19 Nov 2018, 13:00 PM

STA, 19 November - Slovenia's local elections delivered few surprises. Incumbents ruled supreme carrying the biggest cities except for Koper, conservative parties did even better than last time around, centrist parties continued to lose ground, and independents became an even more formidable force, in a continuation of a long trend.

In the most closely watched race in Ljubljana, Mayor Zoran Jankovič predictably won re-election against centre-right candidate Anže Logar of the Democrats (SDS).

Janković even increased his share of the vote slightly from four years ago, to 61%, and his list regained outright majority in city council, but Logar also exceeded expectations with 29% of the vote, the best a Janković opponent has ever mustered.

In Maribor, the unpopular incumbent Andrej Fištravec was predictably swept out of office. In the second round, voters will pick between entrepreneur Saša Arsenovič and former mayor Franc Kangler. After almost all of the votes counted, they won 38.2% and 31.4% respectively.

The outcome makes Maribor one of the more interesting races to watch in the run-off on 2 December, as Kangler attempts his second comeback after being swept out of office by a popular uprising in 2012 and Arsenović tries to emulate his role model Janković with a business-like approach to running the city.

Another interesting race to watch will be Koper, where incumbent Boris Popovič will have to enter a run-off for the first time since 2002 facing Aleš Brežan, an independent with a growing following in the coastal city.

Some of the other long-lasting incumbents in big cities easily won re-election, including Bojan Šrot in Celje, Aleksander Jevšek in Murska Sobota, Gregor Macedoni in Novo Mesto and Bojan Kontič in Velenje.

All in all, 157 of the 212 municipalities got mayors in the first round, one more than four years ago.

Independents, SDS and SD do well at the party level

Independent and semi-independent parties and local lists further expanded their reach to reinforce the trend seen over the past decade. Independents aside, the biggest winners of this election are the SDS and the Social Democrats (SD).

According to nearly complete results, independents as the biggest single group won mayoral offices in 87 of the 212 municipalities in the first round and 944 of the 3,400 seats available on the local councils or 32.4% of the national vote.

While the non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) remains the party with the largest number of mayors, its tally of mayoral offices won in the first round fell by two to 23 compared to the previous elections.

The SDS, the party that won the general election earlier this year, made the biggest gain nation-wide by securing 17% of the vote for local councils, up three percentage points from 2014. It also won 12 mayoral offices, which is as many as in the first round in 2014.

"The results show that in this election nation-wide more people have voted for the SDS alone than for the entire ruling coalition combined," Janša said.

Indeed, the only of the five ruling coalition parties that did well and even better than in the previous local election was the Social Democrats (SD), who like the SDS have a well-established local network.

The SD came as the second-strongest national party by winning 14 mayoral offices and 10.1% of the vote to local councils, which compares to 12 mayoral seats and 9.95% in the first round of the previous election.

SD leader Dejan Židan said that while there is an increasing number of independents and ever fewer parties field their own candidates, "we are the party that fights on, being aware that a party cannot be cut off from the local environment".

While being first in terms of mayoral offices, the SLS ranks fourth in elections to local councils with 6.5% of the vote, down just over one percentage point.

"After a difficult period behind us, we consider it a major victory and a better showing than the most upbeat expectations," Marjan Podobnik, the new-old SLS leader, commented.

The conservative New Slovenia (NSi) also did well. It won eight mayoral offices and 6.5% of the vote to local councils, compared to seven mayors and 6.61% of the national share of the vote to local councils four years ago.

"The NSi appears to be on the right track and our work pays in the long run," NSi leader Matej Tonin said, hailing joint support that the right-wing bloc threw behind mayoral contenders in several of the municipalities.

The Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), the party of the prime minister which made its first appearance at the national level in the general election in June, did not win a single mayoral seat in the first round, although its candidate is in the lead in Kamnik, where Šarec first served as mayor.

As a newcomer that is yet establishing its local network, the party won 2.4% of the vote to local councils, which is a much poorer result that the SMC posted in 2014 after winning the general election as a newcomer.

Although not winning a single mayor back then, the Modern Centre Party (SMC) won one this time around, while its vote to local councils collapsed from 11.11% to 4.2% of the vote.

Prime Minister Marjan Šarec downplayed the result by saying that "we'll be happy of any result we achieve". He also pledged to work with mayors saying that "previous governments did not understand the work of municipalities".

The Left did not make much of a mark at the national level either, securing no mayor and winning only 2.8% of the vote.

