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Slovenians elect a new president amid economic woes

Voters in Slovenia have gone to the polls to elect a new president. Former Prime Minister Borut Pahor is expected to defeat the incumbent, Danilo Türk.

An opinion poll conducted for the Dnevnik daily newspaper gave Pahor, a Social Democrat, 53.1 percent support compared to 31.6 for Türk.

The first round of voting on November 11 had been much closer, with Pahor taking 40 percent compared to 36 percent for Türk, who had entered the contest as the favorite. A third candidate, Milan Zver of the governing Democratic Party, failed to advance to this Sunday's runoff, taking just 24 percent.

The runoff comes at a time of financial turmoil for the former Yugoslav republic, which joined the eurozone in 2007, when its economy was still booming. Since then its export-driven economy has been hit hard by the global downturn, forcing the government to introduce unpopular austerity measures.

Prime Minister Janez Jansa's conservative government has implemented cuts to public sector wages and social programs, in an effort to wrestle down the country's deficit to 4.2 percent of gross domestic product, from 6.4 percent last year. He hopes further austerity measures, to be introduced next year, will bring the deficit down to the three percent ceiling allowed under eurozone guidelines.

Frustration spills over

While in office as prime minister, Pahor had also tried to implement austerity measures, but he was swept out of office for his efforts, with his government being defeated in a confidence vote in September 2011.

A protester kneels in front of police during an anti-government protest in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 30 November 2012.

Friday's rally against austerity and corruption ended in violence

The presidential election comes two days after a rally in the capital, Ljubljana, to protest against the austerity measures turned violent. Police used water cannon to disperse the angry crowd. Fifteen people, mainly police officers, were injured in the clashes.

While frustration among the public over the economic crisis may be high, given the fact that the Slovenian president's role is largely ceremonial, there is little that either candidate could do to change the government's course. This may well have played a factor in the first round of voting, which saw a record-low turnout of 47.3 percent.

pfd/jr (dpa, AFP, Reuters)