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Nov 12, 4:45 PM EST

Slovenia's president wins second term in runoff election


AP Photo
AP Photo/Darko Bandic

BLED, Slovenia (AP) -- Slovenia's President Borut Pahor was re-elected to a second term Sunday after winning a runoff election against a former comedian who currently serves as the mayor of a northern town.

Pahor, 54, a veteran politician known as the "King of Instagram" for his frequent use of social media, won 53 percent of the vote to challenger Marjan Sarec's 47 percent, results from Slovenian election authorities showed after a completed preliminary count.

Pahor thanked voters and vowed to further boost their faith in democracy. He congratulated his opponent for his performance.

"I will be a president of all," Pahor said. "I'll bring people together and build on what brings us closer."

Pahor is only the second Slovenian president to win a second term in office since the country gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

The country of 2 million people in Central Europe is the birthplace of U.S. first lady Melania Trump and known for its Alpine mountains and lakes.

A former model like the U.S. first lady, the telegenic, blue-eyed politician has held a number of public posts and was Slovenia's prime minister before he first was elected president in 2012.

Sarec was a well-known satirical comedian before entering politics in 2010 to run for mayor in Kamnik. He conceded defeat and congratulated Pahor on Sunday night, but said his success as a relative political newcomer showed Slovenian citizens wanted change.

"I'm proud to have had a possibility to run against the premiere league," Sarec said at his headquarters in Kamnik. "My result is good. It speaks for itself."

Analysts had warned that Sarec's ability to make it into the runoff showed Slovenians' discontent with established politicians. Critics accused Pahor of avoiding taking stands on important issues.

Election authorities said less than 42 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Sunday's election. Slovenia's official STA news agency says that's the lowest turnout for a presidential race since Slovenia split from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

Key topics facing Slovenia include the economy, a border dispute with Croatia and the future of the European Union, which Slovenia joined in 2004.

Slovenia's presidency carries no executive powers, but the office-holder proposes a prime minister and his or her opinion on important issues holds weight. Pahor and Sarec, while both centrists, clashed on issues such as the privatization of Slovenia's biggest bank and the composition of the country's anti-corruption body.

After voting Sunday, Pahor complained that he has been falsely viewed as a populist - which he says he is not - while Sarec was trying to assume the role of a "statesman." Pahor suggested that the "change of roles" cost him public support.

In his victory speech, Pahor, who has sought to portray himself as a unifier president, also said that he will strive to help solve problems and bridge any divisions that might exist in the Slovenian society.

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Ali Zerdin contributed from Ljubljana, Slovenia and Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.

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