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

Poor Bosnia, Always Gets Fucked By A Slovenian Arms Dealer

The election campaign in Slovenia ends today. Latest polls suggest that Miro Cerar‘s SMC is still poised to take the relative majority of the vote but that Janša’s SDS is closing the gap and there are indications that an eleventh hour change at the top spot in theoretically possible.

20140711 balazic Poor Bosnia, Always Gets Fucked By A Slovenian Arms Dealer
Former Slovenian ambassador to Australia Milan Balažic (source)

However, a fierce battle for votes down the ladder is taking place. Most notably, DeSUS‘ third spot looks slightly less secure and Karl “Funny Man” Erjavec apparently knows that as he was somewhat nervous and feisty during the last couple of TV debates.

Interactive chart of all polls averaged. Note rise of SD and SDS

Whether or not the SD is gaining against their nominal coalition partner DeSUS on the account of the latest diplomatic scandal is debatable, but what a scandal it is icon smile Poor Bosnia, Always Gets Fucked By A Slovenian Arms Dealer

I’ve got some prime swampland to sell you in Florida

Weeks ago, Erjavec in his role as foreign minister recalled Slovenian ambassador to Australia Milan Balažic for breach of protocol and “losing the trust of Slovenian diaspora in host country”. Apparently, Balažic invited to an embassy event one Nichloas Oman, a known arms dealer and an overall shady character who is a citizen of Slovenia, Australia and Liberia. Oman has served a six-year prison sentence in Australia for child-abuse in Liberia and Thailand and is on Australian sex-offenders list.

However, Balažic, upon returning to Slovenia, told a different story. In a nutshell, Oman was willing to give away a piece of land in Bosnia which was supposedly oil-rich in exchange for a Slovenian passport. Smell a rat

According to Balažic, Oman used his brother as an intermediary to contact then-leader of Social Democrats Igor Lukšič, who then emailed Balažic asking if he was willing to “investigate further”, for Oman claimed that the whole thing was worth about two billion dollars. Two billion? Email? This is starting to look like a Nigerian e-mail scam…

Furthermore, Balažic claims he was acting under instructions from entire top-level echelon of Slovenian diplomacy, saying that President Pahor, PM Bratušek and FM Erjavec were all in the loop and that Slovenian intelligence SOVA was investigating the matter as well. Not a bad start to a Robert Ludlum novel, mind you.

Obviously, there was no oil under that particular land. And even if there was, it’s hardly likely Bosnia (specifically, Republika Srpska) would grant drilling rights to a Slovenian entity. Even more, since Oman is a Slovenian citizen and – despite his child-abuse status in Australia – there is no warrant for his arrest anywhere in the EU, he could have easily obtained a Slovenian passport regardless.

But the story was apparently appealing enough for Lukšič and Balažic to fall for the classic “I’ve got some prime swampland to sell you in Florida” trick.

Dipping in the same pool of votes

Anyway, things start to fall apart rapidly from this point on. The Prez’s office categorically denies the charges, PM Bratušek says Lukšič was not a cabinet member, that the issue was never on the official agenda and that when Lukšič did bring it up, she refused to discuss it at all. It was only Karl Erjavec who said he wasn’t aware of Balažic’s activities. The implication being that Erjavec doesn’t know what’s going on in front of his nose. Which is not really a compliment for a foreign minister. Or a leader of a party which happens to be dipping in the same pool of voters as SD does.

This, of course, provided there’s more to the whole episode than just a disgraced ambassador trying to save his neck. But since Balažic also included rumours about Janša’s clinic in Australia (a popular lef-wing fiction story where Janša supposedly stuck all of his illicit earnings into a clinic down-under to be ran by his doctor-wife) one can sooner be worried about former diplomat’s health grip on reality.

But, in the end, it’s Bosnia which gets fucked by a Slovenian arms dealer. Again.

    July 11th, 2014, posted by pengovsky

    A Fistful of Votes*

    The election campaign entered its final week but there’s still plenty of time to fuck up. Not that there haven’t been a few notable fuck-up already. But first, ze numbers!

    20140506 ankica A Fistful of Votes*
    Polls normalised to 100 percent. Check below for up to date interactive chart.

    As you can see, Miro Cerar Party (SMC) maintains a strong lead over SDS which in turn maintaining an equally strong lead over everyone else. True, the last poll shows a bounce for Janša’s SDS, but it should be noted that we’re dealing with a Večer poll here, which as a rule feature a significant phase-shift to the right. And while forecasting exact numbers is a tricky business, it is more or less that barring a meltdown of epic proportions, Miro Cerar Party will come out as the relative victor on Sunday. It is also more or less a given that the SDS will come in second with DeSUS of Karl Erjavec and Social Democrats of Dejan Židan competing for third position, while NSi looks poised to take the fifth spot and be the last party that can reasonably expect making it above the 4-percent treshold.

    5k votes between heaven and hell

    Then there are a few toss-ups. SLS, PS and Alenka Bratušek Alliance (ZAAB) could make it above 4% given helpful voter turnout, vote dispersion and correct alignment of planets. Which is why PM Bratušek switched to full-attack mode in the last couple of days, reversing her government’s privatisation policies and crying foul all the way to the Vatican about Slovene Roman Catholic Church meddling with Slovene judiciary over prison sentence for SDS leader Janez Janša.