Nevertheless, the party's deputy leader Violeta Tomić said the Left was happy with the result, in particular in Ljubljana where it emerged as the third strongest faction and its candidate for mayor came third.

The Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) fared better in terms of the national share of the vote, securing 4.9%, which is down from 7.45% four years ago. The party won no mayoral office.

Learn more about Slovenia’s many political parties here

19 Nov 2018, 12:00 PM

STA, 19 November 2018 - Boris Popovič, who has had a comfortable tenure in the Koper mayoral office since 2002, will have to put in additional effort to convince the residents of the largest coastal municipality. In a tight race, his main challenger Aleš Bržan, an independent, managed to force a run-off.

After nearly all the votes were counted, Popovič's support stood at 44.5%, whereas Bržan was backed by 30.5% of those who turned out.

After the polls closed, Popovič said he hoped to be elected in the first round. "I believe we did a whole lot. We couldn't have done more. We worked day and night for four years on 12 years of foundation. I believe we deserve to get another four years."

Nevertheless, the mayor was not overly disappointed, because "it was virtually impossible to win in the first round with 13 candidates" running for the office.

Looking ahead, he said that the campaign for the run-off would finally provide the two candidates with the chance to compare their platforms.

"We will do our job ... until the end and let the people decide as they want," he said and added that "even if people are annoyed and think that another candidate can give them more, stimulate better development, why not".

Popovič's popularity appears to be waning, with Bržan gradually eating away at his voter base. In 2014, Popovič cruised to victory in the first round with almost 53% of the vote and Bržan, then backed by the Modern Centre Party (SMC) got 25%.

Bržan told the public broadcaster TV Slovenija that his team had been working hard for this and that they would continue to give it everything so that things would change in Koper.

"It is obvious that something has happened in Koper, and we hope that this will be a turnaround in the way the municipality is run," he told the STA.

Popovič, known for his authoritarian style and disdain for even moderate criticism, has been losing his grip of Koper as voices have started to grow louder about the need for more democracy in running the city.

Antiša Korljan, the editor-in-chief of the Primorske Novice newspaper, says that the apparent second round is the result of votes against Popovič.

Bržan is a reserved, cultivated and deliberate candidate, but this is not necessarily a good thing, he added. "Bržan will have to become a bit more aggressive in his approach, he was lacking that in his communication," Korljan said.

Despite the challenge Koper voters have thrown at Popovič, he managed to retain his power in the city council, where he will have 13 councillors in the 30-member body, the same number as before.

Bržan will have nine councillors; in the previous election he ran with the support of the Modern Centre Party (SMC), which had won seven seats but was relegated from the council this time, winning less than 2% of the vote.

Olive, a local party, and the Left won two seats each, with four more parties and lists having one seat each, including the list of Popovič's former close ally Gašpar Gašpar Mišič, who is now one of his biggest critics.

All our stories on Koper are here

19 Nov 2018, 11:00 AM

STA, 19 November 2018 - Bojan Šrot, who has been unrivalled as the mayor of Celje for 20 years, won another term on Sunday, sweeping the field in the first round with 56% after more than half of the votes counted. Turnout was 35%.

"The result is perhaps slightly more modest than we're used to, but given that the seven mayoral candidates are a record figure in the last 20 years, I'm very happy," Šrot told TV Slovenija.

The 58-year-old, who only had to do a run-off during his first run for mayor, rejected those claiming he has been in power for too long, saying that this was actually "an advantage, as experience helps a lot when being mayor".

"I still have like two terms worth of energy and plans left in me," said the mayor, who fielded his own list for the city council this time after he had previously ran as part of the People's Party (SLS), which he led between 2007 and 2009.

Meanwhile, Sandi Sendelbah, a former municipal accountant who was recently sacked by the mayor, proved Šrot's most serious challenger. He has 18% after more than half of votes have been counted

Sendelbah ran alone as his list Open Celje was rejected for administrative reasons.

A first-round win by Šrot had not been a forgone conclusion, with polls carried out among the residents suggesting that many people indeed want change.

In October, half of respondents said it was time for a change at the helm of the municipality, and only 20% said the current team should stay on.

All our Celje stories are here

19 Nov 2018, 10:30 AM

STA, 19 November 2018 - The first round of the local election in Maribor has brought the expected run-off between entrepreneur Saša Arsenovič and former mayor Franc Kangler. After almost all of the votes counted, they won 38% and 31% respectively. Incumbent Andrej Fištravec is far behind in third place with 9%. Turnout in the country's second largest city reached 49.67%.

