The Tomb Of National Heroes

Following snap elections on 13 July Slovenian parliament held an inaugural session on Friday which – if one attempted to describe it in full – would be somewhere between a Monty Python act, a wake and select scenes from They Live. In fact, what we had today was people an exercise in different planes of reality converging into the same point of the time-space continuum. The results were predictably ugly.

20140802 9gag The Tomb Of National Heroes
Pahor and Janša make it to 9gag. That’s one off the bucket-list (source)

On one hand we had Janez Janša, the jailed leader of the SDS who was granted a short leave of his prison sentence to attend the session, providing for an extraordinary situation where a convicted criminal serving a prison sentence is elected and starts serving as an MP. On the other side there were a couple of hundred protestors in front of the parliament who demanded the release of Janez Janša from prison, called him a political prisoner and a martyr. Next, there was Janša’s SDS which refused to make nominations in a key parliamentary committee, vowing to do the same for every other parliamentary body until they are given assurances new elections will be held as soon as Janša is acquitted (as the faithful believe will and protest in front of the court daily to happen). Still further, however, are the trials and tribulations of PM-presumptive Miro Cerar who is paying a heavy price for his hardball tactics in the Slovenian EU Commissioner issue. Cerar has all but spent whatever progress he had had with Karl Erjavec of DeSUS and is, for all intents and purposes back to square one in coalition negotiations. If he ever left square one at all, that is. Oh, and then there’s the reality of President Pahor quoting Churchill again and (again) admitting he didn’t know his ass-hole from his ear-hole when he handled the outbreak of crisis in 2008.

You can’t always get what you want

The ugly part is that no-one got what they wanted and yet everyone got more than what they bargained for. Case in point being Milan Brglez, the man thought to be the brains behind Miro Cerar Party (SMC) and widely tipped to be the next foreign minister (on account of his international studies tenure at the Faculty of Social Sciences), was forced to accept the nomination for the Speaker of the parliament. This brings about an unusual situation where the Speaker of the Parliament, a post usually manned by the second largest coalition party, is a member of the largest coalition party which is now poised to occupy the upper-most levels of both executive and legislative branches. That it was Miro Cerar, the legalist and a man of high democratic standard, who had to break what little democratic tradition this country has, is especially ironic.

Having said that, it is possible that – regardless of his and Cerar’s statements – Brglez as Speaker is only a temporary solution. You know, just to get the parliament up-and-running. But for Brglez to make the switch to Foreign Ministry (a.k.a. Mladika, as the building is called), a lot of things must happen, chief among them being DeSUS actually joining Cerar’s coalition and Erjavec wanting to quite as foreign minister and take over as parliament chief. Either that or becoming EU commissioner (yeah, right icon smile The Tomb Of National Heroes ). Brglez’s chances of clinching the top foreign-affairs job would increase greatly if his party boss were to cobble a coalition sans DeSUS. And if days ago Cerar and his people were wondering why they would make their lives difficult by not inviting Erjavec to the ruling gang, they’re probably starting to see that political life with Erjavec in tow is much more difficult than without him. But, as things stand, Cerar went from setting the pace to putting out fires in a matter of days. He needs to get his act together, fast.

The person who, amazingly, did hold her act together on Friday was Marjana Kotnik Poropat, an MP for DeSUS who, by virtue of being the oldest MP, chaired the inaugural session. Poropat, obviously coached and prepared, rejected every attempt Jože Tanko, head of SDS parliamentary group, made to derail the parliament from day one. Tanko made numerous procedural demands most of which had to do with MPs confirming the election results, thus finding they do indeed hold the mandate of the people and can start their work. The SDS, however, refused to appoint their members to the relevant committee and called for the parliament legal service to form an opinion on whether these committees can be established if not all parties appoint members. Further to that Tanko demanded time to stuy the legal service’s opinion, obviously trying to extend and possibly derail the parliament even before it would even formally establish itself. Poropat would have none of that and rebuffed Tanko repeatedly, much to annoyance of SDS masters of procedure and to amazement of the interested public (i.e. the Slovenian tweetosphere which had a field day yesterday).

