Slovenians Vote for President

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) -- Voters in Slovenia on Sunday cast ballots to elect a new president of the European Union nation, with three main contenders leading the race but no clear winner in sight.

Though the presidency is largely ceremonial in Slovenia, Sunday's vote is still seen as a test for its liberal government amid a soaring crisis fueled by the war in Ukraine.

A populist opposition politician has led pre-election polls but none of the contenders appears set to win more than half of the ballots. This means a runoff vote likely will be held in three weeks featuring the two best-placed candidates.

Surveys put right-wing former foreign minister Anze Logar on 30%, followed by centrist independent candidate Natasa Pirc Musar with around 20% and government-backed Social Democrat Milan Brglez with 17%.

All three candidates said Sunday they expect to make it into the runoff.

Logar said this would already be a "success," and the rest will depend "on presenting a convincing political argument, out there in the field."

The three have emerged as favorites among seven candidates. Analysts expect Logar to make it to the runoff but say his opponent could be either Pirc Musar or Brglez who are polling close to one another.

"I woke up cheerful and pleased," said Pirs Musar upon voting. "I am certain they (voters) will recognize my values and my non-partisan orientation."

Brglez urged voters to come out in large numbers, saying that "it's important, because otherwise others will decide for you, and you may regret it later."

Slovenia's 1.7 million eligible voters will eventually pick a successor to incumbent Borut Pahor. He has served two full five-year terms and was banned from running for a third.

While in office, Pahor tried to bridge Slovenia's left-right divide that remains a source of political tension in the traditionally moderate and stable nation of 2 million.

Logar, who served under right-wing Prime Minister Janez Jansa, has sought to shake off a populist image and present himself as a unifier. Logar's victory would deal a blow to the current liberal government that ousted Jansa from power six months ago.

Moderate voters are expected to rally in the runoff behind whoever emerges as Logar's opponent. Left and liberal-leaning Slovenes view Jansa as a non-democratic and divisive figure.

Ziga Jelenec, a resident of Ljubljana, the capital, said the election likely will show "how much our society is divided."

If Pirc Musar wins, she will become the first female president of Slovenia since the country became independent from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

Brglez, who is a member of European Parliament, entered the race late in the campaign after an initial government favorite withdrew, citing private reasons.