While the mayoral race still remains to be decided, the seats in the 44-member city council have been distributed. Arsenovič's list has won 12 and and Kangler's 10.

Arsenovič is a businessman

Arsenovič, a political novice who has earned respect in city with several successful restaurants and by helping renovate and revive Maribor's run-down old town, said the people of Maribor had shown they wanted change.

"The real winner today is Maribor. I thank the people for going to the polls. I feel Maribor wants real change and I promise...that this time all the projects being announced for so many years will also be executed," said the 52-year-old, who is running with the support of the Modern Centre Party (SMC).

The law graduate, who is said to have earned his start-up capital working long days abroad as a tennis coach, entered the race at the eleventh hour and has mostly had to defend himself over his companies' project-related debts.

He hopes the campaign ahead of the second round on 2 December will bring more content: "I hope we will finally start talking about Maribor's development and less about my personal affairs."

Kangler is a former Mayor of Maribor

Kangler, who ran Maribor from 2006 to late 2012 when he resigned amid violent mass protests, was also happy with the result, arguing the people had recognised "our work".

The former police officer, who is supported by several right-wing parties, said that his campaign had been positive, respectful to other candidates and that things would get interesting in the second round.

Asked if the results showed the voters had forgiven and forgotten, Kangler said there was "nothing to forgive". "All the court cases against me are closed, this was a political process against me," the 53-year-old told TV Slovenija.

Outgoing mayor also lost in the city council

Meanwhile, Fištravec, a 61-year-old sociologist who won his first term in 2013 with the support of the protest movement that swept away Kangler, commented by saying that the only thing that mattered was that Maribor was doing better now after it had been stagnating for 30 years.

While the outgoing mayor is widely perceived to have failed with efforts to boost the city's economy with the help of Chinese investments, he argued that all the indicators were positive, including those for employment and investments.

Fištravec's list also suffered the heaviest losses in the city council. While it had nine councillors in the last term, it got three this time.

Three councillors were also secured by the Democrat (SDS), which thus lost one seat, and by the SMC, which had 6 in the previous term.

Analysing the results for the STA, journalists and Maribor experts Peter Jančič and Aljoša Peršak both see the race as completely open.

"The clash will definitely be interesting and it is not possible to say that Kangler, a more familiar face in politics, has an advantage," said Jančič, who also noted that turnout had increased substantially from the 38% four years ago.

Peršak feels that Arsenovič beating Kangler in the first round was a slight surprise as polls had had the former mayor in the lead.

Peršak expects Arsenovič to cast himself as the "change" candidate ahead of the run-off, while Kangler is likely to focus on successful past projects, steering away from the "memory of 2012, which has obviously not faded".

Both analysts also highlighted the crushing defeat of Fištravec. While Peršak argued that the negative campaign had not paid off for Fištravec, Jančič said "the defeat serves him right"

"He did not pay for the election campaign four years ago, not for the councillors nor for his own. He should have not even been running the city," Jančič said.

19 Nov 2018, 10:00 AM

STA, 19 November 2018 - Zoran Janković won his fourth straight term as mayor of Slovenia's capital as voters overwhelmingly endorsed his vision of Ljubljana's development in Sunday's local elections and his list regained majority in the local council.

According to incomplete results, Janković secured 61.4% of the vote, which is slightly more than in the 2014 election (57.3%).

Anže Logar, the candidate of the Democratic Party (SDS) who enjoyed the support of the entire right-wing bloc, won 28.8% of the vote, more than any other candidate challenging Janković in his 12-year stint as Ljubljana mayor.

Janković's list won 23 seats in the 45-seat city council to regain the majority he held in his first two terms, after winning 21 seats in the 2014 election.

The SDS will be the second strongest faction with ten councillors, three more than in the current council, followed by the Left, which gained one seat to four. The conservative New Slovenia (NSi) and the Social Democrats (SD) will have two seats each.

The Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), the Modern Centre Party (SMC) and the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), which together with the SD make up the minority national government, secured one seat each.

In his first comment on the election victory, the 65-year-old Serbian-born manager said the outcome showed the people of Ljubljana "want the kind of development they have seen so far".

Janković's time as Ljubljana Mayor has seen a transformed city, with allegations of corruption

Over the past 12 years, Janković and his team transformed Ljubljana through a series of projects, including a complete makeover of the city centre, large sections of which have been pedestrianised.

