What was unlikely as late as Friday evening when the campaign ended, materialised on Sunday night when the votes were staring to come in. President Borut Pahor and his main challenger Marjan Šarec are headed for a run-off in three weeks’ time.
Results in the first round show Pahor winning most votes in all but three precincts (source)
In all honesty, Pahor came close to winning in the first round. But not close enough. With 99.98 percent of the vote counted, Pahor won 47.07 percent while Šarec won 24.96 percent. Among the also-rans, Romana Tomc of SDS won a respectable 13.74 pecent while the other main centre-right contender, Ljudmila Novak of the NSi, won 7.16 percent. Maja Makovec Brenčič of the ruling SMC won an embarrassing 1.76 percent of the vote while Angelca Likovič of the ultra-conservative GOD party tallied a measly .58 percent. The alt-right candidate Andrej Šiško won 2.22 percent of the vote which is an unpleasantly remarkable feat given that he hardly campaigned at all.
But while the results of the rest of the pack are important, especially with regard to their prospects in the upcoming parliamentary poll (to be held sometime next spring), the issue at hand of course is, whether Šarec will manage to beat Pahor or will the incumbent prevail after all. Five years ago, the mathematics of this were simple. Today, slightly less so.
Shoe, meet the other foot
When Borut Pahor performed one of the greatest political comebacks in the history of democratic Slovenia in 2012 (going from a disgraced PM, humiliated at the polls to President of the Republic in little less than a year) it was widely accepted that he did so with the help of then-PM Janez Janša who in the second round openly threw his support behind Pahor challenging incumbent Danilo Türk. This time around, however, the proverbial shoe is – at least in part – on the other foot. It is Pahor who is being challenged as president, it is Pahor who had hoped to clinch a first-round victory and – crucially – it is Janša who again holds the key to Pahor’s presidency.
Namely, contrary to 2012, this time around the Glorious Leader went all out in favour of his own candidate and effectively threw Pahor under the bus regardless of the fact that the president went above and beyond the call of duty to indulge the leader of the largest opposition party. Like gutting the anti-graft commission, to give an example at random. this means that Janša can not simply do an about-face and support Pahor yet again. Not after accusing him of cronyism, turning a blind eye to money-laundering (since refuted and then again un-refuted) and high treason, all the while comparing his presidency to that of the disgraced Austrian president Kurt Waldheim.
This does not mean, however, that Pahor will not be currying support of the SDS (he hinted as much immediately after the results of the first round came in) nor does it mean that the SDS will not be providing said support. Just not openly. Which means that messages can get garbled and/or lost in translation. Still, the pollsters agree that odds strongly favour the current president in the second round.
Speaking of pollsters, there were a couple of epic fuck-ups in the days leading up to the vote and on the voting Sunday as well. At least one media outlet projected on Friday (the last day of the campaign) Pahor would win in the first round and had to do some serious walking back the Monday after. But the prize for the most royal screw-up goes to the public TV for actually declaring Pahor the winner only to rescind that as the as the actual numbers started coming in.
The problem was that neither the public nor the leading private TV outlet didn’t bother commissioning (admittedly expensive) exit polls which means they were both left with doing more or less classic polling but in a shorter time-frame. And in a race where a percentage point in favour of one candidate or the other can mean the difference between one or two rounds of polling, this can be (and indeed was) crucial.
But that is the embarrassment these particular media and pollsters will have to live with. Not for long though as all of this will most likely be forgotten by the general public in little over two weeks when the results of the second round will be known. Unless, of course, someone decides that one fuck-up wasn’t not enough and will want to have another go at it.
In politics, a week is a long time
To be honest, fucking up this time around will be really hard. At least the way things stand now. While pengovsky maintained (and still maintains) that in the second round anything is possible, the pollsters are in a general agreement that Pahor is the overall favourite to win in the second round. Andraž Zorko of Valicon who correctly called the second round of voting, said in this small podcast pengovsky co-host with Nataša Briški that right now Pahor is poised to win north of 60 percent of the vote. Which is basically a landslide.
As was proven time and again, a week in politics is a long time. This was demonstrated over and over again in the last eighteen months (see Clinton, Hillary Rodham; and May, Theresa). In addition, the the pundit class agreed on was that Pahor was uncharacteristically off key in the final week of the campaign. It was as if he, too, was lulled into a sense of complacency by nearly everyone predicting he’d nail it all in one go and was visibly shaken when the expected victory did not materialise.
Thus, one of the questions is whether he will be able to recover from that shock quickly enough to mitigate the damage done to his brand. Because now he no longer enjoys the home-turf advantage, his brand recognition is now almost rivalled by that of Marjan Šarec and – most importantly – he is playing defence. And Slovenian politicians traditionally suck at playing defence.
The Šarec Offensive
On the other hand, Šarec has a lot of ground to make up and it remains to be seen whether he can do it quickly enough or even whether he can do it at all. The votes he needs – and he needs almost twice as many as he got in the first round – will have to come from somewhere. And the places he can find them are few and far between.
Case in point Maja Makovec Brenčič who ran on an SMC ticket and drew a humiliating 1.72 percent of the vote. Neglecting what that says of the shambolic approach the ruling party had towards this election or even of support for the party itself, the result is bad news for Marjan Šarec as well as it suggests there is almost no remaining left-wing vote that he can count on.
For what is worth, Šarec apparently drew some centrist votes as well but all things being equal he should draw heavily from the centre-right pool as well in order to mount a successful second round challenge to Pahor. And while that is not impossible it is not all that likely either. And just to make sure there are no surprises, the right-leaning media (especially those in close orbit around Janša and fueled by Victor
Organ Orban’s money-men) are already painting Šarec as an old-school leftist stooge. If nothing else, this is the sort of support Pahor will most likely get from the right wing, despite no overt endorsement from that direction.
On the other hand, Šarec’s only real hope to put on a competitive race is an even lower turnout than in the first round where only slightly more than 43 percent of the eligible voters bothered to cast their vote.
Normally, this would sound every alarm there is. Low turnout usually signals issues with perceived legitimacy of the political class. And while there is no doubt some of that is in play, too, the reason for low turnout this time around is much more mundane: very few people took this election as seriously as they should have.
The incumbent was a bit annoyed by the fact that he has to jump through the hoops again. The political parties assumed he would get re-elected easily and couldn’t be bothered to field heavyweight candidates and do it soon enough. The media, too, took a bit of a fuck-it-all approach to the race and could not be bothered to actually force a debate on the issues. And the voters obviously sensed all of this and decided that if the establishment couldn’t be bothered to put its back into it they couldn’t be either. So democracy in Slovenia is alive and well, thank you very much. It’s the condescending attitude towards the voters that is the problem.
Janša supporting Pahor?
Mind you, this goes for virtually all the parties across the spectrum. The right wing, for example, once again fell victim to petty leadership squabbles which effectively prevented them from mounting a concerted effort. If one were to combine the votes of the three centre-right candidates, one would come very close to the result Šarec made in the first round. Romana Tomc, Ljudmila Novak and Lara Krause together hauled in some 22 percent of the vote. If one were to allow for a small knock-on effect as a result of a unified centre-right front the second round could very have been between Pahor and a hypothetical common centre-right candidate.
That this did not materialise is more or less exclusively the fault of Janez Janša who took his sweet time in fielding Romana Tomc with only days to spare until the deadline while NSi’s Ljudmila Novak was already campaigning and was drawing positive feedback even from the left wing. With this, Janša effectively split the right wing vote, thereby practically ensuring Pahor’s only remaining challenger came from the left with little room to manoeuvre.
Who knows, maybe that support from the right wing Pahor is now seeking has already materialised.