The Slovenia Times

Fajon bidding farewell as SocDem leader

Tanja Fajon, Slovenia's foreign minister and leader of the Social Democrats. Photo: Boštjan Podlogar/STA

Slovenia's Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon will not seek another term as the leader of the Social Democrats (SD) as the party holds an early election congress in April, precipitated by the scandal surrounding the purchase of a run-down Ljubljana building meant to house several court departments.

Announcing her decision in a letter to party members and on social networks on 20 March, Fajon, 52, said she was leaving with a heavy heart but was aware of the "responsibility over the weight of the court building scandal that hit the party".

The scandal erupted early this year as it transpired the then justice minister and member of Fajon's party, Dominka Švarc Pipan, signed a €7.7 million contract to buy a dilapidated building in a less salubrious area of Ljubljana to serve as court premises from a seller who paid €1.7 million for it in 2019.

One of the issues raised was that the Justice Ministry failed to commission its own price appraisal, but went along with the one provided by the seller, and allegedly substantially overpaid the property, which court officials have assessed was unsuitable to house courts.

Amid piling allegations linked to the deal, the party called on Švarc Pipan to resign as minister, but she failed to do so, instead alleging that the purchase had been orchestrated by several senior ministry officials and SD members, including the secretary-general, who has since resigned.

Švarc Pipan stepped down eventually, to be replaced by senior SD member Andreja Katič, but the scandal dragged the party's and Fajon's own ratings to historic lows, and the party decided to hold an election congress in April, half-way into the current leadership's term.

New leadership, fresh ideas

"The time has come to elect new leadership, to bring fresh ideas to our party and to take bold steps to tackle the challenges ahead. Today is the first day of spring, and with a little symbolism, I believe that spring is an opportunity for a new beginning," Fajon wrote in announcing her decision not to run again.

Fajon plans to continue to be actively involved in the party's work and to support to "her best abilities the next generation of leaders, who will enhance social democracy".

MEP Milan Brglez has confirmed he will consent to stand as one of the candidates to succeed Fajon in the 13 April congress, along with Ajdovščina Mayor Tadej Beočanin, and the head of the SD deputy group Jani Prednik, who challenged Fajon for the post in 2020, earning the support of a third of delegates.

Prednik had also decided to run in the October 2022 congress but later changed his mind to let Fajon get re-elected uncontested as the party sought to close its ranks after internal criticism sparked by a disappointing showing in the general election when the party lost three seats in parliament to seven.

Journalist, MEP, foreign minister

The first woman at the helm of the party that evolved from the reformed Communist Party, Fajon first took over as interim SD leader in May 2020 as Dejan Židan resigned as party boss, and she was endorsed for a full term in October that year.

Formerly serving as the Brussels correspondent for the public broadcaster TV Slovenija, Fajon entered politics in 2009, when she was elected a member of the European Parliament on the SD ticket, a feat that she repeated again in 2014 and 2019.

Having become the 7th SD leader, Fajon had led the party with the bold ambition of becoming the relative winner of the 2022 general election, but instead the party won only seven seats.

It went on to form a coalition government with the Freedom Movement, the party of political newcomer Robert Golob, which won an overwhelming victory, and the Left. Fajon became Slovenia's first woman foreign minister and one of the deputy prime ministers, while the party was also allotted the ministries of economy, justice and regional development.

Fajon is confident that she will stay on as minister, saying it would not happen the first time that a coalition party leader is not a government member. Nor do coalition partners expect any change.

Some comentators have assessed that the party has been facing an identity crisis ever since the Left entered the political scene in 2014 with an agenda similar to that of the SD.

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