The Slovenia Times

Unprecedented polarisation a year after election

Opposition SDS leader Janez Janša coming to the stand and PM Robert Golob sitting in the first row.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

A year after the election in Slovenia the two biggest rivals, the Freedom Movement and the Democrats (SDS), are neck-and-neck at the top of the polls. There is unprecedented polarisation, the ruling party's falling ratings show its honeymoon is over and the opposition is in a state of flux, pundits say.

The Freedom Movement won the election on 23 April 2022 with a landslide only three moths after being formed by Robert Golob, a former energy manager. Securing a record 41 seats in the 90-strong National Assembly, the party went on to form a government with the Social Democrats (SD) and the Left.

Discussing the political situation in the country a year on with the STA, Andraž Zorko, an analyst at the polling agency Valicon, finds the political arena is seeing polarisation on an unprecedented scale.

"We have two parties with strong support, the SDS and the Freedom Movement, while the Social Democrats, the Left, New Slovenia (NSi) and some other smaller parties are far behind."

Both the government and the Freedom Movement have been losing ground in recent months. "Any drop in support which points to a trend is worrying for any government," Zorko says.

However, he also notes that a drop in the ratings of the centre-right Janez Janša government (2020-22) or the centre-left Miro Cerar government (2014-18) were even more pronounced.

The Robert Golob government succeeded to maintain high ratings for six months and just by winning the election it managed to raise people's trust in the key political institutions, which has not happened in the last 12 years, he says.

The Freedom Movement has also benefited from its merger with the LMŠ and SAB, two smaller liberal parties that formed the Marjan Šarec minority government, which was in office between 2018 and 2020. By folding in these two parties Golob got rid of potential rivals, says Zoko.

Currently the Freedom Movement is considered to be the government, which is why the party is losing public support while the junior coalition partners, the SD and the Left, are not.

Reforms will make or break the government

"The more the government slips in the ratings, the greater the SD's power will be regardless of its number of MPs," Zorko says, adding that the Left is meanwhile trying to take over the territory traditionally covered by the SD.

Tanja Starič, a long-term journalist, editor and host with TV Slovenija, notes that coalition partners are always fierce rivals. She expects this to become even more pronounced when elections near.

The SD and the Left are aware of their minority role but new parties are very vulnerable. "The key question is whether Freedom Movement MPs will stay party members until the end of the term," she says.

Zorko sees the situation in healthcare as the main reason for the decline in the government's ratings. This is what destroyed the Marjan Šarec government and what affected the ratings of Miro Cerar's party.

As for other unpopular measures that were announced as part of the planned reforms, Zorko says "it all depends on how these measures are presented".

Starič believes the government's ratings are falling because expectations had been high, but also because the government is making mistakes both in communication and in decision-making. So far, the prime minister has made promises he could not keep too many times. The announced reforms will make or break this government, she says.

Opposition parties at odds

The situation is also interesting in the opposition, where the relations between the SDS and NSi, which only a year ago were still part of the ruling coalition along with what used to be Cerar's party, have been cooling. Starič says that Janša has so far been dictating how the relationship between the two parties develops.

The NSi has backed some of the government's proposals it deems good and has even proposed constitutional changes to streamline the government appointment procedure together with the Freedom Movement and SD, which earned it a rebuke from the SDS that it is part of an "informal" government coalition. Meanwhile, the Left has voted against some of the government-sponsored proposals.

The SDS and the NSi are also at odds over their membership of opposition-controlled parliamentary bodies ever since the coalition backed the NSi's proposal for the party to chair the Public Finance Oversight Commission.

In protest, the SDS has been refusing to appoint its members to the Intelligence Oversight Commission, but then the ruling party temporarily gave its seats to the NSi to let the opposition have a majority in line with the parliamentary rules.

"Many forget that the right suffered a painful defeat and that many notable people there are unhappy and demand changes too," Starič says. It would be a major upset on the right if a new party is created that would not be merely an SDS satellite but would actually offer an alternative.

The NSi has been trying to present itself as an alternative in recent months and Starič believes its row with the SDS is in no way superficial. However, if Janša were to form a government, the NSi would still join it immediately, even though this is not a realistic scenario at the moment, she says.

"The young politicians in the NSi count on having long political careers and they want to know if they will be ministers again or if they will form a winning coalition. They have clearly realised it's time for change, for more moderate politicians to come to the forefront and primarily for Janez Janša to step aside," Starič says.

In this context it is still not clear what exactly will happen with a platform that SDS deputy Anže Logar announced he would form. Since the presidential election last year where he was defeated by President Nataša Pirc Musar, Logar has topped popularity rankings of politicians. "But at this point it seems Logar is not doing anything without Janša's knowing about it or his approval," Starič says.


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