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Slovenians go to the polls on Sunday in parliamentary elections expected to be a tight race between conservative Prime Minister Janez Jansa and political newcomer Robert Golob.
Opinion polls show Jansa, an ally of nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and admirer of US ex-president Donald Trump, neck-and-neck with Golob, the former chief of a leading power company.
Analysts say concerns over the rule of law have boosted the opposition, giving Golob a real chance of getting a majority in the Alpine nation of about two million, the first ex-Yugoslav state to join the European Union in 2004.
Tens of thousands of people have attended regular anti-government rallies, accusing Jansa of authoritarianism since he took power in March 2020.
Billing the elections as a "referendum on democracy," the opposition accuses Jansa of trying to undermine democratic institutions and press freedoms in a similar fashion to his ally Orban in neighbouring Hungary.
"If this pace continues, we will be very close to that (tightening of state control like in Hungary and Poland) in four years," Uros Esih, a columnist at one of Slovenia's leading dailies Delo, told the French AFP news agency.
Eish said the elections represented a "breaking point" with "liberal and illiberal political forces clashing" in Slovenia.
Freedom Movement given slight lead
The rise of 55-year-old Golob began when he took over a small Green party in January, renaming it the Freedom Movement (GS).
The most recent poll from late Friday showed GS at more than 27 percent of the popular vote, slightly ahead of Jansa's Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) with 24 percent, though analysts warn numerous voters may make last-minute decisions.
Golob has the backing of several centre-left opposition parties, while Jansa, even with his centre-right allies, looks unlikely to be able to secure a majority in the 90-seat parliament, according to polls.
Analysts expect an increased turnout of 60 percent -- about 10 percentage points more than for the last polls in 2018 -- with many voters turning to the opposition as Jansa's style has caused civil society to "revolt".