29th May 2022

Slovenia's Janša faces tight elections amid criticism

  • Slovenian PM Janez Janša’s has been accused of exerting political and financial pressure on civil society organisations, public media services, and the judiciary (Photo: Council of the European Union)
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Slovenia's controversial prime minister Janez Janša faces a tight election race this Sunday (24 April), seeking a fourth term amid criticism that under his rule democratic standards and press freedom were undermined in the country.

The vote has shaped up to be a close race between Janša's Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) and the environmentalist Freedom Movement, led by Robert Golob, which wants more investment in renewable energy and greater transparency in state institutions.

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A poll by Ninamedia agency published on Thursday put the Freedom Movement slightly ahead on 26 percent and the SDS on 25.6 percent, Reuters reported.

The winner will have to secure coalition partners to form a government, and the two main left-leaning parties have ruled out serving in a coalition led by the SDS, giving Golob a slight advantage.

Janša, 63, is a populist and a close ally of Hungary's nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán. However, unlike Orbán, the Slovenian PM is a strong supporter of Ukraine, and was among the first EU leaders to visit Kyiv after Russia's invasion.

Janša has pledged to reduce Slovenia's dependence on Russian energy, and his government has been in negotiations to help expand Croatia's liquid gas terminal to reduce the two countries' dependence on Russian gas imports.

Golob's Freedom Movement backs EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine but accused Janša of seeking to exploit the war for his own political benefit.

Autocratic tendencies

Like his ally in Hungary, Janša has also been criticised for autocratic and populist tendencies.

US-based rights organisation Freedom House said in a report this week that democratic standards in Slovenia had declined more in 2021 than in any other country in eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Janša's government "exerted considerable political and financial pressure on civil society organisations, public media services, the judiciary," the report said.

Janša, who previously served as prime minister from 2004 to 2008, from 2012 to 2013, and then again from 2020, has also been accused of clamping down on media freedom.

Journalist organisations such as the Reporters Without Borders raised concerns about the recent attacks of the prime minister on Slovenian and international journalists during Janša's tenure. Janša has attacked and singled out journalists critical of his government.

A report by the International Press Institute (IPI), showed that heavy investments by Orbán's business allies in Slovenian media have been used to support Janša's party.

The EU chief prosecutor Laura Kövesi has criticised Ljubljana for failing to name prosecutors, and accused it of interference in the function of an EU judicial body. Janša's government eventually nominated two delegated prosecutors last November on a temporary basis.

Janša last year also tweeted a picture of 13 MEPs whom he accused of being "puppets" of Hungarian-born, American-Jewish philanthropist George Soros, even though several of the MEPs no longer serve in parliament.

Janša later deleted the antisemitic post.

He also congratulated US president Donald Trump after the 2020 presidential election even though it was won by Joe Biden, while Trump questioned the legitimacy of the vote.

Sunday's Slovenian election is seen as a watershed moment for the country to decide if it wants to continue with his more authoritarian style of rule.

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