Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša’s party suffered a heavy defeat in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, losing to a left-leaning party that was formed earlier this year.
The Freedom Movement, taken over and revamped by businessman Robert Golob in January, received about 33 percent, according to the National Election Commission, with more than 99 percent of votes counted.
Janša’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) received around 28 percent, and his main coalition partner, New Slovenia-Christian Democrats, around 8 percent.
The Freedom Movement won 40 seats in parliament. The Social Democratic Party won seven seats and has already announced that it will join the Golob government, securing the majority needed for one to be formed. They could also be joined by the Left party, creating a broad coalition of leftist parties.
“Janez Janša is the biggest loser in these elections,” said political scientist Alem Maksuti.
“We hope it will challenge the legitimacy of the election, just as it supported Donald Trump’s claim that the US election was fraudulent,” Maksuti said.
Pro-SDS media outlets published several articles after the polls closed alleging Russian interference in the election. Although this statement has not appeared in the renowned Slovenian media, the European People’s Party, of which Janša is a member – he tweeted from his official account on Sunday that he was concerned about “possible Russian interference in the Slovenian elections, which is clearly a consequence of Slovenia’s strong and unequivocal support for Ukraine.”
Janša has stated that his opponents support Russia’s claims on Ukraine due to his leftist political orientation.
The outgoing SDS government took office after former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec resigned in March 2020 following a dispute over health legislation.
Instead of the widely expected new elections after Šarec’s resignation, Janša’s SDS rallied support for a coalition of right-wing parties and formed a new government through a parliamentary vote.
The period since then has been marked by a decline in democratic standards. A recent report by Freedom House indicated that Slovenia faced the steepest democratic decline of the 29 countries 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 the expectations are high,” Maksuti said.
From the placement of SDS-loyal cadres in key institutions to questionable deals involving state-owned companies and continued attacks on critical media outlets, Janša’s government was often compared to those of Hungary or Poland in terms of democratic backsliding.
Janša has spent the last two years fostering the belief that Slovenia was under attack, either by international leftist conspiracies or by remnants of the communist elite who he says control the country’s political scene.
“Janša’s main political ideology has become inventing non-existent enemies and trying to eliminate anyone who stands in his way,” Maksuti said.
However, unlike other ruling populist parties in Europe, SDS has had consistent polls of around 20 percent since it first formed a government in 2004 (in the 2018 election, SDS won 24.9 percent). percent of the vote, according to the POLITICO Poll).
The Freedom Movement’s victory was only a minor surprise as the party topped the polls before the election and also because Slovenian voters often tend to pick the newcomers to power.
Voting behavior in Slovenia is “very volatile. About 20 percent of voters regularly change their voting preferences in each election,” Maksuti said.
“Political parties that were previously successful in elections fail and fall apart when the next election comes around,” he said.
According to Tea Jarc, a trade unionist who was a key figure in the Voice of the People civil society movement, these elections have been a long time coming.
He joined thousands of other Slovenians in protesting the Janša government every Friday for 105 weeks, with many saying they felt cheated in the elections that were supposed to take place when Šarec stepped down.
“Friday’s protests started as soon as it became clear that Janša was not going to allow early elections; this was what the previous government promised when it collapsed,” said Jarc.
Jarc and about 100 other civil society organizations decided to form Voice of the People in September of last year to aggregate the issues felt most strongly by voters across the country.
“Nobody expected them to continue for two years. One would have thought that the government would have taken seriously the fact that thousands of people are protesting every week,” Jarc said.
Jarc was the target of several smear campaigns by SDS-affiliated media outlets, as were many other opposition activists, journalists and politicians. He said many in the country are still shocked at how quickly the country has become “a more autocratic system.”
“We never thought that a democratic system could change so quickly,” said Jarc.