Voters losing faith in Prime Minister Golob
One and a half year into term, Slovenia's Prime Minister Robert Golob appears to be under increasing pressure amid negative voter approval ratings, criticism over stalled reforms, the prospect of a strike wave and speculation about his potential replacement.
In the latest blow for Golob, a poll run by the newspaper Delo on 13 November showed him plunge to the bottom of popularity rankings at a rate unparalleled in any other politician to date.
The poll, conducted by Mediana, saw Golob's party Freedom Movement losing another 4.4 percentage points over the month before to 14.4%, as much as 7.8 points behind the opposition Democrats (SDS), who lost 0.8 points to 22.2%.
The rating for Golob's centre-left coalition government took a plunge as well with almost 54% assessing its work in negative terms, an increase of more than ten percentage points from October. The average grade they gave the government on a 1-5 scale fell to 2.42, the lowest since it took office.
Golob's coalition partners fared better with the Social Democrats (SD) remaining stable at 7% and the Left inching 1.1 points lower to 4%.
In a pre-release of the poll results on 11 November, Delo quoted Dejan Verčič, a public relations expert who has advised a number of top level politicians, as saying that "there is panic spreading on the left, because what is going on can mean its end".
Turmoil in coalition party
The poll results follow weeks of turmoil in Golob's own party with scandals involving one or the other minister or Golob himself erupting almost on a daily basis.
After five of the ministers were fired or forced to resign, speculation emerged that Golob also wanted to force a fellow party founder, Urška Klakočar Zupančič, out as National Assembly president. Both opposition parties said they had been approached by Freedom Movement MPs and asked whether they would support a proposal to replace her.
In an unexpected twist, Klakočar Zupančič stepped down as party vice-president, while Golob announced expulsion of two other party members, declaring the prospect of a major cut in the size of his cabinet in what came as a major surprise to his coalition partners.
Two weeks later, as the coalition were due to discuss his plan to downsize his cabinet, a new twist followed as Golob apparently had to back down, coming out of the meeting declaring they did not discuss the matter at all.
Instead both him and his coalition partners sought to reassure the public of their unity, saying the discussion had been about how to make the coalition and the government more effective.
Political commentators described Golob's plan of a new cabinet reshuffle as a red herring meant to divert the public attention away from the fact that there was little progress on the delivery of election promises and reforms.
Reprimand from president
Similar critique was offered by President Nataša Pirc Musar on 10 November. "We all have a feeling, and we know this feeling is not deceiving us at the moment, that all reforms are stalled", except for those linked to the post-flood reconstruction, she said.
Referring to "a coalition crisis or perhaps foremost a crisis of the ruling party", the president said she was glad there would be no cabinet reshuffle because that would mean more "idle running".
The president also reiterated her continued trust in Tatjana Bobnar, the former interior minister turned her aide, who in her testimony before a parliamentary inquiry accused Golob of trying to pressure her over staffing in the police force and even of intervening to change the date of the arrest of two Russian spies in late 2022.
Controversies and challenges piling up
The government has also been facing criticism with regard to post-flood reconstruction, while trade unions have been threatening strikes over its plan to freeze public sector pay at a time when inflation is running high.
Several ministers from the ranks of the senior coalition party have stirred public controversy. Defence Minister Marjan Šarec faced a barrage of criticism over his ministry's plan to award a company with no employees a €2 million contract to produce a reality show to boost recruitment for the army. In the end, the controversial public call was annulled.
Meanwhile, Digital Transformation Minister Emilija Stojmenova Duh came under fire over the purchase of 13,000 budget laptops with allegedly outdated hardware for almost €6.5 million.
The developments have prompted some of his erstwhile supporters to turn away from Golob, while the former PM Janez Janša and pro-opposition media in particular have been fuelling speculation about an alleged conspiracy to replace Golob without a snap election.
In his latest editorial, Silvester Šurla, the editor-in-chief of the centrist magazine Reporter, alleged that such a plan was being orchestrated by an influential circle around Slovenia's first president, Milan Kučan, that also included President Pirc Musar.
In response to the collapse in the approval ratings, Golob and his coalition partners promised to do better with Golob telling the commercial broadcaster POP TV the results meant the government "will have to work even harder to regain people's trust".
The coalition partners indicated the results did not come as a surprise, acknowledging that the government failed to deliver on the promises made, which they said would have to change.
Meanwhile, SDS leader Janša reiterated his call for an early election, writing on X that his party was currently the only one that had a team capable of running the government without losing much time.
His party recently appointed an expert council, a sort of shadow cabinet, that includes several prominent party members but also Zdravko Počivalšek, who served as economy minister in three consecutive governments between 2014 and 2022.
The SDS has a stable voter base and its ratings have not been affected after a parliamentary inquiry found there was good reason to suspect that part of the money that the SDS-led government allocated for watercourse management was siphoned off to the media linked to the party via high advertising fees paid by the contractors.
Meanwhile, the other opposition party, New Slovenia (NSi) is not keen on a snap election.
Unlike the SDS, the party appears to have been punished by its supporters for alleged involvement in corruption at the state-owned motorway company DARS. Its rating in the latest Delo poll fell by 2.5 points to 4.7%.
As a way out of the current situation, the Cathedral of Freedom, a centre-right think-tank that includes several former high-ranking officials, suggested forming a "crisis and reform government".
Under their proposal the nine-member cabinet would include former PM Janša, former presidents Milan Kučan and Borut Pahor, and former Foreign Minister Anže Logar. The four would pick the prime minister among themselves, but if they failed to reach consensus, the prime minister would be determined by a draw.