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Kucan Win Ensures Continuity for Slovene Reform

LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - The re-election of ex-communist Milan Kucan as president of Slovenia will help to ensure steady if unspectacular progress towards economic reform and membership of the European Union, analysts said on Monday. Kucan, running as an ...

LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - The re-election of ex-communist Milan Kucan as president of Slovenia will help to ensure steady if unspectacular progress towards economic reform and membership of the European Union, analysts said on Monday. Kucan, running as an independent candidate, won 55.6 percent of the vote in Sunday's election to secure a second and final five-year term as president of the former Yugoslav republic. This was down from the 64 percent he won five years ago but well ahead of his nearest rival, parliamentary speaker Janez Podoobnik, who got 18.4 percent. Analysts said that while economic reform in Slovenia has sometimes been slower than they would like, Kucan's commitment to developing a free-market democracy fully integrated into western Europe has never been in doubt. Although the president's duties are largely ceremonial, Kucan's position as Slovenia's most popular politician and the man who spearheaded its successful breakaway from Yugoslavia gives him considerable moral authority. Heather Grabbe, European Programme Research Fellow at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, said Kucan's re-election reflected a clear wish for continuity among Slovenia's two million people. Slovenia will be among six countries with which the EU expects to start membership negotiations in early 1998, and its prospects for being among the first round of new members early in the next century are good. Although there was some concern in the EU about the pace of Slovenian reform, there was broad satisfaction with progress so far, Grabbe said. Slovenia, with Alpine peaks and a Mediterranean coastline, is the richest of Europe's former socialist countries. Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is $9,471. Most former state-owned companies have been privatised, with the major exception of key monopolies such as telecommunications, energy and insurance and two of the three largest banks. Kucan, 56, made clear on Sunday that the key goal of his final term would be securing Slovenian membership of the EU. Slovenia has been ruled by a three-party centrist coalition under Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek since 1992. Analysts said Kucan would try to ensure that planned reforms of labour laws, pensions, taxation and the legal system were not too painful for ordinary Slovenians.

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