Opposition fails with major referendum push

Coalition leaders celebrate after voters endorse three laws that the opposition challenged in a referendum.
Coalition leaders celebrate after voters endorse three laws that the opposition challenged in a referendum. Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

Slovenia’s ruling coalition has deflected a major challenge by the opposition as voters confirmed three laws in a referendum on 27 November that was billed as a vote of confidence in the left-liberal government.

Challenged by the Democrats (SDS) on the grounds that they were damaging, all three laws were endorsed with double-digit margins, most convincingly the law that aims to depoliticise the national public broadcaster by putting the civil society and institutions other than parliament in charge of appointments to key management and supervisory bodies.

Almost 63% of those who turned out on Sunday voted in favour.

The act which postpones the implementation of a new long-term care system by a year was confirmed with just over 62%, and the act on the composition of the government which paves the way for an increase in the number of ministries received the support of 56.4%.

The law on public broadcaster RTV Slovenija was at the forefront of campaigning, mostly due to turmoil at Slovenia’s largest media house caused by major staffing changes that started after the previous, conservative government appointed a new programme council and supervisory board that have been decried by large swathes of the staff and several domestic and international organisations as biased and politicised.

“The people have voted for a free and healthy Slovenia,” said National Assembly President Urška Klakočar Zupančič, the vice-president of the ruling Freedom Movement. She said the people had voted for democracy and freedom, adding she was happy she lived in a country where the results of the April general election had been re-affirmed and where people wanted high-quality laws.

“It is time the opposition accepts what people are saying,” said Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon, the president of the junior coalition Social Democrats, adding that instead of what the opposite side had been doing so far, it should start cooperating. According to her, the outcome shows that the government and coalition enjoy strong support.

Left Leader Luka Mesec said the result showed that the SDS will not come far with stonewalling. “It simply does not pay for them to organise referendums every Sunday, which is apparently what they have set out to do.”

The vote was welcomed by the journalists’ trade unions at RTV Slovenija, which said that people had delivered a clear message that politics must be removed from public media. “This is confirmation that the public wants a professional, autonomous, and quality media outlet without political diktat about content,” they said.

The SDS attributes the defeat to media bias, building on their long-standing assertion that Slovenian media are controlled by the left. “With a 99% media monopoly, what can they mislead them with next time,” party president Janez Janša said on Twitter.

SDS lawmaker Branko Grims put it more starkly, arguing that the situation in Slovenia was worrisome because “instead of the content, the media managed to channel the debate into ideology and personal prejudices”, so “it is no wonder that the situation in Slovenia is getting increasingly similar to that in Germany in 1933.”

The vote marks yet another in a series of defeats for the SDS, long the dominant force in Slovenian politics, after a routing at the general election in April and the recent presidential vote, which their candidate Anže Logar, a seasoned politician and former foreign minister, lost to political newcomer Nataša Pirc Musar.

The party remains a dominant force in local politics after last week’s local elections, but the Freedom Movement has come very close in terms of the number of councillors and the share of the vote, despite fielding candidates in far fewer municipalities.