LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Former Slovenia Prime Minister Borut Pahor won the presidential election Sunday, calling for unity in the tiny EU nation where discontent has been mounting with government budget cuts and other austerity measures designed to avoid a bailout.
"There is a way out and we must find it together," Pahor said in his victory speech. "We must not turn against each other."
Sunday's vote came just days after anti-austerity protests in Ljubljana, the capital, erupted into clashes that left 15 people injured, triggering fears this normally placid Alpine nation of 2 million was heading into instability.
Several hundred protesters waving banners gathered Sunday in the eastern town of Krsko, even as snow blanketed the country, disrupting traffic in some parts and contributing to a low election turnout.
Slovenia, once an economic star among EU newcomers when it joined in 2004, has faced one of the worst recessions of the 17-nation eurozone. Its economy has shrunk more than 8 percent since 2009 and continues to decline, resulting in a sharp drop in living standards and a surge in unemployment, which now stands at about 12 percent.
Pahor won 67.44 percent of the vote compared to 32.56 for his rival, incumbent Danilo Turk, according to the State Electoral Commission, after nearly all votes were counted. Final results are expected later in the week.
Although the presidency is mostly a ceremonial post, the elected leader will play an important role as the country faces painful economic reforms.
Slovenia now needs "trust, respect and tolerance," the 49-year-old left-leaning Pahor said. He urged an agreement between Slovenia's bitterly divided political groups, saying that "there is no problem that we cannot solve together."
Turk congratulated his opponent and pledged to "remain an active citizen, loyal to the Slovenian state."
Prime Minister Janez Jansa's center-right government has launched pension and labor reforms, made public sector cuts and moved to recapitalize the nation's banks, which are at the center of the financial crisis because they are burdened by bad loans.