However, Janković has been facing recurring allegations of corruption, cronyism and shady ways in which the city has been awarding contracts to private partners, as well as criticism of his autocratic style of leadership.

Janković said that the people of Ljubljana showed they wanted an open, solidarity-based and comrade-like town, a reference to Logar's party, which has been promoting anti-migrant views, and Longar's statement that he would not attend a gay pride parade.

Both Janković and Logar said they were glad that the turnout was higher than four years ago. Data available so far show that 29.86% of the voters turned out in Ljubljana until 4 PM, which compares to 22.06% four years ago when the final turnout was 35.92%.

Janković said he would have wanted the turnout to be even higher, but that the outcome had obviously been clear beforehand. "Many reckoned that I'll win in the first round and they chose to stay at home or take a trip."

Looking at his new term, Janković announced 500 more projects in Ljubljana, which he said would bring greater quality of life and more global awards. Ljubljana won the title of the European Green Capital in 2016. He dismissed criticism as talk devoid of argument and populism.

Janković congratulated Logar on his showing, saying that he unified the right bloc. But he also said that the voters in this election was split along the left-right divide and that the proportion won by Logar was obviously as much as the right could count on winning in Ljubljana.

Commenting on the outcome of his list, he pledged to build a coalition even though his list won a majority, "with those who support the development programme. But I won't engage in dealing out."

Logar expressed his satisfaction that more people turned out in Ljubljana than four years ago, which he suggested was thanks his "agile election campaign" which "woke the electoral base from sleep".

Logar said considering that he and Janković won 90% of the vote, the question was that meant for the government coalition parties. He also said that if the ruling coalition "offered one strong candidate, we would have a run-off".

Logar's party boss, Janez Janša commented that Janković's "method appears to be more effective than a classic approach to democracy", while he would not say whether Logar was his successor.

Asked who could defeat Janković, Janša said it was the people of Ljubljana. "I doubt though that anyone of potential political competition in a position to apply the same methods as he [Janković] does".

Of the remaining eight mayoral contenders, Milan Jakopovič, the candidate of the Left, came in third with 3.8% of the vote.

The best result among the candidates of the government coalition parties appears to have been secured by Dragan Matić of the Modern Centre Party (SMC) in fifth with 1.5%.

Born in a village near Serbia's Smederevo on 1 January 1953, Janković moved to Ljubljana with his family when still a child. He graduated from the Ljubljana Faculty of Economics and in 1984 took his first executive post as he was appointed acting director of Mercator Investa.

In 1997 he was appointed chairman of Mercator, which he built into a market leader in the region before being served a government-sponsored no-cause dismissal by Mercator owners in 2005, at the time of the centre-right government of Democrat (SDS) leader Janez Janša.

Ever since he has been portrayed, and treated, as an arch-rival of Janša's even though they appear less dissimilar as they are willing to admit.

They both suffered heavy political setbacks; despite winning this year's general election, Janša was unable to form a government, which was exactly what happened to Janković during his foray into national politics in 2011.

They have both had run-ins with law enforcement and they both faced revelations by the anti-graft watchdog in early 2013 that they misreported their assets.

All our stories on Zoran Janković can be found here

17 Nov 2018, 14:16 PM

STA, 16 November 2018 - Slovenian voters will flock to the polls on Sunday to cast their vote in local elections in 212 municipalities after month-long campaigning that saw some low points and bizarre publicity stunts.

A total of 688 candidates are running for mayors and 22,313 candidates for 3,400 local council seats, while some larger municipalities will also hold elections to borough or village councils.

As the trends suggest, incumbents and independents are likely to be the biggest election winners, even in some of the largest cities. Moreover, 36 mayoral candidates stand uncontested.

Mayors have long come to realise that voters appreciate most what they see, so they tend to time new construction and renovation projects for the ribbon-cutting to coincide with the campaign.

Indeed, a survey by the NGO Transparency International showed that local budgets peak with investments in election years; this year such spike is roughly EUR 420m or the equivalent of almost 1% of GDP.

Easy win in Ljubljana, harder fight in Maribor

In the eleven urban municipalities 87 contenders are running for mayors, with several of the incumbents projected to be re-elected, including Zoran Janković, who is eyeing his fourth term in Ljubljana.

Judging by the number of candidates and the few polls available, the fiercest battle will be fought in Maribor, where the incumbent mayor Andrej Fištravec is projected to be voted out.

