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Slovenia's PM designate starts tough talks over new cabinet

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Slovenia's prime minister designate Alenka Bratusek was to start talks Thursday for a new coalition, a tricky task amid the country's worst political crisis since independence in 1991.

Bratusek, a 42-year-old political newcomer, was given late Wednesday the mandate to form a new government, following a no-confidence vote against Premier Janez Jansa.

"Only together we can bring Slovenia to the place where we belong," she told lawmakers after being sworn in immediately after the vote.

"I fully trust our citizens who in the past have always been able to come together in the most challenging moments, and this is one of such moments," she added.

Before she can take over however, Bratusek will need to get her list of ministers approved in parliament in the next two weeks, and for this she will need the votes of at least two of Jansa's former allies, the pensioners' party DESUS and the centre right Civil List (DL) party.

DL leader Gregor Virant already said Wednesday that the fact his party had backed the no-confidence vote against Jansa "represents no guarantee" that they would join the new government.

If Bratusek fails to set up a new cabinet, President Borut Pahor will have to call early elections, the second in less than two years.

Until a new government is set up, Jansa remains acting prime minister.

Analysts have warned that bringing down Jansa's government was an easy task compared with finding common ground between Bratusek's Positive Slovenia (PS), the centre-left Social Democrats and DL.

Media reports on Thursday said the new prime minister-in-waiting was to begin coalition talks with both parties as well as DESUS.

"A (big) uncertainty is whether Bratusek will manage to form a new government... DL might not be ready to collaborate in it," Ljubljana University's professor Vlado Miheljak told AFP.

The centre-right party was among the first to abandon Jansa's coalition following corruption claims against the prime minister, but after the last snap election in December 2011, it baulked at teaming up with PS.

Columnist Janez Markes from the daily Delo said Thursday the fall of Jansa's government marked a "breaking point" in Slovenian politics thanks to Bratusek's "brilliant" speech, which surprised by addressing the people's main fears with sincerity and good intentions.

"She called for tensions to calm down and for some optimism to be given to citizens so that they can relax and prepare to solve the situation," Markes said in a video comment published on the newspaper's website.

"Now we have to watch the way she will face the real problems such as the banks and see whether her good rhetoric will be accompanied by a philosophy of transparent books," he said.

Bratusek said her top priorities would be "normalising" life by softening "excessive" austerity measures imposed by the outgoing government and stimulating growth.

"We have to boost economic development," the former finance ministry official told lawmakers, announcing plans for a revised budget shortly after taking over, as well as wage cuts and a temporary increase of taxes.

She did not refer to the state-owned banks saddled with bad debt and possibly needing outside help, arguing that she first needed to find common ground over the government programme with her likely coalition partners.

But analysts warned that some key disagreements were unbridgeable with DL earlier proposing the creation of a bad bank to take the banks' bad loans, while the Social Democrats insisted on fresh capital hikes by the state.

"It remains to be seen what the compromise over the bad bank will be and whether this government will have only a limited life," daily Dnevnik's columnist Primoz Cirman commented Thursday.

He added "the newly created parliamentary majority has no reason at all to pop the champagne since the problems our state is facing are far bigger than Jansa."

Once a model EU and eurozone member with annual growth at around five percent in 2004-2007, export-dependent Slovenia was left badly exposed by the global crisis and is now struggling against recession and high unemployment.

The national debt also more than doubled between 2007 and 2011.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130228/slovenias-pm-designate-starts-tough-talks-over-new-cabinet