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Drnovsek Wins Slovenia's Presidential Race - 2002-12-02

Official results show that Slovenia's long-serving prime minister, Janez Drnovsek, has won the presidential election with about 56 percent of the vote. Prime Minister Drnovsek will resign Monday to prepare for his new job as President.

Although voter turnout was just over 50 percent, Slovenia's Prime Minister Drnovsek, 52, said he was pleased with the election results.

Mr. Drnovsek told reporters he would resign Monday to in his words "open a new chapter" in the former Yugoslav republic's young history and prepare for the largely symbolic post of president.

He is expected to be replaced as Prime Minister by the finance minister, Anton Rop. Mr. Drnovsek is set to be inaugurated as President on December 23.

His election victory marks the end of an era under Milan Kucan, who was the only president this country has known since it became independent in 1991, after a 10-day war with the Yugoslav army.

Yet, not everyone is pleased that Mr. Drnovsek will become the new president because of concern about his health. He had a cancerous kidney removed three years ago and was recently quoted as saying that a tumor on his lung was not spreading.

In addition, his main rival in the campaign, Barbara Brezigar, a former prosecutor, has criticized Mr. Drnovsek's record as Prime Minister. She has said that Mr. Drnovsek was slow in modernizing Slovenia from its decades of Communism as a part of Yugoslavia.

Mr. Drnovsek has strongly denied these accusations, saying his country now belongs to the most prosperous states in the region, with a per capita income of $10,000 and an unemployment rate lower than Germany or France.

Analysts agree that Prime Minister Drnovsek has managed to move the tiny nation of two million people away from the intrigues of the Balkans and into the European mainstream.

And as president, he will now likely oversee Slovenia's entry into NATO and its expected membership in the European Union in 2004.