LJUBLJANA (BLOOMBERG) - Slovenian incumbent Borut Pahor is poised to win the first round of a presidential election, potentially becoming the first in 15 years, by fighting off a candidate who's vowed to oust the country's ruling elite.
Voting began at 7am (1pm Singapore time) on Sunday (Oct 22) in the euro-area country of 2 million people. Forced out of government six years ago, when voters rejected his plan to address a 2011 financial crisis that almost drove the country into a Greece-like international bailout, Pahor, 53, has staged a comeback.
He was elected to the mostly ceremonial position a year later and has built a strong lead in opinion polls, which suggest he may win an outright majority in the first round and avoid a Nov 12 runoff.
A former fashion model who has lured support via a slick Instagram, Twitter and Facebook campaign, Pahor has connected with voters by hiking 700km (430 miles) across Slovenia.
His opponents, however, say his approach underscores how much he's avoided making tough decisions on national issues including healthcare, a 2013 government-led bank rescue and a shake-up at the country's anti-corruption commission.
"He seems to benefit from his tendency to avoid conflict and project a positive image, and his call for unity in the country that has seen significant political turbulence and economic hardship in recent years," Otilia Dhand, a political analyst at Teneo Intelligence in Brussels, said by phone.
"Running as an independent candidate also helps him to overcome party divides and attract voters that have no particular affiliation." Polling stations close at 7pm. The state election commission will publish early results around an hour later.
Incumbent Leads Pahor will get about 55 per cent of the vote in the first round, followed by comedian-turned-mayor Marjan Sarec, with 21 per cent, according to an Oct 12-18 opinion survey by pollster Delo Stik. In case of a runoff, Pahor would get 68 per cent and Sarec 32 per cent, according to a survey.
Sarec, 39, is a former comic who played an often drunk and government-criticising peasant until he became the mayor of Kamnik in 2010, a town of 29,000 people near the capital, Ljubljana.
With no party affiliation, Sarec has branded Pahor as an empty suit who fears decision-making. He's also called for new faces in politics and has said he'd replace Bostjan Jazbec, who's a European Central Bank governing board member, if he's elected.
Pahor has defended his tenure, which coincided with a banking crisis and a two-year economic recession and the fall of former Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek's government. He argues that the president has limited authority and he can't intervene "in matters that only deepen divisions".
"Political stability can't be taken for granted," Pahor told supporters in Ljubljana last week. "The president can significantly contribute to the political stability of the country by not meddling with affairs that are for the government or lawmakers to deal with."