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Social protests and electoral apathy in Slovenia Joachim Becker On the second of December, Slovenians elected a new president

. The participation was extremely low and reached only 41.5%. Whereas the turnout at the elections hit a record low, participation in social protests has been very strong. There have been powerful demonstrations against austerity not only in the capital Ljubljana, but also in small towns. In some towns, particularly Maribor, corruption was a major topic of protests as well. Low election turnout and strong social protest signal deep discontent with political representatives and the social situation. A worsening social situation and radicalised neo-liberal policies form the background to social mobilisation. The right wing Prime Minister Janez Janša is a highly polarising figure. He attempts to utilize the crisis for radicalising neo-liberal policies. In contrast to other countries in the region, Slovenia had followed a more gradual and social-democrat way of transformation. The state still has a major share in the banking sector, and domestically-owned industrial enterprises are still important. The social-democratic export-oriented model was weakened during Janša first term of government (2004-2008). During this time, the Slovenian banks dramatically expanded credits, blowing up a strong real estate bubble. This credit expansion was re-financed by external credit. Slovenia’s 2007 entry into the euro zone facilitated the access to external credit. It was a pseudoboom like in Ireland or Spain. The Janša government was directly politically responsible for this credit frenzy, the real estate bubble, and the resulting vulnerabilities since the state-controlled banks played a prominent role in this. With the present international crisis, the real estate and credit boom collapsed. The banks face a relatively high share of non-performing loans. They have adopted restrictive credit policies. This credit squeeze has put some Slovenian companies under pressure. The debt overhang has had a dampening effect on the Slovenian economy until today. The export side has not been bright either. The contraction of exports was strong in 2009 and, with the integration into the euro zone, currency devaluation that might have attenuated the effects of the crisis was not possible. Nevertheless, Slovenia’s exports recovered gradually after 2009 and its export performance was similar to the Visegrád countries. Due to the EU-wide austerity policies, the export prospects are not bright. The financial crisis has had a negative influence on the budget. However, the ratio public debt/GDP of 48.1% is not dramatic. The then centre-left government which succeeded Janša’s first government has not followed progressive policies. It basically adopted neo-liberal austerity policies though not as extreme ones as in the Baltic countries or Hungary. Its most controversial proposals concerned pension reforms. The strong trade union movement initiated a referendum against this proposal and won. The shaky centre-left coalition collapsed and a second, equally fragile right wing coalition led by Janez Janša was formed after the elections in early 2012.

Janša has adopted a much more aggressive course. He radicalised the austerity policies and prepares the nationalisation of bad debts and the privatisation of state-owned banks. He mentioned Slovakia’s neo-liberal Dzurinda governments (1998-2006) as a model to follow and he is indeed following Dzurinda’s course. However, he is facing much stiffer resistance. Trade unions again collected signatures for referenda. One of them is against the proposed creation of a bad bank that would take over the bad debts from the banks and would entail a significant drain on future budgets. The bad bank could serve as a first step towards privatising the banks because the banks would appear more attractive to potential buyers. Even some liberal Slovenian economists have argued in favour of recapitalising the banks instead of creating a bad bank. The second referendum initiative is a directed against the creation of a new state holding for the banks which would probably be staffed by friends of the government and would probably have the mandate to privatise the banking sector. In the Interior Ministry, some of the signatures went “missing” what has produced a major scandal. The current social mobilisation has to be seen before this background. In view of the strong social mobilisation and the shaky base of his government, Prime Minister Janez Janša has started to invoke the possibility of asking for support from the conditional ESM (European Stability Mechanism). The EU is to serve as leverage against domestic opposition. In order to legitimise such a step, he paints Slovenia’s economic panorama in particularly dark colours. His policies are so unpopular that his presidential candidate, Milan Zver, scored only 24.2% of the votes in the first round of presidential elections and did not make it into the second elections round. However, the electorate was not enchanted with the centre-left candidates either. The turnout was very low. The former centre-left Prime Minister, Borut Pahor, won the election with 67.1% of the votes against the more left-leaning incumbent Danilo Türk. Pahor’s election campaign was of much greater originality than Türk’s. As part of his election campaign, he symbolically worked in a number of professions. In the context of increasing unemployment, this valorisation of labour was rather positively received by the electorate. His real political stand is, however, much less prolabour. He rather advocates a sort of “neo-liberalism with a human face”. It is, however, rather unlikely that he will be able to bridge the yawning political gap. The political establishment faces a vote of non-confidence both at the ballots and in the streets.