Janez Jansa sits sullenly in Slovenia’s National Assembly, scrolling through social-media posts on his phone and occasionally sending a sarcastic tweet. The parliament is debating the nomination of Marjan Sarec as the country’s next prime minister. Strangely, Mr Jansa, leader of the largest opposition party, does not speak once during the debate. Stranger still is that Mr Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) is in opposition at all: it won a quarter of the votes in June’s parliamentary election, twice as many as its nearest rival.
Mr Jansa, who has twice served as prime minister, is the only person to have sat in every Slovenian parliament since the country’s independence in 1991. During past stints in power, he governed as a pro-market liberal. This time round he chose to rebrand himself as a populist, anti-immigrant outsider. Hungary’s populist prime minister, Viktor Orban, came to his rallies. Businessmen close to Mr Orban are also said to have financed pro-Jansa media outlets.
Anti-immigrant sentiment seems odd in a country that received fewer than 800 non-European migrants last year. But many Slovenians were shaken by the migration crisis of 2015, when half a million people traversed the country on their way to Germany, and some fear it could happen again. “They will all be stuck here if Austria and Italy close their borders,” says Darinka, a retired teacher who voted for Mr Jansa’s party.
Mr Jansa’s rightward shuffle bore fruit, with his share of the vote rising from 21% in 2014. But the SDS has been unable to form a coalition. Many parties refused even to talk to it. Instead, five smaller centre-left parties banded together to form a minority government with outside support from the hard left. Other politicians justify their decision to exclude the SDS by arguing that Mr Jansa is a divisive bully. “When someone attacks us so personally and so aggressively, he should expect to see the results during negotiations,” says Vojmir Urlep, Mr Sarec’s economic adviser. Luka Mesec, of Levica, a leftist party, accuses the SDS of “scary anti-migrant discourse.”
The SDS is crying foul at the outcome of the coalition talks. “There are interest groups in the deep state against democracy,” says Milan Zver, the party’s vice-president. “They are afraid of a strong government.” Tanja Staric, an analyst, says Mr Jansa is using his exclusion to gain sympathy, waiting in the wings for Mr Sarec’s fragile coalition to fall apart. But Mr Jansa, whose last government fell because of corruption charges against him, makes an unconvincing victim.German court arrests Russian citizen detained on suspicion of terrorism