Local elections deliver few surprises
Ljubljana/Maribor/Koper/Celje, 19 November - Slovenia's local elections delivered few surprises. Incumbents ruled supreme carrying the biggest cities except for Koper, conservative parties did even better than last time around, centrist parties continued to lose ground, and independents became an even more formidable force, in a continuation of a long trend.
In the most closely watched race in Ljubljana, Mayor Zoran Jankovič predictably won re-election against centre-right candidate Anže Logar of the Democrats (SDS).
Janković even increased his share of the vote slightly from four years ago, to 61%, and his list regained outright majority in city council, but Logar also exceeded expectations with 29% of the vote, the best a Janković opponent has ever mustered.
In Maribor, the unpopular incumbent Andrej Fištravec was predictably swept out of office. In the second round, voters will pick between entrepreneur Saša Arsenovič and former mayor Franc Kangler. After almost all of the votes counted, they won 38.2% and 31.4% respectively.
The outcome makes Maribor one of the more interesting races to watch in the run-off on 2 December, as Kangler attempts his second comeback after being swept out of office by a popular uprising in 2012 and Arsenović tries to emulate his role model Janković with a business-like approach to running the city.
Another interesting race to watch will be Koper, where incumbent Boris Popovič will have to enter a run-off for the first time since 2002 facing Aleš Brežan, an independent with a growing following in the coastal city.
Some of the other long-lasting incumbents in big cities easily won re-election, including Bojan Šrot in Celje, Aleksander Jevšek in Murska Sobota, Gregor Macedoni in Novo Mesto and Bojan Kontič in Velenje.
All in all, 157 of the 212 municipalities got mayors in the first round, one more than four years ago.
Independent and semi-independent parties and local lists further expanded their reach to reinforce the trend seen over the past decade. Independents aside, the biggest winners of this election are the SDS and the Social Democrats (SD).
According to nearly complete results, independents as the biggest single group won mayoral offices in 87 of the 212 municipalities in the first round and 944 of the 3,400 seats available on the local councils or 32.4% of the national vote.
While the non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) remains the party with the largest number of mayors, its tally of mayoral offices won in the first round fell by two to 23 compared to the previous elections.
The SDS, the party that won the general election earlier this year, made the biggest gain nation-wide by securing 17% of the vote for local councils, up three percentage points from 2014. It also won 12 mayoral offices, which is as many as in the first round in 2014.
"The results show that in this election nation-wide more people have voted for the SDS alone than for the entire ruling coalition combined," Janša said.
Indeed, the only of the five ruling coalition parties that did well and even better than in the previous local election was the Social Democrats (SD), who like the SDS have a well-established local network.
The SD came as the second-strongest national party by winning 14 mayoral offices and 10.1% of the vote to local councils, which compares to 12 mayoral seats and 9.95% in the first round of the previous election.
SD leader Dejan Židan said that while there is an increasing number of independents and ever fewer parties field their own candidates, "we are the party that fights on, being aware that a party cannot be cut off from the local environment".
While being first in terms of mayoral offices, the SLS ranks fourth in elections to local councils with 6.5% of the vote, down just over one percentage point.
"After a difficult period behind us, we consider it a major victory and a better showing than the most upbeat expectations," Marjan Podobnik, the new-old SLS leader, commented.
The conservative New Slovenia (NSi) also did well. It won eight mayoral offices and 6.5% of the vote to local councils, compared to seven mayors and 6.61% of the national share of the vote to local councils four years ago.
"The NSi appears to be on the right track and our work pays in the long run," NSi leader Matej Tonin said, hailing joint support that the right-wing bloc threw behind mayoral contenders in several of the municipalities.
The Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), the party of the prime minister which made its first appearance at the national level in the general election in June, did not win a single mayoral seat in the first round, although its candidate is in the lead in Kamnik, where Šarec first served as mayor.
As a newcomer that is yet establishing its local network, the party won 2.4% of the vote to local councils, which is a much poorer result that the SMC posted in 2014 after winning the general election as a newcomer.
Although not winning a single mayor back then, the Modern Centre Party (SMC) won one this time around, while its vote to local councils collapsed from 11.11% to 4.2% of the vote.
Prime Minister Marjan Šarec downplayed the result by saying that "we'll be happy of any result we achieve". He also pledged to work with mayors saying that "previous governments did not understand the work of municipalities".
The Left did not make much of a mark at the national level either, securing no mayor and winning only 2.8% of the vote.
Nevertheless, the party's deputy leader Violeta Tomić said the Left was happy with the result, in particular in Ljubljana where it emerged as the third strongest faction and its candidate for mayor came third.
The Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) fared better in terms of the national share of the vote, securing 4.9%, which is down from 7.45% four years ago. The party won no mayoral office.
Turnout was almost 50%, up almost five percentage points over 2014, a sign of renewed interest in the democratic process though still far from levels around 60% registered until 2006.