Regions Revisited on a Referendum

Slovenian parliament yesterday passed a motion to hold a referendum on establishing regions in Slovenia. Those who frequent this blog on a regular basis might remember this post, detaliing the why’s and for’s of pa policy fiasco that is the legislation on regions. Although the legislation, proposed by the government of Prime Ministger Janez Janša suffered a resounding defeat, Janša (not unlike Hillary Clinton) refuses to admit defeat. Which – in all honesty – is understandable.

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14-regions version of Slovenia (source)

Afterall, this is an election year and given all the rush to fulfil those pre-election promises given four years ago, regions are not to be overlooked. Did I say “a rush to fulfil pre-elections promises? Please read “a rush to create the appearance of trying to fulfil pre-election promises but that stupid opposition is so intent on grabbing the power that they’ll do anything even block projects that are in the national interest“.

Just to make it clear: Creating a regional level of government is not an easy task, especially since there is little or no precedent on which to build a political and social consensus. To create such a system, the following changes in the political and legislative system are necesary (off the top of my head):

– constitutional ammendments (absolute 2/3 majority needed)
– law defining the regions and their powers (possibly a normal 2/3 majority needed)
– law on regional elections (possibly a normal 2/3 majority needed)
– ammending the law on municipalities (a normal majority needed),
– ammending various general and specific laws, transferring powers from state and municipalites to regions (a normal majority
  needed)

This is not something you go about six… no… five months before elections. But since it already crashed and burned in the parliament, it is trying to cover its back by calling a referendum (possibly referenda) on regions, to be held on June 22 (a month from now). Mind you, the results of this vote will not be binding (the finer point of Slovenian referendum legislation will be discussed here at a later date).

Obviously the government aims to get some sort of a positive result and shift the blame on the opposition for failing to provide the necesary votes to achieve the 2/3 majority. Which would be all fine and dandy if it were not for the small fact that even the coalition parties cannot agree on the number of future regions. SDS and SLS are (once for a change) advocating 13 regions plus special powers for capital city, NSi wants only six regions, whereas DeSUS (the reqular pain in JJ’s ass) thinks regions aren’t necesary in the first place.

So everything now depends on the exact nature of the referendum question and the way the referendum will be held. There are a couple of different way to go about it. Allow me to elucidate with refferences to specifics:

1. You hold only one referendum with a question along the lines of Do you support creation of regions in Slovenia

This is the safe way to do it. The question is as vague as possible and will probably yield a positive result. The problem is that most parties (and people) already agree on this, rendering this option useless and making it just one more way to throw 2,5 milion euros (approximate costs of a referendum in Slovenia) out the windown

2. You hold only one referdum, but you detail specific regions in the question

This is probably the politically acceptable way to do it. It would require some sort of minimal agreement on the number of regions and their names, leaving their exact borders up to later legislation. The trick of course is that there is no agreement on the number of regions.

3. You arbitrarily create several “referendum areas”, which are loosely modeled after the regions and ask people in those areas if they support the creation of their respective regions. Again, this would require some sort of agreement of the number of regions, but his option leaves more room for maneuvering as some referenda can suceed and others can fail, giving the government to join and split future regions almost at will, but still claim to execute the will of the people.

The propper way would of course be not to hold a referendum at all. Or hold it together with parliamentary elections. But I strongly suspect that no party would risk making regions the focal point of this elections. There’s too much at stake. At least, everyone agrees on that. 😀

Cracks In The Left Bloc

As this year’s election campaign in Slovenia slowly shifts into second gear, cracks are appearing in the structure of the Slovene political left – which was never of a particularly strong construction to begin with. Now, it is a generally accepted fact that in almost any more or less developed democracy parties of the political left are prone to internal bickering and in-fighting. This is nowhere more true than in Slovenia where there tales of people crossing the road to avoid meeting other people from the same political bloc are legendary (this is – or at least was – especially true of the various leftist think-tanks where theoretichal disagreements often turn into personal animosities).

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The Trio From The Left Bloc(k) (source)

However, this modus operandi is fast becoming obvious to the general public as well. It seems that the three leaders of the left bloc, Borut Pahor, Katarina Kresal and Gregor Golobič, of Social Democrats, LDS and Zares respectively are cautious (to say the least) about forging a pre-election coalition, much to the annoyance of former President Milan Kučan, who days ago publicly placed a rhetorical question, why is it so hard to say that certain parties are politicaly more compatible than others – a very clear signal that Milan Kučan, the living legend of the Slovene political left and a powerul figure in his own right, thinks that the left bloc should state its intentions loudly, clearly and transparently.

