Yesterday’s opening debate between PM Janez Janša and leader of the opposition Social Democrats Borut Pahor was a suprisingly one-sided event. Borut Pahor failed to challenge Janez Janša even once and although the former did attempt to throw around a couple of figures, he never stuck to them, but mostly answered Janša’s rebuttals with “well, we will have to check that”.
Borut Pahor and Janez Janša during yesterday’s debate (source: RTV SLO)
Now, fair’s fair and it has to be said that Janša didn’t do a brilliant job either. He was, however, much more effective in bringing his point accross, mostly in terms of trying to make a connection between Boško Šrot (of Laško Brewery) and Borut Pahor. Here the leader of SD was on a constant defensive and was looking for a quick way out. On the other hand, when the debate turned to the Janša – Sanader affair, Pahor insinuated to be in posession of certain information but supposely remained quiet for the better good. Which might be very noble of him, if it weren’t for the official conclusion of the parliamentary committee, which says that Janša indeed communicated with Croatian PM Ivo Sanader just prior to 2004 elections (and subsequent Janša’s victory), but that the two did not arrange for borded incidents.
IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID!
Even on a more “mundane” level Pahor failed to make a lasting impression. Common sense dictates that economy should be at the forefront of the debate, with a high inflation and a slowdown in economy. And while Pahor made a couple of good points, he again failed to substantiate them with refferences to specifics. He correctly pointed out that most of last year’s more-than-solid GDP growth was created in the construction sector, which mostly employes immigrants who obviously did not spend their money in Slovenia, but when Janša replied that most of the growth was created by SMEs (which is an outright lie), Pahor failed to press him on that. Similarly on the debate on health sector, where Pahor first said that there is less money available, but when Janša said that it wasn’t true, Pahor said that he would love to show graphs but that there was no time. And when the moderator asked Pahor what should be done to alieviate the economic troubles ahead, Pahor replied by pointing out what was not done, without proposing a set of policies for the future. I realize Janša did much of the same, but it is up to Pahor to propose alternatives and his lacking to do so in this case stuck out like a sore thumb
One would think that international relations would be one of the fields where Pahor would excel. He was, afterall, a serious contender for the post of Foreign Minsiter on several occasions, he does have the knowledge, the diplomatic attitude and clothes to match. He also majored in international relations (his thesis dealt with international terrorism, and that was more than twenty years ago) and is an MEP at the moment. And yet Janša was not taken by surprise when both were asked whether and if, how, would they Croatian EU aspirations to solve Slovene-Croat border disputes. Pahor gave a very honest (and in my oppinion very good) answer, saying that he would do no such thing, adding that Slovenia has many other leverages within EU and that it should not use Brussels to solve a bilateral problem. Janša on the other hand eluded a direct answer, saying that Croatia has similar problems with Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro. And agian, Pahor missed an opportunity to point out failures of PM Janša and his Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel which are not all that few-and-far-between.
MEDIA, MYSELF & I
There was one field where Pahor had Janša pinned to the wall, so to speak. He was very persistent in pointing out that he would be far better a prime minister than Janša was. Which isn’t saying much, mind you. But even so, it would be nice to point out how exactly would Borut Pahor be a better PM. Again, he tried to to that, but with limited success. I’ll give Pahor credit for sticking to his mantra of not commenting the media at all (as opposed to Janša’s urge to control them), but here Janša coutnered that they were not all that different, Pahor and he. To which Pahor failed to mention Delo takeover, control of state television, Janša’s one-on-ones with pro-government journalists, two free-of-charge rags, disguised as newspapers, supposedly written by journalists which are most likely SDS party faithfuls who have never written an article in their lives, the statement by FM Dimitrij Rupel that “countering the goverment will cost dearly any media which would dare do so”, et cetera, et cetera. But still, Pahor said that he would be a much better PM.
And for finale, they both embarked on a poor-me-journey, sobbing about how much each of them hurt when a) Janša was portrayed by members of Social Democrats as a traitor for his confabulation with Croatian PM Sanader and b) Pahor was portrayed by Janša as a media control-freak because Boško Šrot was a member od SD. This particular part was – this must be said – difficult to watch, because there they were, two middle-aged men both trying to persuade the people that they are the right choice for the top job and…. they get misty-eyed??? I almost went Boys, get a room!
So. Janša won this opening match fair and square. Pahor’s attacks were feeble, defence practically non-existant. There were a couple of solo-attempts, but they ammounted to surprisingly little. However, this match was palyed on Janša’s home turf (state television). It will be interesting to see how they both fare on POP TV. If Janša agrees for a duel, that is. Rumours have it that he is looking for a way out of it, not in the least because the moderartors there will most likely resemble a pack of rabid pit-bulls and give Janša and everyone else precious little room to breathe. But – in Pahor’s words – we’ll have to check that.