- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2011

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenians were voting in an early election Sunday that is expected to bring conservatives back to power, where they will have to tackle the country’s mounting debt, unemployment and a looming recession.

The parliamentary vote is Slovenia‘s first snap election since becoming independent from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. It was called in September after the center-left government was toppled because of economic uncertainty and allegations of corruption.

In the first four hours of voting, the turnout reached nearly 19 percent — somewhat higher compared with 2008, when the overall turnout was 63 percent, election officials said.

President Danilo Turk said upon casting his ballot Sunday that “the most important task of the new government will be to restart economy.”

Slovenia has been hit hard by the European debt crisis. Slovenia‘s public debt has swollen to 44 percent of its GDP, and unemployment has risen to about 12 percent.

Opinion polls have predicted that the Slovenian Democratic Party of former Prime Minister Janez Jansa will win a third of the votes in this country of 2 million. But he may have to seek support from smaller parties to form the majority in the 90-member parliament.

Mr. Jansa, who led Slovenia into the eurozone while in power in 2004-2008, has promised to introduce austerity measures, such as cutting government administration and reducing labor costs, while curbing corruption and accelerating privatization.

Mr. Jansa called on people to come out and vote in large numbers.

“The higher the turnout, the stronger the legitimacy of the results,” he said.

The outgoing center-left government of Prime Minister Borut Pahor has failed to push through pension and labor reforms requested by the European Union. Mr. Pahor has said that he has done his best amid the global downturn.

Mr. Pahor now is trailing third in the polls with 13 percent, while the Positive Slovenia group led by Zoran Jankovic, a businessman and the ex-mayor of the capital, Ljubljana, is second, with 19 percent support.

Another newcomer in the election race, Gregor Virant, a former public administration minister, saw his popularity rise, then fall, after a scandal erupted over generous unemployment benefits he had pocketed.

For Slovenians, such as 38-year-old graphic designer Jaka Dolanc, whoever comes to power next must deal with the problems.

Slovenia needs an efficient government,” he said.

Jovana Gec contributed to this report.

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