Presidential vote may complete Slovenia right turn

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LJUBLJANA, Oct 18 (Reuters) Slovenia's presidential election on Sunday could complete a swing to the right in the European Union member state that takes over the bloc's presidency next year.

Since its independence in 1991, presidents of the former Yugoslav republic have been left-leaning and its governments mostly centre-left, until Janez Jansa's conservative coalition won a parliamentary election in 2004, the year Slovenia joined the EU and NATO.

President Janez Drnovsek, a popular left-winger, has frequently been at odds with Jansa's government and he is not running for a second five-year term in the largely ceremonial post.

The fourth presidential election since independence in 1991 will be a good indicator of Slovenia's political mood before a parliamentary poll, due in late 2008.

Lojze Peterle, a conservative former prime minister, is likely to win the most support of the seven candidates -- between 26 and 41 per cent -- but probably not enough to secure outright victory in the first round, according to opinion polls.

The outcome of any second round, due on November 11, is less certain. Peterle would be likely to face off against Danilo Turk, a former diplomat, or Mitja Gaspari, a former central bank governor. Both are supported by left-of-centre parties.

''The only thing that is clear is that Peterle will go into the second round. His chances of winning in the first round are minimal,'' Meta Roglic, a political commentator at daily Dnevnik, told Reuters.

''It remains to be seen if one of the other candidates who make it to the second round could beat him then.'' Jansa and Drnovsek have been locked in an inconclusive power struggle while the country's economy has grown steadily, and Slovenia was allowed to adopt the euro in January.

The new president will be inaugurated in late December, shortly before Slovenia takes over the EU's rotating six-month presidency on January 1. The head of state will feature prominently in international contacts during the EU presidency.

Peterle, 59, is a member of the conservative New Slovenia party and enjoys the support of three major parties in the ruling coalition. He was Slovenia's first prime minister, from 1990 to 1992, and is now a member of European parliament.

In an interview with Reuters this week, he pledged to cooperate better with the government and parliament if elected.

He said Slovenia was well-placed to add impetus to the EU's relations with the Balkans, including the talks on Serbia's independence-bound Kosovo province.

Some 1.6 million eligible voters will take part in the election. Polling stations open at 1030 IST and close at 2230 IST.

REUTERS SKB HS1607

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