Prison break

Whether Tanko was following a real plan or was just buying time for his boss remains a mystery. Namely, Janez Janša got a daily pass to leave prison and attend the session of the parliament to which he was elected. This predictably precipitated all sorts of false dilemmas on whether his mandate should be confirmed or not, whether he is fit to stand as MP or not et cetera. But the issue is indeed a fairly simple one. While an MP, sentenced to a prison term of six monts or more can be stripped of office (by a majority vote of his colleagues), there is currently no law that would prohibit a convict to stand for elections. Which is precisely the case with Janša. And since he was legally elected, MPs had no choice but to confirm his mandate, leaving it for later (and probably quite soon) to navigate the legal minefield of stripping Janša of his MP status.

Because as things stand now, the leader of the opposition gets to leave the prison every time he has stuff scheduled in the parliament and gets to complain that “even the old Yugoslav regime treated him better than Slovenian authorities do”. Which is bullshit, of course, but Janša and the SDS are forced tp resort to increasingly preposterous lies in order to maintain the enthusiasm of the faithful. But still, it must have been quite a downer to see only three-hundred people, mostly well beyond retirement age, chanting his name, cursing the communist conspiracy that runs the country and demanding Janša be released from prison. Which proved for a lot bizarre scenes where Janša went to meet his supporters during a break in session and the flock shouted that he should be let out of prison while he was there. In all honesty, factually, they are correct. But in terms of space and time, well… They funny icon smile The Tomb Of National Heroes

But the scenery was even more bizzare than the content. The Janša crowd gathered in a small park on the West side of the parliament and spent hours chanting to their hero, praising him as the saviour of the nation and insisting the country will not be free until he is. But long gone are the days when tens of thousands chanted Janša’s name in front of the parliament, like in 1994 when Janša was being removed from the post of defence minister in the wake of Depala vas Affair. From 30.000 to 300 people in twenty years is a sure-fire sign that Janša’s political star is fading. In a true Freudian twist, Friday’s pro-Janša rally was held only ten metres away from the tomb of national heroes. In the end, we’re all dead. Politically or for real.

Please, stop quoting Churchill

But stupidity, she is immortal. Case in point being President Pahor’s speech which was, as per usual, high on big words but low on actual content (but, admittedly, still much better than his Lorem Ipsum speech aboard Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior days ago). In his parliament speech Pahor invoked Churchill and said that “after years of trying to solve the crisis the wrong way we now finally know what it is all about and can do it the right way”. Now, quoting Churchill is one of Pahor’s favourite political activities. And to be honest, Churchill is a quotable man with much to be quoted about. But what President Pahor was alluding to, however, was supposed Churchill statement that one can count on America to do the right thing after it had done everything else.

Now, for starters, President Pahor freely admitted that all of his 2008-2011 bravado, long-as-fuck press conferences and moving small red and green dots on a magnetic board that represented reform attempts, he didn’t know shit about tackling the crisis. You know, not even an “oops, sorry”. Just more bravado to the tune of “we finally nailed it this time.” Unfortunately, he didn’t. You see, the quote is taken out of context. What Churchill was supposedly referring to was an intervention of an outside power in what was then still a European armed conflict. Which of course is somewhat different from “we finally know what to do now”. And just to add insult to injury: Churchill never actually said that. So much for knowing how to tackle the crisis, when you can’t even pick a correct Churchill quote.But hey, as president, you can do whatever you like, I guess. Even shake hands with a convicted felon. Figure the tomb of national heroes won’t be needing an expansion any time soon after all.

    August 3rd, 2014, posted by pengovsky

    Alles Klar, Frau Kommissar?

    Six years ago, most of the free world this poor excuse for a country (pengovsky included) was aghast at foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel putting his own name forward to fill a vacant ambassador post in Vienna. While not illegal, it reeked of self-aggrandizing, cronyism and (ab)use of public office for personal gain. Back then, president Danilo Türk stopped Rupel dead in his unhealthy ambitions, forever insulting the man and his ego. Which is why speculation that outgoing PM Alenka Bratušek might put herself forward as a one of nominees for the post of European Commissioner isn’t exactly top form, if you catch my meaning.

    20140731 komisar Alles Klar, Frau Kommissar?

    Now, the issue of the Slovenian nominee for the new European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker exploded in the past few weeks as the timetable set by Juncker made it obvious Slovenia will have to come up with a name while government of Alenka Bratušek will still be taking, well, care of business. And while this prime human resource dilemma was in the spotlight on-and-off, it really went ballistic after the winner of July 13 snap elections and PM-presumptive Miro Cerar said the outgoing government should consult him before giving Juncker what he wants.

    Going south

    In all honesty, it would be sporty of Bratušek to keep Cerar in the loop and even allow him to have a say in what ultimately still is a business well within the purview of the outgoing government. But that didn’t happen and things went south almost immediately. Cerar decided to play hard-ball and told junior partners in AB coalition that he expects them to toe his line and that their failure to do so will result in their weakened negotiations positions when he forms the government. SD and DeSUS fell in line almost immediately and – voila! – ideas of Alenka Bratušek jumping up quite a dew notches in the political food chain were, well, flushed down the toilet. Temporarily, it turns out.

    But first, let take a moment and dissect Cerar’s harball tactics. Miro Cerar, supposedly ever the legalist, didn’t bat an eyelid when he shot way outside hi legal status in order to gain a political advantage. Namely, until tomorrow, when the new parliament is expected to convene for an inaugural session and confirm new MPs, Miro Cerar is merely a private individual. A private individual who won elections, sure, but a private individual nevertheless. And as such he has no mandate whatsoever to decide on public matters. Even more: while Cerar is indeed PM-presumptive, he does not begin to execute PM powers until his cabinet is approved, which will not happen until September at the earliest. Therefore, the veto power on the Brussels appointment which Cerar claimed for himself has no legal backing whatsoever. Period.

    In fact, it seems quite probable Cerar overestimated his political clout stemming from election victory and – crucially – underestimated the political and legal clout his potential coalition partners have stemming from their current positions in Bratušek caretaker government. But Cerar realized too late that by meddling in the outgoing administration business he is way out of his comfort zone, where margin of error is close to zero. Mistake numero uno. Trying to solve this self-imposed conundrum quickly, the PM-presumptive said he wants to see current EU Commissioner for environment Janez Potočnik re-nominated for a third term. Mistake numero dos. Will he make it to number three?

    Erjavec rocking the boat

    Namely, what was looking like a smooth ride towards a majority coalition is turning into a leaking boat that is being rocked violently by none other than Karl Erjavec of DeSUS. The man who could bring Cerar enough votes to form a single-vote majority was tipped to be the next Speaker of the Parliament (a post traditionally manned by the second largest coalition party) but has had a change of heart yesterday saying, he will run for this particular office.

    Media reports suggest Cerar and Erjavec had a deal early on that DeSUS would provide the necessary votes to get the parliament up-and-running even if the coalition deal would yet be done, whereupon Erjavec would take the Speaker job temporarily and be then nominated for the EU Commissioner post. Now, whether or not that is true is a matter of some speculation. But if true, then the SMC bailed on the deal by putting forward Potočnik, probably in light of Commission president Juncker expecting a nominee by today. This of course infuriated Erjavec, who in retaliation threw a large wrench in the delicate wheel of coalition-building.


    And suddenly, everyone wanted a piece of the pie and every option was back on the table, but with a twist. PM Bratušek was back as a possible nominee, with Slovenian Press Agency (STA) even quoting an “unnamed but reliable” source in Brussels that Juncker specifically asked for her and was even considering her for the position of Commission Vice-president. This, of course, is unverifiable, but people who are more intimate with the inner-workings of the EU say it is not entirely inconceivable.

    On the other hand, since the issue turned shambolic, various members of the outgoing coalition wanted to make the most of it. Thus the Social Democrats wanted nominate their sole MEP Tanja Fajon. This, of course, would be a major upgrade for the former TV SLO reporter from Brussels who made her name as EP rapporteur on visa liberalisation for Western Balkans countries.

    But SD putting forward Fajon has other implications as well. Should she become the new Commissioner, the interim-SD leader Dejan Židan kills two birds with one stone. Not only does he get rid of a possible leadership rival in the upcoming party congress, where he can expect to be taken apart following the rout in the 13 July parliamentary elections. Turns out Fajon’s empty seat would be filled by none other than Igor Lukšič, the man whom Židan replaced at the helm of the party following the rout the party suffered in the European elections in May. Thus Židan also gets to placate his bitter predecessor who never really came to terms with his own defeat in the EU elections (where Fajon beat him on preferential votes, mind you) let alone his responsibility for SD’s poor showing both in EU and parliamentary elections.

    Going once, twice…

    The plot, of course, thickens. With two possible nominees there is no reason not to add a third one. Or fourth one. And this is precisely what is going to happen. The outgoing government is apparently going to short-list three or four candidates, leaving to Jean-Claude Juncker to pick one. With Delo reporter from Brussels just tweeting that Janez Potočnik will not agree to his name being put on such a list (presumably as opposed to him being the only nominee), this probably means Juncker will be looking at a three-item list consisting of Alenka Bratušek, Tanja Fajon and Karl Erjavec.

    Juncker will have to take into account both gender- and party-representation when cobbling the new Commission. While Bratušek and Fajon solve his lack-of-women problem, it is Bratušek alone who solves the apparent lack of ALDE-affiliated people on Jucker’s team. True, Erjavec could possibly meet this criterion by virtue of Ivo Vajgl MEP who ran on a DeSUS ticker in EU elections joining ALDE group, but officially DeSUS is not affiliated with any EU party, which basically rules Erjavec out.

    But since the game Junkcer is playing is in an entirely different league, one can not entirely rule out Fajon either. There are other EU members which have not yet put forward their nominees and in the end the Commission president might end up chosing not what he or Slovenian government would like most, but what conveniently fills the gap.

    Jean-Claude Cerar

    In this respect, his problems are not unlike Miro Cerar’s. The difference being that Jean-Claude is the smooth operator, while Miro is making every mistake in the book, burning assets at a surprisingly high rate. Pengovsky was quoted by the Monitor Global Outlook saying that if “Cerar drops the ball in any of the fields of policy making, coalition handling and internal party dynamics, we are looking at another elections within 18 months.“. And Cerar seems to have been caught off-guard by internal party dynamics. He needs to learn that particular lesson fast.

    As for the unseemliness of the PM signing her own nomination… To be honest, it’s sad to see the escapades of Dimitrij Rupel becoming the new normal. But here we are, apparently.

    July 31st, 2014, posted by pengovsky

    Slovenian Elections: The Purge

    In what can only be described as a rout, Miro Cerar won Sunday Slovenian elections in a landslide, winning 36 out of 90 seats, with two of those being reserved for Hungarian and Italian minorities. Thus, the law-professor who in August will turn 51, is the new Slovenian PM-presumptive.

    2040716 cerar Slovenian Elections: The Purge
    Miro Cerar, PM-presumptive (source)

    Having said that, the real work begins for Cerar only now. In the election campaign he notoriously avoided taking a position on any specific issue, clearly aiming for (and achieving) a catch-all effect. Even his victory speech on Sunday night was lacklustre, to say the least. It was more of his dalai-lama-meets-law-professor-meets-soft-populist rhetoric, nothing and everything at the same time.

    PM-presumptive meets the coalition

    On one hand, this is understandable. Cerar won, but if Zoran Janković, winner of the last elections is anything to go by, it is very easy to squander a relative majority by closing too many doors early on. On the other hand, it was Cerar who was given a clear mandate to rule the country so he needs to start taking positions and dictate the tempo. Until now, he was mostly re-active, for example excluding a possible coalition with Janez Janša‘s SDS only after Janša shot first and excluded a possible coalition with SMC.

    The main issue for Cerar therefore is to make sure he does not become a hostage to his coalition partner or partners. Most likely plural. Namely, if here were to form a two-party coalition, DeSUS is his only choice. Which means that every time a sticky issue would come up, Karl Erjavec would balk and threaten with leaving the coalition, thus forcing Cerar to give in. And Erjavec can be really persuasive. Just ask Janša, Pahor or Bratušek.

    So step number one for the PM-presumptive is to leave DeSUS out. Which already limits his options. Step number two will most likely be to make sure his is more than just a single-vote majority, again, for the above reasons. This means he will have to reach both left and right. With ZL not being a viable option, Cerar’s possible coalition partners include Social Democrats, Alenka Bratušek Alliance and the NSi. And mathematics suggests he will try to form a ruling coalition will all three of them.

    Such an approach would be advantageous for many reasons. Fist, it would put him at a comfortable 51 votes. Second, it would adhere to his pre-election “why can’t we all just get along” mantra. And third (and perhaps most important) it would leave enough room for manoeuvre vote-wise for any of the junior coalition partners to depart from the common line every now and then and still not endanger the 46-vote majority.

    Thus, for example, the SD could oppose further privatisation plans (and keep what is left of their electorate happy) while the legislation could still be passed, without endangering either the 46-votes majority or the coalition itself.

    And last, but not least, this approach would be reminiscent of the way the late Janez Drnovšek put coalitions together and it is always good to be compared to Drnovšek, even though Cerar right now doesn’t even come close to the legendary PM. However, while Cerar is mulling his next move, the exact opposite seems to be going in the SDS, as their shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach backfired badly.

    The purge

    That the SDS took a beating goes without saying. Sunday saw their worst performance in the last decade and only slighty better than their results in 1996 and 2000 elections. Even worse: when compared to the overall number of eligible voters, support for SDS in 2014 elections boils down to a mere ten percent of adult Slovenians. Granted, this says a lot of other parties as well, but is especially damaging for a party which promotes itself as the only one defending patriotic values and does a lot of flag-waving at every opportunity.

    After Janez Janša was admitted to prison due to a confirmed guilty verdict in the Patria Case, the SDS made their glorious leader the focal point of their campaign. SDS MP and one of party vice-presidents Zvonko Černač took centre stage and demanded Janša be released at every opportunity. No longer was their election platform important, they focused solely on Janša, claiming elections are not free and fair without him.

    After the results came in, Černač repeated the #freeJJ mantra and added the party will not be taking active part in parliamentary procedure. There were even reports about their elected MPs not actually taking office, but the plan was supposedly dropped as it became clear that in that case new elections would simply be called for vacant seats.

    Anyhoo, after the SDS openly threatened to derail parliamentary procedure, media back-lash ensued followed by what was reported as a fierce debate in the party Executive Council. As a result, Černač backtracked on the issue, saying he was “misinterpreted”. Now, let’s take a moment and reflect on this.

    What happens when the alpha-male leaves the pack

    For the first time on bob-knows-how-many years, the SDS made a complete and unreserved U-turn in a little more than 24 hours. This is the first example of what pengovsky projected the moment Janša was put behind bars. The alpha-male is out of the game on a daily basis and his replacement does not carry nearly enough clout for decisions and moves to go unquestioned.

    And there’s a lot of bad blood in the SDS right now. Some of their key people didn’t get elected even though they were thought of as fixtures of Slovenian politics. Cases in point being the above mentioned Zvonko Černač (which means he has even less clout in the party and his position as Janša’s point-man is in peril) as well as Jožef Jerovšek, who served as SDS MP continuously since 1996. Ditto Andrej Vizjak, who got elected for the first time in 2000 and held many posts ever since, including that of minister of economy (2004) and labour (2011).

    Moving away from the SDS, Franc Pukšič, the industrious former mayor of Destrnik, who held an MP seat continuously since 1996. Pukšič started as an SDS member but switched to SLS in 2008. Since the party didn’t make it above the 4% treshold, one of the more distinctive features of the parliament is gone. Just like that. Ditto for Pukšič’s much more mild-mannered party colleague Jakob Presečnik.

    Rout of the left

    The purge of course wasn’t limited to the right side of the political spectrum. Lucky for them, a lot of more experienced SD members decided to retire and had evaded the voters opening a can of whop-ass on them. But the purge of the SD is going on for quite a while now. In six years they went down from thirty (2008) to mere five MPs (2014).

    The purge, however, was complete for what was left of Positive Slovenia. The party of Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković didn’t make it above 4%, reducing Zoki’s aura of invincibility to, well, sundust. Janković is in a lot of trouble right now (both legally and politically) and should start getting concerned with his plans for another term as Ljubljana mayor. His opponents smell and see blood and his tenure in the city hall is all of a sudden much more insecure. The party, however, is more or less dead in the water. It might carry on, but it will remain a mere shadow of its former victorious self.

    The caretaker PM Alenka Bratušek, however, fared slightly better. When her fight with Janković split PS down the middle and she and her supporters went to form their own party, her stated goal was to best PS in the polls. Which was kind of weird at the time as the consensus was they should be concerned with making it to the parliament first. But in the end, it turned to be one and the same goal. Bratušek can, in a sense, count herself as coming out victorious. But the price that was paid for her four MP mandates was extortionate. On the bright side, however, she can once again resume comparing herself to Brigitte Nyborg of Borgen icon wink Slovenian Elections: The Purge

    Skipping over the NSi which continues to take its rightful place in the parliamentary political spectrum, even increasing their result by one MP seat, this leaves us with the real surprise of the election Sunday, the United Left (ZL).

    The surprise

    The party of “democratic ecological socialism” was looking to Greek Syriza for a role model and is questioning the established order of things. In the end they got 5.96 percent which translates into six seats. They sport a three-member presidency, but it was Luka Mesec, the youngest of the trio of leaders, who emerged as the most recognisable face of the party. It was his appearance on a POP TV-held debate on Thursday, three days before the elections which sent the party rocketing from around 2.5 percent way above the parliamentary threshold, in the end nearly tripling their result.

    On a personal note, pengovsky got into a bit of hot water with ZL fanbase for saying that Mesec brought in votes of older women on account of him looking good and saying smart things. A rather tedious debate followed where accusations of mysoginistic statements were thrown in my general direction. But while further analysis did indeed show their voters mostly come from below-45 age group, a third of their vote still comes from 45+ age group. A third, meaning two out of six percent of votes won. Which means, 45+ age group was just as instrumental in pushing the ZL above 4% than younger voters.

    Additionally, another analysis showed about 50% of ZL voters decided to pick them in the last couple of days, emphasising the importance of Mesec’s appearance and performance in the debate.

    Now, anyone with any experience in campaigning will tell you that TV debates are not really about substance but rather about showmanship. You might have the best platform in the world, but if you’re not telegenic enough or if you make too many mistakes, you might as well throw in the towel. So the point pengovsky was trying to make is that while ZL platform is nothing to scoff at, it was Mesec’s TV performance (his telegenics) that made the difference. But, the fan-base insists it was the platform that brought in the entire six percent of the vote.

    Shifting the discourse

    Be that as it may, the ZL is in and is bound to shift the political discourse to the left. Which in itself is not a bad thing. Too many things in this society are taken for granted and thought of as set in stone, which is one of the reasons this country moves at a sluggish pace at best.

    But theirs is a hard task. They will inherently be branded as far-left, even though one could make the argument they are the only “true-left”, platform wise. Secondly, their set of ideas is only one of many competing sets in the parliament, all of which are perfectly legitimate, some more appealing to one part of the society, some to another. Thirdly, they are newcomers. Pushing your agenda has to do a lot with knowing your way around rules and procedures of the parliament. Fourth, they will need to hold their nerve and not lash out against more experience MPs patronizing them or even setting procedural traps for them, supposedly to “put them in their place”. The parliament is a tough neighbourhood and while everyone is smiling and wears a tie, backstabbing is often the norm. And lastly, the ZL need to be careful not to get smug too soon.

    A lot of people invested a lot of hope into them and while the some expectations are unreasonable by default, the ZL MPs were not elected to the parliament to be like other MPs but to be better than them. And that’s a benchmark others before them failed to achieve.

    July 16th, 2014, posted by pengovsky