Slovenia’s conservative candidate Anze Logar was headed for a first-round victory in Sunday’s close presidential election, but will face his centre-left rival in a runoff, partial results suggested.
The country’s conservatives saw the vote as a chance to regain some support after their defeat in April parliamentary elections.
But it was widely expected that no candidate would clinch the 50 percent support needed for an outright victory.
“Results have confirmed that our slogan, ‘we work together for the future’, has been welcomed by citizens,” Logar, 46, said in his first reaction to the partial results.
Electors in the small Alpine EU member of two million people on Sunday chose from seven candidates standing for the largely ceremonial post.
A second round will now take place in November.
With 60 percent of the votes counted, Logar, an ex-foreign minister under the former conservative government, won 33.75 percent of the vote.
His main rival, Slovenia’s former head of the data protection authority, centre-left independent candidate Natasa Pirc Musar, received 27 percent of the vote.
Liberal Prime Minister Robert Golob backed European Social Democrats parliament member, Milan Brglez, and called on centre-left parties to unite behind one candidate.
The 55-year-old Brglez ended third with 15.7 percent of the vote.
Golob later on Sunday told public television channel RTV Slovenija: “We will back Mrs Natasa Pirc Musar because we share her common values.”
Political newcomer Golob and his Freedom Movement party won more than a third of votes in the April 24 election after mass protests over a crackdown on civil liberties by the previous government of Janez Jansa.
Critics accused three-time premier Jansa of attacking media freedom and the judiciary and undermining the rule of law in his latest term in office.
During the campaign Jansa did not publicly support Logar, who pledged to be a president “bringing together” people from all political sides.
“I have presented myself and my ideas as they are: moderate, and my campaign will remain like that,” Logar said minutes before Jansa arrived at his headquarters to greet him on Sunday evening.
Pirc Musar, hoping to become Slovenia’s first woman president, faced strong attacks over her husband’s lucrative businesses at home and abroad during electoral campaigning.
But the 54-year-old has received the backing of independent Slovenia’s first president, reformed communist Milan Kucan, who said it was “time for a female president”.
Incumbent Borut Pahor, a former Social Democrat, could not run for re-election after having held the post for two five-year mandates.