ISSN: 2560-1601

Vol. 21, No. 1 (SI)

Sept 2019

Slovenia political briefing: Changes in the Modern Helena Motoh

1052 Budapest Petőfi Sándor utca 11.

+36 1 5858 690 Kiadó: Kína-KKE Intézet Nonprofit Kft. [email protected] Szerkesztésért felelős személy: Chen Xin

Kiadásért felelős személy: Huang Ping 2017/01

Changes in the


The Modern Centre Party (SMC), formerly Party, organized the election congress on the 21th of September 2019. After being led by Miro Cerar ever since it was founded in 2014, partly due to a disappointing result at the last parliamentary elections, he was replaced by the current Minister for Economic development and technology, Zdravko Počivalšek. Many commentators saw the change as a potential turn of the party orientation towards the right side of the .

Background: Modern Centre Party

The Modern Centre Party was established under its initial name as »Miro Cerar Party« on the 2nd of June 2014. The decision to found a new political party was motivated by the coming 2014 parliamentary elections. The preceding period was very turbulent in Slovenian politics. The 2011 elections were won by the list of Zoran Janković-Positive , a political party established just shortly before those elections by Janković, the mayor of the capital . Due to lack of political support from and centre, he failed to compose the government and that was then done by the leader of the opposition, the president of Slovenian Democrats, Janez Janša. The end of Janša's mandate as the Prime Minister was marked by the report of the Corruption Prevention Commission, which suspected both him and Janković of having received income for which they were unable to specify the sources of. The report of the corruption commission along with public discontent about other measures by the Janša government started a series of large-scale protest and eventually led to a downfall of Janša government on the 27th of February 2013. In the aftermath of the Corruption Prevention Commission report, the Party changed its leadership and the new president, Alenka Bratušek, also managed to compose a new government together with centre and left parties, the Social Democrats (SD), Citizen's List (DL) and Pensioners' Party (DeSUS). After Janković retook the leading position in his political party in 2014, other coalition members threatened to leave the government, resulting in a downfall of Bratušek as Prime Minister. She resigned on May 5, resulting in a pre-term election being called for later in 2014.


On the background of preceding corruption scandals, the newly established political party of Miro Cerar took the anti-corruption agenda as the core of its programme. Having an ambitious goal of setting new standards for Slovenian political practice, the key members of the party were also mostly coming from outside of political circles. Several of the 10-member executive board were university professors and/or law specialists, and the importance of the rule of law became one of the key elements in the Miro Cerar Party election campaign. Making Slovenian politics trustworthy again seemed like a farfetched plan, but it resonated with one of the key themes in the public opinion at the time. From the very beginning, the party also tried to position itself in the political centre, being quite explicit about not wanting to represent either left or right side of the political spectrum, both of which were discredited with the corruption accusations against the two leaders of Slovenian Democrats and the Positive Slovenia. In addition to these programme points, the agenda of the newly established party also stressed ecology and sustainable development, pro-EU orientation and some traditionally left-wing themes, such as social justice and inclusive welfare state. The well-known family background of the party president doubtlessly contributed a lot to the rapid success. Miro Cerar's father, Miroslav Cerar, was one of the most famous sportsmen in the former Yugoslavia, a multiple medal-winning champion in gymnastics and later a lawyer as well. His mother worked at State Prosecutors office, being also State Prosecutor General herself, and was also active in politics. Despite the recognizable profile of the party president, most of the other members of the Miro Cerar Party were, as usually phrased in media, »new faces«, especially the lower ranks of the party were filled with people that the general public knew very little about.

Election results 2014, 2018 and 2019

A month after it was established, the new political party ran for parliamentary elections on the 13th of July 2014. It won with a surprising result of 34, 49 % of votes (at the turnout of 51 %). This result meant that the SMC party got 36 members of the parliament. Miro Cerar was confirmed as Prime Minister on the 17th of September 2014 with a government coalition of three member parties. As the winner of elections, Miro Cerar Party got 8 ministers (+ one minister without portfolio). Democratic Pensioners' Party got 3 ministers (+ one minister without portfolio) and the Social Democrats got 3 ministers. The Speaker of the National Assembly, , also came from the Miro Cerar Party. The party was also successful in local elections of 2014, where they won more than 280 municipal council member seats. The candidate for the Slovenian EU Commissioner, , was also selected from the Miro Cerar Party after the failure of the previous candidate, Alenka Bratušek, to pass the hearings at


European Commission Committees. Bulc then served as the EU Commissioner for Transport from the 1st of November 2014 until this year. In March 2015 the Party was renamed into Modern Centre Party, omitting the reference to its founder from the name.

After Cerar announced his resignation from the position of Prime Minister in spring 2018, the government fell and pre-term elections were called for the 13th of July 2018. Following the perceived failures of Cerar's government in the last year of their mandate, the results of the 2018 elections were predictably much worse than what they were able to reach in 2014. Shortly before the elections, one of the key members, the parliament Speaker Milan Brglez was expelled from the party following several disagreements between him and Miro Cerar. The election results were fairly disappointing for the Modern Centre Party, they only received 9, 75 % votes and got 10 seats in the parliament at a comparable turnout with that of 2014 (just over 51 %). In what was seen in media as a final proof that the Modern Centre Party needs to undergo certain changes, the results of the 2019 elections were disappointing as well. Failing to make a pre-election coalition with other centre parties, they ran alone and only received 1, 62 % votes.

Zdravko Počivalšek and his programme

After the failure at the 2019 EU Parliament elections, the election congress of the Modern Centre Party was called for September 2019 instead of a previously scheduled time in spring 2020. Miro Cerar stepped down as president and was replaced by the only candidate for the new president of the SMC party, the current Minister for Economic Development and Technology, Zdravko Počivalšek. Compared to Cerar, the political profile of Počivalšek is more business-oriented. He entered politics by becoming The Minister for Economic Development and Technology in Cerar's government in 2014. Before that he was known as a successful manager of the Terme Olimia wellness company. In the 2018 elections, he already ran as member of the SMC party and remained a minister in the 2018 Šarec government. Many of the media commentators interpreted the shift between Cerar and Počivalšek as a change between the two factions within the Modern Centre Party, where Počivalšek represents the group, which is closer to right-wing ideas of economic . Some comments also spoke about the new attempt to profile Modern Centre Party as a political option closer to the interests of small and medium business owners, promoting less social stability and more low taxation business friendly economic environment. In doing so, many commentators point out, Modern Centre Party might partly overlap with the political orientations of two other political options, the

3 dominant Marjan Šarec List and the opposition , in which case this move would not guarantee SMC any additional popular support.


The change in the leadership of the Modern Centre Party and the withdrawal of its founder Miro Cerar from the position of the president can be seen as a response to disappointing results of both the 2018 parliamentary elections and the 2019 EU Parliament elections. The change of leadership from Cerar to the current Minister for Economic Development and Technology, Zdravko Počivalšek, can not only revive the public image of the party but also bring a slight shift towards right-wing policies. This may prove to be a risky move in the current political landscape of Slovenia, since economic liberalism already advocated by other, currently stronger political parties.