LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Voters in Slovenia are preparing to choose a new president in a weekend election that is seen as a test for the European Union nation’s liberal government, which took power from populists six months ago amid a soaring crisis fueled by the war in Ukraine.
Opinion polls ahead of Sunday’s balloting suggested no candidate will receive more than half of the vote, the threshold needed for an immediate triumph. In that case, a runoff election will take place three weeks later.
Seven candidates are running, but only three are considered serious contenders for the presidency. Former Foreign Minister Anze Logar has led the pre-election polls, but analysts say a second round vote could produce a different winner.
Whoever eventually wins will succeed President Borut Pahor, a centrist politician who has sought to bridge Slovenia’s left-right political divide during his decade in office. Having served two full terms, Pahor is ineligible to seek a third.
Opinion polls initially showed Logar, who served in the previous right-wing government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa, trailing a centrist political novice, Natasa Pirc Musar, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist. Pirc Musar represented former U.S. first lady Melania Trump, who was born in Slovenia.
But while Pirc Musar commanded a strong lead early in the campaign, her popularity recently dropped to some 20% following revelations about her husband’s business interests and the couple’s alleged tax maneuvering.
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. If Pirc Musar wins, she would become the first woman to serve as president since Slovenia became independent from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
Logar, who is running as an independent, has sought to shake off former prime minister Jansa’s divisive rhetoric and to portray himself as a moderate. Recent polls suggested Logar could win around 30% of the vote Sunday despite being part of the populist government that was defeated heavily in an April parliamentary election.
Jansa faced accusations of curbing democratic and media freedoms while in office, which he has dismissed as a leftist conspiracy. A Jansa-backed candidate getting elected as president would represent a setback for the current government, which has taken a liberal approach.
A municipal election next month and three referendums forced by Jansa’s Slovene Democratic Party could provide further indications of the government’s standing with voters.
In the presidential race, the government has backed Milan Brglez, a Social Democrat and a member of European Parliament. Now polling third at around 17%, Brglez got into the running late in the campaign, weeks after a previous government favorite unexpectedly withdrew citing private reasons.
Analysts say it is impossible to predict who will make it to the anticipated runoff but they expect moderate voters to rally against Logar in a head-to-head contest.
Janez Markes, a columnist at daily Slovenian newspaper Delo, said a runoff was nearly certain because none of the top contenders was convincing in their responses to citizens concerns about the war in Ukraine and energy troubles in Europe.
“Sensitivity to social issues and social justice is higher than in the past,” said Markes.