STA, 21 September 2019 - Modern Centre Party (SMC) members elected unanimously Zdravko Počivalšek new leader at a congress in Ljubljana on Saturday. Počivalšek, the economy minister, is taking over from Miro Cerar, the SMC founder who currently serves as foreign minister.
More than 400 participants, including 210 SMC delegates, gathered at the congress. Before the election, Cerar once again backed Počivalšek, the only candidate for the SMC top position.
In his keynote address before the election, Počivalšek highlighted the importance of being committed to social dialogue, saying that "concern for development is the responsibility of parties, industry and trade unions".
He called for economic stability, a fair welfare state, liberal approach and sustainability, urging the party to go "neither left, nor right, not backwards, only forward".
Commenting on the fact that the party has been having low support for a while, he said that current opinion polling is not to be trusted completely. Remaining optimistic, he said the party should not feel dismayed by its past election results since they still trumped opinion poll figures.
According to him, the party's core is strong, consisting of its members, innovative ideas, breakthrough visions, useful know-how and ambitious targets - everything that is needed "to improve the party's opinion poll indicators".
Moreover, at the congress, Cerar was elected honorary leader of the party at Počivalšek's initiative and accepted this honour upon stepping down.
In his keynote after the election, Počivalšek highlighted the importance of progress for the party and the well-being of all Slovenian citizens as well as the importance of cooperation between parties.
He said he would lead the party in cooperation with its deputy group, local committees, secretariat and ministers, adding that a rejuvenated local network will make the party less dependant on opinion polling.
Počivalšek believes the SMC is about to transform itself and regain voters' trust. He has decided to run for the top position upon realising he had support of the entire party.
He thanked Cerar for his support and accomplishment including in bringing the SMC to life at a turning point in Slovenia's political history, saying that he had an affinity with the party because of its centrist views and lack of interest to rehash historical events.
Moreover, Počivalšek pointed out before the election that he only became the SMC member last year because he had been delusional before, thinking he could take action alone. "Nonsense. It's hard to play for a team if one is not wearing its kit," he said.
"I wish to only upgrade the party's successful work so far," Počivalšek told the congress, highlighting the party's consolidated role in the coalition and parliament.
As one of his top priorities, the economy minister listed economic stability and rejected the imposed divide between booming industry and welfare state, saying the two were interconnected.
Pointing out that in times of healthy economy people vote left-wing parties, whereas in time of financial crises they turn to the right, he said his goal was then "to maintain economic stability since this ensures people are considering the well-being of every individual".
Another target of his is a just welfare state - fair pay for fair work, elderly care, including in letting the elderly decide between active or more peaceful autumn years, decent pensions, as well as youth empowerment.
He will also focus on a liberal approach since, according to him, liberal parties are agents in the fight against inequality, exclusion and other extremist stances.
Another mainstay of his leadership will be sustainable economy and environmental efforts, including promoting circular economy in terms of waste management.
Počivalšek will also strive to strengthen the role of the SMC local as well as programme committees. He also wishes this government would continue doing its work until the end of its term.
The 61-year-old entered the Slovenian political arena at the invitation of the then Prime Minister Cerar at the end of 2014, taking over as the economy minister. He has kept this position in Prime Minister Marjan Šarec's government and has been a strong advocate of a prudent privatisation principle.
Cerar said he believed in Počivalšek's vision for the party, which was in sync with its values. He trusts that the new leader will rejuvenate the social-liberal party and make it more popular.
The first SMC leader pointed out that the party had ten MPs and four ministers upon his departure from the top position but also conceded that the party had been having low support in opinion polls and that this would have to be tackled.
Commenting on the view by some that the SMC was politically dead, he noted the party's important role in Slovenia's political arena. "We're here today to show Slovenia and Europe that the SMC is and will remain an active and constructive part of Slovenia's politics."
Cerar said he would remain a loyal member of the party, but he would also like to focus even more on his work as the foreign minister.
Leaders or representatives of almost all parliamentary parties attended the congress as well, with both Počivalšek and Cerar pointing out that this meant the party was willing to cooperate.
What stood out was that the event was attended by representatives of opposition parties as well, including Franc Breznik of the Democrats (SDS) and Jožef Horvat of New Slovenia (NSi).
Moreover, Počivalšek confirmed that he had been in contact with SDS leader Janez Janša, who excused himself for not attending the congress due to his being away for work.
Šarec, also in attendance, highlighted the importance of cooperation between parties, particularly those in the coalition, in his keynote as well. He thanked Cerar for all his work so far as the first SMC leader, foreign minister and the previous prime minister.