Ljubljana – Slovenian voters have overwhelmingly rejected the new waters act in a referendum on Sunday. More than 86% voted against, show near-final unofficial results. The statutory requirement that at least 20% of all voters must be against for a law to be rejected has been satisfied as well.
After more than 99% of the votes were counted, the tally showed 86.6% voting against and 13.4% in favour of the law.
Turnout was just shy of 46%, the highest in a referendum since 2007. It was the highest in Ljubljana, at nearly 50%, and lowest in the Ptuj electoral unit, at almost 37%, according to preliminary data by the National Electoral Commission.
The law was overwhelmingly rejected in all 88 electoral districts, with the share of the no-vote exceeding 80% in almost all districts.
The referendum revolved around provisions of the new law that determine the development of coastal, lakeside and riverside areas.
It was initiated by a grassroots movement of mostly NGOs that objected to provisions that they say would lead to too much development, damage public access to waters and potentially jeopardise groundwater.
The no-vote is a sign that people have had it with obstruction of democratic rights and indicates their disagreement with current policies, Nika Kovač of the Institute 8 March said in an early comment.
“There are claims that the votes were emotional. And I say yes, they definitely were. But they were based on a clear opinion of experts and the work of environmental organisations that the authorities constantly ignored,” she said.
Uroš Macerl of the environmental NGO Eko Krog said that people had demonstrated that water and nature were something they were not prepared to give up and perhaps the greatest assets of Slovenia. “This is a victory of courage and activation of good people who wish to change things for the better,” he said.
Macerl highlighted that this was also a victory of the young, noting that young people showed they would fight for their future. “I really missed this in the past 10, 15 years of activism and I’m extremely glad,” he said.
He also noted that quite a few parties that had been on the side of the experts in this referendum campaign had done many mistakes when it came to environmental policy in the past, urging them not to repeat these mistakes if they ever get to lead the country again.
The government claimed the opposite than the against camp, arguing that the new provision would in fact protect coastal, lakeside and riverside areas from over-development.
Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak said the referendum had been stolen and misused to achieve other goals, including political targets.
“People have reacted emotionally … voters were encouraged by some pamphlets that have nothing to do with the legislation’s purpose,” Vizjak told public broadcaster RTV Slovenija.
Opposition politicians and commentators were quick to interpret the result as a painful defeat for the government and some suggested it should step down.
Political analyst Andraž Zorko described it as vote of no confidence in the government by the people, who have succeeded in doing what the opposition had failed to do in parliament.
Social Democrat (SD) leader Tanja Fajon and LMŠ president Marjan Šarec said the outcome showed how little the people trust the government and how low its legitimacy is, while Left leader Luka Mesec said a snap election would be the best.
Prime Minister Janez Janša dismissed such a view. “Do you know any left government that resigned after a lost referendum? … No drama. But you cannot sit at home and expect miracles at polling stations with these [mainstream] media. So thanks to everyone who voted. Whichever way. This is how it’s done,” he wrote on Twitter.