KAMNIK, Slovenia (Reuters) - A former comedian tipped to become Slovenia’s next prime minister said on Tuesday he would slash red tape to boost investment and shake up the electoral and judicial systems if his party wins June’s national election.
Marjan Sarec, 40, a newcomer to national politics, stunned Slovenians last November when he won 47 percent of the vote in a presidential run-off won by a former prime minister and acting president, Borut Pahor.
His center-left party, The List of Marjan Sarec, formed in 2014, has only about 300 members, but opinion polls show it winning up to 19 percent of the vote, ahead of its rivals.
“We absolutely need to reduce bureaucracy,” Sarec told Reuters in an interview, adding that he wanted to devolve more power to local communities to facilitate new construction.
Slovenia, a tiny ex-Yugoslav republic of two million people, joined the European Union 14 years ago and has seen strong economic growth that is expected to reach at least 3.9 percent this year.
But many Slovenians are disappointed with established parties over corruption and other issues, especially since their country narrowly avoided an international bailout for its banks in 2013.
Sarec, who is currently mayor of the Alpine town of Kamnik, said he would aim as prime minister to speed up court procedures, which can drag on for years, by limiting the mandate of judges. Most judges in Slovenia have unlimited mandates.
Sarec said he also wanted to raise the threshold for a party to enter parliament to “at least five percent” from the current four percent, a level he said resulted in weak coalition governments of at least three parties.
“We have a weak state so we need a strong government,” he said.
The International Monetary Fund says Slovenia, where the state still controls about 50 percent of the economy, should speed up privatizations, but the government has refused to sell major companies over the past decade.
“We need to keep strategic firms in state hands, like (telecoms operator) Telekom Slovenije and (port operator) Luka Koper,” he said, adding the state should also not sell minority stakes in companies such as fuel retailer Petrol and pharmaceutical producer Krka.
However, Sarec said Slovenia should sell majority state stakes in its two largest banks, Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB) and Abanka, in line with promises made to the European Commission. But the state should retain at least 25 percent of NLB to have a say in key business decisions, he added.
Slovenia has promised to sell the two banks in return for the Commission’s approval of state aid to them in 2013.
Sarec said his government would try to run a balanced budget and reduce public debt towards 60 percent of national output, which is the maximum level allowed for eurozone members, adding that this would hinge on future economic growth.
He said the new government would have to introduce pension reform, including further promotion of private pension schemes, to ease the burden of a rapidly aging population on the budget.
Sarec did not disclose possible candidates for cabinet jobs but said he favored independent professionals for some top posts such as finance minister.
Reporting By Marja Novak; Editing by Gareth Jones