LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Voters in Slovenia are preparing to elect a new president in an election this weekend that is seen as a test for the liberal government of the European Union nation, which seized power from populists last week. six months in the midst of a growing crisis fueled by the war in Ukraine.
Opinion polls ahead of Sunday’s vote suggested that no candidate would receive more than half of the votes, the threshold needed for immediate victory. In that case, a runoff election will be held three weeks later.
Seven candidates are running, but only three are considered serious contenders for the presidency. Former foreign minister Anze Logar led in pre-election polls, but analysts say a second round of voting could produce a different winner.
Whoever ultimately wins will succeed President Borut Pahor, a centrist politician who has sought to bridge Slovenia’s left-right political divide during his decade in office. Having served two full terms, Pahor is ineligible to seek a third.
Opinion polls initially showed Logar, who served in the previous right-wing government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa, trailing a centrist political novice, Natasa Pirc Musar, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist. Pirc Musar represented former US First Lady Melania Trump, who was born in Slovenia.
But while Pirc Musar had a strong lead early in the campaign, her popularity recently fell to 20% following revelations about her husband’s business interests and the couple’s alleged tax maneuvering.
While the presidency is largely ceremonial in Slovenia, the head of state is still seen as a person of authority in the Alpine country of 2 million people. If Pirc Musar wins, she would become the first woman to serve as president since Slovenia gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
Logar, who is running as an independent, has sought to shake off former Prime Minister Jansa’s divisive rhetoric and cast himself as a moderate. Recent polls suggested Logar could win around 30% of the vote on Sunday despite being part of the populist government that was soundly defeated in parliamentary elections in April.
Jansa faced accusations of restricting media and democratic freedoms while in office, which he dismissed as a leftist conspiracy. The election of a Jansa-backed candidate as president would represent a setback for the current government, which has taken a liberal approach.
A municipal election next month and three referendums forced by Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party could provide further indications of where the government stands with voters.
In the presidential race, the government has backed Milan Brglez, a Social Democrat and member of the European Parliament. Now third in the polls with around 17%, Brglez joined late in the campaign, weeks after a previous government favorite unexpectedly dropped out citing private reasons.
Analysts say it’s impossible to predict who will make it to the early runoff, but they expect moderate voters to rally against Logar in a head-to-head contest.
Janez Markes, a columnist for the Slovenian daily Delo, said the second round was almost certain because none of the main contenders was convincing in their responses to citizens’ concerns about the war in Ukraine and energy problems in Europe.
“The sensitivity to social issues and social justice is greater than in the past,” Markes said.