Contrary to what some perhaps expected, Kučan’s call recevied a muted responce by the three leaders. And for a good reason, it would seem. There are a couple of factors which make forging closer ties between SD, LDS and Zares not the brightest of ideas. At the moment at least.

Firstly, there’s the issue of disintegration LDS. Fact of the matter is that many of LDS’s former bretheren found their new home just around the corner (so to speak) in SD and Zares and embracing them as partners shortly after they skeddadled as party members would not go down well with a big part of LDS membership. Not that LDS is in any position to dictate terms at the moment, as it is still leaking members to other parties.

For precisely the same reasons – just put the other way around – Zares is not all that keen on marrying LDS. I mean, they’ve just gone through a very messy and a very public divorce and now they are to shack up together again? No way! Besides, Zares has nothing to lose one way or another. It’s making it across the 4 percent vote treshold and into the parliament is almost a given and perhaps they’d be even better of in the opposition for their first “true” term as a parliamentary party. Gregor Golobič said so less than six months ago and has since then only once mentioned the possibility of Zares going all the way to the top (i.e.: being a member of the ruling coalition).

And finally, Borut Pahor is doing everything possible to show that he is not Kučan’s puppet, even to the point of picking fights fith the former Prez where none are necesary. When Kučan went on the record saying that it is not a given that Borut Pahor will be the next prime minister, the latter responded by saying that will not make way for anyone who might be “chosen behind the scenes” to run the country. The force of Pahor’s responce was quite disproportionate to Kučan’s remark, which speaks of at least two things:

One: Social Democrats are not on as strong a footing as they would have us believe (and Pahor knows it) – were he totally sure of his position, Pahor would have let Kučan’s remark slide or even embrace it (something along the lines of: “of course it is not a given. It is for the people to decide”. Instead he took it as a direct challenge and responded in kind.

and

Two: Borut Pahor is very much haunted by political shadows. He distances himself from Milan Kučan, but knows that Kučan’s support will be one the key elements in gaining that final push which would propel him to the top job. In short, he wants to have the cake and eat it. At the very least he wants Kučan not to support any of the other two parties in the left bloc. The other two parties are of course hoping he will do just that.

There is however one more shadow that haunts all three parties. It takes the form of Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković who is punching way above his weight at the moment. It seems that everyone recognises him as a sort of a king-maker and is keen on pleasing him. This is why Zoki can get away with almost anything. Even the fact that he will – watch this – summon all three opposition parties to the City Hall and demand to see what their policies towards Ljubljana will be – and only then will he announce his support for a particular party – if any. Ballsy.

So while Social Democrats, LDS and Zares are avoiding becoming to comfy with each other, trying to please Zoran Janković and running circles around Milan Kučan, elections are approaching. But recent events suggest that the three party leaders may have opted for the right tactic and that it is Milan Kučan who excercised some poor judgement this time around.

Namely – presidential elections, held autumn last showed that if there is more than one left-wing candidate in the race, left-leaning voters are slightly more likely to actually turn up at the polling station. So three slightly different platforms might on the whole draw more left wing vote than one unified (and- by exention – watered down) political platform of a single bloc.

Secondly – having three independent and only loosely connected parties attacking the ruling coalition gives prime minister Janez Janša three political enemies to worry about (plus Milan Kučan, plus Zoran Janković, plus Karel Erjavec of DeSUS and Bojan Šrot of SLS- even though the latter two are formally coalition members.) and makes matters infinitely more complicated from his point of view. It the three parties were to stand as a unified bloc, PM Janša would only have to focus on one person or issue, immediately putting the supposedly stronger bloc on the defensive.

And finally – the way things stand now, the ever more apparent cracks, bickering and in-fightings are actually streghts, which would immediately turn into weaknesses if any sort of a unified political alliance between the three parties would be announced. The latter would require a single leadership, a single platform and a single voice and none of the three parties are prepared to give way to any of the other two – and the possibility of an outside man becoming leader of the bloc was immediately rejected by Borut Pahor. Whether or not Katarina Kresal and Gregor Golobič share the sentiment is not known (I’d even venture to say that the latter would welcome an outside man as a leader – he’s done it before, you know), but this option is off the table for the moment, at least.

Luka Finds A New Home

Given the fact that I’m short on time (again, duh!), I’ll only make a small but important announcment today.

Luka, one of this blog’s faithfuls has moved. Formerly of Blogos, he is now permanent resident of Pest, a blogging service of Vest.si. After almost a year of soul searching he seems to have found his true calling and started

Blogus secundum Lucam.

For all of you who don’t speak Latin, it translates into high quality intelectual porn :mrgreen: And since he says that he always wanted to be an apostle, the video below is quite appropriate, methinks 😉

Sadly – at least for those of you who don’t understand our mother-tongue- he seems to have opted to blog only in Slovene. And Latin…

Boško Šrot Plays His Hand

Last couple of weeks were hectic for pengovsky, to say the least. I did my best to keep you, the faithful readers of this blog, at least marginally in the know about events this side of the Alps, but one item has consistently eluded my attention – mostly because it requires more than just one post. But as not to get overtaken by events (again), today we focus on Laško brewery and its CEO Boško Šrot.

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Boško Šrot, the not-so-new owner of Laško brewery, Delo newspaper and Mercator retail chain. Approx. net worth: 2.2 billion euros (source)

You remember him from events surrounding Delo newspaper, subsequent anti-media drive by the government of PM Janša and his pre-dawn anti-tycoon raids aimed at making owners of capital once again toe the line and restore the government’s more or less shattered public image.

However, Boško Šrot is not some samaritan whose sole purposes in life are democracy and free media. He had (better yet – has) an agenda and was playing an angle all along – I have at least hinted at that many times on this blog. But yesterday Boško Šrot played his hand and confirmed what everyone suspected all along – that the overall strategic objective of his endeavours was taking over Laško brewery.

Mind you, this was not an ordirnary MBO. This was a long and winding road, which he embarked upon at least two years ago, possibly much sooner than that. And by employing a web of dummy corporations, friendly companies and share-parkings he has managed to steer most of Laško’s shares into his private company’s portfoilo. making him effectily more or less the sole owner of the largest Slovene brewery.

Ha! If it were only that! Noone really cares about the brewery… I mean, Boško Šrot obviously does, but it’s his now. Unless of course the authorities actually get their act together and bring charges against him (it’s a long story, suffice it to say that he wasn’t exactly forthcoming with information other investors and shareholders migth need to make informed cohices). But as Slovene authorities have shown in the case of Clean Shovel, they’re great at stirring up shit, but they awfully lack power and will to kick some serious ass.

So, Boško Šrot will probably get away with it. Or not… The funny thing here is not Laško brewery itself, but the fact that this company (now owned by its CEO) also owns the largest Slovene newspaper. Given the way this government obsesses over the media (and there’s no real guarantee that the next one will not follow suit), it is safe to say that Boško Šrot literally bought a seat at the table with the big guys and can now protect his assets by using Delo as he sees fit.

In the long term, this is not good. But before someone swallows an Energizer bunny and starts going on about how Janša was in the right to have started the anti-tycoon drive and that Delo was never anything more than a left-wing party rag, let me just add that it was basically Janez Janša and his obsessing over controling the media that allowed for this to happen. Janša let Laško and Istrabenz buy out Mercator, getting rid of Zoran Janković as Mercator’s all powerful CEO, making life much easier for both Laško an Istrabenz (owner of several food producing compaines). In return, Laško and Istrabenz bought Delo and installed a government-friendly supervisory board.

But in a classic boomerang effect, Zoran Janković was elected mayor of Ljubljana, Istrabenz sold its share in delo to Laško and Boško Šrot broke loose, running away with Mercator, Laško and Delo in his pocket, making him the fourth richest Slovenian. Whereas all Janez Janša is left with is an increasingly uphill election battle.

All Work And No Play Make Pengovsky Miss Out On Two Posts

Pengovsky is working on Meeting of European Capitals’ Mayors taking place in Ljubljana today and tommorrow, hence the lack of posts these past two days. Sorry 🙁 I know you miss my fabulous political analysis and in-depth, behind-the-scenes and off-the-record information.

Well, at least Friday Foxies are still on schedule 😉 Sleeping with Pengovsky should be back to normal as of Monday.

BTW: LAST CALL for any and all who want to join in on the Liberation day hike around Ljubljana on Saturday. Pengovsky will start around 8 AM at KT 1 (Agrotehnika Gruda, see this post for details), but you can join in anywhere on the circuit. No live blogging this year, though 🙁 The proper equipment is out of order…