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Liberals surge ahead of Slovenian PM Jansa in divisive elections

Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Jansa cast his vote in his village of Arnace in the northwest. ©AFP

Ljubljana (AFP) - A small liberal party headed by political newcomer Robert Golob was surging ahead of Slovenia's three-time Prime Minister Janez Jansa's conservatives in elections on Sunday, partial official results showed.

Golob's Freedom Movement (GS), which he launched only in January, has built on anger with Jansa's regime in the Alpine ex-Yugoslav state, amid concerns over rule-of-law issues in the deeply polarised EU member.

The opposition accuses Jansa of authoritarianism since he returned to power in 2020 and trying to undermine democratic institutions and press freedoms like his ally Viktor Orban in neighbouring Hungary.

With more than half the votes counted, in the country of around two million people, Freedom Movement (GS) stood at almost 33 percent of the vote compared to 25 percent for Jansa's Slovenian Democratic Party.

 An exit poll earlier gave GS 35.8 percent of the vote compared to 22.5 percent for SDS.

'People want changes'

"People want changes and have expressed their confidence in us as the only ones who can bring those changes," Golob told his jubilant supporters.

"Tomorrow we will start working hard to justify that trust," he added, speaking via a livestream from his home where he was in isolation after contracting Covid-19.

The 55-year-old former power company manager has promised to restore "normality" and billed the elections as a "referendum on democracy".

Jansa's Interior Minister Ales Hojs said SDS was still waiting for the official results.

Jansa, 63, an admirer of US ex-president Donald Trump, campaigned on promises of stability.

Sporting a tie in the national colours of Ukraine, blue and yellow, Jansa cast his vote early in his village of Arnace in the northwest.

"Elections will decide how will Slovenia develop not only in the next four years but also during the whole next decade since many projects have been set up," Jansa told reporters.

Analysts had been expecting an increased turnout with voters turning against Jansa's style.

At 4:00 pm (1400 GMT), 49.3 percent of the 1.7 million electorate had voted -- compared to 34.4 percent who turned out by same time in the last parliamentary elections in 2018, the Electoral Commission said.

"I hope the situation will change...It is obvious that most of the people are not satisfied with this government and the way it's governing," Sara Rigler, a 21-year-old psychology student, told AFP at a polling station in the capital Ljubljana earlier Sunday.

'Breaking point'

Uros Esih, a columnist at one of Slovenia's leading dailies Delo, told AFP ahead of the elections that they represented a "breaking point" with "liberal and illiberal political forces clashing" in Slovenia.

The rise of Golob began when he took over a small Green party without parliamentary seats in January, renaming it Freedom Movement.

Since Jansa took power, tens of thousands of people have attended regular anti-government rallies.

Jansa's image has been hurt by rows with Brussels over his moves to suspend funding to the national news agency and drag out the appointment of prosecutors to the bloc's new anti-graft body.

Though Jansa was among the first foreign leaders to travel to Kyiv, on March 15, after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Moscow's assault has not taken centre stage in Slovenia's election campaign.

Jansa already served as prime minister between 2004 and 2008, and 2012-2013.Only a year into his second term as premier, he was forced out by a corruption scandal.

The polls were a decision "between democracy and autocracy", wrote Igor Krsinar, a columnist for Reporter Magazine, a rare critical conservative voice.

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