May 13, 2018 / 8:06 PM / 10 months ago

Slovenian rail project likely to go ahead after low referendum turnout

* Turnout below 15 percent

* National election due in 3 weeks

By Marja Novak

LJUBLJANA, May 13 (Reuters) - One of Slovenia’s biggest investment projects, a rail line to the country’s main port on the Adriatic, will go ahead after low voter turnout in a referendum on Sunday on the railway.

The referendum on the 1-billion-euro ($1.20 billion) railway line to the Adriatic port Luka Koper was requested by a civil society group Taxpayers Don’t Give Up, which claimed that the line, as designed by the government, was too expensive.

At least 20 percent of some 1.7 million eligible voters would have to vote against the project in the referendum to block it. Less than 15 percent of voters cast their votes, but of those that voted 50.1 percent were against the project, according to a preliminary result of the State Election Commission.

“The low turnout shows that the voters did not want this referendum ... I expect this is the last step towards enforcing the law (on the railway project),” Infrastructure Minister Peter Gaspersic told the national TV channel TV Slovenia after preliminary result was released.

An earlier referendum in September had turnout of 20.6 percent with 53.5 percent of voters backing the project.

But Slovenia’s Supreme Court in March annulled the September referendum result and ordered another vote.

The project has already secured 44.3 million euros of European funding while neighbouring Hungary has said it was ready to invest some 200 million euros in the line as it relies on Koper for much of its seaborne freight.

The Supreme Court’s decision prompted Prime Minister Miro Cerar to resign, leading to and early election that will be held on June 3.

Analysts said that turnout in Sunday’s referendum was too low to give an indication of how the vote in parliamentary election could go.

“I see no direct effect on the election results as the turnout is very low. It is still impossible to predict who will win the election,” Peter Jancic, a political analyst and the editor of a political website Spletni Casopis, told Reuters.

Latest polls showed that the main opposition party, the centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party, which has also criticised the government’s railway project as too expensive, was ahead of the centre-left List of Marjan Sarec, which has not run in parliamentary elections before.

$1 = 0.8367 euros Reporting By Marja Novak. Editing by Jane Merriman

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