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Social Democrats looking for a repeat of 2008 success

Ljubljana, 13 April - In the coming general election, the junior coalition Social Democrats (SD) will be looking to repeat their biggest success to date - being the senior coalition party in the Borut Pahor government in 2008-2011. While polls indicate potential success, it is by no means certain.

Ljubljana
Headquarters of the Social Democrats (SD)
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

The SocDems won a record 29 seats in the 90-strong parliament in 2008 to become the foundation of the Pahor government. But the government failed to finish its term, which was overshadowed by the financial and economic crisis and hurt its popularity for years to come.

In the early election in 2011 the SocDems won 10 seats, which was followed by the replacement of Pahor as president after 15 years at the helm of the party, a brief stint by Igor Lukšič largely seen as unsuccessful, and finally the election of Dejan Židan in mid-2014, the year the party won only six seats.

Despite the poor showing in the last election, the SocDems are now looking to become the strongest party again under the leadership of Židan, a 50-year-old veterinarian who has served as agriculture minister and deputy prime minister in the Miro Cerar government.

The party is currently doing well in public opinion polls, with its ratings in the 10-12% range putting it in the top tier heading into the general election.

Betting on the bread-and-butter values of social democracy, the SD has been promoting a new social pact on the election platform called Confident Slovenia, which it conceived in consultation with social partners.

It believes that Slovenia needs a new development model, better corporate governance and good public services, which is key for an inclusive development and equal opportunities.

The party wants to address social inequality, with Židan stressing it is time for Slovenia to say that it can be the best in certain fields.

The platform sets the goal of putting Slovenia among the world's ten leading countries in key indicators of the quality of life, sustainable development, innovation and social and economic performance in eight years.

Despite the good showing in public opinion polls, political analyst Alem Maksuti has assessed that the SocDems are actually facing a big challenge in the upcoming election.

The party survived big ups and downs in popular opinion and managed to stay in parliament, but the survival has taken its toll. This has reflected primarily in who is currently leading the party, Maksuti has told the STA, noting that Židan is actually by no means the main draw in the election.

Instead, the party is betting on a broad base of tried-and-tested names combined with new candidates such as businessman Dušan Olaj and international law expert Dominika Švarc Pipan, with the addition of retired unionist Dušan Semolič to boost its labour credentials.

Maksuti thus expects that the SD will create its election strategy around the recognisable names in the leadership, but the key problem is that it will be competing with a number of similar parties on the left side of the political spectrum.

Its success will largely depend on the performance of its biggest rivals, the partners in the outgoing coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) and Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), the Left and a series of "new faces", in particular Marjan Šarec, he believes.

A portion of the party's traditional leftist base has transferred to the Left, which is more radical than the SD and indirectly pressured the SocDems to shift away from the centre and veer back towards the left.

In the past year or two the party has started to cast aside its centrist agenda in favour of a return to topics long cherished on the left. For example, SD's Labour Minister Anja Kopač Mrak recently increased the minimum wage by almost 5%.

While Židan's charisma and personal traits will not have a big impact on the election result, the party might nevertheless also capitalise on the success of its former leader Pahor, who won his second term as Slovenia's president last autumn.

Židan, who has been a permanent fixture of the upper half of popularity lists, has announced that the party could triple the result from 2014 (almost 6%). The latest public opinion polls are backing him up to a certain extent, but success is by no means guaranteed.

Some commentators believe that putting France Križanič, the finance minister in the Pahor government, as a candidate in the election could be problematic as he is facing charges over the new generator project at the TEŠ coal-fired power plant.

But they have also noted that by finding new faces, which recent history suggest can be a magnet for Slovenian voters, and reforming its platform, the SD may yet persuade its natural electoral base - younger generations, precarious workers, the highly educated and new minorities.

zm/ep
© STA, 2018