Slovenia's populist SNS party splits

Zmago Jelinčič

Just a few weeks ago, the future seemed bright for the populist Slovenian opposition party the SNS. Their president, the outspoken Zmago Jelinčič, had a strong showing in presidential elections - especially in the eastern parts of the country. But a row at a party led to a sudden rift, and half of the parliamentary deputies defected.

The SNS party in Slovenia is a small, populist group that is at times fiercely nationalistic, anti-clerical, anti-EU, but also socialistic. Until recently, it had only six members in parliament, but polls showed the party was on the rise, and one of its members, Sašo Peče, became deputy parliamentary speaker.

But cracks appeared to be developing between the party's long-time leader, Zmago Jelenčič, and his younger deputy chairman. At Jelenčič's 60th birthday party, a party member was reported to have called Peče by the diminutive form of his first name »Saško«, causing an argument to break out. Although Peče later denied the dispute, the party imploded shortly thereafter. Peče announced that he was leaving the SNS and taking three parliamentarians with him. According to him the moment had come where deputies of the SNS could no longer carry out their work due to influence on individual decisions:

"In my opinion the top level of the party led very labile politics and the governing coalition had been taking advantage of the SNS when it needed quorum, which had been facilitated by Jelincic".

Partly leader Zmago Jelinčič was initially sceptical, saying that he couldn't imagine the deputies actually leaving: »If they do leave it will be the last time they enter the parliament. I don't think they are stupid enough to do so, but we will see.«

The members did leave, but luckily for the SNS one of them changed his mind. An initial defector, MP Bogdan Barovic, returned to the party. This was important because the parliament stipulates at least three members to qualify as a deputy group.

Slovenian media turned its attention to discovering the cause for the split. Jelinčič accused the coalition party SLS of being behind the fracture. He claimed that the party had wanted to call a referendum on Croatia's membership in the EU, and that splitting the SNS was a plan by the SLS to »co-opt« nationalist voters.

The president of the SLS, Bojan Šrot, immediately rejected the idea that he had a hand in the affair.

"I have nothing to do with the conflict, not personally nor does the SLS party have anything to do with it".

Peče meanwhile rejected speculations that the trio would join another political party, saying that the MPs had not been thinking about their next moves on the political stage.

"I do not concentrate on the future elections and I deny any cooperation with any political party and I am sure that there will be more insinuations of this kind in the upcoming days".

The daily newspaper Dnevnik speculated that the split had to do with Jelinčič's dominance of the party and the resentment this caused in fellow parliamentarians. The newspaper Večer guessed that Sašo Peče's rapid ascent was behind the dispute. The daily newspaper Delo meanwhile had the safest guess of all: that the true background of the break up will probably never be clear.