Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša’s party suffered a major defeat in a parliamentary election on Sunday, losing to a left-wing party formed only earlier this year.
The Freedom Movement, which was taken over and renewed by businessman Robert Golob in January, got about 33 percent, according to the National Electoral Commission, with more than 99 percent of the vote counted.
Janša’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) gained about 28 percent, with its main coalition partner New Slovenia-Christian Democrats at about 8 percent.
The freedom movement got 40 seats in parliament. The Social Democratic Party won seven seats and has already announced that it will join Golob’s government, securing the necessary majority to form one. They could also be joined by the Left Party, creating a broad coalition of left-wing parties.
“Janez Janša is the biggest loser of these elections,” said political scientist Alem Maksuti.
“We expect him to challenge the legitimacy of the election, just as he supported Donald Trump’s claim that the US election was fraudulent,” Maksuti said.
Pro-SDS media published several articles after closed polls and claimed Russian interference in the election. Although this claim has not appeared in reputable Slovenian media, the European People’s Party – of which Janša is a member – tweeted from his official account Sunday that it was concerned about “possible Russian interference in the Slovenian elections, which is clearly a consequence of Slovenia’s firm and unequivocal support for Ukraine.”
Janša has stated that his opponents support Russia’s claim to Ukraine because of their left-wing political orientation.
The outgoing SDS government took office after former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec resigned in March 2020 following a dispute over health legislation.
Instead of the usual expected re-election after Šarec resigned, Janša’s SDS gathered support for a coalition of right-wing parties and formed a new government via a parliamentary vote.
The period since then has been marked by a decline in democratic standards. A recent Freedom House report showed that Slovenia was facing the sharpest democratic decline of all 29 countries it monitors, based on factors such as the legislative process, media independence and corruption.
“The damage that has been done in these two years is significant. The transition or return to some state before Janša will take time and the expectations are high, ”said Maksuti.
From placing cadres loyal to the SDS in key institutions, to questionable agreements involving state-owned enterprises, to continuous attacks on critical news media, Janša’s government was often compared to those in Hungary or Poland in terms of democratic backwardness.
Janša spent the last two years promoting the belief that Slovenia was under attack, either by international left-wing conspiracies or remnants of the communist elite, which he claims control the political scene in the country.
“Janša’s main political ideology has been to invent non-existent enemies and try to eliminate anyone who stands in his way,” Maksuti said.
But unlike other populist parties in power in Europe, the SDS has had consistent polls of around 20 percent since it first formed a government in 2004 (in the 2018 election, the SDS won 24.9 percent of the vote according to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls).
The victory of the freedom movement was only a small surprise as the party topped the polls ahead of the election and also because Slovenian voters often tend to elect newcomers to power.
Voting behavior in Slovenia is “very unstable. About 20 percent of voters regularly change their voting preferences at each election,” Maksuti said.
“Political parties that were previously successful in the election will fail and fall apart when the next election comes,” he said.
According to Tea Jarc, a trade unionist who was a key figure in the civil society movement Voice of the People, these elections have been a long time coming.
She joined thousands of other Slovenes in protesting against the Janša government every Friday for 105 weeks, with many saying they felt cheated from elections to take place when Šarec resigned.
“The Friday protests started as soon as it became clear that Janša would not allow early elections – that was what the previous government promised when it collapsed,” Jarc said.
Jarc and about 100 other civil society organizations decided to form the Voice of the People last September to bring together the issues that voters felt most strongly about across the country.
‘No one expected them to continue for two years. “One would have thought that the government would have taken seriously the fact that thousands of people protested every week,” Jarc said.
Jarc has been the subject of numerous smear campaigns by news media affiliated with the SDS, as have countless other activists, journalists and opposition politicians. She said many in the country are still in shock at how quickly the country slipped into “a more autocratic system.”
“We never thought a democratic system could change so quickly,” Jarc said.