The Slovenia Times

Few upsets in mayoral run-offs

Outgoing Celje Mayor Bojan Šrot (left) shaking hands with Matija Kovač (right), who won the mayoral race.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Slovenian voters delivered few upsets in the mayoral run-off on 4 December, with the notable exception of Celje. Overall, the long trend towards voters picking independent and cross-partisan candidates carried on. Incumbents have shown staying power as well.

Celje the biggest surprise

After serving as Celje mayor for 24 years, Bojan Šrot was voted out in an upset run-off election in Slovenia's fourth largest city as voters opted for change in the form of Matija Kovač.

Kovač, a 33-year-old architect who has served as councillor for the Left for the past eight years but ran as an independent, won 57.8% of the vote, against 42.2% for Šrot, a 62-year-old lawyer.

Kovač had been campaigning with a promise to bring change, offering a vision of "green, urban and shared" future and a revival of the city centre.

He pledged to help create opportunities for young people and an inclusive environment that would let the city use the creative potential of its residents, no matter what walk of life they come from.

Maribor mayor sees off second challenge by arch-rival

In Maribor, Slovenia's second largest city, Saša Arsenovič, 56, deflected another challenge from Franc Kangler, a former mayor whom he had already defeated in 2018, winning 61% of the vote.

Arsenovič, a successful entrepreneur who has several restaurants in the centre of the city, has focused his campaign on infrastructure projects that were completed in his first term, which he believes ultimately carried the vote.

"I am sure the voters have recognised that I mean business, that we are working quickly and efficiently for the benefit of everyone," said Arsenovič, who sees the result as a confirmation of a job well done.

Kranj opts for incumbent

Similarly, Kranj, the country's third largest city, gave the incumbent Matjaž Rakovec a second term. The Social Democrat (SD) has won with 70.9% against Ivo Bajec, a candidate of the Democratic Party (SDS).

A former insurance executive, Rakovec said voters had recognised that his team had a serious intention of modernising Kranj, making it once again the capital of the Gorenjska region.

The list of projects for the next two years includes an elderly care home, a new sport stadium, a new bus station and a housing fund.

Nova Gorica votes for ruling party's candidate

In Nova Gorica meanwhile, voters opted for a political newcomer, Samo Turel, over one-term mayor Klemen Miklavič, a result that gave the ruling Freedom Movement the first mayor in one of the twelve urban municipalities.

Much like other insurgents, Turel campaigned on a promise to reinvigorate a sleepy city, even as he acknowledged that some of his predecessor's major projects were good and would continue.

"I've not made big promises except for the pledge to roll up our sleeves and complete everything we have set out to do ... and to awaken Nova Gorica from this standstill in which it has become stuck," Turel said.

New mayors in Murska Sobota and Krško

Murska Sobota and Krško were the only urban municipalities in which incumbents were not on the ballot and they were bound to get a new mayor in any event.

Damjan Anželj, a candidate of the SD, won against Andrej Mešič in Murska Sobota with 64.8% of the vote, reaffirming the party's grip on Slovenia's easternmost urban municipality.

And in Krško, victory went to Janez Kerin, a 54-year-old senior criminal inspector with the National Bureau of Investigation who won 55.2% of the vote, against 44.8% for Dušan Šiško, a former MP for the National Party.

Continued shift away from parties to independents

With the run-off completed, the picture that emerges, at least when it comes to mayors, is of voters increasingly opting for independents and candidates backed by multiple parties.

Four years ago 136 mayors either ran as independents or were backed by multiple parties won office in the country's 212 municipalities; this year the figure rose to 150.

This coincides with the demise of established parties, foremost among them the non-parliamentary People's Party, which had 26 mayors four years ago and now has only 15.

The Social Democrats (SD) now have 14 mayors compared to 16 four years ago, and the Democrats (SDS) 12, down from 17.

The conservative New Slovenia (NSi) added one mayor to its tally, going from 10 to 11, whereas the Freedom Movement, for which this was the first local election, got 3

Strong incumbent advantage

Of the 212 municipalities, sitting mayors were re-elected in 147 communities, showing once again how strong incumbent advantage is. A total of 135 were re-elected in the first round and another ten in the run-off.

The trend has already led to calls for mayoral term limits, including by a special Council of Europe mission that observed the first round. Analysts however think this is unlikely to happen any time soon.


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