Euro member Slovenia set for new management
(LJUBLJANA) - The eurozone crisis is expected to claim the scalp of another of the region's governments Sunday, with Slovenia's opposition centre-right tipped to win election on a platform of spending cuts and reforms.
The two-million-strong former Yugoslav republic's national debt has soared in recent years, the three major credit agencies have cut their ratings and interest rates on Slovenian debt hit the seven-percent danger mark this month.
The outgoing centre-left government of Borut Pahor lost a confidence vote in September after major reforms to the creaking pension system were rejected in a referendum, prompting the president to call early elections.
According to opinion polls, former prime minister Janez Jansa's centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) is the favourite, with the latest survey in the Delo daily putting support at 35.5 percent.
"In the first 100 days we will take the necessary measures to cut the spiral of pessimism, the lack of ambition and the drought of financial resources," the SDS manifesto promises.
The debt crisis in the 17-nation eurozone has already led to a change in government in a string of countries, not least in Greece, Italy and most recently in Spain.
Pahor's Social Democrats are set even to slump to third place behind Positive Slovenia, a new centre-left party founded only last month by Ljubljana's popular millionaire mayor Zoran Jankovic, credited with 22.7 percent of the vote.
If he wins enough votes Jansa will have a free hand to "act very quickly" to implement reforms and repair public finances, said Corinne Deloy from the Centre for International Studies and Research (CERI) in Paris.
"In view of the current circumstances, his grace period will be very short," Deloy told AFP.
Jansa, 53, is set to assume power under dramatically different circumstances from his first term in 2004-8 when Slovenia enjoyed stellar growth, unemployment under seven percent and solid public finances.
The global financial crisis savaged the export-oriented economy -- output slumped by 8.1 percent in 2009 -- and the government has been paying for it ever since.
In 2007, when Slovenia joined the euro, public debt stood at 23.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), but this year it is set to reach 45.5 percent, according to the European Commission, and 50.1 percent next year.
Growth figures published Wednesday showed Slovenia perilously close to recession, with output shrinking 0.2 percent in the third quarter after stagnating in the second and contracting 0.1 percent in the first.
Unemployment hit 11.5 percent of the workforce in September, and the central bank has warned it may have to cut its growth forecast for 2012 again soon from the current projection of 1.3 percent.
Standard and Poor's in October joined Moody's and Fitch in downgrading Slovenia's rating, citing the deterioration of Slovenia's fiscal position and the failure of policymakers to present a "credible" strategy.
Analysts though are confident Jansa can turn the tide, with Ljubljana University economics professor Maks Tajnikar saying anything would be better than the "two-year agony" of Pahor.
"Companies can't operate well without a good director," he told AFP.
"It's the same with a state and I believe both favourites, Jansa and Jankovic, have what is needed for leading an efficient policy down the path of structural reforms."
Some 1.7 million people will be able to vote on Sunday between 0600 and 1800 GMT, with exit polls expected soon after they close, followed later that evening with the first partial official results.
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