LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Three candidates are vying for the presidency in Slovenia, a tiny, economically troubled European Union nation that is riven by deep political divisions and is in danger of needing a bailout.
President Danilo Turk is leading the polls ahead of Sunday's ballot, followed by former center-left prime minister Borut Pahor and center-right ruling coalition candidate Milan Zver.
Although the presidency is a largely ceremonial post, it commands considerable political authority in this Alpine nation of 2 million people, which is facing one of the worst recessions in the 17-country group that uses the euro.
The president also heads the army and proposes the central bank chief at the time when Slovenia is battling a banking crisis due to rampant lending by state-controlled banks.
A survey published Friday by the daily Delo has predicted that Turk will win about 44 percent of the vote in the first round, followed by Pahor with 31 percent and Zver with 25 percent. The survey was conducted with 1,012 people and the margin of error was 3 percent.
No one is expected to win an outright majority so a second round of voting is likely on Dec. 2 between the two leading candidates.
Slovenia suffered severe recession in 2009 with the economy shrinking more than 8 percent. It has continued to decline, resulting in a sharp drop in exports and living standards and a surge in unemployment, which now stands about 12 percent. Bad bank loans have surged to some €6 billion, a significant figure compared to the country's gross domestic product of about €35 billion.
Slovenia's borrowing costs on its government bonds reached 7 percent this summer — a threshold that earlier prompted Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek financial support from the EU.
Turk and Pahor have both been critical of the government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who also faces strong opposition in parliament to his anti-crisis measures.
Jansa's bid to recapitalize the nation's banks and create a so-called wealth fund that would manage state-owned property has been met with demands for a referendum — a move that he says would force the country to seek a bailout by year's end. Jansa has also pressed to cut state jobs and salaries.
Turk has accused Jansa's government of alleged slow response to the economic crisis and "unequal" division of the burden in his austerity package.
"We must be careful with the social balance in the society, which we are losing, and strengthen solidarity toward those individuals who are left behind," Turk said.
Pahor was ousted from power last year, when his government fell over the economic crisis and allegations of corruption, paving the way for an early election last December. The 49-year-old center-left politician has admitted his government had underestimated the scope of the global crisis, and has supported some of the austerity measures proposed by his successor.
Center-right candidate Zver, has blamed the economic crisis on the previous leftist Cabinet.
Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.