The process of democratisation since the collapse of communism has not been uniform across eastern Europe, but some countries, such as the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are now drawing level with established democracies in western Europe in democratic league tables. Slovenia is another strong performer who happens to be going to the polls this Sunday 24th April, so here’s a guide to their voting system and parties.
The Voting System
There are 90 members of the Slovenian National Assembly in total, with 88 of them elected by List PR in eight constituencies that elect 11 MPs each. Unusually for a list system, voters don’t vote directly for a party list or for candidates on a list. Each constituency is subdivided into eleven electoral districts within which each party stands a single candidate.
While this might seem a bit like First Past the Post, voters are actually determining the order of the party list – with each candidate’s position depending on their vote in their electoral district. While this does give voters greater control over who is elected than a closed list system, voters are ultimately left with a take-it-or-leave-it situation for the candidate their preferred party nominates in their district. This is unlike an election under STV or other open list systems where voters can choose between candidates from the same party. It is also not uncommon for multiple candidates to be elected from one district, but none from others.
Seats are distributed to the parties across each constituency by adding up all the votes for each party’s candidates. Parties win a seat for each time they exceed a set quota of votes (roughly equivalent to 8.33%). As it is very unlikely for all eleven seats to be filled this way, remaining seats are allocated at the national level using the D’Hondt method with a 4% threshold. Ultimately the result in terms of parties is practically the same as a straight national List PR election with a 4% threshold.
The remaining two members are representatives of the Italian and Hungarian national minorities and are elected using a rarely used single-member voting system called the Borda Count. Voters rank candidates (1, 2, 3, etc.) with those rankings then being converted to points. If there are six candidates, a ranking of 1 gets 6 points, 2 gets 5 points, and so on. The candidate with the most points wins.
Parties and Government
Like in many relatively new democracies, the party system in Slovenia isn’t particularly stable and few parties have been able to sustain a significant level of support over multiple elections. The party system is also quite fragmented – nine parties crossed the 4% threshold in 2018, with the largest two parties only winning 38% of the vote between them.
The largest and probably most stable party is the right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS). It has won between 20 and 30% of the vote at each of the last five elections and has consistently been one of the two largest parties during that period. Though founded as a social democratic party during the dying days of communism, the party has moved towards conservatism and, more recently, right-wing populism under the leadership of Janez Janša, who has led the party for nearly 30 years.
Of the other ‘older’ parties, the Social Democrats are probably the next most stable – hovering around 10% since the mid-90s. Unlike some other reformed communist ‘social democratic’ parties, the Social Democrats are socially liberal and would fit in with many western European counterparts. The Christian democratic New Slovenia (NSI), ‘grey’ Democratic Party of Pensioners (DeSUS) and far-right Slovenian National Party (SNS) have also won steady and small numbers of seats at most recent elections.
Where the churn has really been is with liberal parties. Liberal Democracy (LDS) were the dominant political force in the early years of post-independence Slovenia, but the party disintegrated in the mid-2000s due to infighting. Since then, a number of start-up, often personality-led parties have attempted to fill this gap.
Zoran Janković’s Positive Slovenia (PS) was formed just weeks before the 2011 election that it won with 29% of the vote, it fell below the threshold in 2014. The Party of Miro Cerar (SMC) did almost exactly the same in that election, winning more seats than any party in any previous election. Unlike PS, they did enter government with Cerar as Prime Minister, but then fell to just 10% last time. Though not as dramatic or as sudden, the List of Marjan Šarec (LMŠ) entered parliament in second place in 2018.
Janša is currently on his third stint as Prime Minister, with the SDS leading the government since early 2020. They are in government with ‘Concretely’ (a rebranded SMC) and the NSI. This followed a Šarec-led five-party minority coalition that had been formed after the last election but resigned over disagreements in healthcare policy.
This election is shaping up to be a battle between the SDS and the newly formed green-liberal Freedom Movement (GS), with alternative governments likely being a continuation of the incumbent coalition or a new centre-left GS-led government. There is also a possibility that this vote might lead to a reduction of the number of parties in parliament, with polls projecting as few as six could reach the 4% threshold.