The present report drafted by Coalition Slovenia on the parliamentary elections held on 15 October 2000 in Slovenia, gives a brief overview of the crucial events that marked the pre-electoral period. These events have significantly affected the results of the elections. This brief overview offers a general assessment of the current situation and of the balance of the political power after the elections, which shifted toward the former communist side.
In early April 2000, the government headed by Prime Minister Janez Drnovšek lost a confidence vote in tha National Assembly. The Social Democratic Party of Slovenia (SDS) together with the People s Party of Slovenia (SLS+SKD) decided to form a government under the leadership of Dr. Andrej Bajuk who at that time was vice-president of the latter. The People s Party soon broke away from this coalition and in August, Prime Minister Bajuk formed a new political party-New Slovenia- (Nova Slovenija, NSi). A new coalition (Coalition Slovenia) was created between SDS and NSi.
Politically, Slovenia belongs to the post-communist transition sphere of Central and Eastern Europe. The country still faces several challenges: continuing negotiations to achieve full membership in the European Union, in NATO and in other international alliances while at the same time it has to speed up the processes initiated ten years ago when it started to shape a democratic political system, a parliamentary democracy, a market economy and the rule of law. Given that the transition processes is anything but completed and that Slovenia has not yet rid itself of its political and economic communist legacy, the parliamentary elections held on 15 October 2000 were crucial for Slovenia’s further development and future international position. To a great extent the elections results will determine not only how Slovenia will become a modern state and society in the years ahead. They also condition the time frame of our actual (and not only apparent) adjustment to European standards in all spheres of society.
Today it has become clearer than ever before that, in political terms, it will take a long time for Slovenia, a post-communist state, to be politically and economically comparable with western democracies. As in the case of other transition countries, Slovenia lacks decades of a normal development, a reality which has radically influenced the consciousness and patterns of public behavior of generations, both of which inevitably define the general situation of our society.
The result of the elections held in October 2000 brought disillusionment to all those in the new democratic parties –who believed that the new era was inherently favorable to the new political forces. Slovenia’s new democratic forces, which were born during the period of the so-called 'Slovenian Spring' and which together as the democratic opposition of Slovenia (DEMOS) launched the democratisation process of the political system as well as Slovenia’s independence, were strongly defeated at the 2000 elections. The reasons for this electoral defeat are many, but one fact remains clear and was strongly reflected during the electoral year: today, ten years after the fall of the communist regime, the key positions in Slovenia are kept by 80 % (!) of the retention (neo-communist) elite. In other words, most decisions are still being taken by the same people as they were 15 years ago. This imbalance is even more evident in the media sphere, where the former elite still controls more than 90 % of its power. The deciding influence of this single factor-a virtual monopoly in the media sphere-became much more apparent during the short lived Bajuk s government and the latest election campaign than during the entire transition period. It has become clear that Slovenia is witnessing the struggle of two utterly unequal competitors who are 'equal' only at the formal level. On the one hand are the former communist elites which maintain their firm hold on the capital of the major Slovenian businesses and media; on the other hand are the new democratic forces which are marginalized both in terms of their low level participation in the business sphere and in the the media due to the short-sighted policies of some of its actors in the past . As far as this is concerned, one should keep in mind that Slovenia is one of the very few post-communist states which, formally, never took a clear position on the former communist system.
In addition to the radical inequality in the control of capital and media among the key political forces in Slovenia which led to the success of the parties belonging to the retention elite and to the defeat of the new democratic forces in Slovenia, certain significant events took place in the pre-election period which significantly marked it and greatly influenced the electoral result.
a) The Government Turnover
In April, a new party, SLS+SKD Slovenian People’s Party, entered the Slovenian political scene as a result of the union of two previously distinct parties: the Slovenian People's Party (SLS), and the Slovenian Christian Democrats (SKD). Since at the time of this merger SLS was part of the government coalition while SKD was an opposition party, the decision was taken that SLS would leave the coalition led by the Liberal democrats (LDS). This was followed by the government’s loss of a vote of confidence and, with the support of SDS, the election of the government of Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk, then Vice-President of SLS+SKD.
