LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — No candidate won an outright majority in Slovenia's presidential election and a runoff will be held next month between the incumbent and a former prime minister, an exit poll predicted on Sunday.
Former Prime Minister Borut Pahor will finish first with 41.9 percent of the vote, followed by President Danilo Turk, with 37.2 percent, and a center-right candidate Milan Zver at 20.9 percent, said the poll, conducted by the Mediana agency and broadcast on state TV. Such a runoff would be held on Dec. 2.
Pahor's projected lead was viewed as a surprise since Turk was expected to be the frontrunner in Sunday's election.
But a runoff had been widely expected in the race for the presidential office — a largely ceremonial post in Slovenia but one that commands political authority.
Upon the release of the exit polls, Pahor said the "confidence of the people is much higher than I had expected."
"But I can promise that my activities and achievements — if I am elected president — will be much higher than expected," he added.
A disappointed Turk said he looks forward to a runoff.
The election comes as Slovenia — a small, economically struggling country of 2 million — faces political divisions and risks of needing an international economic bailout.
Chosen for a five-year term, the president heads the army and proposes the national bank chief. The latter is an especially sensitive task considering the severe financial crisis caused here by state-owned banks' rampant lending.
The presidential race also affects political stability in Slovenia, where the government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa faces strong opposition to the reform package it believes will help save the economy, such as pension and labor reforms.
Jansa's government also has pushed for the recapitalization of banks and the creation of a so-called wealth fund to manage state property, but the opposition is demanding a referendum be held on those measures.
Both Turk and Pahor have criticized Jansa's government. But they also have called for unity in the face of the crisis.
"Slovenia is a country for all ... our mutual obligation and our mutual responsibility," the 60-year-old Turk said upon casting ballot on Sunday.
Slovenia has been hit hard by the global economic downturn and the debt crisis in the eurozone. Once a prosperous EU newcomer, the former Yugoslav republic has been tipped as the next country that could seek outsiders' financial help, joining a list that includes Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus.
But many voters hope things can improve.
"I think it will be better," said Miro Pogavc, a 75-year-old retiree, as he cast ballot in the capital, Ljubljana. "Less fighting among us, and a better life. That's my opinion."
Pahor, 49, has said his aim is to restore confidence among politicians and people in Slovenia.
Turnout at Sunday's balloting was expected to be around 45 percent.
Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia, and Amer Cohadzic in Ljubljana.