LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Exit polls in Slovenia’s parliamentary election on Sunday suggested an opposition liberal party won by a landslide, dealing a major defeat to populist Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who was accused to pushing the small European Union country to the right while in office.
The polls conducted by the Mediana polling agency and published by public broadcaster TV Slovenia and commercial Pop TV, showed that opposition Freedom Movement won 35.8% support compared with the ruling conservative Slovenian Democratic Party with 22.5%,
Trailing behind the top two contenders were the New Slovenia party with 6.8%, followed by the Social Democrats with 6.6% and the Left party with 4.4%. The polls have proven reliable in the past.
If confirmed in an official tally, the result means that the Freedom Movement, a newcomer in the election, stands likely to form the next government in a coalition with smaller center-left groups. The party leader addressed supporters via a video message from his home because he has COVID-19.
“Tonight people dance,” Robert Golob told the cheering crowd at the party headquarters. “Tomorrow is a new day and serious work lies ahead.”
Jansa posted a message to supporters on Twitter, saying only “thank you for your vote.”
It still remained unclear which, if any, other smaller groups will be able to pass the 4% threshold and what the final distribution of parliamentary seats will look like.
Jansa, a veteran politician, became prime minister a little over two years ago after the previous liberal premier resigned. An admirer of former U.S. President Donald Trump, Jansa had pushed the country toward right-wing populism since taking over at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reflecting strong interest in Sunday’s election, turnout was higher than usual — nearly 50% of Slovenia’s 1.7 million voters had cast ballots by mid-afternoon, up some 15% compared with the previous election in 2018.
Golob, a U.S.-educated former business executive, came out as a frontrunner shortly after entering the political scene. The Freedom Movement party has advocated a green energy transition and sustainable development over Jansa’s nation-centered narrative.
Liberals had described Sunday’s election as a referendum on Slovenia’s future. They argued that Jansa, if reelected, would push the traditionally moderate nation further away from “core” EU democratic values and toward other populist regimes.
Jansa’s SDS won the most votes in an election four years ago, but couldn’t initially find partners for a coalition government. He took over after lawmakers from centrist and left-leaning groups switched sides following the resignation in 2020 of liberal Prime Minister Marjan Sarec.
Jansa, in power, faced accusations of sliding toward authoritarian rule in the style of his ally, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. He came under EU scrutiny amid reports that he pressured opponents and public media, and installed loyalists in key positions for control over state institutions.
The Freedom House democracy watchdog recently said that “while political rights and civil liberties are generally respected (in Slovenia), the current right-wing government has continued attempts to undermine the rule of law and democratic institutions, including the media and judiciary.”