Meet Slovenia's Novice Prime Minister Faced With Stopping the Next Big Bailout

Miro Cerar celebrates
Leader Miro Cerar celebrates winning 36.9% of the vote, as his party storm to power in the Slovenian parliamentary elections. Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters

In early 2013 Slovenia was in dire political straits. Despite membership to NATO, EU and OECD, the former Yugoslav state that once seemed the most promising of all its neighbours was struggling.

The country’s coalition government had fallen apart while two-time prime minister Janez Jansa was embroiled in a corruption scandal and forced from office. To make matters worse the OECD had expressed serious concern Slovenia would follow the likes of Portugal and Greece to be the next Eurozone country to ask for a bailout.

EU analysts had estimated the country had a September deadline to resolve its downward spiral to bankruptcy. Signs were mixed to say the least.

A year on and the landscape has changed.

With Jansa recently jailed for two years for corruption, the centrist Miro Cerar Party dramatically swept to power last week - despite being formed only a week previously - in an election the International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) has dubbed “the most important for the country since it proclaimed independence”.

“Expectations are high,” says Zijad Becirovic, Director of IFIMES, speaking to Newsweek. “The results are clear: there are 64 new members of parliament out of 90, the highest number ever. The result for the winning party is also the highest ever in Slovenia.”

“The winning party from the 2011 elections was literally swept away,” Zijad says, referring to centre-left Positive Slovenia’s drop from 28% to 2.8% of the vote.

“For Slovenia this moment could become a new beginning with better policies and much less lethargy,” he adds.

Prime minister-elect Miro Cerar enters office without previous experience in parliament. A lawyer, he is the son of Miroslav Cerar Snr, an Olympic gymnast one of Slovenia’s most beloved athletes. He’s a prime example of the trend across Europe rejecting established parties and leaders.

“He was elected with unprecedented support for his appeals for the rule of law, decency and a high level of political culture,” Zijad says, rather than dirtier tactics used by other politicians to achieve power.

Perhaps Cerar’s election does not come in spite of his relative inexperience but because of it.

He quickly became the frontrunner after announcing his plans to run for office less than two months prior to the election.

His arrival onto the scene came only a few months after Slovenia had the third lowest turnout in the European Parliamentary elections.

Jansa celebrates Former Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who campaigned from prison, deemed Cerar's win illegitimate. Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters

So tired had voters grown of the existing political institutions the newly formed Dream Job party got 3.6% of the vote - the party’s flagship policy was to do away with democracy and choose its candidate through a mass lottery.

Cerar’s policies are far from being so extreme but he still has reform on his mind to turn around Slovenia’s struggling economy.

“We want to keep in our hands the infrastructure of strategic companies, but everything else can go,” Cerar said, announcing he would be embarking upon a long-term privatization strategy.

“Slovenia must become more open towards foreign investors,” he added. Slovenia’s main airport and telecoms are thought to be the two main commodities Cerar intends to keep state-owned.  

His priorities are reform of the banking system, labour market and healthcare. He has also said he intends to comply with goals set by the EU, but it remains to be seen how far his charisma will last when the euphoria around the election subsides.

Jansa’s SDS party, which came second, blasted Cerar’s landslide win as illegitimate. The party issued a statement comparing Jansa’s jailing before the election to the treatment of opposition in Iran, Belarus and Russia.

“We will never accept such a government, even if they manage to put it together,” the statement reads. The statement also refers to Cerar as “the Slovenian Lukashenko”.

Elsewhere Cerar’s win has been received more warmly, as Slovenia Times describes the situation in the country as one of ‘high expectations’.

“The mood in Slovenia is very positive and hopeful,” Zijdan says.

Whether Cerar fulfils the hopes of the Slovenian people now hinges on the coalition he forms. Radio Slovenija has estimated the ”rough lines” of the new coalition government should be announced by the beginning of August.

In the meantime Cerar has five party leaders to negotiate a coalition with, which President Borut Pahor would need to ratify. Only time will tell if Slovenia's new beginning just another a false dawn.