The Slovenia Times

Borut Pahor, a politician who feels well in president's shoes


His victory caps a campaign in which Pahor was the towering figure as the incumbent, his long political record offering plenty of opportunities for attacks by his eight opponents already before the first round of the election, as well as before the run-off.

However, his popularity among Slovenians has not been affected by the criticism. On the contrary, he seems to be liked exactly for what his political rivals reproach him with: friendliness, eagerness to please, and not siding with either the left or right.

The most persisting criticism of his first five-year term was that he had failed to speak up on some issues important to the nation, but this is expected to change.

"I've obviously learned and accepted something from people: people expect the president to be heard more often," he said on Friday in a reference to the criticism.

While he expected a close victory today, Pahor believes there is a big difference with the 2012 run-off against the then incumbent Danilo Türk, when he believes people voted for him also because they voted against Türk.

Born in Postojna on 2 November 1963, Pahor grew up in the area of Nova Gorica as the son of a seamstress and a teacher father, who died when he was nine.

Though he says he had been politically active in secondary school, Pahor entered politics in earnest as a member of the Communist Party in 1986 after graduating in political sciences.

He is the only person in Slovenia to have held every senior political office. He served multiple terms as MP after 1990 and was National Assembly speaker in 2000-2004, served as MEP in 2004-2008 and prime minister in 2008-2011. He also led the Social Democrats (SD) for 15 years starting in 1997.

Pahor, who admitted to always dreaming about becoming president, was elected to the presidency in 2012. The telegenic Pahor earned his victory with a populist and idiosyncratic campaign that saw him do menial jobs such as butcher, hairdresser and farmer, creating a stark contrast with the mandarin incumbent Danilo Türk.

The victory was a major upset as Pahor's government had collapsed in acrimony less than a year earlier, capping what was seen as, at best, a lacklustre government term, while Türk, though not very popular, won the first round with 36% of the vote against Pahor's 33%.

One of the reasons Pahor succeeded is that he drove home the message that he had learned from his mistakes as prime minister and that his stint in government during the worst economic crisis in modern history made him ideal for the top elected office in the country.

Pahor conceived this year's campaign in the same vein. He criss-crossed the country on foot to seek direct contact with the voters and expanded the personal campaign with a strong social media effort.

Pahor is an apt user of social media and producer of memes, and is sometimes referred to as the first Instagram president. He has successfully leveraged the photo-sharing social network and his youth career as model to produce images that often become iconic.

The focus on image is also what has earned him the strongest rebukes, in particular from leftist pundits and politicians.

Analysts have criticised him as being a vacuous president who has consistently preferred form over substance and has failed to speak as a moral authority on key issues such as migrations.

Pahor, however, has eschewed being a moral authority as president, though Slovenian presidents are commonly seen as wielding little actual power aside from being moral figures.

He has also been criticised for dodging responsibility, in particular for his refusal to actively intervene in the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, whose ineffectual leadership he appointed early in his presidency.

But Pahor insists the presidency as circumscribed by the Slovenian constitutional framework does not allow him to actively intervene in daily politics.

Pahor's perhaps greatest vulnerability in the campaign was his authorship of the border arbitration agreement with Croatia. Yet, he successfully deflected all attacks by standing his ground and insisting that the decision was right and that continuing dialogue, even in the face of Croatia's refusal to accept the award, was the only way forward.

In general, Pahor played a key role in foreign policy in the first term, seemingly carrying Slovenia's foreign policy at a time when Prime Minister Miro Cerar, jurist with no foreign policy experience, was learning the ropes.

Pahor focused on relations with Slovenia's neighbours and countries in the region - he has met his Croatian counterpart Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović more than two dozen times on different occasions - but he has also been a voice for a strong Europe and an advocate of Slovenia's position in the core, integrated group of EU countries.

Pahor has honed his unique brand of cross-partisanship throughout his long career, his centrism and advocacy of consensus and reconciliation often earning him criticism in particular from his own ranks.

This was especially evident during his stint as speaker of parliament in 2000-2004 when his party was a member of the ruling coalition and he was frequently reproached for yielding too much to the opposition.

On the other hand, his style of running the National Assembly won him approval from the public, and that is when he started to dominate popularity ratings, a trend that has continued ever since.

The stance has served him well in the presidency as well, in particular in nominations for high office, one of the main tasks of the president.

Most notably, he secured cross-partisan consensus for the appointment of five judges on the nine-member Constitutional Court, a feat that he considers one of his biggest presidential achievements.

Critics, however, retort that this was made possible because he had acceded to horse trading by elevating the candidates' ideological orientation over their professional credentials just to secure cross-partisan approval.

As a man who has spent almost three decades in the public eye, Pahor is among the politicians Slovenians know best. He has also actively courted this image by being very open about his personal life.

Pahor is not married but has a spouse, lawyer Tanja Pečar. The two do not share the same household but describe themselves as partners, and Pečar does assume the role of first lady when needed.

Their son, Luka, has become increasingly active by his father's side. He has accompanied his father on campaign hikes around Slovenia and participated in presidential events with increasing frequency.


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