Laughs turn to frustration as Slovenia’s comedian PM resigns

The resignation of the Slovenian prime minister Marjan Šarec on January 27 has left the country in limbo and facing an early general election, less than two years since the previous parliamentary vote.

Mr Šarec, a former comedian, had become increasingly frustrated in recent months at the failure of his minority coalition to push through legislation.

He told a press conference that he cannot fulfil his promises to Slovenians, “with this coalition, with this situation in parliament”.

Šarec took office in 2018, leading a minority coalition of five parties broadly from the centre of Slovenian politics, but which together held just 43 of the country’s 90 parliamentary seats. After losing the informal support of the five MPs of the opposition Levica (Left) party in November, the coalition was handicapped even further.

The resignation of Mr Šarec was preceded on January 24 of that of the finance minister Andrej Bertoncelj, an erstwhile ally, who quit in anger at legislation proposed by the prime minister’s LMS party that would see the national budget cover the losses of the country’s health system. 

“Following the withdrawal of the finance minister, who belongs to his inner circle and is a key figure for the government, [Šarec] had no other option but to resign,” analyst Andraž Zorko told Delo, Slovenia’s leading daily newspaper.

The coalition also reportedly suffered from other internal conflicts and instability, but Mr Šarec nevertheless defended his time in government, telling journalists that “the government has sailed safely through many dire straits, and I must say has done so successfully.”

It now appears that voters will get the chance to tell him if they agree or not: an early election is the likeliest outcome.

Firstly, however, the country’s president, Borut Pahor, will hold a round of discussions with all the parliamentary parties to see if any of them can form a new coalition. This does not at present appear to be a feasible outcome, although some are hopeful that an election can be avoided.

Zdravko Počivalšek, the economy minister and leader of the Modern Centre party (SMC), which is part of the current coalition, has suggested that Mr Šarec’s resignation does not necessarily mean new elections will be called. He has cited the possibility of the remaining coalition parties agreeing to struggle on without the 13-seats of the LMS. 

“We have had too many elections recently. We have a stable situation and we can use it to go forward. I am always open to negotiations in all directions, in a way that favours both sides [in the talks]. We are only interested in what is good for the country. Not left, not right, but forward,” argued Mr Počivalšek.

Mr Zorko suggests that Mr Počivalšek is probably keen to avoid an election given that his party currently has little support in opinion polls.

“Those 10 [SMC] MPs know what they’re in for if there is an early election. I think they will carefully look at all the options, including a possible new centre-right coalition.”

Some analysts suggest that the country’s largest party, the centre-right Slovenian Democratic party (SDS), is likely to try to form a government. SDS currently holds 26 seats so would need support from other parties, such as the conservative New Slovenia party (NSI) – which holds seven seats – as well as other, smaller, right-wing parties. 

However, the leader of the SDS, Janez Jansa, has told reporters that an election “was by far the most likely option.” SDS was unable to form a coalition following the 2018 election. 

Mr Šarec himself clearly wants an election.

“The most honest thing we can do is to go to the polls, where people can tell us whether they want us to continue or not,” he said shortly after resigning.

If an election is called, it will be Slovenia’s fourth early election in a row, which hints at wider problems and points to a lack of public trust in the country’s political parties.

Mr Šarec’s LMS leads in the country’s latest opinion poll – published just a day before the PM resigned – with 15.1 per cent of the vote, ahead of the SDS on 14.1 per cent.