LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia, the Alpine home country of Melania Trump, is holding a presidential election Sunday that incumbent President Borut Pahor — a former fashion model, like the U.S. first lady — is favored to win. Eight other candidates are vying for the largely ceremonial, but still influential head of state post. Opinion polls show Pahor, a veteran politician who gave up modeling long ago, could win a majority of votes and avoid a runoff election two weeks later.
Below is some background on the race being decided in nature-loving Slovenia:
A PRESIDENT WHO IS KING OF INSTAGRAM
The 53-year-old Pahor started his political career when Slovenia was part of the former Yugoslavia. He served as parliament speaker, a member of the European Parliament, prime minister before he took office as president in December 2012. Pahor has been nicknamed Slovenia’s “King of Instagram” for his frequent presence on social media. He walked about 700 kilometers (420 miles) during the presidential campaign, posting photos and short videos all along the way. Critics think Pahor has degraded the presidency by turning himself into a “celebrity.”
Pahor’s main opponent is Marjan Sarec, a former actor and comedian who is the mayor of the northern town of Kamnik. Before becoming a politician himself, Sarec was known for imitating politicians. He starred in Slovenian satirical shows until he mounted an independent bid for mayor in 2010 and won against an established candidate. Sarec, 39, is currently serving his second term as mayor. He toured Slovenia in a rented bus during his campaign.
Other presidential candidates include Romana Tomc, a tax expert backed by the conservatives; Ljudmila Novak, a former teacher who leads the New Slovenia Christian-Democrats; and Angelca Likovic, who is promoting Catholic Christian values.
WHAT OPINION SURVEYS SAY
Pre-election surveys showed Pahor could win as much as 55 percent of the vote on Sunday, trailed by Sarec with 21 percent. The survey conducted by Ninamedia polling agency has put all other candidates far behind.
WHY THE VOTE MATTERS
Slovenia’s presidency holds no executive powers. However, the president proposes the prime minister who runs the government and the office-holder’s opinion carries weight on important issues. Key topics facing Slovenia include the economy, a border dispute with neighboring Croatia stemming from the 1990s’ breakup of the former Yugoslavia, the future of the European Union, the large numbers of migrants and refugees who have reached Europe or are attempting to immigrate.
Slovenia, which has a population of around 2 million, has about 1.7 million voters. Polling places are set to open Sunday at 0500GMT and close 12 hours later. Initial results are expected a few hours after the polls close.