By Alenka Krašovec (University of Ljubljana)
At the start of 2020 Slovenia seemed to face a new period of unstable government, an ongoing feature of the last decade. After the parliamentary elections in 2018, in September a coalition government of five parties was formed by Marjan Šarec, yet another political newcomer (after Zoran Janković, Alenka Bratušek, Miro Cerar) to the national level of politics in Slovenia (List of Marjan Šarec – LMŠ, Social Democrats – SD, Party of Modern Centre – SMC, Party of Alenka Bratušek – SAB, Democratic Party of Retired Persons – DeSUS), which unprecedented in Slovenia held minority status already when it commenced its term. However, the government was also able to rely on the support of the more radical The Left party (Levica). It soon became clear that a vital core around which this coalition depended were sentiments opposed to Janša and his Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), a party that attracted greatest support at the 2018 elections.
Although early in his term Šarec showed himself to be a determined leader who at a time of economic conjuncture also took some popular steps (e.g. concluded the negotiations with public sector worker trade unions, made some improvements regarding pensions, increased social transfers, introduced several smaller tax reforms, even managed to pass the budgets for 2020 and 2021, both with surpluses) and did not allow certain ministers and coalition party leaders to ‘blackmail’ his government, it was quickly obvious that the coalition partners represented many different voices and that there was also a rift between them and The Left. In autumn 2019, The Left announced it would leave the coalition and move into full opposition status. After a year of government in which there were several disagreements between the coalition and The Left, it was the coalition’s failure to support the draft law The Left had proposed to eliminate the supplementary level of health insurance, claiming that this was breach of the agreement reached in 2018. For a while and on certain topics, the government managed to secure the parliamentary support of the Slovenian National Party (SNS), yet disagreements continued among the coalition partners. The PM also saw some of his close associates resigning from office. While considering some solutions in the proposed law to do away with supplementary health insurance, the PM and the Minister of Finance, who had been unwilling to support certain proposals, fell out. On 27 January, the Minister of Finance therefore decided to step down, with PM Šarec resigning a few minutes later. He issued a public statement in which he said he was unable to fulfil the people’s expectations with the current coalition, and only 13 MPs of LMŠ, and called for early elections.
Indeed, the political circumstances at the time seemed favourable to both him and his party, with up to 50% of respondents in public opinion poll in December 2019 and January 2020 evaluating the work of the government as successful, and LMŠ would have received greatest support if elections had been held; 20% in December and 19% in January, followed by SDS with 13% and 17%, respectively.
Many of the parliamentary parties were keen to hold early elections, apart from LMŠ, this also included SD, Left, New Slovenia (NSi), as well as SDS as the biggest party. Nevertheless, other parties held reservations about the idea, mainly due to their very low public support, so low even that it would be very hard for them to again pass the parliamentary threshold. This applied to SNS and SAB, but especially SMC and DeSUS. In addition, both parties had recently experienced changes in their leaderships. After the European Parliament elections in 2019 and the very modest support recorded by SMC at the elections, its leader and founding father Miro Cerar announced a party congress for autumn and that would not seek to lead the party again. In September, Zdravko Počivalšek was elected to that position. At the end of 2019, another battle for leadership, this time in DeSUS, culminated such that in January 2020 the party’s long-term leader (since 2005) Karel Erjavec somewhat unexpected lost convincingly against Aleksandra Pivec. ‘Secret talks’ between Janša and Počivalšek about a new government coalition soon dominated the political scene, yet were denied.
SDS leader Janša declared that an early election was easily the best option and launched talks with parties about forming a new government, without any elections being held. This benefitted SDS also because following any elections the party was likely, even if it won greatest electoral support, to face the same cordon sanitaire as it had in the last ten years.
In the meantime, Šarec (LMŠ) offered Počivalšek (SMC) his pre-election co-operation, with the idea of a joint candidate list even arising. Still, after disputes among SMC members and public pressure stating that SMC would then be violating its pre-election promise to the voters by joining Janša’s government, the party then decided to become a coalition partner of SDS. This led Cerar to leave the party he had established in 2014, saying the party had lost its honour and was no longer adhering to the values it originally held. Further, within DeSUS, some cracks were clearly visible, although the party had already been a coalition partner with SDS between 2004 and 2008.
Despite NSi being a centre-right party, as well as a member of the European People’s Party, like SDS is, it appears that NSi has also found it difficult to decide to join a government led by SDS. After twice acting as a junior partner in SDS-led governments, it found that this did not benefit its electoral results. In addition, the relationship between the centre-right SDS and NSi entailed key differences in certain policies and had already attracted attention in the past, alongside disagreements between party leaderships that reached a peak in mid-2016. At the time, then NSi leader Ljudmila Novak declared it would be hard for her party to co-operate with SDS in the future if led by its long-standing leader Janša. She added that it was hard for her to create positive stories with ‘negative’ people, adding that she wished to talk about co-operation, yet was unable to imagine co-operating with a person who had been consistently abusing her and saying in public that NSi is no longer credible or reliable. Not surprisingly, the former NSi leader and current MEP Novak called for early elections. At the end of February, the party councils of SMC, NSi and DeSUS agreed to join a coalition government led by Janša and SDS. However, lowest support for joining the coalition came from NSi where ‘only’ 60% of the council members agreed.
On 3 March 2020, Janša was elected PM by 52 votes in favour (MPs from SDS, SMC, NSi and DeSUS, plus SNS and 2 representatives of the national minorities) and 31 against. On 13 March, parliamentary votes for/against the proposed list of ministers were distributed in the same way.
Janša’s third government started to work one day after Šarec’s acting government had proclaimed an epidemic in Slovenia. The national emergency caused by the coronavirus (Covid-19) saw the new centre-left opposition parties (LMŠ, SD, SAB, The Left) pledging to be constructive in helping the government fight the epidemic. However, they also announced they would be closely monitoring any actions that might be deemed excessive and harmful to democracy since SDS is close to Hungarian PM Orban, his party Fidesz and the policies they advocate.
Photo source: http://demokracija.eu/focus/janez-jansa-appointed-as-new-prime-minister-of-slovenia.html