Slovenians voted on Sunday in an early parliamentary election called after months of political wrangling and the dramatic resignation of Prime Minister Miro Cerar in March.
Cerar was eclipsed by two other main candidates in the run-up to the vote in Slovenia, an Alpine country of two million people which was the first ex-Yugoslav state to join the European Union in 2004 and adopted the euro in 2007.
– Janez Jansa, the veteran –
A long-time leader of the centre-right opposition, Janez Jansa, 59, is known for his crowd-pleasing rhetoric and combative presence on Twitter, where he attacks opponents and established media alike, echoing the tactics of right-wing populists abroad.
He’s also a former prime minister and his anti-migrant Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) emerged as the largest party in Sunday’s election with 25 percent of the vote.
Commanding a parliamentary majority may be more challenging, as most other parties had ruled out working with him before the election.
His career has already seen a fair share of drama. In 2013, only a year into his second term as prime minister, he was forced out by a corruption scandal.
He was given a two-year jail sentence for a bribery conviction and in parliamentary elections in 2014 he ran as the SDS candidate for prime minister from his cell in Dob prison near Ljubljana.
That conviction was later overturned by the Constitutional Court. It ordered a retrial which couldn’t take place as too much time had elapsed.
Jansa then demanded 900,000 euros ($1.4 million) in compensation from the state for having lost the 2014 elections.
Like his close ally Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Jansa is a veteran of the pro-democracy movements that brought about the collapse of communism and often accuses the old communist elite of exerting malign influence from the shadows.
– Marjan Sarec, the newcomer –
Marjan Sarec, 40, was best known in Slovenia as a comedian and political satirist before launching himself as an “anti-establishment” politician.
In 2010 he unexpectedly won the mayoral race in the northern town of Kamnik, on a left-leaning programme.
However, he began to tire of the limits placed on local authorities by the central government and in 2017 ran for president to advance his agenda.
After his narrow defeat to incumbent Borut Pahor, Sarec announced his LMS (Marjan Sarec List) party would run for parliament.
“We’ve started work on many issues and I’m not the sort of man to sulk at home with his arms crossed and just complain,” he said.
LMS finished second in Sunday’s poll, winning 12.7 percent of the vote, a result Sarec hailed as “a very big success” for LMS’s first parliamentary election.
Sarec has been criticised for lacking a clear programme but recently told AFP that his party “has many things in common with (French President Emmanuel) Macron’s position, a sensible, centrist orientation”.
He has ruled out working with Jansa, sharply criticising his anti-migrant rhetoric and closeness to Hungary’s Orban.
Since his entry into politics, Sarec has rarely made public use of his gifts as a comedian, instead cultivating an image of a down-to-earth Catholic family man, who prefers to spend his free time tending to his farm.
– Miro Cerar, the incumbent –
Outgoing 54-year-old Prime Minister Miro Cerar was a respected professor and regarded as an eminent authority on constitutional law before his entry into politics and surprise victory in 2014 elections.
His somewhat uptight public persona, and frequent complaints over the behaviour of his coalition partners, led some satirists to christen him “Cmerar” (cry-baby).
But Cerar claims to have restored stability in Slovenia, and under his tenure the economy has recovered after being on the brink of needing a eurozone bailout in 2013.
However, Cerar’s appeal as an outsider evaporated as soon as he went into coalition with established centre-left parties, according to political analyst Matevz Tomsic.
Added to that, the last months of his government were marked by increasing tension among his coalition partners, leading to him resigning a few months before his term was due to end in July.
His Modern Centre Party (SMC) finished fourth with just under 10 percent — a huge drop from its leading position in 2014 — but Cerar insisted the result meant his party “remains an important player on the political stage”, perhaps hinting at a role in anti-Jansa coalition.