The favourite for the first run is Franc Kangler, the former mayor who was forced out of office amid mass protests in 2012, but he is projected to be defeated by a newcomer, businessman Saša Arsenovič, in the run-off on 2 December.

Slovenia's second city saw aggressive smear campaigns on social media and an explicit death threat to one of the 18 candidates. Moreover, one of the contenders is running from prison.

Maribor and dead cats awaiting the incumbent in one of the smaller municipalities aside, perhaps the lowest point in the campaign was the interference in the village of Komen which cost Cohesion Minister Marko Bandelli his job after he threatened to cut off the municipality if his favourite was not elected.

Meanwhile, the campaign in Ljubljana was civilised, focusing on the battle between Janković and his long-term adversary in the city council, Anže Logar from the Democratic Party (SDS).

The incumbent in the port city of Koper, Boris Popovič, who has reportedly already organised a big party to celebrate a fifth term, tested the patience of voters with ostentatious early Christmas decoration that cost the city half a million euro.

The incumbents are also projected to be re-elected in Celje, Novo Mesto and Murska Sobota, while Kranj in the north-west will definitely get a new mayor because the incumbent is not standing.

The front-runner in Kranj is Matjaž Rakovec, the former boss of insurer Zavarovalnica Triglav, but polls indicate that a run-off on 2 December is likely.

A second run will not be needed in Murska Sobota, the north-easternmost urban centre, and in 59 more municipalities where only two candidates are standing.

Agitated in some of the municipalities and lacklustre elsewhere, the campaign did not venture beyond local issues and the results are likely to be a poor barometer of the political climate in the nation.

Very few female candidates on ballots

Aside the fact that scandals and allegations of corruption matter less than the candidates' ostensible efficiency, one of the things that is typical country-wide is the under-representation of women.

Only about one out of six mayoral candidates running is a woman, and there are none in Ljubljana. Out of the 212 mayors serving now only 16 are women and their number is likely to fall further.

More than 1.7 million voters are eligible to vote in Sunday's election. No projections about the turnout are available, but even as the trend has been negative, data from electoral commissions in urban municipalities show that more people turned out for early voting this year than four years ago.

Voters in municipalities populated by members of the Italian and Hungarian ethnic minorities and Roma will also be able to cast ballots for representatives of their communities in local councils.

There are 60 candidates running for the posts secured for the ethnic councillors; 2,734 voters are eligible to vote for Italian councillors, 5,651 for Hungarian councillors and 3,070 for Roma councillors.

Voting from 07:00 to 19:00, Sunday

All campaigning will have to stop at midnight tonight as election blackout sets it, to be in force until the polls close on Sunday at 7 PM. Around 3,200 polling stations will open at 7 AM.

No exit polls are planned, but the first incomplete results will be available from around 7:30 PM with the outcome more or less clear soon after.

Elections to local councils in larger communities are based on a system of proportional representation with the option of a preference vote, while smaller communities have a majority electoral system.

The elections and the ballot count will be observed by a delegation of five members of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.

These are the seventh local elections in Slovenia since independence. The number of municipalities has expanded from 147 since the first elections in December 1994 to 212.

In the previous election, 158 mayors were elected in the first round and the remaining 54 in the run-off.

All out local elections coverage is here

16 Nov 2018, 18:55 PM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, November 16, 2018.

Mladina: Government. Did Not Prepare for NLB Sale

STA, 16 November 2018 - The weekly Mladina is critical of the government for what it sees as a blunder in the sale of the bank NLB. The government planned to preserve control over the bank through state-owned companies, but then the securities market watchdog said it could not be done. The government obviously walked into this without having prepared properly.

Mladina editor-in-chief Gregor Repovž even goes as far as to compare the state to an adult movie actress who once said that she was "the sort of girl who doesn't research in advance. I just go".

Looking back at how the sale unfolded, Repovž says that the sale prospectus presentation attracted representatives of pension and investment funds directly or indirectly controlled by the state.

The concept of controlling companies through state-controlled firms is well-established abroad, the weekly notes.

The combined share of the state and its companies usually amounts to about 40%, however the rest of the stock is so dispersed that the share suffices to control the company.

"We assumed that the government was planning something like this and it seemed prudent," Repovž says in the editorial. "Finally somebody knew what they were doing."

But then the Securities Market Agency issued a legal opinion saying that legislation regulating privatisation and investment funds made it impossible for state-related institutions to buy NLB stock.

"Because we were watching the matter closely, we learnt that this was a surprise for Slovenian Sovereign Holding, as well as the government. How is that even possible!"

