An opposition liberal party on Sunday convincingly won the parliamentary election in Slovenia in a major defeat for populist Prime Minister Janez Jansa.
The Freedom Movement won nearly 34 per cent of the votes, compared with the ruling conservative Slovenian Democratic Party with about 24 per cent, the state election authorities said after counting more than 90 per cent of the ballots.
Then came the New Slovenia party on 7 per cent, the Social Democrats with more than 6 per cent and the Left party with 4 per cent.
The results mean that the Freedom Movement, a newcomer in the election, appears set to form the next government in a coalition with smaller leftist groups.
Party leader Robert Golob addressed supporters on a video message from his home because he has Covid-19.
“Tonight people dance,” Mr Golob told the cheering crowd at the party headquarters. “Tomorrow is a new day and serious work lies ahead.”
Mr Jansa posted a message to supporters on Twitter, saying only: “Thank you for your vote.”
The veteran politician became prime minister a little more than two years ago after the previous liberal premier resigned.
An admirer of former US president Donald Trump, Mr Jansa pushed the country towards right-wing nationalism since taking over at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Turnout for Sunday’s election was higher than usual. More than 64 per cent of Slovenia’s 1.7 million voters cast their ballot, compared with 52 per cent in the previous election in 2018.
Mr Golob, a US-educated former business executive, came out as a frontrunner shortly after entering the political scene.
The Freedom Movement party has advocated a green energy transition and sustainable development over Mr Jansa’s national policies.
Liberals had described Sunday’s election as a referendum on Slovenia’s future.
They said that Mr Jansa, if re-elected, would push the traditionally moderate nation farther away from “core” EU democratic values and towards other populist regimes.
Opinion polls before the vote had predicted that the leading parties would be locked in a tight race.
Mr Jansa’s SDS won the most votes in an election four years ago but could not initially find partners for a coalition government.
He took over after legislators from centrist and left-leaning groups switched sides after the resignation in 2020 of liberal prime minister Marjan Sarec.
Mr Jansa was accused of sliding towards authoritarian rule in the style of his ally, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
He came under EU scrutiny amid reports that he pressured opponents and public media, and installed loyalists in key positions for control over state institutions.
The Freedom House democracy watchdog recently said that “while political rights and civil liberties are generally respected, the current right-wing government has continued attempts to undermine the rule of law and democratic institutions, including the media and judiciary".