Slovenia: Left wins surprise result in early poll

Monday, July 21, 2014
The United Left Coalition stage a protest against privatisation during their election campaign. Many people who voted for the ULC were voting for the first time, or had previously voted on the principle of supporting the 'lesser evil'.

In Slovenia, the left has broken the vicious circle of anti-communism in the post-Yugoslav context. All the commentators say the United Left Coalition (ULC) was the biggest surprise in the July 13 parliamentary elections.

But the path was difficult. The ULC was formed for the May 25 European elections. It is made up of the Party for Sustainable Development (TRS), the Democratic Labor Party (DSD) and the Initiative for Democratic Socialism (IDS). From early on, the ULC was marginalised by the mainstream.

The context of the “irregular elections” was extraordinary. After years of the deepening capitalist crisis, with austerity measures and a strengthened privatisation policy (in the past months, major companies have been sold off cheaply) and last year’s uprisings, the constant fractures within the ruling coalition forced early elections.

The decision to hold elections in the middle of the summer put all the new political parties, the ULC, Pirate Party and others, under great pressure. How could the ULC organise the electoral campaign in one month with very modest (crowd-sourced) financial resources, a small local party infrastructure and with extreme biase and few opportunities in the established media?

The media usually gave the ULC space only in the debates with other extra-parliamentary parties.

The ULC's support in public opinion polls was constantly measured around 2%-2.5%, which placed it eight ― behind all the big parliamentary parties and below the 4% parliamentary threshold.

However, the ULC was determined not to simply follow media and identity politics. It wanted to build a grassroots campaign that was concentrated on numerous local activities, reaching out to local activists and sympathisers, talking face to face, organising presentations all across Slovenia in order to establish a local base on which to build on in the future.

In this wa,y the ULC managed to spread outside Ljubljana, Maribor and a few other urban millieus where it some support in the May European elections (5.5%).

As the only political force with concrete proposals to end the crisis (writing off the debt, democratic control of banks and big state corporations) and for new organisational forms (cooperatives, workers' management) the campaign pushed for one major topic: the end of privatisation.

When the retail chain Mercator was bought by the foreign company Agrokor during the last weeks of the campaign, two things were shown: first, that only the ULC mobilised critical awareness around the topic, and second that without political pressure within formal politics, it is extremely difficult to stop privatisation.

Most notably, there was another major new political party ― centrist and seemingly liberal ― that took the position of high moralism and rule of law against corruption. It is called the Party of Miro Cerar.

Cerar is a lawyer involved in legal work for parliament. Surprisingly, this party was polling on around 35% and was presented by all the media as a total hit. It soon became the number one party, which mirrored public discontent with the official parties and corruption.

Despite its legalist and moralistic stance, Cerar was “caught” during the the last week of the campaign speaking negatively about same-sex marriage, the right to abortion and some other issues.

This unveiled a more conservative side of his “high morality”.

The new centrist party presented the ULC with another tough challenge: how to position itself not only as the voice of discontent with the existing political parties, but also the voice against the more general economic order with a more radical alternative that goes beyond “privatisation with moral face and transparency”?

Apart from continuing its work at the grassroots, the ULC received a major opportunity in the last week of the campaign. One of the ULC’s representatives, Luka Mesec, was invited onto the key final debate with all the major parties on the widely viewed POP TV.

The presentation of the ULC's arguments created a new awareness of the group's critical voice. It stunned the representatives of the established parties and marked a boost to its electoral chances.

In the very last days of the campaign, many public figures, from intellectuals and activists to social groups and musicians, embraced the ULC.

With votes from abroad and postal votes yet to be counted, the winner of the elections is the Party of Miro Cerar (34.6%). The Slovenian Democrats came second (20.7%) and Desus, the pensioner party, third (10.2%).

Fourth spot was the biggest surprise of elections ― being taken by the ULC with 6%. The Social Democrats are in fifth with 5.9%. Sixth place was taken by the Catholic party New Slovenia (5.5%), and the last party to pass the threshold was the former primer minister's party, the Alliance of Alenka Bratusek (4.3%).

Many people who voted for the ULC were voting for the first time, or had previously voted on the principle of supporting the “lesser evil”. Therefore the vote for the ULC went beyond the dominant binary of either pro-Jansa (the former prime minister and president of Slovenian Democrats) or anti-Jansa.

Instead, it was a vote for a critical voice to reject a neoliberal “resolving” of the crisis.

But this is only the start. The ULC has opened the doors to the future away from neoliberalism.

[Reprinted from Transform Network.]

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From GLW issue 1017