Unofficial statements indicated that the government had no clue about the stock ownership in the bank. But intending to keep 25% and one share, the state should be aware of every share, the weekly says.

"We heard later that state-owned and para-state funds will be able to buy shares on the stock exchange. But such light-heartedness demands the dismissal of the heads of the Sovereign Holding and the finance minister."

Demokracija: NLB Sale to be Welcomed

Ljubljana, 15 November - The right-wing weekly Demokracija welcomes in its latest commentary the sale of the NLB bank, saying that there will be no more "free lunches" for the "leftist comrades" who are used to being fed by taxpayer money.

The "comrades" are screaming that it was a heist and that Slovenian Sovereign Holding should have rejected the "shameful price" EUR 51.50 per share, editor-in-chief Jože Biščak says under the headline Colour of Money.

He adds that the mindset of socialists in Slovenia is vividly described by a statement by chemist and economist Peter Glavič, who complained that "once foreigners get hold of Slovenian banks, they will decide whom to give a loan and whom not."

While Glavič is afraid for Slovenia's economic and political sovereignty, Bičak asks the readers whether they had been able to come to a NLB office and ask not for a EUR 100,000 loan, but for a EUR 300,000 loan, as Glavič claims.

"Of course not. In the best case you would be escorted out of the office by a security guard," the commentary says, adding that big loans (usually without adequate collateral) were being given to the chosen ones who "used NLB as an ATM or for money laundering".

Biščak admits that the price is low, but says that it was determined by the market. "The culprits for the multi-million loss are known: Miro Cerar, Karl Erjavec and Dejan Židan, who had broken promises, procrastinated and feigned ignorance."

Taxpayers will continue to pay down NLB debt for years, but this is better than throwing new billions at the bank in a year or two, so that it would remain "ours".

Something is certain, this is the end of "comrade loans" at the expense of taxpayers. If the bank ends in trouble, the owners will have to recapitalise it on their own, and "NLB will need to learn how to drive on macadam", concludes the commentary.

16 Nov 2018, 16:50 PM

STA, 16 November 2018 - Slovenians will head to the polls on Sunday to elect 212 mayors. Some of the mayors seeking re-election have been in office since their municipalities were incepted, others have not been unseated for nearly two decades. About three dozen sitting mayors will not face a rival at all.

Nine mayors have been in office since Slovenia's first local election in 1994. One more has served as mayor since 1997, when his predecessor was appointed cabinet minister.

Another four mayors have held their office since 1998, when the number of municipalities in the country went from 147 to 193, as a number of local communities split into smaller ones.

The number of municipalities has been gradually increasing through the years, from 60 in 1991 to 212 in 2011.

Most of the long-sitting mayors do not often make national news, but when they do, it is typically positive news, which goes some way towards explaining their staying power.

This goes especially for Franc Čebulj of Cerklje na Gorenjskem, one of the most prosperous communities in the country, located north of Ljubljana.

Not only does it rank highest among municipalities by average salary, data for 2017 also show that the municipality had not taken out any new loans.

At least in part, the community's success can be attributed to the fact that the biggest airport in the country is located there, alongside a number of companies dependent on air transport. Currently, several international logistics firms are building new hubs near Cerklje.

On the other hand, there is Celje, in the northeast, which used to bill itself as the most developed city in the country.

But since its hay day several towns have outpaced or caught up with Celje, which has become the main source of criticism levelled against its incumbent Mayor Bojan Šrot, who has been in office since 1998.

Several of his six rivals believe that Celje should do more to attract highly-trained workers. Nonetheless, Šrot is likely to be re-elected: a poll released by newspaper Večer on Wednesday even indicated that he will carry the vote already in the first round.

Despite waning performance, Šrot is a good example of another major cause of staying power.

Šrot used to helm the People's Party (SLS), a political grouping that although it has not made it into parliament since 2014 usually does rather well in local elections, especially in dozens of small rural municipalities. In fact, many of the long-serving mayors come from its ranks.

While many of the mayors who have been in office for two decades or more have changed parties during this time, most of the mayors who did not break party allegiances in fact come from the ranks of the SLS.

Local election races are usually quite intense and can even get dirty, but the situation is much quieter in more than 30 municipalities where incumbent mayors face no rivals.

In the nortwestern-most municipality of Kranjska Gora, for example, there are almost no indications election weekend is coming up. While some posters promoting council candidates have been posted along the Upper Sava Valley, there are virtually no posters of the incumbent Janez Hrovat, who faces no rival.

