WITH the rest of the Balkans in turmoil, the small northern alpine republic of Slovenia - first to break from Yugoslavia in 1991 - is quietly preparing to vote Sunday for a new president and its first noncommunist parliament.
Yet many Slovenians seem bewildered by the vote, the high-energy media campaign, and the array of 25 parties vying for 130 seats. While everyone knows who will be elected president - Milan Kucan, a reliable father-figure in Slovenian politics - that is where the certainty ends.
Some 40 percent of Slovenians polled this week have no idea who they will vote for. "I don't know," shrugs Martin, a small businessman from the town of Celje. "I can't tell them apart. I'll vote somewhere in the middle-right, I guess."
That is not surprising. Of the 25 prospective parties, about 20 occupy positions so moderate it takes Slovenian theologians to differentiate them. "In Slovenia, everyone wants to be in the middle," says Romana Dobnikar, a reporter for the Ljubljana daily, Velo. "Left sounds like communism, right sounds conservative, and people here don't want a new ideology."
Indeed, as Peter Volsko, an official of the National Democratic Party, points out, "Anticommunism is not an issue to run on anymore. Maybe a year ago - not now. Today the issue is how to change the mentality of 20 years of Communism and how to join Europe."
The aggressive media style is making many Slovenians, used to lower-key approaches, somewhat cynical. In recent weeks they have taken to covering campaign posters with graffiti, adding whiskers, horns, and smudges to the candidates' faces. In many homes, the television is shut off after the 8:00 p.m. news when a parade of up to 20 party commercials airs. "It is too much for a little country," says Mr. Volsko, who laments that issues like fair privatization are "left behind with cameras and makeup."
Parties expected to come out on top are the Slovene Christian Democrats (SKD), headed by former Prime Minister Lojze Peterle, and the Liberal Democrats (LDS) headed by former Slovenian president of the Yugoslav presidential committee, Janusz Drnovsek, credited with engineering Slovenia's departure from Yugoslavia.
The Christian Democrats are considered center-right; the Liberal Democrats, center-left. The issues separating the two parties often seem more process-oriented than substantive.
SKD, which may get more votes in the Catholic countryside, is taking a go-slow approach to privatization and joining Europe and is slightly more "patriotic" in temper. SKD does not want Slovenia to accept too quickly "all Europe's dirty industry and just become a big labor market," as Vlasta Compos, a civil defense expert in Ljubljana, says. "And we want to take seriously Slovene identity."
LDS is less hesitant and perhaps more optimistic. Slovenia can be a European success story, it says. Mr. Drnovsek feels that since the European Community will drag its feet accepting Slovenia, the quicker it moves the better. In this strategy, Slovenia will slip into the EC faster than Poland, Hungary, or Czechoslovakia, which are given more attention but may not perform. "Not left, not right, just go ahead," is Drnovsek's slogan.
Perhaps the one hitch in the Slovene elections is the scare put into many voters by the sudden rise of Zmzanago Jelincic, a former herb salesman turned nationalist, who in recent weeks has made an issue of the 70,000 mostly-Muslim refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina now in Slovenian camps or homes. Mr. Jelincic's nationalist party, a kind of one-man-band, has gone from low poll numbers to 11 percent in recent weeks on anti-foreigner hate rhetoric. "I will say out loud what you only secretly think," is Jelin cic's rallying cry.
"Jelincic is half genius, half mad," says Ms. Dobnikar, the Ljubljana reporter.
Although the former Communists, renamed Socialists, are one of the 25 parties in the race, nobody takes them seriously when they promise 100,000 jobs and a return to a centrally planned economy.
In October, following European recognition in October 1991, Slovenia switched to its new currency, the tolar. Last spring the old parliament voted no-confidence in the government of Prime Minister Peterle.
Sunday's elections will bring a new streamlined political system. Rather than the old Communist parliament apparatus, which was essentially three parliaments in one - separate branches for community, industry, and party representatives - the new system has only upper and lower houses. Rather than the old rotating system of six presidents, a feature of each former Yugoslav state, Slovenia will have only one president with limited powers and a prime minister to lead the government.
Nor is the new parliament's first task an easy one: interpreting the country's new Constitution, setting up a new structure for the Parliament, writing rules for election campaigns, and passing laws governing business.