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Slovenia Prime Minister Faces Runoff Election - 2002-11-11

First official returns show Slovenia's prime minister, Janez Drnovsek has won about 45 per cent of the vote in the republic's national election. But, Mr. Drnovsek says he did not receive enough votes Sunday to avoid a runoff election next month.

With most votes counted in the tiny former Yugoslav republic, official results gave Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek most of the vote.

But Mr. Drnovsek told Slovenian radio that although he was pleased with the results, it was below the legal requirement of 50 percent to avoid a second round of voting on December 1st.

It is expected that the 52 year old Mr. Drnovsek will run against the 49- year-old former state prosecutor Barbara Brezigar, who received the second highest vote count.

Ms. Brezigar has strongly criticized Mr. Drnovsek's 10 year record as prime minister, saying he did not do enough to switch Slovenia from a Communist style economy into a Western market oriented nation.

Mr. Drnovsek has denied this and points out that his country is now comparable to Greece and Portugal, with average monthly incomes of close to $1,000.

Although analysts expect positive economic trends to continue if Mr. Drnovsek takes over the largely symbolic post as president, it will mark an end of an era for Slovenia under outgoing head of state, Milan Kucan.

Mr. Kucan, who is 61, has been called "the father of the nation", as he lead Slovenia to independence, a move that triggered a ten day war against the Yugoslav army in 1991, in which about 100 people died.

Yet, under Mr. Kucan, Slovenia escaped most of the bloodshed seen in other republics that broke away from Yugoslavia in the turbulent 90's. However Mr. Kucan was not himself, able to oversee his country's entry into NATO and the European Union.

Mr. Drnovsek, who is likely to also win the second round of voting, has pledged to lead his country into these organizations within the next few years. Slovenia is among ten mainly former Communist countries expected to become members of the EU in 2004. Slovenia is likely to be invited to join NATO during a summit in Prague, later this month.