* Miro Cerar's five-week-old party ahead in polls
* Euro zone member holds election having averted bailout
* Cerar cool on privatisation, hard on graft
By Marja Novak
LJUBLJANA, July 10 Miro Cerar may be a newcomer
to politics, but he is already a household name to the 2 million
people of Slovenia, the euro zone state whose fragile economy he
will have to nurture if he wins an election on Sunday.
The son of one of his country's greatest sportsmen is front
runner to become prime minister and take on the task of dragging
Slovenia, once seen as a model for post-Communist prosperity,
out of financial crisis and economic malaise.
Slovenia narrowly avoided having to seek an international
bailout for its banks late last year.
Sunday's parliamentary election is rattling investors'
nerves again, this time over the fate of measures the outgoing
government agreed with its EU partners to steady Slovenia's
finances and remake an economy roughly 50-percent controlled by
A bespectacled law professor and adviser to parliament,
Cerar, 50, takes his celebrity from his father Miroslav Cerar, a
two-time Olympic pommel horse champion in the 1960s when
Slovenia was part of socialist Yugoslavia.
His late mother was a politician, state prosecutor and
Cerar formed his party - the Party of Miro Cerar - just five
weeks ago. He has already shot to the top of opinion polls,
testimony to the trust that traditional parties have squandered
as Slovenia's crisis exposed an ingrained culture of
politically-connected lending and mismanagement.
Cerar supports liberalising the economy and labour market
rules, cutting red tape and selling off smaller state firms. But
he has come out against the major slated sales of Slovenia's
telecoms operator and international airport.
"I'm entering politics because I know that the situation in
Slovenia is so bad that ... we need new people, new ideas, new
practices," he told Reuters last week.
Cerar has offered few details, however. While his lukewarm
embrace of privatisation might endear him to many traditionally
leftist Slovenians, it will worry investors and Brussels.
Analysts see Cerar's centre-left SMC party entering
coalition government with the Social Democrats (SD) and the
Desus pensioners' party. Both were junior partners in the
outgoing coalition, when the SD in particular barely disguised
its distaste for privatisation and public sector spending cuts.
TWIST OF FATE
"Cerar leads in opinion polls because he is not tainted with
corruption and has credibility," said Borut Hocevar, an analyst
at the Slovenian daily Finance.
"However, privatisation will slow under his rule and will
probably only happen because Brussels will insist on it."
When Slovenia joined the euro zone in 2007, it was the
bloc's fastest growing economy. But the collapse of its export
sector with the onset of the global crisis exposed the rot, and
the outgoing government of Alenka Bratusek had to pour 3.3
billion euros ($4.5 billion) into local banks to keep them
Cerar's late mother, Zdenka, was once deputy leader of the
Liberal Democrats, which ruled Slovenia for more than a decade
until 2004, when Slovenia became the first ex-Yugoslav republic
to join the European Union.
The Liberal Democrats, like other parties in power before
and after, kept foreign investors at bay. Cerar, however,
rejects any comparison with his own politics.
"I have the same basic values as my mother, that politicians
must be honest, fight for their values and work for the benefit
of Slovenia," he said. "But my professional and political career
is entirely independent."
That he is challenging at all owes everything to a twist of
fate in 1981, when Cerar's parents cancelled a family trip to
Corsica because Miro's baby sister had fallen ill. The plane
crashed into Corsica's San Pietro mountain, killing all 180
people on board.
"When we heard about the crash we had the feeling we had
been reborn, that it was not yet time for us to go. Every day
I'm grateful for that," Cerar said.
His party is scoring as much as 38 percent in some polls,
but he will have to marshal disparate allies. Politicking
toppled Bratusek's government and forced Sunday's early
($1 = 0.7331 Euros)
(Editing by Matt Robinson/Ruth Pitchford)