Slovenia's new upstart party defeats nationalist premier in election

Leader of Gibanje Svoboda party Robert Golob appears on screen at the party base in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on April 24, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

SLOVENIA (BLOOMBERG) - A newly formed protest party in Slovenia beat Mr Janez Jansa, a nationalist prime minister who has challenged the European Union's (EU) democratic standards, by an unexpectedly wide margin in general elections.

Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, and as French voters gave President Emmanuel Macron a new term, former executive Robert Golob and his upstart Freedom Movement are positioned to create a new left-leaning government and reverse policies introduced by Mr Jansa that they say undermine the rule of law.

Freedom Movement won about 33.4 per cent of the vote, versus 24.7 per cent for Jansa's Slovenian Democrastic Party, according to partial official results with about 79 per cent of ballots counted.

The tally resembled an exit poll published when voting ended that showed five parties had won seats in the 90-member Parliament.

"People really want change," Mr Golob said, declaring victory on Sunday (April 24).

"Today people are dancing, but tomorrow a new day begins. Tomorrow we'll start working hard."

The outcome provides validation to Slovenians who mounted almost two years of weekly protests against Mr Jansa.

It also further isolates EU rebel Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary and a close ally of the Slovenian leader.

"Jansa's defeat shows that Slovenians had enough of his policies and didn't like how he was leading the country in the direction of Hungary," said Mr Andraz Zorko, a political analyst. "It's positive for the EU."

Mr Golob, a 55-year-old former chief executive with long gray curls, vowed to take on Mr Jansa after he was ousted during the three-time premier's administration as the head of of state-owned power company GEN-I.

He tested positive for Covid-19 on April 18, and was forced to isolate and leave the campaign trail.

He is expected to form a government with one or both of two smaller parties, the Social Democrats and the Left.

He has pledged to improve health care and pursue a transition to a greener economy.

Freedom Movement, which he formed at the end of January, has few members with experience in politics or government on a national level.

Aside from a months-long lockdown that included a strict curfew and a botched vaccination campaign, Mr Jansa cut off funds from the state news agency and gave politicians more sway over the judiciary and police.

Like Mr Orban, Mr Jansa also courted eurosceptic leaders. He met French right-wing presidential candidate Marine Le Pen when he chaired the EU's rotating presidency last year.

Mr Jansa, a 63-year old former Marxist turned right-wing populist has led a career marked by surprising comebacks - including a communist-era prison term and another after a 2013 corruption conviction that was later overturned.

Mr Jansa denies wrongdoing. A staunch supporter of former United States President Donald Trump, who he endorsed before the 2020 US election, he regularly takes shots at the judiciary and EU officials in coarsely worded attacks on Twitter.

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