Europe’s once surging movement of nationalist populists suffered a significant setback in Slovenia Sunday, in the formerly communist east, on the same day French voters rejected far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in their presidential election.
In parliamentary elections in Slovenia, a noteworthy test for the appeal of right-wing populism, preliminary results indicated that the prime minister, Janez Jansa, an admirer of former President Donald Trump, lost to centrist rivals.
With 95% of the vote counted in an election that the opposition called a “referendum on democracy,” results indicated that Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party, competing against 19 rival parties, had won around 24% of the vote. That is far behind the 34% of its main rival, the centrist Freedom Movement, meaning Jansa is unlikely to keep his post as prime minister.
The results, showing that no single party won a clear majority, presage a period of political haggling as rival groups try to stitch together a stable coalition in parliament. That should be within reach of the Freedom Movement, led by a political newcomer, Robert Golob, a former energy company executive, with help from the Social Democrats and other parties.
Under Jansa, who became prime minister for a third time in 2020, Slovenia followed a path set by Europe’s populist standard-bearer, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who helped fund right-wing media outlets in Slovenia to support his ally. Orban viewed the polarized Alpine nation as an important testing ground for his ambition to remake Europe in Hungary’s illiberal image.
Orban won reelection to a fourth term in early April, a victory that the Hungarian leader insisted was evidence that “Christian democratic politics, conservative civic politics and patriotic politics” are “not the past” but Europe’s future.
That boast, however, came unstuck Sunday in both France and Slovenia, a fellow member of the European Union and NATO that, under Jansa, replicated many of the features of Orban’s increasingly authoritarian system.
A report released last week by Freedom House, the Washington research group, put Slovenia above Hungary in its ranking of countries by political rights and civil liberties, but said that over the past year, “no country’s scores fell further than those of Slovenia.” Jansa, it said, had shown “illiberal intolerance of any and all criticism.”