Slovenian PM says water referendum defeat no reason to quit

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia’s right-wing prime minister has brushed off opposition calls for his government to resign in the wake of a referendum in which voters overwhelmingly rejected proposed changes to a water management law seen as harmful to the environment.

Janez Jansa’s government approved the amendments in March but ecologists forced a referendum amid claims that the proposed legislation would threaten the environment and diminish water quality.

State election authoritied said that 86,6% of voters voted against the changes. The turnout for Sunday’s referendum was the highest since 2007 for such a vote in Slovenia – 46.15% – which is seen as reflecting high public interest in the issue.

Some analysts and opposition parties said the referendum result was a defeat for Jansa’s government and a signal that it has lost its legitimacy to govern. Opposition leaders also called for early elections.

Late on Sunday, Jansa dismissed opposition pressure, saying that there should be “no drama. Posting on Twitter, he cited previous, failed referendums that hadn’t resulted in any government’s fall.

The gist of the water issue is a provision regulating the building construction including hotels, shops and restaurant that are close to rivers, lakes or the sea.

The issue has sparked a heated debate in the small European Union nation of 2 million people known for its stunningly beautiful Alpine scenery. The right to water was enshrined in the country’s constitution in 2016.

The government insisted that it has tightened construction regulations and provided more funds for water and flood protection. But opponents said the regulations favor the interests of private investors, have limited public access to water and jeopardized water quality.

An association of taxi drivers on Monday said they gave free rides to some 800 care home residents so they could vote. The referendum also drew much interested from Slovenia’s environmentally aware young people, local media said.

The water dispute reflected heightened political tensions in Slovenia, where Jansa’s government has faced accusations of curbing democratic and media freedoms in the traditionally liberal nation.

Slovenia currently holds the European Union’s rotating six-month presidency.