All the presidential men… and a woman
As you know, Slovenia is up for presidential elections in autumn this year. Now, the President of the Republic of Slovenia is a curious office. It bears relatively little powers, but its influence is near enormous. The office as we know is today exists since winter 1992, when the current constitution was passed. Article 103 of the Constution stipulates that The President is elected by a popular vote for a five-year-term with a possibility of being re-elected once.
Historically, one of the reasons for a constitutionally weak Office of the President is the fact that – when framing the constitution – Milan Kučan was thought to be unbeatable in presidential elections. That indeed happened to be the case, and since Kučan had enourmous moral and political capital stemming from peaceful democratization and achieving independence, there was a tacit agreement among various political powers that be, that Kučan should not be a powerful president.
Thus the office of the President is largely ceremonial, limited to naming ambassadors, promulgating laws and conferring mandates to form a government. That said, however, the President does have extensive emergency powers. Should the National Assembly become unable to convene, the President can declare war or a state of emergency and even pass laws.
But perhaps even more importantly, the office has high moral authorithy, which was achieved (or created, if you will) by two presidents: former President Milan Kučan (held office for two terms from 1992 to 2002) and incumbent president Janez Drnovšek (holds office since 2002, but said that he will not seek re-election).
Slovenes seem to think of their president as a counter-weight to an increasingly self-involved goverment (any government, not just current one) and thus the voters often disregard “party directions” and go for the person they deem most fit to hold office, regardless of the candidate’s party affiliation. But the definition of “fit” is quite flexible, mind you. Take President Drnovšek, for example. Having been elected on a slightly liberal platform (pro-choice, anti-death penatly), he underwent a radical personal transformation from a somber, even uptight and sometimes perfunctionary president, to a new-age, proto-hippy president on a strictly vegan diet. Curiously enough, voters didn’t mind.
And so this autumn somenoe will have to fill a rather large pair of presidential shoes.
Parties of the political right have found a common candidate in the person of first Slovenian PM and incumbent MEP Lojze Peterle who has been campaigning since last November and is poised to win a substantial percent of the vote – close to 50 %, thus tossing the glove to the political left very early in the game. Since the leader of the Social Democrats Borut Pahor decided to run for PM in 2008, he has to put forward a credible candidate (a rather daunting task, since Pahor is the most popular politician in Slovenia by far).
He picked Danilo Türk, former Slovene Ambassador to the UN and former right-hand man to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Türk is probably a good choice as his achievements are recognised across the political spectrum, making him also acceptable to some right-leaning voters. But for now it seems that Pahor so far failed to “sell” Türk as a common candidate for left-wing parties.
Namely. Liberal Democrats (LDS) have put forward Mitja Gaspari, former Governor of the Central Bank as their nominee… You might remember Gaspari from this post and LDS are apparently counting on a lot od sympathy vote for the fallen Governor. (slightly OT: When Zoran Janković, 6 months after he was ousted as CEO of Mercator, ran for Mayor of Ljubljana, sympathy vote played a crucial role in clinching him a victory in the first round).
Some people believe that the left is better off with two candidates, supposedly ensuring mobilisation of more left-wing voters and making sure they also cast their vote in the second round wheren the best of the two candidates would take on Peterle. Others, of course fear that the vote will be split and that neither of the left-wing candidates will win a substanital percent of vote (say, above 40%), making him unelectable in the second round.
But the second round is by no means a given. It could very well be that Peterle has already built a voters’ base far beyond the reach of any other candidate. He’s been campaigning uninterruped for the past six months and has won support of all three major right-wing parties, clearing the field on the right just for himself. All he has to do is to win enough moderates to get 50% plus one vote and he wins the presidency in the first round.
What may save the day for the left is the fact that there are several “lesser” candidates, which will win a certain percentage of vote, perhaps just enough to stop Peterle short of winning the majority of the vote. These canidadates include Zmago Jelinčič of the Slovene National Party, Darko Krajnc of the Slovene Youth Party, Marjan Beranič, a Maribor-based enterpreneur, Monika Piberl of the Slovene Female Voice and Jože Andrejaš, who won a mock election in Hri-Bar talk show and then decided to run for real.
Anyways… There is more at stake then it seems at a first glance.