Several of its parties belong to the European liberal party family. In order to translate the open attitude of large sections of the population into liberal politics, however, Slovenian liberals will have to cooperate even more closely in the future.

The main tasks of a new government include improving the inefficient national health care system, reducing the pressure on the budget from the rapidly ageing population and the corresponding increase in pension costs, and assuming the presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2021.

Toni Skoric
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom