Slovenians will vote on Sunday in a runoff that is expected to elect the country’s first female president, a lawyer linked to former US first lady Melania Trump.
Natasa Pirc Musar, backed by the centre-left government, is running against ex-foreign minister Anze Logar, a veteran of conservative politics, in the EU country of two million people.
Lawyer Pirc Musar was hired to protect the interests of Slovenian-born Trump during her husband’s presidency, preventing companies from marketing products bearing his name.
She should win just over 50% of the vote ahead of Logar, who is between 44 and 49%, according to the latest polls.
Pirc Musar, who headed the country’s data protection authority for a decade, said her victory would make her “the voice of women” in Slovenia and abroad.
Although the president’s role is largely ceremonial, the human rights defender has pledged to be a “moral authority”.
“The president cannot be neutral…and have no opinion…I have never been afraid to speak out,” the 54-year-old former TV presenter told AFP.
Pirc Musar, who is a motorcycle enthusiast, has been attacked because of her husband’s lucrative investments, especially in tax havens.
His opponent Logar, 44, also ran as an independent but is a longtime member of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) of Janez Jansa, who failed in his bid to be re-elected prime minister in April.
Critics accused Jansa of attacking media freedom and the judiciary and undermining the rule of law during his last term.
Logar plays the cello and is an avid mountain climber who has cycled to presidential debates.
“It’s good if the president represents a different point of view than the ruling coalition — (that) brings more balance … which is better for a democratic system,” Logar told AFP ahead of Sunday’s vote.
Newspaper columnist Uros Esih said Pirc Musar had surrounded himself with “strong advisers”, enabling him to compete with the relatively more experienced Logar.
But Logar would be “more likely just an instrument” of Jansa’s party, Esih said.
Logar came first in the first round last month when the centre-left votes were largely split between Pirc Musar and another candidate.
Analysts say a low turnout would favor Logar, but polls predict around half of those eligible will vote, as in the first round, putting Pirc Musar in the lead.
Polling stations open in the former Yugoslav republic at 07:00 (0600 GMT) and will close at 19:00, with partial results expected later in the day.
Incumbent Borut Pahor, a former social democrat, was unable to run for office after serving two five-year terms.