Liberal candidate Natasa Pirc Musar appears poised to win a presidential election runoff in Slovenia on Sunday, which would make her the small, central European country’s first female head of state.
All opinion polls suggest that the 54-year-old human rights advocate and lawyer has a wide lead going into the runoff against center-right former Foreign Minister Anze Logar.
Since none of the seven contenders who competed in the first round managed to gather more than 50% of the ballots and claim outright victory, Logar and Pirc Musar went forward to a runoff.
While Logar led after the first round of voters, analysts in Slovenia have predicted the tables will be turned in runoff as centrist and liberal voters rally behind Pirc Musar.
The winner will succeed President Borut Pahor, a centrist politician who sought to bridge Slovenia’s left-right political divide during his decade in office. Having served two five-year terms, Pahor was ineligible to seek a third.
While the presidency is largely ceremonial in Slovenia, the head of state still is seen as a person of authority in the Alpine country of 2 million people. Presidents nominate prime ministers and members of the constitutional court, who are then elected in parliament, and appoints members of the anti-corruption commission.
As a prominent lawyer, Pirc Musar had represented former U.S. first lady Melania Trump over copyright and other matters in her native Slovenia. Musar has been targeted by opponents mostly for her husband’s sprawling business empire.
If she wins, she would become the first woman to serve as president since Slovenia became independent amid the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991.
Known as an LGBTQ rights advocate, Pirc Musar said she expected a “battle of values” in the runoff and that she is looking forward it.
“Only a very naive person or an idealist can say that this election is not a battle between liberal and more conservative values,” Pirc Musar told Slovenia’s STA news agency.
“As a non-party candidate, I have the biggest advantage over Mr. Logar here," she said.
“I'm happy when he says that he will be president of all and that he has always done good for Slovenia, that he knew how to find a consensus,” she said. "But unfortunately, the party he comes from has never been able to do that in Slovenia’s 32-year history.”
Logar, 46, served under former populist Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who moved Slovenia to the right while in power and faced accusations of undemocratic and divisive policies.
A victory for Logar in the second round would be interpreted as a setback for the liberal ruling coalition that ousted Jansa from power six months ago.
Logar has faced criticism that he is hardly an independent candidate, given his previous and current roles in Jansa’s conservative SDS party. He has responded to this by promising to represent all voters if he becomes president.
“I want to say to those who do not agree with my positions or do not support my political path that as president I will represent them as well,” Logar said.
During the campaign, Logar has sought to present himself as a unifier. “Some may have seen this as me distancing myself (from Jansa) but I was actually being me, Anže Logar, a candidate,” he said.
In the face of the current global, strategic and energy challenges caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Logar said he believes he has an advantage over his rival because of the experience he gained as foreign minister.
Polls are set to open at 7 a.m. local time (0800 GMT) and to close 12 hours later. Official results are expected a few hours later.