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Europe

Slovenia Elects New President

Slovenia went to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president. The election marks the end of an era for the man who led the country to independence and makes way for a new leader to take Slovenia into the EU.

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Ljubljana looks towards the EU

On Sunday, some 1.6 million Slovenians went to the polls to elect the country’s next president. Milan Kucan, the current Slovenian president, is stepping down after more than a decade in office. Although many would like to see the popular leader who guided his country to independence remain on, the country’s constitution prevents him from seeking a third term in office.

Kucan’s successor is likely to be the equally popular current Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek. The 52-year-old, who has been in office since 1992, is largely credited with steering the country through its transition from communism to a market economy.

With the majority of votes already in late Sunday evening, polls showed the center-left Drnovsek had a clear lead with 46.3 percent of the vote. Although the minister received the largest share of the votes, he failed to win a clear majority as was expected.

Drnovsek told the private POP television station that he was "very satisfied with the support" he received. He also said he was confident of being re-elected. "Things are going well in Slovenia. There is political stability and economic development."

Run-off likely

There were nine candidates in the running for president. If, after all the votes have been counted, no one receives an absolute majority – more than 50 percent of the vote – a second round of elections between the two top candidates will be held on December 1.

Drnovsek’s main challenger is the country’s Attorney General Barbara Brezigar, who received 27.8 percent of the vote. Representing the center-right opposition, Brezigar has built a reputation around fighting organized crime and corruption. Her campaign relied heavily on the hopes that "people would like to see somebody new."

"I have only been in politics a short period of time," she told reporters in Ljubljana after casting her ballot. But many observers say Brezigar’s newness to the political stage was actually a detriment, as Slovenians are relatively content with the country’s political situation and not ready for a change.

Keeping on course

Whoever wins, Drnovsek said the election would not have much impact on the future course of the nation. Slovenia will continue on the path to entering the EU in 2004 since, as he says, "things are more or less finished." The country’s admission into NATO is also expected to take place in the next few months without much difficulty.

Slovenia, a small Alpine country of roughly two million people on the southern Austrian border, is counted among the most prosperous and Western-looking states in Central Europe. Since winning over its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, the political and economic conditions have improved dramatically. Compared to the other nine candidate countries facing EU admission next year, Slovenia has some of the best chances of integrating itself quickly into the European bloc.

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