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Slovenia: Re-Election Of Prime Minister Ends Political Uncertainty

Prague, 15 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The re-election last week of Janez Drnovsek as prime minister of the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia has brought to an end months of political uncertainty.

Drnovsek, widely seen as the architect of Slovenia's success since independence, struggled to secure a new mandate following inconclusive general elections in November. A strong challenge from a right-wing alliance left his future as head of government in the balance.

The alliance, made up of the People's Party, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, fell one short of an absolute majority in the poll, capturing 45 of parliament's 90 seats.

This left Drnovsek, whose center-left Liberal Democrats won 25 seats, to fight it out for the premiership with People's Party leader Marjan Podobnik. His party came second in the parliamentary election with 19 seats.

It was a close call. Drnovsek won last Thursday's vote in parliament to become the next head of government by 46 votes to 44. He drew support from smaller parties, including the former communists. But, had it not been for the defection of a deputy from the Christian Democrats, Drnovsek could well have lost.

His re-appointment has been welcomed by the business community who believe it signals continuity of economic policy and political stability for the country of 2 million.

It is also reportedly being seen as a positive sign for foreign investors which in turn could boost the country's capital markets.

Some political observers had said that a right-wing victory could have spelt disaster for the Alpine country, which neighbors Italy and Austria.

Podobnik, whose party draws support from the rural, agricultural community campaigned on an anti-European Union ticket. Although some analysts said this was simply electioneering, there were real fears that he would backtrack or even undo some of the policies of the previous administration.

These include the signing of an association agreement with the European Union (EU) last year. Drnovsek has said he wants Slovenia to be the first former Yugoslav republic to join the EU. He has also pushed for early NATO membership.

But despite seemingly opposing views, Podobnik looks likely to be part of the next coalition. He had ruled out working with Drnovsek before the parliamentary vote but his comments this week suggested his party was re-thinking its position.

Speaking at a news conference in the capital Ljubljana, Podobnik said his party favored what he called a government of national unity in which all or most parties would be included.

In addition to holding talks with Podobnik, Drnovsek has invited Christian Democrat president Lojze Peterle and Janez Jansa, leader of the center-right Social Democrats, to meet him today.

His aim he says is to form a broad coalition government which would enable him to reach a consensus on EU and NATO membership and on carrying out tough economic and social reforms.

Drnovsek said he would also talk to other parliamentary parties, including the United List of Social Democrats, the former communist party, which has already said it would like to participate in the government. Drnovsek must present his new government line-up before the parliament next Friday.

An economist by training, Drnovsek is widely respected for his political skills. He was the penultimate president of former Yugoslavia from 1989 to 1990.

Observers say this experience served him well during his first term of office in Slovenia. Then he had to perform a delicate balancing act to prevent a fragile left-right coalition from splitting apart -- something he may have to work hard to do again this time round.