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28th May 2022

Relief in Slovenia following 'Mini-Orbán' election defeat

  • Prime minister Janez Janša's has a "talent to get into conflict with a wide variety of people" experts say (Photo: Council of the European Union)
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Slovenia's three-time prime minister Janez Janša got beaten by green-liberal newcomer Robert Golob on Sunday (24 April) because voters did not want their country to follow in Hungary's footsteps.

Golob, a businessman and co-founder of a sustainable power company, only joined the non-parliamentary Green Actions Party in January, renaming it the Freedom Movement.

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He quickly positioned himself as the main rival to Janša's — nicknamed 'mini-Orbán' over his attacks on press freedom and the rule of law since he entered office in 2020. But his victory was made possible primarily because of Janša's unpopularity, political analysts say.

Although campaigning on a green ticket, Golob's victory "had nothing to do with ecology," political analyst Miha Kovač told EUobserver, and can instead be explained by Janša's "talent to get into conflict with a wide variety of people."

"People are angry after two years of Janša's effort to destroy the country," fellow political scientist Alem Maksuti said.

In recent months Janša has battled with EU lawmakers over his attempt to suspend funding to the national news agency and has come under fire in his own country for fining and arresting people who protested against his attacks on freedom of expression. "He fined an organiser €35,000," Kovač said, "which is more than [Russian president Vladimir] Putin has."

"Simply put, Janša's government favoured the illiberal path set out by Hungary, and people decided they did not want to live in such a country," Kovač said.

In recent years, investors connected to Hungarian president Victor Orbán have invested heavily in Slovenian media to create a media environment supportive of Janša, but according to Makusi his control over society is not as strong. "We are not Hungary," he said.

Golob's upset was helped by the fact that the political left is fragmented over five smaller parties.

"Many people voted strategically, I think. Golob was seen as the one with the best chance of beating Janša," Kovač said.

The Freedom Movement won 41 seats in parliament, meaning it only needs one other party — most likely the social democrats — to form a majority government.

But many of the new positions will be filled by people who are new to politics, one of whom is Dejan Zavec, a former lightweight boxing champion who Kovač describes as "quite articulate" but whose lack of political experience causes uncertainty.

"It is hard to predict how these people will behave in parliament," he said. "If Golob is unable to keep his party together, Janša will try to exploit it."

When former prime minister Marjan Šarec was forced to resign in March 2020 in the wake of a dispute over health care legislation, Janša, in a surprise move, managed to gather support for a coalition of right-wing parties and formed a new government via a parliamentary vote.

"I do not expect such problems to arise," Maksuti said. "Janša is a corrupt politician. And they [Golob's government] will do anything to present a different reality."

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