    Bratušek’s party polled between 2.21 and 5.22 percent, depending on the pollster and date of the poll. On average (and due to voting system peculiarities, this is only a broad estimate) this puts her at 3.77 percent, less than three tenths of a percent or about 5000 votes below the threshold, which is not an unachieavable goal. And this is why she is willing to do just about anything to win them, including throw away whatever credibility she had won with the international markets and commit a diplomatic faux-pas with the Holy See.

    While her letter to the Vatican is much more embarrassing, it was her decision to “freeze” further privatisation plans (in effect kicking them down the road for the new government to pick up) that sent a bit of a shock-wave internationally. Understandably so. It once again painted Slovenia as a less-than-credible country with unpredictable government policies and little-to-no guarantees of pledges being honoured. And while governments are expected to change policies which prove themselves to have negative impact, it is unacceptable for PM Bratušek to run around financial capitals of the world professing her commitment to privatisation only to (supposedly) announce a U-turn two months later.

    But on the upside, since the privatisation plan was passed by the parliament in a form of a law, any meaningful changes to it must be made as a novelation of this law and not by a government directive. But apparently, the move has had at least some effect, with highest bidders for Slovenian Telekom reportedly withdrawing their bids (which, in turn, apparently again puts Deutsche Telekom back in the game, which is probably one of the reasons Brussels-am-Berlin is still mum on the issue, election campaign notwithstanding).

    Similarly, her outrage over statements of Bishop Andrej Glavan on Patria case aftermath is, objectively speaking, more of a cause for embarrassment than cause for admiration. I mean, yes, the stuff the caretaker of Ljubljana Diocese said are unacceptable. Comparing the trial of Janez Janša to communist show-trials is obscene, especially after all the leniency Janša enjoyed during the corruption trial as well as in serving his two-year prison sentence. But the Slovenian Church is stil reeling from the financial scandal of, well, biblical proportions which is why pope Francis beheaded the leadership of Slovenian Church and has yet to name a new one. And pressing the issue of a caretaker bishop stepping out of line is surely not going to impress the Vatican in any way, shape or form.

    Now, if Bratušek really sought to express her outrage over Glavan’s comments to the Vatican, she’d have done so using back-channels. This is the sort of thing serious diplomacies appreciate. No shouting matches, no pressing against the wall. Just a gentle reminder about an unfortunate event that normally would not even bear mentioning, but since both sides care about rule of law and corruption charges…. But just as with privatisation issue, Bratušek here doesn’t really care about Bishop Glavan or what the Vatican thinks of him. But she does care about the fistful of votes this might bring her and hopefully push her above the four percent threshold. Consequences will be dealt with later on. Quite possibly by someone else.

    Someone else in this case looks more and more to take the form of Miro Cerar, the constitutional legal expert who formed a party named after himself (SMC) and stormed to the very top of the polls. In this he seems to have tapped the sweetspot, where he is to his voters what they want him to be. He achieved this by reducing his political platform to a set of slogans that are difficult not to agree with but at the same time being careful not to make any serious policy commitments.

    Looking the other way, trying not to insult anyone

    Case in point being their refusal to sign a document pushed by the LGBT community which states signatory parties agree LGBT people are entitled to full scope of rights enjoyed by their heterosexual compatriots. SMC evaded the issue for days on end, finally stating “they refuse to support human rights of only specific groups” and added that everyone is entitled to basic human rights (link in Slovenian).

    Cerar, a constitutional expert, is willing to overlook the most basic of human-rights principles, one which is enshrined in the EU basic principles as well: namely, that different personal circumstances require different approaches and that one-shoe-fits-all approach is far from appropriate especially with regard to human rights. Yes, everyone is entitled to them, but personal circumstances, be they of religious, social, sexual or whatever nature, put different people in different positions with regard to “universality” of human rights. Basics. Cerar knows that. But he chose to look the other way.

    It is painfully obvious the SMC is desperately trying to offend no-one. At the very least no-one who is likely to vote for them. And polling at 40 percent of decideds, that’s a lot of people to potentially insult. Luckily for Cerar, the LGBT issue didn’t get enough traction for left-wing or progressive parties to exploit against him, but is was a good reminder of just how non-existent his political platform is. And even more lucky for him, the campaign ends in five four days and if there is an attempt at an “October Surprise“, it most definitely won’t be policy-oriented but more likely a smear-attack. Especially, since Cerar’s (potential) electorate is said to be of fickle nature.

    Supreme truth

    Either that or the Supreme Court will rule in the Patria case before Sunday, which will additionally mobilise the SDS faithful, already in a frenzy over their glorious leader and holder of the supreme truth being behind bars. Note that the nature of the decision is irrelevant. If the Supreme Court orders a retrial, SDS will double down its efforts before election Sunday, just as it will if sentence against Janša is confirmed for the second time. That it takes the Supreme Court two weeks (gasp!) to deliber on the issue is driving them crazy.


    Hat-tip re post title: @Svarun_K

    July 7th, 2014, posted by pengovsky