© Reuters. Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa speaks during Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) convention before parliamentary elections, in Ljubljana, Slovenia April 19, 2022. REUTERS/Borut Zivulovic
By Katja Lihtenvalner
LJUBLJANA (Reuters) -Slovenia’s populist Prime Minister Janez Jansa looked set to lose a national election on Sunday as the environmentalist Freedom Movement party won more votes than his SDS party, according to an exit poll.
The election had been expected to be tight but the exit poll by the Mediana Institute showed the Freedom Movement leading with 35.8% of the vote, far more than expected, while the SDS had secured 22.5% of the vote.
That would give the Freedom Movement, which campaigned on the transition to green energy, an open society and the rule of law, 42 seats in the 88-seat parliament and the SDS 26 seats.
Whichever party wins will have to secure coalition partners to form a new government.
Jansa, who had hoped to win a fourth term in office, has clashed with Brussels over media freedoms and opponents accuse him of undermining democratic standards, accusations he denies.
Polling stations closed at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT). The turnout in the vote, in which some 1.7 million people were eligible to cast their ballots, was 49.3% by 4 p.m., the election commission said.
Analysts, however, expected it would be close to 70% by the end of voting, well above the national average.
“All indications show turnout will be 68%,” said Andraz Zorko of the Valicon agency, a polling agency.
Freedom Movement, led by Robert Golob, 55, a former executive of a state-owned energy company that launched green energy projects, emerged as a major contender in the election race.
Many people interviewed by Reuters said they wanted change.
“We do not want these politicians in power anymore,” said Milena, 58, who cast a ballot in the capital Ljubljana. “The last two years have been desperate in every way. We want new faces, we want normality and stability.”
Jansa, the 63-year-old populist, has campaigned on promises to improve the economy and provide energy security in the small country of about 2 million people that is a member of the European Union and the NATO military alliance.
He was among the first EU leaders to visit Ukraine and show solidarity with Kyiv after Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, and has promised to reduce Slovenia’s reliance on Russian gas imports.
But Golob, who backs EU sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine, has accused Jansa of seeking to exploit the war for his own political benefit, a charge that Jansa dismissed.
Golob, who is believed to have contracted COVID-19, according to local media, said he would address media via a video call later on Sunday.
Slovenia’s populist PM set to lose election to environmentalist party -exit poll