No joke as ex-comic becomes Slovenia’s new prime minister

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenia’s new prime minister used to make people laugh. Handling the disparate demands of his five-party coalition government is unlikely to leave much time for jokes.

Once a satirist who impersonated prominent politicians, Marjan Sarec has taken the helm of a largely centrist government — a rare phenomenon, at least recently, in Central Europe where populists have been on the march from Italy to Poland.

Sarec, who has become Slovenia’s youngest ever premier at 40, will face a tough job keeping the minority government afloat. After all, the government’s majority in parliament is slim and the right-wing opposition is not going to give Sarec a honeymoon in office.

Enacting too many reforms is not going to be easy in that environment and that could potentially lead to disgruntlement in a country of just 2 million people.

The tight parliamentary arithmetic was evident Thursday when the new government was narrowly endorsed. Only half the 90-member backed the government, just enough to keep away from power the anti-immigrant allies of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Analysts warned it is too early to say whether the elevation of a moderate government spells a turning point in the region.

“At stake now is Europe, more than Slovenia,” said Janez Markes, an analyst for the Delo newspaper. “Slovenia at this moment, I hate to say it, is not part of the problem.”

The success of the new government could depend heavily on whether Sarec, who gave up a successful acting career when he first entered politics, proves he is up to the task.

Sarec served twice as the mayor of his native Kamnik, in central Slovenia before gaining prominence when he forced a presidential runoff vote last year against veteran politician Borut Pahor.

“It is easier to observe from the side and criticize than to do something,” Sarec said Thursday in parliament. “It is time to start working now.”

One of the mainstays of Sarec’s act was impersonating former prime minister, Janez Jansa, who is now his main right-wing opponent.

With a group of young artists, Sarec hosted a satirical radio show dubbed ‘Radio Ga Ga’ that was popular throughout Slovenia in the 1990s. Some of his performances show Sarec altering his voice to mock politicians’ accents, singing or screaming with a kitchen cloth on his head as an alternative poet.

Saso Hribar, a journalist who worked with Sarec, says he remembers the new prime minister as highly professional and considers him thoroughly prepared for his any of his roles.

“Sarec blew up a good private business when he gave up acting,” Hribar quipped.

As the new prime minister, Sarec is certain to face strong opposition from Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party, which won most votes at June 3 election, but not enough to form the government.

Linked to Hungary’s Orban, Jansa “will try to do anything to subvert this government,” said Darko Strajn, the head of Alternative Academy think tank.

However, Strajn said Sarec is a political “personality in the making,” and his readiness to compromise and his negotiating prowess to form the 5-party coalition, should serve him well.


Ali Zerdin contributed to this report.