Slovenia: Radical left wins surprise fourth place in early election

Anti-privatisation protest during United Left Coalition's campaign.

By Gal Kirn

July 14, 2014 -- Transform! Network, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- We have broken the vicious circle of anti-communism in the post-Yugoslav context. As you imagine we are more than happy to present you with such an amazing election result! As all the commentators say, the United Left Coalition (ULC) was the biggest surprise. But the path was difficult, the ULC was from early on marginalised by the mainstream.

[The ULC was formed for the May 25, 2014, European elections. It is composed of the Party for Sustainable Development (TRS), the Democratic Labor Party (DSD) and the Initiative for Democratic Socialism (IDS).]

The context of the "irregular elections" was, as the name suggests, irregular and extraordinary. After years of the deepening capitalist crisis, with austerity measures and strengthened privatisation policy (in the last months, major well-standing companies like Helios and Mercator have been sold off cheaply, but the proposed list is long) and last year’s uprisings, the constant fractures within the ruling coalition forced early elections.

The decision to hold elections in the middle of the summer, put all the new political parties, the  United Left Coalition but also Pirate Party and others, under great pressure: How could we organise the electoral campaign in one month with very modest financial resources (crowdsourcing), a small local party infrastructure and with extremely biased and few opportunities in the established media? The media usually gave the ULC space only in the debates with other extra-parliamentary parties. Above all, the elections were set in the summer time, when many leave for their short holidays, or set their mind on the soccer World Cup.

Our support in the public opinion polls was constantly measured around 2%-2.5%, which placed us behind all the big parliamentary parties, at spot 8, and also behind our initial goal of reaching the 4% parliamentary threshold.

ULC grassroots campaigns spread across the country

However, we were determined not to simply follow media and identity politics, but set out on a grassroots campaign that was concentrated on numerous local activities, reaching out to some local activists and sympathisers of the United Left, talking face to face, organising presentations all across Slovenia in order to establish a local basis, on which we could build on in the future. In this respect, the process was extremely important and precious, we managed to spread outside Ljubljana, Maribor and a few other urban millieus where we have gained some support already on the elections for the European Parliament in late May (5.5%) (Find the analysis here).

ULC against privatisation

As the only political force with concrete proposals for an exit of the crisis and for new organisational forms (cooperatives, workers‘ management, writing off the debt, democratic control of banks and big state corporations), our campaign pushed for one major topic: the end of privatisation. When the well-standing retail chain Mercator was bought by the foreign company Agrokor during the last weeks of the campaign, two things were shown: first that only the ULC mobilised critical awareness around the topic, and second that without political pressure within formal politics, it is extremely difficult to stop privatisation.

Party of Miro Cerar

Also and most notably there was another major new political party -- centrist and seemingly liberal -- that took the position of high moralism and rule of law (against corruption); it is called the Party of Miro Cerar, himself a lawyer, already present in the legal work for parliament. Somehow, surprisingly, this party was polling on around 35% of vote and was presented by all the media as a total hit, soon becoming the number one party, which mirrored public discontent with the official parties and corruption. Despite its high legalist and moralist stance, the chief protagonist got “caught” during the the last week of the campaign when speaking negatively about same-gender marriage, the right to abortion and some other issues. This unveiled a more conservative side of his “high morality”, which occupied the space of the old left and right.

The new centrist party presented us with another tough challenge: how to position ourselves not only as the voice of discontent with the existing political parties, but also as being the voice against the more general economic order and presenting a more radical alternative that goes beyond “privatisation with moral face and transparency”?

The support grew at the end of the campaign

Apart from the continuation of our work at the grassroots, arranging reports and interviews in local and other media, the ULC received one major opportunity in the last week of the campaign. One of the ULC’s representatives, the most visible coordinator Luka Mesec, was invited into the key final debate with all the major parties on the commercial, most-viewed POP TV. The presentation of the ULC's arguments, creating a new political awareness of the critical voice of ULC, stunned the representatives of the established parties, and marked a surprising boost to the electoral prognosis. In the very last days of the campaign many public figures, from intellectuals and activists to social groups and musicians, embraced the United Left.

Electoral results

Let us sum up the results (still votes from abroad and postal votes have not been counted): the winner of the elections is the Party of Miro Cerar (34.6%), the Slovenian Democrats came second (20.7%), Desus, the pensioner party were third (10.2%). Fourth spot was taken by the biggest surprise of elections -- the ULC (6%). The SocialD emocrats are on fifth spot fwith 5.9%. Sixth place was taken by the Catholic party New Slovenia (5.5%), and the last party to pass the threshold was the former primer minister's party, the Alliance of Alenka Bratušek (4.3%).

What the vote for ULC stands for?

What we can already say about the ULC’s voters is that many voted for the first time or had before voted on the principle the “lesser evil”. Thus, the vote for the ULC went beyond the exclusive dominant binary: either pro Janša (the former, prime minister, president of Slovenian Democrats, at the moment in prison due to corruption) or against Janša. It was a vote for the critical voice that is altogether rejecting the neoliberal resolving of crisis.

But this is only the start, we have opened the doors to the future that needs to be re-built and away from the neoliberal trends.

Let us conclude with the call for ecological and democratic socialism, for the victories and connections of the new left in Slovenia, Europe, and around the globe!