Local Elections Review: Independents Remain Strongest, Followed by SDS

By , 04 Dec 2018, 11:49 AM Politics
Voting in Ljubljana Voting in Ljubljana Neža Loštrek

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STA, 3 December 2018 - Local elections 2018 were bound to produce some surprises, and the voters delivered, kicking out many mayors that had been seen as shoo-ins given the incumbency advantage that has become entrenched in the last decade and a half. For the parties at the national level, the picture is mixed, though most find something to cheer.

Independents - both truly and notionally independent parties and lists - remain the strongest force in local politics measured by the number of mayors and the council vote, an indication according to analysts of people's deep distrust of the political establishment.

In 212 municipalities, they accounted for over 31% of the cumulative council vote, with small, local parties adding another 10%. Both figures are slightly up from four years ago. They also account for 123 mayors, up from 115 in 2014, and another eight mayors were backed by coalitions of parties, the same number as four years ago.

Long the biggest party on the national scene, the Democrats (SDS) remain the strongest force among the established parties at the local level. They have managed to increase their share of the council vote from 14.3% to 16.7%, though they have fewer mayors, 17 compared to 19 four years ago.

However, by the party's own reckoning they have 54 mayors that they either fielded directly or endorsed.

SDS does well in rural areas, less so in cities and towns

"We're particularly glad that people have recognised that the SDS is a party with roots and has hence strengthened its position in urban and other municipalities," the party said after the run-off on Sunday.

The SDS has a strong presence in small rural municipalities, but they have not directly won a single urban municipality, even as their candidates made a strong showing, in particular in the capital Ljubljana, and the candidate they endorsed won in Novo Mesto.

The situation is reverse with the Social Democrats (SD), who appear to have regained their standing in cities.

SD mayors will lead four of the eleven urban municipalities - Kranj, Velenje, Ptuj and Murska Sobota - and had endorsed the winner in Slovenj Gradec.

But overall, they have 16 mayors that officially ran on SD tickets, down from 20 four years ago. Their share of the council vote increased marginally to just over 10%.

SD leader Dejan Židan said yesterday that the party was "returning to the cities," and doing this by insisting that its candidates be respectful in political dialogue. "Unfortunately, that cannot necessarily be said of other candidates."

Somewhat surprisingly, the non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) remains a force to be reckoned with in local politics. Despite not having been in parliament since 2014, its robust local network has helped it secure 26 of the 212 mayoral offices with just 51 candidates for mayor.

In local councils, too it remains strong, though with just 6.2% of the overall council vote. The figure points to a problem that has almost always plagued the SLS: it is strong in small, rural municipalities but has virtually no presence in large towns and cities.

The only urban municipalities where it has secured council seats is in Celje, where its former president Bojan Šrot has been mayor for two decades, and Novo Mesto and Velenje, where it has one councillor each.

Marjan Podobnik, who recently returned to the helm of the SLS to turn the party's fortunes around, said the result was "incredibly encouraging considering the path that we have walked in recent years", confident that it will be similarly successful in the EU elections in spring.

Related: Our guides to many of Slovenia’s political parties can be found here

Good and bad news for the parties in government

For the coalition parties, the election was a mixed bag at best.

 

The list of Prime Minister Marjan Šarec was never expected to perform well, having fielded mayoral candidates in only nine municipalities and council candidates in just a few dozen. At the end of the day, its share of the council vote was 2.5%.

But in Šarec's home town of Kamnik, where the prime minister served almost two full terms as mayor, his hand-picked successor, deputy mayor Igor Žavbi, surprisingly lost to New Slovenia (NSi) deputy mayor Matej Slapar by more than 20 percentage points.

Šarec did not dwell on the outcome beyond saying that this marked the end of his eight-year reign in Kamnik and that Slapar was a good candidate who would do the job well.

The fellow coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) suffered a blow, having four years ago failed to get a single mayor elected but grabbing 11% of the council vote on the back of its win in the general election.

Its share of the council vote plunged to 4% this year but it has two mayors, Saša Arsenovič in Maribor, who wanted to run as an independent but opted for the SMC because he did not have the time to collect the voter signatures, and Alenka Kovač in the tiny southern municipality of Osilnica.

It is notable, however, that even though the SMC is one of many of parties in recent years formed just before the general election it is the only one not to have been completely burned in subsequent local elections, a fate that for example befell the Ljubljana mayor's party Positive Slovenia.

The Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) never excelled in local elections, but its result is even worse than four years ago. It has one mayor, just like before, but its share of the council vote dropped from 7.5% to under 5%.

The Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), known as the Alenka Bratušek Alliance (ZAB) four years ago, performed better, raising its share of the council vote from 0.2% to 0.8%, but it does not have a single mayor and remains a marginal force at the local level.

In the ranks of the opposition, the Christian democratic New Slovenia (NSi) made significant progress. It has ten mayors, up from seven in 2014, and its share of the council vote remained almost level, rising by 0.3 points to 6.4%.

Much like the SLS, the NSi remains largely confined to smaller communities, but analysts have pointed out it is gaining traction in more urban environments as well, Kamnik being a case in point.

Like the SAB, the Left remains more or less on the margins in local politics, having just 3% of the council vote compared to roughly 2% that its three predecessors won four years ago. It does not have a single mayor either.

The results of the general election show that it has a strong base in the capital Ljubljana, where it got 8.5% of the council vote, but it is struggling to expand beyond its urban base, having a progressive platform that is finding better reception among young urban voters.

The far-right National Party (SNS) remains on the margins as well, with just 1.1% of the council vote and not a single mayor.

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