New prime minister takes office in troubled Slovenia

TURMOIL::Alenka Bratusek replaced the former prime minister after he stepped down following charges of tax irregularities and large nationwide protests


Fri, Mar 01, 2013 - Page 7

Political newcomer Alenka Bratusek yesterday faced the tough task of trying to form a government in crisis-hit Slovenia, a day after Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa was turfed out of office.

Slovenia’s first female premier has said her top priorities are “normalizing” life by softening “excessive” austerity measures that, as in other eurozone nations, have been unpopular with ordinary voters.

First though she has two weeks to present a cabinet to parliament or the president will call early elections — the second in Slovenia in 14 months.

The 42-year-old former finance ministry official only became an MP after the last election in December 2011 and has been acting leader of her center-left Positive Slovenia party only since January.

“We have to boost economic development,” she said on Wednesday, announcing plans for a revised budget shortly after taking over.

“We will stabilize public finances and agree with social partners over the necessary wage cuts and the very likely temporary increase of some taxes,” she added.

Barely a year after taking office, a large majority — 55 to 33 — MPs backed late on Wednesday a motion of no confidence in Jansa and his center-right government following weeks of political turmoil.

Jansa struggled to implement structural reforms and austerity measures seen as vital for putting what was once a model newcomer to the EU and the eurozone in 2007 back on the road to growth.

However, the death blow came when the corruption watchdog in January accused him of tax irregularities, prompting three parties to quit his five-way coalition and leaving his government with only a third of seats in parliament.

The charges, which also felled Positive Slovenia leader Zoran Jankovic, prompted large protests across the country by ordinary Slovenians fed up with austerity cuts and corruption.

An opinion poll earlier this week showed just 21 percent backed Jansa and 77 percent wanted him out of office.

Bratusek has said that she will submit her government to a confidence vote after a year in office.

The two center-right parties were the first to leave Jansa’s coalition government, but after the last election in December 2011 they baulked at teaming up with Positive Slovenia.

“Under normal circumstances, she could be a rather decent prime minister,” Miheljak said.

The Slovenian economy grew between 2004 and 2007 at about 5 percent per year, but the global financial crisis found the export-dependent country badly exposed.

The national debt more than doubled between 2007 and 2011 the new government will inherit a banking system saddled with bad debt and possibly needing outside help.