But interestingly, a great number of municipalities with only one mayoral candidate are in the northeast.

One of them is the tiny community of Razkrižje, whose incumbent Stanko Ivanušič has been in office since 1998 and, facing no rivals, will remain mayor a sixth term.

The reason why they are not faced with a rival is because of good cooperation with all political groups in their municipal councils, the mayors of Sevnica and Križevci pri Ljutomeru, Srečko Ocvirk and Branko Belec, recently told the national broadcaster TV Slovenija.

Nonetheless, Belec added that a real election race shows the candidate how much they are really worth, while another unrivalled incumbent mayor from the Pomurje region, Damijan Jaklin of Velika Polana, added that competition is welcome because it forces candidates to do better.

All our local elections coverage is here

16 Nov 2018, 14:20 PM

STA, 16 November 2018 - Standing halfway between Ljubljana and Maribor, Celje has been facing environmental issues and a drain of young people, having recently lost the title of the third-largest city in Slovenia. But everything suggests that there will be no change after local elections as long-time Mayor Bojan Šrot is virtually unrivalled.

Šrot, who has been at the helm of the city administration for two decades, is heading for the first local elections with his own list, after leaving two years ago the People's Party (SLS), which he led between 2007 and 2009.

No major party has managed to put forward a candidate in the last 20 years who could seriously rival Šrot, who still enjoys strong support despite lingering criticism and is likely to carry the vote in the first round.

Šrot has established his own party, the Celje Mayor's List, which has gained nearly 400 members since its inception in late August. He says the party is positioned strictly in the centre and "quite un-ideological", focusing on local issues.

His competition this time includes Sandi Sendelbah, a former municipal accountant who was actually fired recently by the mayor, and who will run alone in the elections as his list Open Celje has been rejected for administrative reasons.

Supported by a group of voters, Sendelbah strives for what he calls democratisation of the local government, and also stresses measures to address environmental issues and measures to keep young people from leaving the city.

Related: All our local elections coverage is here

The Democrats (SDS), the largest parliamentary party, are running with music teacher Matjaž Železnik, 61, who would like to revive the city centre, construct a new retirement home and introduce measures to encourage the young to stay in the city.

The incumbent is also facing Marko Zidanšek, the former party colleague who resigned as the SLS president after the party narrowly missed the threshold to enter parliament in the June general election.

Zidanšek, who heads a waste management company, sees the creation of new jobs with high added value as a priority, as this would make the city attractive to young people and highly-qualified workforce.

The Left has put forward librarian Mateja Žvižej, who if elected would discuss with representatives of local communities ways to introduce participatory budget at the micro level.

She believes that Celje needs to attract companies which employs highly educated staff with high added value and that every elderly citizen need to be provided with timely and quality home assistance.

Also in the running are Branko Verdev, the oldest candidate, aged 63, who runs with support from the Social Democrats (SD) and Matevž Vuga, the youngest candidate (31), who has been put forward by the Modern Centre Party (SMC).

Polls carried out among the residents suggest that many people indeed want change. In October, half of respondents said it was time for a change at the helm of the municipality, and only 20% said the current team should stay on.

But on the other hand, only a quarter are satisfied with the competition Šrot is facing in the elections, and more than half believe that he is facing mediocre competition.

The most recent survey shows Šrot getting more than 50% of support of the decided respondents and other candidates failing to get more than 5%. Šrot is also projected to win the most seats in the city council with his own list.

But whoever wins on Sunday following a lacklustre election campaign will have to address the issue of young people leaving the city, as they see not much opportunity there, and the environmental burden brought by the old site of chemical company Cinkarna Celje.

Many young people who leave Celje to study in Ljubljana or elsewhere do not return to their home town, disappointed by a job market that has been weak despite efforts by the authorities to create an innovative business environment.

The city is also in dire need of a bypass road as cargo vehicles still practically drive through the city centre, which is in turn seeing a lack of activity and events as many shops, cafes and restaurants are being closed.

All our stories about Celje are here

16 Nov 2018, 12:50 PM

STA, 16 November 2018 - A three-day regional meeting of the European group of the Trilateral Commission will start in the Slovenian capital on Friday. The main theme of the annual meeting will be the economic future of Europe in the light of the tenth anniversary of the outbreak of the last global economic crisis.

