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SMC - party in search of political identity

Ljubljana, 12 April - The Modern Centre Party (SMC) was established a month and a half before the 2014 election, which it won in a landslide, becoming Slovenia's first declaratively centrist party to lead a government. But by refusing to take a stand in the divided Slovenia, it has been accused of being lukewarm and has taken blows from both sides.

Maribor
SMC president Miro Cerar at party's election congress.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

The party was founded during a severe political and economic crisis after the resignation of the Alenka Bratušek government. It was formed around constitutional law expert Miro Cerar, who went on to become prime minister, and bore his name until March 2015.

Looking back at the time when the party was founded, Cerar has described it as "actually an unbelievable project". He has labelled its establishment and the election victory a month later "a small miracle".

The SMC won a record number of seats, 36 in the 90-strong National Assembly, by promoting the policy of "new faces" and the need to overcome the divisions between left and right.

However, it was not the first party to offer a "new face"; examples of such projects include Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković's Positive Slovenia and the Citizens' List of Gregor Virant in 2011. Now, Kamnik Mayor Marjan Šarec's party is taking the same path.

While the SMC initially presented itself as an independent party, neither left- nor right-wing and without any "sponsors behind the scenes", Cerar has recently described it as a "social-liberal party, a stable centre-left option which brings together freethinking, cooperation-seeking and credible individuals".

But analyst Alem Maksuti of the Institute for Political Management believes a political centre is not an actual ideological or substantive position and is as such a contradiction in terms. "Parties use it as an attribute to avoid left-right divisions."

The political scientist believes the SMC's ideological profile is therefore close to the "dominant social-political paradigm that is based on the merger of liberal democracy and the capitalist economy".

He notes that the SMC recently declaring themselves as a social-liberal party does not have much to do with content but is merely yet another attempt to find political identity.

Maksuti sees the SMC as a "party which as a collective entity is a patchwork of various ideologies, and because of its personnel and ideological weaknesses it is not up to the challenge of constituting itself into a serious political force".

Its non-defined ideological status is perhaps best reflected in the government's decision to set up a border fence, according to Maksuti.

Faced with the refugee crisis, the party had to respond. And rather than coming up with a solution, it simply applied the solution that some of its neighbouring countries resorted to, for example Hungary, which however had a national conservative and right-wing populist party in power, Maksuti told the STA.

This apparent lack of a clear orientation and reported deviations from the principles the party was to stand for originally have been causing tensions within the party throughout its government term and have led to departures of some of its prominent members, most notably two key founders, Bojan Dobovšek and Peter Jamnikar, in 2014.

The 2014 local elections were another blow: the party, so soon after its formation lacking a firm local network, failed to win a single mayoral post despite fielding 40 candidates. It was, however, second among all parties as regards the number of councillors elected.

A similar disappointment was the presidential election, where its candidate though not party member, Education Minister Maja Makovec Brenčič, received only 1.74% of the vote despite the party spending heavily on the campaign.

On the other hand, the party did succeed in securing the appointment of Violeta Bulc, a junior minister, as EU commissioner in charge of transport.

With the general election approaching, the party and particularly its president Cerar have moved to improve their chances of winning back voters' trust.

Most notably, Cerar offered his resignation as prime minister in mid-March, directly because the Supreme Court struck down the results of the Koper-Divača rail expansion referendum, and more broadly because he was hampered by coalition partners, the opposition, and trade unions demanding more money for wages.

The resignation has been described as a smart move and it had a positive impact on the government's as well as the SMC's ratings. In the Vox Populi poll, the SMC leapfrogged the opposition Left to become the fourth most popular party, polling at 8.1%, up from 5.2% last month. The party also ranked fourth in the latest POP TV poll on 5.8%, up 0.8 percentage points from the month before.

At the end of its term, the SMC-led government has been highlighting economic growth, rise in employment and stability as its major achievements, but some key projects, including a health reform and infrastructure projects such the Koper-Divača railway, will be left to its successor.

Maksuti believes that one of the reasons why the SMC has been deliberately avoiding any left or right labels is to leave the door open to participation in any kind of coalition after the election.

Nevertheless, Cerar said in a recent TV show that his party was not willing to work with the Democrats (SDS), because they are "too radical".

mab/sm
© STA, 2018