Slovenians are going to the polls in the second early election in three years. Analysts predict, however, that the crisis-hit country will continue to face instability, whoever wins.
Sunday's elections pit political novice Miro Cerar (photo above) - a 50-year-old law professor who heads the newly founded Miro Cerar Party (SMC) - against ex-premier Janez Jansa of the opposition center-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS).
Latest pre-election polls showed the SMC in the lead with 31 percent of the vote as against 23 percent for the SDS.
Slovenian leaders decided to hold snap elections after Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek resigned in May, having lost the support of her center-left Positive Slovenia (PS) party, partly over her rigorous strategy of using privatizations to reduce public debt.
Whoever wins Sunday's election will probably need to form a coalition, with the pensioners' party DESUS likely to be kingmaker again.
In recent weeks, Cerar has shot to popularity among voters who see him as untarnished by the corruption scandals that have dogged the mainstream parties. He helped draft Slovenia's first constitution in 1990 and has advised parliament on legal issues for more than 20 years.
He has campaigned on a platform that includes promises to cut Slovenia's budget defict to three percent of national output by the end of next year and to liberalize the economy of the once communist country.
He owes additional celebrity to the fact that his father, an Olympian gymnast, was one of the greatest sportsmen the country has ever produced.
The 55-year-old Jansa, on the other hand, began serving a two-year term for corruption last month. He was the prime minister of Slovenia from 2004 to 2008 and again from 2012 to 2013.
He was convicted in June last year on bribery charges in connection with an arms deal. He has rejected the charges against him as politically motivated, and launched an appeal with the Supreme Court against his conviction.
Although the eurozone country narrowly avoided having to seek an international bailout for its banks under Bratusek, public debt increased to 70 percent of gross domestic product in 2013, and Slovenians continue to suffer under crippling austerity measures and high unemployment triggered by the 2008 financial crisis.
Some 1.7 milion people are eligible to cast their ballots in Sunday's vote. Exit poll results are expected shortly after polls close at 7 p.m. local time (17:00 UTC), with first partial official results announced later in the evening.
tj/ng (AFP, Reuters)