Although the new party should have reflected the position of the members of both unifying sides, a strong dominance by former SLS officials within the new party structures was noticeable at the very beginning with a consequent marginalisation of the former Slovenian Christian Democrats. Although already partners in forming the new government, it was only after long discussions and negotiations that the new party (SLS+SKD) and the Social Democrat Party (SDS) signed, in late May 2000, a coalition agreement which established Coalition Slovenia. The purpose of Coalition Slovenia was to create a unified program and policy platform for the upcoming autumn elections. Both partners also explicitly and formally committed themselves to do their utmost to uphold the adoption of the new electoral system which was adopted by referendum in late 1996 and never implemented by parliament. In accordance with said referendum decision, which was upheld twice by the Constitutional Court, Slovenia was to change its proportional electoral system for a two-round majority one. Furthermore, according to the Constitutional Court, the National Assembly was bound by law to implement this referendum decision within a reasonable amount of time; meaning, before the parliamentary elections to be held in autumn 2000.
The establishment of the new government was the crucial political event in the year 2000. Dr. Andrej Bajuk was appointed prime-minister-elect on 3 May 2000 and the new government was approved by the National Assembly on 7 June 2000. The election of the new government was the result of a longer process initiated in the middle of April when the parties of the Slovenian Spring (SDS and SLS+SKD) submitted Bajuk's nomination as prime minister. This allowed the appointment of a transitional government until regular legislative elections as an exit from the government crisis which developed after the government of Dr. Drnovšek, head of the Liberal Democractic Party (LDS), lost the vote of confidence. This crisis could also have been resolved with early legislative elections, the explicit desire of certain political parties and, in particular of Slovenia’s President Milan Kučan.
The election of the Bajuk government on 7 June cooled the heated political atmosphere, albeit slightly. Coalition Slovenia succeeded in forming a government whose strength was an indicator for the solidity of the union of the so-called Spring parties.
Upon assuming office, the Bajuk government clearly presented its priorities which centered on the accelerated continuation of Slovenian efforts in adopting the so-called European legislation, that is to say, adapting the Slovenian legal system to the »acquis communautaire« as a prerequisite for EU membership. Its work in this field was and continues to be of vital national importance. By late 1999 it was apparent that Slovenia was experiencing significant delays in this area, a fact that was also reflected in the corresponding European Commission report. Given the upcoming evaluation concerning Slovenia’s progress which was to be completed by the Commission during September, Slovenia could not at all afford to lag in carrying out its duties and risk a new negative assessment In light of this tight time schedule, early elections would have meant the loss of at least a few months, which would meant Slovenia’s failure in fulfilling the obligations it assumed for the year 2000 in a timely manner. A negative opinion of the European Commission only weeks before the Nice Summit would have had a negative impact on Slovenia’s negotiating position towards the EU.
Despite this fact, some politicians and even the media could not accept Slovenia’s new government. From the very beginning the work of individual ministers and of the government as a whole was under attack, and a systematic media campaign against all the government’s accomplishments continued during its entire term in office. In their public presentations, the new opposition (LDS, ZLSD, DeSus and SNS) took great advantage of its media control before the elections and overtly challenged the legitimacy of the new government. Some even compared the establishment of the new government with a »coup d’etat«. It is no accident that such interpretations even appeared in the media abroad. Furthermore, the opinions of Slovenia’s President Milan Kučan, who stated that the appointment of the new government is only an unnecessary prolongation of the government crisis and of political instability, were broadcast incessantly by the media.
b) The Change of the Electoral System
In late 1996, Slovenes voted in a referendum in favor of changing the current proportional electoral system and for the enactment of the two-round majority electoral system. Given some challenges, the referendum result was twice confirmed by Slovenia’s Constitutional Court. These were legally binding decisions for members of the National Assembly to adopt the new electoral system. However, such a change was fiercely resisted by the »old« political forces since it would have brought a much needed increase in transparency in the political scene. It was also perceived by some of the deputies as a move that would jeopardize their reelection ambitions, so they kept postponing this decision until election year 2000. Then, they started to overtly oppose changing the electoral system and to seek to ignore the will of the people.
