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Slovenia's prime minister resigns, calls for snap poll

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Ljubljana (AFP)

Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Sarec announced Monday he would step down and called for fresh elections, following weeks of rising tensions within his minority five-party coalition government.

"With these members of parliament and this coalition I cannot fulfil the people's expectations," he told journalists.

"The most honest thing we could do now would be early elections... to ask people whether they trust me and they want me to continue to work," added Sarec, who became prime minister in September 2018 following a previous snap election.

Sarec, 42, is Slovenia's youngest-ever prime minister. He was previously best known as a comedian and political satirist before he launched himself as an anti-establishment politician.

Slovenian President Borut Pahor will now have to start talks with political parties to see whether any of them can form a new coalition that commands a parliamentary majority and thus avoid a fresh poll.

Sarec's resignation came almost at the same time as Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj announced he too would quit in a row over healthcare funding.

Since taking office, Sarec's centre-left government has been buffeted by a string of scandals and disputes, leaving it unable to pass key legislation.

Bertoncelj just was the latest of six high-profile ministers to resign.

In December, the coalition barely managed to appoint a new cohesion minister. They only narrowly won the parliamentary vote after the populist Slovenian National Party agreed to abstain.

- Fragmented political landscape -

In the 2018 poll, Sarec stressed his pro-European credentials and compared his politics to those of French President Emmanuel Macron.

The main opposition right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), led by former prime minister Janez Jansa, campaigned on a tough anti-immigration line.

While it won the most seats in parliament, it failed to attract sufficient coalition partners.

Sarec's government has kept its popularity with measures such as pension and wage rises, amid a spell of strong economic growth.

A recent opinion poll of 770 voters carried out for the private POP TV station showed the prime minister's "Marjan Sarec List" on 15.1 percent and the SDS almost level pegging on 14.1 percent.

The Social Democrats (SD), a junior member in the current coalition, and the left-wing opposition party Levica were both on 7.2 percent.

Levica previously provided parliament support to the government but withdrew it last year.

The political landscape in the Alpine eurozone member is highly fragmented, with no fewer than nine parties in parliament representing a population of just over two million.

Political analyst Vlado Miheljak of the University of Ljubljana told AFP there was a possibility that Sarec's resignation was a "tactical decision to try forming a new coalition with a clear agenda".

SDS leader Jansa reacted to Sarec's announcement by saying that "early elections are by far the most likely outcome".

But Miheljak cautioned that Jansa's SDS and its most likely coalition partner were in a weak position in the polls and could lose out in an election.

"Jansa doesn't want elections now," Miheljak said.

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