The meeting in Ljubljana is expected to be attended by more than 200 members of the non-governmental, non-partisan discussion group, which was founded by David Rockefeller in 1973 to foster closer cooperation among North America, Western Europe and Japan.

It has since adapted to global developments and now features the Asian Pacific, North American and European groups, whose representatives come from business, politics and academia.

The meeting will be chaired by Jean-Claude Trichet, the former chairman of the European Central Bank (ECB), who currently heads the European group. Slovenia has been represented since March by Franjo Bobinac, the chairman of household appliances maker Gorenje.

The event will open with Trichet's address, while the Trilateral Commission members and guests will also be welcomed by Prime Minister Šarec and President Borut Pahor, according to a press release from Gorenje.

Trichet expects a good and open discussion among the members, with the programme covering the key topics for the future of Europe, from the migration crisis to cross-border cooperation, which has stalled due to fear of global trade war.

Bobinac is happy that this year's meeting of the European group is hosted by Slovenia. "The meeting is an excellent opportunity for Slovenia to boost its role as a leading country in the region and an important player in the global economy."

The Trilateral Commission features or featured US cabinet members from the administrations of presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, billionaire George Soros, former Swedish PM Carl Bildt, former Italian PM Mario Monti and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.

15 Nov 2018, 16:20 PM

STA, 14 November 2018 - Boris Popovič, the controversial mayor of Koper, appears to be the favourite to win his fifth term, and not even more than 40 court proceedings and costly "decorative lighting" set up just before the election seem to be eroding his voter base in the largest coastal municipality.

Popovič has for years been accused of arrogance and disregard for rules, but no challenger has so far succeed in dethroning the mayor who has been leading the fifth largest city in the country since 2002.

This year, he faces a dozen challengers who have mostly called for more democracy in Koper. The mayor appears unfazed, dismissing criticism and doling out campaign treats to his voters.

Christmas lights turned on November 9th

In what his opponents decried as shameless self-promotion and abuse of public funds, Popovič decided to introduce a novel approach to Christmas lighting in the city this year.

Dubbing it decorative lighting to bypass rules that prevent cities from turning into winter fairy tales before 1 December, Popovič turned on the EUR 500,000 lighting, called Wonderland, on 9 November, less than two weeks before the election.

He argues that Wonderland, which has been described by many as a kitschy destruction of the historic character of the city, will attract people from all over Slovenia and from abroad and thus boost revenue from tourism.

The decision is not unusual given Popovič's 16-year record as mayor, which has been punctuated by disputes over aesthetics as much as by his run-ins with the law which landed him in court in dozens of cases.

Some cases are still pending, but most have turned out in his favour. He was sentenced to three years in prison in 2014 for abuse of office in the sale of municipal land, but a higher court annulled the ruling and ordered a retrial. The case has since become statute barred.

In 2009, Popovič got a three-month suspended sentence for defaming a reporter, in 2010 a suspended sentence of a year and ten months for abuse of office, tax evasion and doctoring business documents, and in 2012 a two-month suspended sentence for defamation.

But this has not shaken his foothold in Koper, nor has it provided his opposition with enough ammunition. This has also been reflected in the campaign, which has been fairly mellow, the glittery Wonderland excluded, before the final week of the campaign.

A number of suspicious incidents around the campaign

Only days before the election suspicions were raised that unauthorised people were able to access data about the support of voters to individual candidates.

Additionally, a man from Koper whose company does business with the municipality said he had received a call from the incumbent's campaign office quizzing him about his relative's candidacy on another candidate's list.

"I perceived this as a threat to my business, meaning that if I don't settle this, I'll lose the deal," the man, who said he had evidence of the phone call, told the public broadcaster TV Slovenija.

There was another minor incident, as posters of Popovič's former ally and advisor Gašpar Gašpar Mišič were removed from several bus stops by the city's utility Marjetica.

Officially, the posters were taken down because of the damage caused to the stands by the recent storm, but Mišič pointed his finger at the mayor, labelling the move campaign mischief.

Overall, Radio Koper editor-in-chief Andrej Šavko believes that the campaign has been quiet because "candidates, their campaigns and their supporters are engaged in the field instead of in the media", which is customary for local elections.

All 13 hopefuls faced off in a single debate at which "none of the candidates stood out in a positive or negative way", he told the STA.

While Popovič faces a dozen opponents, Aleš Bržan, an independent who ran for mayor on the slate of the Modern Centre Party (SMC) in 2014, is considered his most serious rival, though he is still a long shot for the mayorship.

You can find all our stories on the local elections here

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