Slovene government in crisis after Tuerk's presidential victory

Danilo Tuerk

On November 11, Slovenes overwhelmingly elected Danilo Tuerk as their fourth president - and that has sparked a government crisis. The problem is that Mr Tuerk was supported by left-wing opposition parties while the government supported candidate suffered a crushing defeat. Prime Minister Janez Jansa has taken this badly and suggested his cabinet could step down. Michael Manske of Radio Slovenia International reports on the Tuerk victory and possible consequences.

Despite winning the first round of voting and boasting heavy duty political credentials, conservative candidate Lojze Peterle was easily defeated in Slovenia's presidential elections. His rival, Danilo Tuerk, a former UN diplomat who was supported by the left-leaning opposition parties, commanded more than two thirds of all votes cast.

Analysts were quick to see the lopsided victory as an expression of the public's disapproval with the current conservative government. Opinion polls have shown support for the current coalition steadily dropping, while the opposition socialists are regularly polled as the strongest party in the country. Indeed, even candidate Lojze Peterle saw his defeat as having more to do with dissatisfaction with the government and other sideline interests and himself as caught in the crossfire. Peterle:

“So these elections ended with polarization, in which the relationship with the government was playing quite an influential role. Of course, as a candidate, I was placed in the context of the government, which has not been popular in all aspects of its work and I regret that Slovenia is again polarized.”

One interesting aspect of the vote was the role that members of the nationalist party played. Their candidate, Zmago Jelencic, won a surprising 20% of the vote in the first round. But in the second round, the majority of the party threw their support behind the leftist candidate. Part of the reason for this may be Peterle's openly Roman Catholic beliefs, especially at a time where many people see the Catholic Church as increasing its influence in the country. Mr. Jelencic:

“I would say that the people didn’t vote for Tuerk, but against Peterle. They were very much afraid of an even stronger position of the Roman Catholic Church as it has today.”

The daily newspaper Dnevnik supported the claim, opining that Tuerk won as an »anti-Peterle.«

Either way, the resounding victory was good news for the opposition parties, as they prepare for parliamentary elections in Slovenia in October 2008. Especially the social democrats. Recent polls show that the party, led by Borut Pahor, is currently the strongest in the country. Mr. Pahor reacted positively as news of Tuerk's victory came in:

"I did expect a victory, but not so strong a victory. It is a very good sign for the future of Slovenia. I’m with the feelings of those people who expressed their will for change in the future. I will be a part of this change.”

The current government, in the meantime, has less than a year to try to stem voter dissatisfaction and prevent a similarly lopsided victory in parliamentary elections.