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Slovenia Runoff Election to Decide Next President - 2002-12-01


In Slovenia, a runoff election is underway to choose a successor to President Milan Kucan, who led the former Yugoslav republic to independence 11 years ago.

Opinion polls suggested that long-serving Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek was favorite to replace President Kucan, who is barred from running for a third term under the constitution.

Mr. Drnovsek, 52, who is also leader of the center-left Liberal Democracy of Slovenia party, faces former prosecutor Barbara Brezigar, who was running as an independent for the largely ceremonial post of president.

The runoff election was required after none of the candidates secured the required 50 percent in the November 11 election.

Analysts have described the vote as a battle between the political establishment and a different, more conservative style, represented by Ms. Brezigar.

Mr. Drnovsek, who has been prime minister since 1992, is widely regarded as the architect of the former Yugoslav republic's transition to democracy and a market economy.

The process of reforms began in 1991, when Slovenia started to function as an independent country, following a 10-day war with the Yugoslav army.

Mr. Drnovsek's policies have been credited for making Slovenia one of the most prosperous and safest countries among the European Union candidate states. Economists have said the country's four percent growth puts it ahead of EU members Greece and Portugal.

But Ms. Brezigar has accused Mr. Drnovsek of moving too slowly in modernizing Slovenia after decades of communism as part of Yugoslavia. Whoever wins the presidency is expected to keep the country of two million people on its current path toward integration with the West. Slovenia has been invited to join NATO, and is almost certain to become an EU member in 2004.

EU officials see Slovenia as an example for other former Yugoslav republics and the two remaining in Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro, which also are seeking membership in Western institutions.