Ljubljana elects new mayor

An independent candidate who is a foe of the ruling center-right coalition was elected mayor of the capital, Ljubljana, dealing a blow to the government that took power two years ago.

Zoran Jankovic, a left-leaning entrepreneur, won 63 percent of votes in Sunday's election, according to official results announced Monday. He was far ahead of the governing coalition's choice, ex-Central Bank governor France Arhar, on 20.8 percent, said the state-run Office for Local Administration.

Jankovic's group, List of Zoran Jankovic, also won a majority in Ljubljana City Hall. All local newspapers had a triumphant Jankovic on their covers. He thanked the voters for his "unexpected, convincing" victory.

The vote for Ljubljana has become more significant because this ex-Yugoslav country, which joined the European Union in 2004, takes over the bloc's rotating presidency on Jan. 1, 2008, making Ljubljana a city of 266,000 people a symbolic center of the EU.

The ruling coalition parties did gain a mayor in the second-largest city, Maribor, even though their two candidates will meet in the runoff. The previous mayor was from an opposition center-left party.

The turnout was 58 percent. The results showed that, overall, Prime Minister Janez Jansa's Slovene Democratic Party strengthened its rule two years after coming to power: It won most votes for city councils in 210 local communities. The popularity of the opposition Liberal Democrats who ruled the nation of 2 million from its 1991 independence until 2004 evaporated, the results showed. The party that previously dominated local councils dropped to second place, just behind Jansa's party.

Vlado Miheljak, a political analyst for daily Dnevnik, said the results were a "little overture" for the next parliamentary vote in two years. Jansa's failure to win in Ljubljana and a lower number of votes generally than he might have expected showed that "voters are telling Jansa that something is wrong" in his rule, Miheljak said. "But they also did not give a sign to the Liberals that they are the alternative." Jansa said he was "satisfied" that his party became the leading one nationwide.

Signaling voters' disagreement with the political establishment, independents were the largest group of successful mayoral candidates 45 out of 210. Jankovic, 52, a former chief manager of a profitable supermarket chain, has been harshly critical of Jansa's government, which spared no effort to blacken him in the campaign, portraying him as a tycoon who gained wealth in a suspicious way.

"Negative campaigning backfired for them," Jankovic told reporters.

Slovenia joined the EU and NATO in 2004 and is expected to become the 13th euro nation next year the only one of 10 EU newcomers so far to have fulfilled economic criteria to introduce the common currency.


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