It is a rare occasion that a country in a period of less than 6 months experiences European, Parliamentary as well as local elections but this is exactly the situation in Slovenia right now. Results of recent European elections, being the first of all three, are therefore even more telling than they would be otherwise. On the basis of the outcome for these elections, one is tempted to draw conclusions or at least indications for the other two, especially parliamentary elections. Before we immerse in the broader analysis of Slovenian political space, let us first focus explicitly on the aftermath of European elections. The elections as such are held in accordance with the system of proportional representation, which is combined with the ranked voting system, i.e. preferential voting. Whole country counts as one electoral unit and received votes are distributed according to D’Hondt system. Election threshold is not known in Slovenia and members of European parliament (EP) are selected in accordance with the above stated procedures. As a country, Slovenia has 8 members of EP (MEPs).
Since entering the European Union (EU) in 2004, these were the third elections for EP in a row. Therefore, putting some data in perspective, can illuminate what is the current mood and aspirations of Slovenians towards the EU. When a referendum was held about Slovenia entering the EU, more than ten years ago, voter turnout was more than 60% and almost 90% voted in favour of EU membership. Great hopes were invested in the project of EU accession, somehow it seemed that there is a bright, well deserved future that finally awaits us in the broad European family of nations. At least that was the idea a majority of politicians of right-wing as well as left-wing provenience were pushing forward. Slovenia will finally and once again become a part of Europe, were enthusiastic exclamations by nationalists, as if having been part of former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia had put it somehow off the map. In this sense EU accession was an explicitly ideological project. Even though the country stayed very much right where it was since the end of II. World War, it seemed there was a lot of effort involved to change its geopolitical position. We were told that we are finally leaving the Balkans and that we are moving towards the central where we always had our rightful place. At the time a popular argument by many politicians when trying to introduce new laws, was: „This is a well known practice in other European countries“.
However, this Euro-enchantment did not last for a very long time. Already the first European elections in 2004 had a very low turnout of 28%, five years later the turnout was also 28%, but this year it has fallen to 24%. According to last opinion polls provided by Euro barometer, the trust of Slovenians in the European Union as such is well below 30%, which is a dramatic fall from the 90% support when the country was entering the EU. But Slovenians are not alone, all in all 60% of Europeans in the EU member states do not trust the EU anymore. The majority of questioned in 20 out of 28 member states are even convinced that EU is heading in the wrong direction. So, when analyzing the perception of the EU and its elections, one must bear in mind that it was a project fully invested with hopes and aspirations, and systematically encouraged by the politicians. But at the same time, this project has obviously seen a dramatic turn in the way how it is perceived by common people. If politicians once addressed us with the supposedly impeccable examples of policies and legislative that other, more advanced EU countries have adopted, the rhetoric is very much different nowadays. Now, Slovenian politicians have been using the threat of Troika and its politics as one of the main subjects when talking about the EU. Here, one can see the true essence of cynicism of modern day liberal politics. Politicians, whether they are conservative, liberal or social democratic, use the same rhetoric and implement the same policies. Ironic as it may seem, but the fact is that, at least in Slovenia, nominally left-wing governments have been much more successful in implementing neoliberal policies, than their conservative colleagues.
Their rhetoric towards the EU is identical insomuch as they all perceive the threat of Troika as an inevitable, natural and, actually even, justified fact, as something that cannot be questioned in any meaningful way. We are actually facing a „grand ideological coalition“, where any substantial differences between conservatives, liberals and social democrats disappear, at the end of the day they are all devoted austerians, regardless of their nominal political affiliations. The iconic phrase the protagonists of such grand coalition like to repeat ceaselessly is: „We ourselves must implement the harsh austerity measures, otherwise Troika will come and do it in a much harsher way!“. At least two things are obvious in this often repeated sentence. We must be our own Troika, we must do the cuts, ignore democratic rights and procedures, otherwise, and this is a second point, the actual Troika will come, which is even more undemocratic and even more relentless in its demands for restructuring public debt, cutting the public sector etc. So there is a blunt admission that Troika is a threat to national sovereignty of member states and that getting Troika on your back is a particularly unpleasant thing. But as we already emphasized, at the end of the day, Troika is perceived as an inevitable, natural and justified fact.