In July 2000, the new government led by Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk tried to resolve this stalemate a few months before the elections. It unanimously agreed to submit to the National Assembly a proposal explicitly supported by the leadership of both political parties (SDS and SLS+SKD) for a new legislative referendum in which the voters would directly choose between draft legislation for a two-round majority electoral system and for a slightly corrected proportional one. Since »the system« was unwilling or unable to enact the free will of the voters as expressed in a legally binding referendum, the government opted for a legislative referendum according to our Constitution which specifically allows for such a move. The basic purpose of this proposal was to remove any trace of doubt regarding the legitimacy of the upcoming elections. The political situation changed radically when the deputies of the coalition party SLS+SKD did not support the government proposal but instead the proposal of a ZLSD (the successor of the communist party) opposition deputy to include a slightly amended version of the old proportional electoral system in the constitution. Until then, Slovenia’s constitution did not explicitly define its electoral system. Thus, SLS+SKD deputies voted against their own Government and against the fundamental provisions of their party’s coalition agreement with SDS. This action caused a split within the SLS+SKD and the downfall of Coalition Slovenia.
In late July 2000, the National Assembly amended Article 80 of the constitution with more than the required two-third majority. As mentioned, this article provided for a slightly amended proportional voting system (a 4% threshold). Publicly, this decision was presented as a means of preventing a political crisis and a triumph of the rule of law. However, the victorious parliamentary majority could not hide the fact that the rule of law was »defended« by entirely ignoring its very foundations: the will of the people expressed in a referendum and the decisions of the Constitutional Court. By amending the constitution, the deputies raised themselves above the will of the people. What is more, in this way they blocked the majority two-round electoral system which would have made the political situation in Slovenia more transparent, since it would be a threat to those whose fraudulent and dubious political trade could be identified and sanctioned by voters. At the same time, it was the defeat of the unity of the so-called 'Spring bloc' as the only serious political alternative to post-communist parties.
c) The Disintegration of Coalition Slovenia
Coalition Slovenia had split on account of the very issue upon which it was based: respect of the will of people and the adoption of the majority two-round electoral system. The public reaction to this obvious discord within the coalition was negative. It was also proof for many voters that the new democratic parties were not capable of forming and even less of carrying out a united government program. This image was strongly supported by the leading Slovenian media in spite of the fact that the government was extremely productive until its last day in office, adopting many crucial decisions covering foreign affairs, the economy and social welfare. Furthermore, an orchestrated media campaign that the country was on the verge of a major institutional crises only enhanced such reactions in public opinion. Therefore, the disintegration of Coalition Slovenia and the unprincipled behavior of SLS + SKD that caused it were the main reasons for the defeat of the so-called Spring bloc.
As a consequence, there was an immediate split within SLS+SKD. Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk and Foreign Minister Lojze Peterle resigned as party’s vice-presidents. The Prime Minister launched the initiative for a new political party, based on political honesty and a strict adherence to its promises. A strong grass root movement allowed the establishment of Nova Slovenija (NSi). In less than two months, the party organized a nationwide political network and established the necessary infrastructure for an independent appearance at elections. Nova Slovenija signed a pre-electoral coalition agreement with SDS recreating the 'Coalition Slovenia', which obtained 24% of the vote at the autumn elections.
d) Ideological Interference of President Kučan in the Election Campaign
At the end of August, a series of statements made by Jorg Haider, governor of the Austrian province of Carinthia, demanding the abolition AVNOJ resolutions made a strong impact on Slovenia s public opinion. (The AVNOJ resolutions were adopted by the yugoslav communist leadership during World War II which was also the period during which they started their revolution and pushed the country into a bloody civil war. Those resolutions were the guiding principles for the revolutionary movement led by the communist party, and became the legal foundations of the totalitarian socialist state that followed. Among those resolutions there was one calling for the expropriation of property to all nationals of the occupying Axis powers-hence also Austrians, as well as other such as the one nominating Josip Broz »Tito« as marshal for life , etc.). Although Haider had made similar statements in the past, during the previous Drnovšek government, this time around his demands were the subject of special attention in Slovenian political circles and, in particular, in the media. Soon it became apparent that Haider's demands for the abolition of AVNOJ resolutions and the potential conditioning on those grounds to the Slovenian accession to the EU would become an important issue in the campaign.
