A party led by a political newcomer better known as the son of Slovenia's famous Olympic medalist won the most votes Sunday in the second early election in three years, according to preliminary returns. The outcome meant potentially more uncertainty for a small eurozone nation struggling to pull out of an economic downturn.
Miro Cerar Party — named after its leader — won 34.7 percent of the ballot, while the opposition conservatives of former prime minister Janez Jansa were trailing with 20.6 percent, election authorities said after counting some 95 percent of the ballots.
If confirmed, the result means Cerar will likely be the next prime minister, but will have to form a coalition government with smaller parties. The 50-year-old law expert, son of Slovenia's double Olympic medalist gymnast Miroslav Cerar, founded his party in June but it swiftly gained popularity because of his untainted public record.
Cerar said victory entailed "great responsibility."
"The result is good," he said. "It shows that people have chosen commitment to a different political culture that will not be divisive."
The poll showed the Pensioners Party with 10 percent, followed by the Social Democrats with 6 percent. A new leftist group, United Left, made it into Parliament with 6 percent. The party of outgoing Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek won 4.4 percent.
Sunday's balloting was forced when Bratusek resigned in May after losing a power struggle within her own political party.
Cerar has ruled out the possibility of a coalition with the second-placed Slovene Democratic Party, whose leader Jansa was jailed last month for two years in a bribery case involving an arms deal.
Jansa has sought to portray himself as the victim of left-leaning political opponents; he said on his Twitter account that he was not granted a brief prison leave to vote.
His party questioned the legitimacy of Sunday's vote.
"The elections were not fair because the leader of our party, Janez Jansa, did not participate during pre-election campaign due to imprisonment," said party official Zvonko Cernar.
Cerar has opposed the privatization of some of Slovenia's state-run companies, which is part of an EU-backed anti-crisis package. The outgoing government froze the process of selling Slovenia's main airport and Telekom Slovenia until a new Cabinet is formed.
Slovenia plunged into financial turmoil during the eurozone debt crisis. Once the most prosperous of the eastern European countries, the Alpine nation has narrowly avoided international bailout.
During just over a year in office, Bratusek's center-left government stabilized Slovenia's ailing banks at the center of the crisis.