Though it is true the country faced serious democratic challenges and risk of becoming an autocracy, the newest developments such as the results of elections and the promise of a new coalition government by the left-wing parties prove that the country still has the chance to prove pessimistic arguments wrong and get back on track.
Ever since 2020, Slovenia had been openly following Janša, in the path to autocracy. What started out as a center-right party slowly but surely shifted gears into the authoritarian rule, and more towards the right for two years. Many of the practices were highly criticized by both the Slovenian public and by international communities including the repression against the media and claims of clientelism. Going back to the recent significant elections of April 2022, the liberal Freedom Movement (GS) party won 34.5% of the votes leaving the SDS 23.6%. The Freedom Movement is a liberal, green party that had apparently won over the public as a newcomer in the country’s political scene. The recent news proves that the leader of the GS, Robert Golob has agreed to form a coalition in the very near future which will probably be a left, liberal-based one. Golob promised his nation that the “normality” and democracy will be restored in the state after increasing concerns about the quality of democracy in the country.
Slovenia is one of the countries that has a socialist background coming from the Soviet Union. The country is a parliamentary democratic republic. However, over the last few years there have been speculations and discussions on whether democracy is slowly eroding. Slovenia is mentioned for having one of the most successful transitions to democracy after the disintegration of Yugoslavia; having adopted the democratic principles rather quickly and becoming a member in international organizations including United Nations, European Union, and NATO.
On 24 April 2022, Slovenians went to the polls for the parliamentary elections that could potentially determine the nation’s future. These elections were one to keep an eye on for many nations that share the common trend of democratic backsliding. Before the elections, the ruling party was the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), which is a center-right political party that had first come to the office in 2004. Therefore the SDS, had formed a rather conservative coalition under the leadership of Janez Janša, which lasted very short. Janša did not appear in the political scene up until 2018, when his imprisonment, due to corruption accusations, had ended. As a result, Janša, and his party SDS came as victor out of the parliamentary elections of 2018 with almost 25% of the votes. However, no government was formed under SDS as there was no consensus, which led to a center-left coalition in the end. The full empowerment of Janša, and his party happened, therefore, only in 2020.
The democratic backsliding of Slovenia appeared more likely as the nation already has a populist past. With the rising autocratic actions of the PM Janša during the covid-19 pandemic, Slovenia had been categorized as one of the states going through democratic erosion along with Hungary and the previous Trump administration in the US. Hungary is one of the examples that frightened the EU about the spread of populism. The Hungarian elections were held a little earlier than Slovenia, on 3 April 2022. The results were as anticipated, Prime Minister Viktor Orban won his fourth consecutive term in office since 2010. Orban has been shown as among the most important cases in terms of democratic backsliding as his government introduced media repression, threatens judicial independence and also has openly expressed its support for Russia. His policies have not only made the country closer to the right-wing populism but also put the country at risk of isolation from the European Union. Therefore, the EU was extra cautious about the elections in yet another country of Slovenia p-following the path to populism. This can be counted as one of the reasons why these elections held significant value for states other than Slovenia. The aftermath of the elections is also critical, as the country has a history of failed coalitions and governments, such as the previous two consecutive minority government attempts. However, the promising news came in just recently from the GS. Golob shared that a “three-way center-left” coalition will be formed with the Social Democrats (Socialni Demokrati) and the Left (Levica). This coalition, led by the GS, will consist of 53 MPs out of 90 in the parliament, which is equivalent to one of the largest majorities ever. The issues at the top of his agenda were announced to be healthcare and rising energy and food prices.
The results of the elections are important as the expectations are high from the new left government. In this context, one of his most important promises is the reformation and modernization of Slovenia’s state institutions and boosting of social justice as Jansa faced allegations of turning the country toward right-wing populism. The newly formed coalition has the enthusiasm and courage to change the course of the country back to liberalism and democracy. Time will show whether the transition back will be smooth, however the agenda signals the return of more democratic practices for the country.
Marko Lovec. “The Slovenian Early Parliamentary Elections of 2018”. Contemporary Southeastern Europe 1:1-9.