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Slovenians Vote in Neck-and-Neck General Election

Slovenians voted in parliamentary elections Sunday, Sept 21, with centre-right Prime Minister Janez Jansa seeking a new four-year term after facing down corruption allegations.

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa is looking for another four-year term

Polls showed the race between Jansa's Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) and the opposition Social Democrats (SD) too close to call. Both sides were polling 25-30 per cent of the vote, making the shape of the next government dependent on the strength of smaller parties.

Jansa, 50, largely ran on his record leading one of Eastern Europe's most successful economies, a nation of 2 million that has left the Balkans far behind, joined the European Union in 2004 and switched to the euro in 2007.

He strongly denied a Finnish television report late in the election campaign that claimed he took part of 21 million euros ($30 million) in bribes that arms maker Patria allegedly paid to win a Slovenian defense contract.

In emotionally charged final weeks of campaigning, Jansa portrayed the affair as a smear attempt by former communists. He called it the dirtiest campaign since Slovenia won independence from the old Yugoslavia in a 10-day war in 1991.

The approach seemed to work: some polls showed gains for Jansa's party, and he eclipsed opposition leader Borut Pahor at the top of popularity polls despite constant grumbling by Slovenes about 6-per- cent inflation, the euro zone's highest.

Economic success in PM's favor

A man holds Euro bank notes after drawing them from an automatic teller machine ATM in Ljubljana, Slovenia, early Monday morning, Jan. 01, 2007.

Slovenia has benefited from joining the euro zone in 2007

Jansa can point to strong growth in Slovenia's export-driven economy, which the government says expanded 5.5 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter.

His party won 29.1 per cent in 2004 parliamentary elections and has led a coalition with three smaller conservative parties for a full four-year term.

But Jansa's partners, the New Slovenia (NSI) and the farmers' Slovenian People's Party (SLS), worry whether they can win the 4 per cent of ballots to qualify for the 90-seat parliament.

Volatile political scene causing election fears

SD has its own concerns in Slovenia's volatile political scene -- their left-leaning allies, Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS), has split into parties that were predicted to combine for 18 per cent, instead of the LDS' 23 per cent in 2004.

Some 1.7 million people are eligible to vote. First results were expected late Sunday, with the final tally likely by Thursday after expatriate ballots are counted.

Slovenia is the richest former Yugoslav republic and the only one in the EU. It also joined the NATO military alliance in 2004.

Sunday's parliamentary election is the fifth since 1991.

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