Victory of Conservatives and the beating of Liberals and Social democrats
We have already noted that voters turnout was the lowest since the European elections are being held in Slovenia. Less than a quarter of the population with voting rights actually exercised their right. Such a low turnout is in itself telling and it indicates a vote of no confidence for the elections as such as well as for the EU. An ever increasing amounts of people are aware that current policies of austerity measures are drastically worsening their living conditions and future perspectives. More and more people are able to connect that what is happening in Athens is decided in Brussels and that solidarity between European nations does not exist in such a Europe. Therefore, it is not that surprising that a great many people did not bother to vote and that even amongst those who did, a significant amount decided to submit invalid ballots (more than 17.000 people). Before going to specific results, there is another general observation that is worth reaffirming, which is that voters of right wing parties are traditionally more disciplined and a low turnout always means that such parties will profit. Indeed, this was also the case on these elections.
Absolute winner of Slovenian European elections was the party SDS (Slovenian Democratic Party) which gained 24,88% and managed to get elected 3 MEPs. SDS won European elections in 2009 already. Second came a coalition of parties NSi and SLS (New Slovenia and Slovenian People’s Party) which received 16,56% of the votes and 2 MEPs. It is already known that both SDS as well as the coalition of NSi and SLS will enter the political family of European People’s Party, which will be therefore stronger for 5 MEPs from Slovenia. Before addressing the disribution of the last 3 out of 8 MEP seats, the results of
the right wing SDS party need further contextualisation. Janez Janša, president of SDS since 1993 has been recently convicted to a prison sentence of two years, because of corruption charges in the arms transactions during his mandate of prime minister (2004-2008). His response to the conviction was that he has been sentenced by a judicial system that enjoys less public trust then his party, the SDS. Obviously, his conviction did not harm his public support or the results of his party in the last elections.
The other three mandates were distributed among three social democratic or liberal parties. The biggest beating was received by Social Democrats (SD). On the European elections of 2009 SD received 18,43% of all votes and was with 2 MEPs the second among the parties. Five years later their electoral results were catastrophic, their votes have almost triparted as SD received only 8,02% and lost 1 MEP. Furthermore, their president Igor Lukšič who places himself first on the list, was not elected, because a former MEP of SD, Tanja Fajon, got reelected with preferential votes. Presidency of Igor Lukšič was characterized by an ever increasing lack of support of SD, spiced with arrogant and cynical statements about new leftist parties. He blamed the United Left coalition<s>,</s> for the loss of SD votes. The day after elections his party accepted his offer of resignation.
Furthermore, Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (Desus), a rather peculiar party and perhaps a Slovenian specificity, gained the 7th MEP and reached 8,14% of votes. Their policy can be described as social democratic, bearing in mind that modern day Social democrats are often responsible for neoliberal policies. They have also already announced that their MEP (Ivo Vajgl a second time MEP) will join liberal group in European parliament, ALDE.
A newcomer, Igor Šoltes, former president of the Court of Auditors was actually the most successful of the three parties, receiving 10,45% of votes and securing himself a mandate in EP. According to his own words in an interview he gave, he is most likely to return to Slovenia after the first 6 months of EP, i.e. a period he must go through if he wishes to be entitled to benefits of former MEP. He obviously has the ambition of becoming a major political figure in Slovenian politics. One of his „political assets“ was supposed moral integrity which he enjoyed as the president of Court of Auditors. However, the inconvenient truth was discovered by journalists that Šoltes was living in the municipality apartment, where he paid a much reduced rent. Even when gaining the position of the president of the Court of Auditors he lived for another 5 years in this apartment, arguing that his salary (more than 5.000 euros before taxes) did not allow him to move out. If voters will punish such hypocrisy, remains to be seen.
