So, this sorry-ass presidential campaign is finally coming to an end. It’s been three weeks since the first round and the voting public learned virtually nothing new about either of the remaining candidates.
The biggest surprise of this election seems to have been the fact that there is a second round at all. And while the incumbent Borut Pahor struggled to maintain both the tempo and the direction of his campaign, the challenger Marjan Šarec struggled to maintain… well, anything. As the campaign dragged on it became painfully obvious that Šarec was increasingly out of his depth while Pahor never regained the momentum he had at the outset of this ordeal. As a result Šarec was able to close the gap significantly, according to the latest polls.
Whether that will be enough remains to be seen. After many of them fucked up royally with their predictions in the first round, pollsters are much more careful this time around. According to the poll published during the final debate earlier this evening, the race is in dead heat, while other people in the know project a small but a decisive Pahor victory. But even if Pahor wins the takeway here is that Marjan Šarec, mayor of a mid-size town, despite all his shortcomings (and there are many, most notably in foreign affairs) gave the incumbent Borut Pahor a run for his money.
For all his political prowess, 2017 was the first year the election was Borut Pahor’s to lose. When he took over the Social Democrats he always played second fiddle to the LDS of Janez Drnovšek. Until 2008 when as the leader of the opposition he won parliamentary election (the LDS had disintegrated by then). Three years later his Social Democrats were decimated at the polls, barely making it into the parliament.
And yet, Pahor won the presidential poll not a year later. And this time around, at last, he managed not to fuck up his ratings completely. Admittedly it took five years of near-constant campaigning but still. Thus having to actually defend a political legacy is something of a new experience for a politician of 30 years. And they say you can’t learn anything on this job…
On the other hand, Šarec seemed to embrace his anti-establishment shtick which was heavy on sloganeering but light on specifics. The populism he employed occasionally had an unhealthy odour of generic euro-scepticism and authoritarianism which made many a Pahor detractor cringe, despite their distaste for the current president. Sometimes, however, Šarec did manage to channel his former comedic self and pitched Pahor a curve ball with a hillbilly-like humour which the president visibly struggled to respond to.
The race, it seems, will go down to the wire. And if projections of a close result will materialise, calls for recounts can not be excluded. We’ve never had a situation like this in a presidential election in Slovenia but there’s a first for everything. It is obvious, however, that every vote will count. Which is why it comes as no surprise that Janez Janša‘s SDS and Ljudmila Novak‘s NSi in the end came out of the woodwork and supported Pahor. But since this endorsement was not via the respective parties’ leaders but rather their surrogates it could well happen that SDS and NSi rank and file will not follow the instructions to a t.
The bottom line, however is, that voters are faced with a sub-optimal choice this coming Sunday. Borut Pahor does not deserve a second term while Marjan Šarec definitely did not earn his presidential spurs. Polls suggest that turnout (or the lack thereof) will reflect this.
And this is a lesson every political party will need to learn fast. The next elections is up in six months and the stage is already being set.