LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenians voted for a president Sunday, hoping whoever wins will boost the prospects of the small, economically struggling country, which may become the next European nation needing an international bailout.
Three candidates are competing — incumbent President Danilo Turk, former Prime Minister Borut Pahor and ruling center-right coalition candidate, Milan Zver. But none is expected to win the majority needed for an outright victory, so a second round of balloting will likely take place Dec. 2.
The presidency is a largely ceremonial post, but still commands political authority in this nation of 2 million. 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 race for president also could affect 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.
Surveys suggest Turk is leading, followed by Pahor and Zver. Both Turk and Pahor have criticized Jansa's government. All three candidates promised to do their best to boost optimism in this European Union nation.
"Slovenia is a country for all ... our mutual obligation and our mutual responsibility," the 60-year-old Turk said. "Today we must show national responsibility, national unity and nationwide participation in this election."
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 of Ljubljana. "Less fighting among us, and a better life. That's my opinion."
Pahor, 49, said his aim is to restore confidence among politicians and people in Slovenia. "My plan is to create an atmosphere of optimism," said Pahor, whose own government was ousted last year largely over the economic downturn.
The ruling coalition candidate, 50-year-old Zver, predicted "the result will be tight" but said he expects to make the runoff.
About 14 percent of voters cast ballots in the first four hours of voting. Some 1.6 million people are eligible to vote. The first unofficial results are expected shortly after polls close Sunday evening.
Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia, Amer Cohadzic in Ljubljana.