The Bajuk government answered Haider s demands by reaffirming Slovenia s official position concerning Austria's request for the restitution of the nationalized property, stressing the position of our own Constitutional Court which found that Slovenian de-nationalization legislation is not discriminatory (the reproach on which Austria based its claim) and that as such it can not be a condition for Slovenia s full membership in the European Union.
President Kučan interfered in the discussions concerning Slovenia's response to Haider's request. In a special open letter addressed to Prime Minister Bajuk, the president demanded that the government clarify its position concerning the AVNOJ resolutions in general and not only in view of Slovenia’s EU accession process. President Kučan therefore publicly asked the Bajuk government to evaluate those decrees. In this way, President Kučan succeeded in transforming the debate initiated by Haider from a foreign policy issue into a domestic one, launching it as a priority in the Slovenian election campaign. The president thus reopened the dividing issues of the civil war with the clear intention to pressure Slovenian voters in the year 2000 to base their decisions as voters on the highly emotional issues that divided their fathers and grandfathers during the foreign occupation and the civil war back in 1941-45 (!) Probably, such things are possible only in post-communist Slovenia. President Kučan intended to cast a negative light on the Bajuk's Government (non-communist, therefore pro-fascist?). In particular, president Kučan’s question concerning the Bajuk government’s evaluation of the decisions taken at the 2nd session of AVNOJ in November 1943 (which had nothing to do with the confiscation of lands and which Austria never questioned, by the way) was thus his attempt to force the government into openly legitimizing, at least in part, Slovenian communist past.
Bajuk refused to fall in the trap. However the response of his government did not succeed in diffusing the polemical debates concerning AVNOJ resolutions and the historical divisions among Slovenes during World War II. It was repeatedly brought to the fore by certain individuals that found a willing partner in the media. As a matter of fact, it became a volatile leitmotif in the pre-election months. Instead of focusing on the future of Slovenia and its current economic, social and security issues, the left-wing (formerly communist) parties again and again turned the debate to the issue of who were the ideological successors of those participating in the civil war that lasted between 1941 and 1945 when the communist party staged its revolution. The culmination of these debates was a proposal submitted by a group of deputies from SNS, ZLSD, and DeSUS to hold a vote of confidence against Foreign Minister Peterle a mere month before the elections. This proposal was based on a Minister Peterle’s supposed capitulation to Austria's requests to revise the AVNOJ resolutions. The purpose of this move was only to increase the political temperature in the election campaign and not to conduct a serious debate concerning Slovenian-Austrian relations, since none of these deputies had seriously studied the arguments of the Foreign Minister which proved that the government strategy towards Austria had been correct. Debates concerning the AVNOJ resolutions continued throughout the month of September and reached another climax when all the political parties represented in the National Assembly with the exception of SDS (at that time, Nova Slovenija was not yet a parliamentary political party) signed a joint statement that concluded that the decisions of the Yugoslav communists during World War II known as AVNOJ constitute a legal basis for postwar Yugoslavia and, consequently, for Slovenia.
SDS and Nova Slovenija consider that AVNOJ is a historical fact, and but that in no way can it form part of the legal order of independent Slovenia or its constitutive foundation. The view of Coalition Slovenia is that the Republic of Slovenia is founded on the referendum of 1990, the 1991 Basic Constitutional Charter on the Autonomy and Independence of the Republic of Slovenia, and Slovenia’s 1991 Constitution.
The issue of the validity of the AVNOJ resolutions which defined and confirmed post-war communist power on the territory of Yugoslavia thus became one of the main topics launched by the followers and political parties of the former regime. The entire debate developed into a deeply ideological and political one concerning the foundations of Slovenian statehood and in many ways determined the pre-electoral atmosphere.