Encouraging first victory for socialist forces in Slovenia
At least as interesting as analyzing losers among winners, is analyzing winners among losers. But first of all about losers that are just losers. Such is for example the party Positive Slovenia (PS), which up until recently led the government and had a prime minister. Things started falling apart when former president of PS, incumbent mayor of capital city and a person facing various criminal charges, Zoran Janković, decided to run for the party president once again and against the incumbent prime minister, Alenka Bratušek. He managed to win, causing the collapse of the government, early elections and a split in PS. Consequently, the party that enjoyed all of the resources, media coverage and had a popular candidate, achieved only a meagre result of 6,61%.
Another loser among losers was a two time MEP, Jelko Kacin, who did not manage to get his third mandate (4,88%), yet further down is Slovenian National Party, a long time oppositional party, whose xenophobic president Zmago Jelinčič Plemeniti/ Zmago Jelinčič the Noble, reached only 4,04%. The ultimate loser amongst the losers was a neoliberal party called the Civic List, another coalition party in the former government of Alenka Bratušek. Civic List managed to get only 1,12% of the votes. The same night its president, Gregor Virant has resigned as a party president and it is most unlikely that the party will ever become a significant political player again.
However, an absolute winner among the losers is a tripartite coalition United Left (UL), consisting of Initiative for Democratic Socialism (IDS), Workers Democratic Party (DSD), and Party of Sustainable Development of Slovenia (TRS). The coalition was another political newcomer (IDS being founded as a party only this March), but it had an explicit agenda of democratic socialism and a strong criticism of EU’s existing structure and its (mal)functioning. Especially, its austerity measures, grave inequalities between countries of the centre and peripheral countries, the coalition was stoutly against any kind of fascism, even more so in the current situation which sees a powerful entrance of nationalist or even fascist parties into the EP. Coalition did not have any substantial financial resources and had to make ends meet with the little it had. Media coverage was hardly present and a great majority of public polls have projected that the result of UL might be around 3% and most likely much lower. However, the actual results of the UL on the European elections were almost double the projections, i.e. 5,47% (21.590 votes). Therefore, it was definitely the biggest positive surprise of the whole European elections.
One can immediately see that this newborn force that opted for radical socialist agenda and operated with extremely limited budget and other resources, was able to show there is a widespread distrust of other, nominally leftist parties. 2,6% of a difference between UL and SD and even smaller difference of 1,14% with PS is very telling. Especially, if one takes into account that PS won the last parliamentary elections of 2011 and achieved 28,51% of all the votes. Considering UL’s media blockage and consequently all other shortages it suffered, it is indeed a splendid and unexpected result. As such, it shows that other left-wing parties, ranging from social democracy to social liberalism, are becoming increasingly bankrupt and unable to address the real issues Slovenian people are facing nowadays. UL was therefore the only player that consistently argued that the actually existing EU is causing social disasters and needs to radically reform, ultimately into a United States of Europe that would be an organization of socialist states. Other parties have stubbornly supported the EU and have not voiced meaningful critiques.
UL was also very successful in holding its founding congress and hosting Alexis Tsipras of Syrizaas well as Dominic Heilig from Die Linke. With this gesture, it has shown its clear commitment to international solidarity and cooperation with progressive socialist forces. The founding congress and the presence of Tsipras and Heilig guaranteed a huge media coverage and helped with promotion of UL in the wider public space. As we have mentioned at the very beginning, it is a turbulent political time in Slovenia and it seems that very shortly, already in the second half of July, early parliamentary elections will be held, followed by the local elections at the end of September or at the beginning of October. Although results of European elections cannot be mechanically applied to the logic of parliamentary elections, it is still significant that UL would enter Parliament if it would achieve the same result. One could say this was one small step for European Left and one giant leap for Slovenian Left. New and much more difficult challenges are already at the gates and one can only say- the struggle continues!
Anej Korsika, Coordinator of International Affairs, Initiative for Democratic Socialism