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Who will succeed Slovenia's 'Instagram president?'

Gasper Andrinek Ljubljana
November 11, 2022

The man dubbed Slovenia's "Instagram president" has come to the end of his term of office, and Slovenians are preparing to choose a successor. For the first time, the country might elect a woman president.

A woman casts her vote in round one of the presidential election, Ljubljana, Slovenia, October 23, 2022
Voters in Slovenia will be casting their votes a lot this fall, not only in the presidential election runoff, but also in local elections and several referendumsImage: dpa

Over the past decade, Borut Pahor has consistently topped polls of the most popular politicians in Slovenia. He is certainly a man with a wealth of political experience, being the only person in Slovenia to have held all the highest offices in the land: Pahor has not only served as president but also as speaker of the parliament (2000–2004) and prime minister (2008–2012). He has also been a member of the European Parliament.

Naomi Campbell (left) and outgoing Slovenian President Borut Pahor, in Johannesburg, South Africa, December 11, 2013
The Instagram President: In this photo, which was used on the president's Instagram account, Slovenian President Borut Pahor (right) is seen with supermodel Naomi CampbellImage: Klemen Horvat/Office of the Slovenia's President/AP/picture alliance/AP Photo

However, it wasn't just his experience that made him popular with voters: Pahor was also one of the first Slovenian politicians to become influential on social media. His Instagram account regularly features photos of his meetings with an array of famous people from Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Francis to supermodel Naomi Campbell and Slovenian basketball star Luka Doncic.

In fact, Pahor is so active on the photo-sharing platform that Politico named him "Europe's Instagram President" in 2017. But now, after a decade in the presidential palace, he is getting ready to hand over to his successor. Slovenians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president in a runoff election between Anze Logar and Natasa Pirc Musar.

Logar ahead after first round

Logar, a member of the right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), won the first round of the presidential election on October 23 with 34% of all votes cast. Lawyer Natasa Pirc Musar came second with 27% of the vote.

Anze Logar addresses the press, Ljubljana, Slovenia, October 23, 2022
Every reason to be pleased: Former Slovenian Foreign Minister and presidential candidate Anze Logar won the first round of the presidential electionImage: Luka Dakskobler/ZUMA/IMAGO

An opinion poll on November 6 prepared by Valicon for the Slovenian public broadcaster RTV Slovenia showed that this outcome could well be reversed in the runoff. The poll shows Pirc Musar closer to victory in the second round than Logar. Indeed, it predicts that she will win with 56% of the votes.

Pirc Musar expected to become country's first woman president

"Until now, a candidate from the right has never won a presidential election, which could also be attributed to the fact that the electorate in our country is slightly inclined to the left," Meta Roglic, a Slovenian political analyst and journalist from news portal N1info, told DW.

Natasa Pirc Musar gesticulates after the first round of the presidential election, Sunday, October 23, 2022
Ready for the knock-out? Independent presidential candidate Natasa Pirc Musar is tipped to become Slovenia's first ever woman president in this weekend's runoff voteImage: AP/dpa/picture alliance

Aljaz Pengov Bitenc, another Slovenian political analyst, is also convinced that Natasa Pirc Musar has a good chance of becoming the first woman president in the history of Slovenia. However, he also cautions that "the advantage she has over Logar could vanish if voter turnout is low."

Pengov Bitenc says that there is a risk of "voter fatigue" because of the number of elections coming up in Slovenia. In the coming months, Slovenian voters will also be voting in three separate referendums as well as in local elections in many municipalities across the country.

Two independent candidates

Both presidential candidates are running as independents. Both submitted their candidacies with the help of voters' signatures and neither is the official candidate of any political party.

For many, however, it is hard to see Anze Logar as an independent candidate. After all, he is not just a long-time member of the SDS, he has also been chairman of the party's council and was foreign minister in the last government of former Prime Minister Janez Jansa , a right-wing populist who is a close ally of Hungary's far-right leader, Viktor Orban.

Janez Jansa (left) und Anze Logar
Former Slovenian PM Janez Jansa (left) is backing his party colleague Anze Logar in the second round of the Slovenian presidential election, which takes place on Sunday, November 13Image: Jure Makovec/AFP

Meta Roglic is convinced that Logar is guaranteed the votes of SDS voters, who are the most disciplined part of the electorate. Logar also has support from the Christian Democrats (NSi). So why is he not his party's official candidate? Roglic feels certain that Logar is acutely aware that the clear support of the SDS would harm his chances of getting the backing of centrist voters.

Independent, but not independent enough?

Aljaz Pengov Bitenc believes that Logar's biggest mistake so far has been to avoid answering questions about his attitude to his own party and the actions of Jansa's government, of which he was a part: "By not distancing himself from all this or even apologizing, he fundamentally sowed doubt about his alleged independence."

Former right-wing PM Janez Jansa addresses the media after losing the parliamentary election in Slovenia in April 2022
Political analyst Meta Roglic says that former right-wing PM Janez Jansa's support for Anze Logar might actually be counterproductive: "The louder Janez Jansa advertises himself, the stronger the anti-Jansa reflex is among center-left voters"Image: Darko Bandic/AP Photo/picture alliance

Meta Roglic points out that "Janez Jansa's aggressive outbursts are damaging for Anze Logar. The louder Janez Jansa advertises himself, the stronger the anti-Jansa reflex is among center-left voters."

But this has not deterred Jansa: The former prime minister has been vocal in his support for Logar and described the runoff as a clash between the values of Slovenian independence and constitutionality on the one hand and the values ​​of tax havens on the other.

Former data protection chief

Janez Jansa's "tax havens" jibe was directed at the other candidate in the runoff election, influential lawyer Natasa Pirc Musar, the former head of Slovenia's data protection authority. Claims were made during the election campaign that either Pirc Musar or her husband had put money into tax havens.

Although Pirc Musar is not a member of any political party, Slovenian PM Robert Golob of the liberal green Freedom Movement is backing her in the second round. Golob said that the SDS candidate must not be allowed to enter the presidential palace, as this would plunge Slovenia back to the "dark times" of the last two years under Janez Jansa.

Questions about financial dealings

During her campaign, Natasa Pirc Musar was repeatedly the target of accusations about her husband's business. Her biggest mistake, believes Aljaz Pengov Bitenc, was the unconvincing way she answered questions on this subject.

"It's not so much that the facts themselves are problematic, but that she didn't know how to answer in a way that would not raise additional questions."

The candidates' stance on Europe

Of the two candidates, Anze Logar has more diplomatic experience. "It is therefore possible that he would try to use this advantage to cover up his current flirting with the countries of the Visegrad Group, especially with Hungary," says Aljaz Pengov Bitenc. When asked about his international goals, Logar claims that he is the biggest supporter of "core Europe."

Natasa Pirc Musar also has a lot of international experience: For 15 years, she worked as a human rights expert with the Council of Europe. She also says that she would like Slovenia to connect to "core Europe," especially with countries that believe in human rights, solidarity and constitutional values.

"She would probably not look for her own foreign policy niche, but would instead closely coordinate her activities with the government of Robert Golob," says Aljaz Pengov Bitenc.

Depending on who wins the election, the result could be seen as a boost to either the incumbent green prime minister or his right-wing populist predecessor.

Edited by Rüdiger Rossig and Aingeal Flanagan

Gasper Andrinek (DW-correspondent in Ljubljana, Slovenia)