A liberal lawyer and former data privacy commissioner backed by Slovenia’s centre-left government has been elected the country’s first female president after beating her conservative rival in a runoff vote on Sunday.
With 99% of votes counted, Nataša Pirc Musar was in the lead on 53.8% of the vote, ahead of the conservative veteran Anže Logar on 46.1%. While both candidates had run as independents, they were backed by the centre-left and rightwing political blocs of the small central European country of 2 million, which has been a member of the EU for 15 years.
Logar, a foreign minister in the last government of the rightwing populist former prime minister Janez Janša, had won the first round in October without gaining the required majority.
But polls over the past few weeks had indicated popular support rallying around Pirc Musar. There were suggestions that Logar was suffering after failing to distance himself from his former boss, a divisive figure and close ally of Hungary’s far-right leader Viktor Orbán.
Slovenia’s environmentalist prime minister, Robert Golob, who succeeded Janša this June, had warned that a vote for the conservative candidate would plunge his country back into “dark times”. Turnout at Sunday’s vote was up on the last election in 2017, at 50.6%.
A former journalist and presenter on Slovenia’s main news programme, Ljubljana-born Pirc Musar gained additional training at CNN and Salford University’s media department before completing a PhD in law at Vienna University. She was elected as Slovenia’s commissioner for access to public information in 2004.
She was also hired to protect the interests of Slovenian-born Melania Trump during her husband’s US presidency, stopping companies attempting to commercialise products with her name.
During the election campaign much media attention has focused on the lucrative network of companies owned by her and her husband, amid allegations that they had put some of their fortune into tax havens.
In one jibe, ex-PM Janša described the runoff as a clash between the values of Slovenian independence on the one hand and the values of tax havens on the other.
In Slovenia’s parliamentary system the role of the president is mainly ceremonial. However, Pirc Musar has indicated that she would conduct herself differently to the outgoing president, Borut Pahor, who rarely intervened on domestic political issues during his two five-year terms in office.
“I have never been quiet when it was necessary to speak up, especially not in the last two years”, she said when she entered the presidential race at the end of September. “After the last Janez Janša government took over I spoke out, because the rule of law was falling apart before our very eyes.”
The 54-year-old has said that she would like to see Slovenia connect to “core Europe”, especially with countries that believe in human rights and constitutional values.
• The article was amended on 14 November 2022 to change a description of Slovenia as being in “eastern Europe” to central Europe.