Former Slovene prime minister Lojze Peterle, who helped lead the country to independence from Yugoslavia and had hoped to return to power in a weekend presidential election, was forced into a run-off after receiving less than a third of votes.
The conservative Peterle "lost and won" Sunday's election, one newspaper said yesterday, noting that the former prime minister's backing was far weaker than had been expected.
The vote comes two months before the country takes over the rotating, six-month presidency of the EU.
None of the candidates for the nation's largely ceremonial presidency was expected to change course in Slovenia's ties with Europe or Washington.
With nearly all of the votes counted, Peterle was ahead with 28.5 percent, far short of the 50 percent needed for an outright victory, the Electoral Commission said.
Turnout was 57 percent.
"It was a tough, tough fight," Peterle said late on Sunday. "I'm pleased that I was able to move to the second round."
However, Peterle, a member of the European Parliament, acknowledged: "All of us expected better results today."
"Peterle moved into the run-off as a winner, even though he actually was the biggest loser," political analyst Meta Roglic wrote in the Dnevnik daily, noting that he had been expected to achieve a convincing lead.
Dnevnik's front page said: "Peterle lost and won."
Peterle, 59, a conservative, campaigned as an independent and has the backing of Prime Minister Janez Jansa's center-right government. He served as Slovenia's prime minister when the country declared independence from Yugoslavia in June 1991. He later served as foreign minister.
NO. 2 UNDECIDED
Longtime diplomat Danilo Tuerk could become Peterle's rival in the run-off, scheduled to be held on Nov. 11. Tuerk won 24.7 percent of votes -- 4 percent less than Peterle.
Former Central Bank governor Mitja Gaspari trailed Tuerk by less than a percentage point, and there was a slim chance he could move into the No. 2 position, as votes cast by Slovenians abroad may not be fully counted for another week.
Still, Tuerk, who was ambassador to the UN and is a former UN assistant secretary-general, was confident he would make the run-off, saying, "I'm satisfied. I was clearly placed in the second round."
Gaspari, who is credited with the country's smooth adoption of the euro currency in January, said he would not comment until all votes were counted.
While officially independent, Gaspari and Tuerk were each backed by a different center-left opposition party.
The results reflected the tight battle to replace longtime leader Janez Drnovsek -- prime minister from 1992 to 2002 and then the president -- who has decided to leave politics.
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