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.

Omnishambles

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

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

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