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New centre-left party takes surprise victory in legislative poll

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Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Jankovic's new centre-left party, Positive Slovenia, won a surprise victory in Sunday elections, beating both the Social Democrats of Prime Minister Borut Pahor (pictured) and the centre-right favourites, partial results showed.


AFP - A new centre-left party headed by Ljubljana's popular and charismatic millionaire mayor won a surprise victory in Slovenia's elections Sunday, exit polls and partial official results suggested.

With 70.9 percent of votes counted, Zoran Jankovic's Positive Slovenia won 29.17 percent of the vote, against 25.99 percent for the centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) of ex-premier Janez Jansa -- the former favourite to win.

Crashing to third place in the struggling eurozone member state were the governing Social Democrats of Prime Minister Borut Pahor with just 10.28 percent, compared with 30.5 percent at the last election in 2008.

Jankovic, 58, the former head of Slovenia's main supermarket chain Mercator, had won a landslide election to become the capital's mayor in 2006 and secured a second term with 65 percent of the vote in 2010.

"The results show that citizens want a different state. They had Jansa and Pahor, now they want a democratic but efficient state," a jubilant Jankovic told journalists at his campaign headquarters on Sunday night.

Despite describing himself as a leftist, the flamboyant and populist Jankovic -- who only entered the race at the last minute -- has pledged to run the country like a company if he won.

"Janez Jansa and Borut Pahor have already had the opportunity to show how successful they are... but our state needs now a businessman," Serbian-born Jankovic said.

He said that by the end of his four-year mandate, Slovenia's economy would reach a growth rate of four percent.

Pahor's government lost a confidence vote in September after major reforms to the creaking pension system were rejected in a referendum, prompting the former Yugoslav republic's first ever early elections.

The debt crisis in the 17-nation eurozone has already led to a change in government in a string of countries, including Portugal, Greece, Italy and most recently Spain.

Although still in a far better state than many euro members, since joining in 2007 Slovenia's national debt as a proportion of output has roughly doubled to 45.5 percent, according to the European Commission.

The three main credit agencies have cut their ratings on Slovenian debt in recent months, and last month interest rates hit seven percent -- a level that forced other countries to seek outside support.

"I believe this process (the early elections) will provide a stable government that will then quickly start dealing with all the tasks ahead of us, in particular financial stabilisation," President Danilo Turk said.

When two-million-strong Slovenia joined the euro, the country was enjoying stellar economic growth, unemployment under seven percent and solid public finances.

The global financial crisis savaged the export-oriented economy -- output slumped by 8.1 percent in 2009 -- and the government has been paying for it ever since.

Growth figures last week showed Slovenia perilously close to recession, with output shrinking 0.2 percent in the third quarter after stagnating in the second and contracting 0.1 percent in the first.

Unemployment hit 11.5 percent of the workforce in September, and the central bank has warned it may have to cut its growth forecast for 2012 again soon from the current projection of 1.3 percent.

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