Slovenia presidential race: Lojze Peterle wins first round

Lojze Peterle, photo: CTK

Last Sunday Slovenians went to the polls to elect their third president since independence. Voters could choose from seven candidates seeking to succeed the incumbent Janez Drnovsek. The first round of the presidential polls in Slovenia brought some surprises. Lojze Peterle, a former Slovenian prime minister and a member of the European Parliament, was the winner with 27.5%, well short of the 50% needed for an outright win. The two left-leaning candidates Danilo Türk and Mitja Gaspari fought it out for second place. While Peterle is a sure contender for the second round run-off it's still unclear who his rival will be so close is the vote count between Türk and Gaspari.

A major surprise was the rise in popularity of nationalist leader Zmago Jelincic. Jelincic of the National Party took nearly 20% of the vote, more than double his showing in 2002. He was the only candidate who had previously run for the presidential office and was extremely pleased with the result:

« If the Slovene media hadn't cut me out in the first fifteen days of the election campaign I am sure that I would be in the second round. But it doesn't matter. I really got an excellent number of votes. »

Analysts attribute Jelincics's success to the fact that in a dull campaign, he was the only one who stood out with his clear positions on many complex issues at home and abroad.

But it's not just Jelincic's success that is the topic of discussions after the first round of the elections. Also heavily discussed was the organizing of voting abroad, which was changed while election procedures were already underway. The controversy about these votes was raised after the National Electoral Commission decided to send the diaspora some 39,000 ballots. Until now ballots had been sent only on request.

The tight outcome after the first round is likely to be further complicated by these votes from abroad, as the new system of distributing ballots among the Slovenian diaspora has been called into question by some candidates and could be the source of bitter disputes in if looks likely to alter the outcome for second place. Mitja Gaspari believes that the part of the election regarding the diaspora voting is problematic because some rules were changed while election procedures were already under way:

« I am happy with the share of votes we got in this campaign. I am not that impressed and satisfied with the process of organizing voting abroad, it was below the standards of the European Union in organizing the campaign and I hope to see some rather very strict measures against such steps in the future. »

Meanwhile, former UN diplomat Tuerk was less bothered by the foreign votes and said he expected to advance to the run-off, scheduled for 11 November:

« I am very satisfied with the result and I think that it corresponds to my plans, I expected to be second. Of course I couldn't envisage specific numerical proportions but the results are good and I am quite happy with them. »

Lojze Peterle, photo: CTK
Before the election polls predicted a clear win for Lojze Peterle, who was supported by the right wing parties in Slovenia. But even though his first round his win was not as convincing as expected, he said he was happy with the result:

« I am satisfied, I am the winner of the first round and I am optimistic as far as the second round is concerned. »

But not everyone agrees with Peterle's optimism for the second round. The Daily Dnevnik considers the winner of Sunday's vote for president Lojze Peterle to be »the biggest loser of all.« Moreover, the paper anticipates that Peterle will be defeated in the run-off three weeks later. In general the majority of analysts and voters think the election campaign was dull but some analysts are predicting that things could get more exciting ahead of the run-off. They expect a greater involvement of the political parties for their candidates, which have so far shied away from the race. The final official results are not expected to be released until after 29 October at noon, the deadline for votes coming in by mail from abroad.