Political Future of Zoran Janković

Only a couple of days before Prime Minister Borut Pahor marked his first year in power, Zoran Janković marked his third anniversary as mayor of Ljubljana, starting the fourth and final year of his first term in office. This means that most of the work had been done, all that’s left is to wrap up a couple of things, mop-up and go to the ballot box. Or does it?

Zoki during a press conference (source: The Firm™)

If you last visited Ljubljana in 2005 or even before that, you should know that the city (it’s Old City, at least) is virtually unrecognisable. For better of for worse, Zoki, as Janković is popularly known, ushered a period of unprecedented construction, renovation and re-designation. pengovsky has neither the energy nor the inclination to go over every one of the twenty-two project he ran on and got elected in a landslide victory in 2006, but fact of the matter is that he changed this city more than it was changed in the previous fifteen years, both in terms of concepts as well as pure face-lifts.

But if Janković’s first term is marked by expeditious construction of many projects, most notable being the Stožice Football stadium, it is also marked (or marred, whichever you prefer) by creating a lot of resentment in various parts of Ljubljana. The pattern was always the same: the mayor announced a major development project, whereupon a vocal group within local population rose against it, citing various grievances, including but not limited to lack of parking space (most residential buildings were built with .75 parking space per household, now most households have to cars), weak infrastructure (roads, sewage, water-pipes), presumably unable to support any more people and/or buildings, general lack of taste (there are some project out there that are just fugly) as well as general distrust of the city administration, based on previous bad experiences.

Then there’s the small matter of mayor Janković having the finesse of a runaway lawnmower when it comes to projects he believes in. For better of for worse, he is the penultimate hands-on manager. He will do rounds on various building sites or renovation projects and mercilessly kick ass if necessary to get things moving. This determination has backfired on more than one occasion. When people feel that they are being pushed around and pressured, their natural reaction is to oppose and disagree. Often their arguments (some of them, at least) are valid. It’s not that he cannot be reasoned with. In fact it’s safe to say the more controversial projects were at least somewhat amended precisely because of grass-roots and opposition pressure. But Janković is highly unlikely to stop until he gets his way, which is not exactly helpful if you want to run a dialogue between two opposing sides. His self-confidence sometimes tips over into arrogance, especially when he is pursuing broader policy goals. In those cases he will brush aside almost all criticism, especially those who would halt, slow down or rethink some projects.

And finally, there’s the way he runs the city council. Beginnings were shaky to say the least. Rules and Procedures were liberally interpreted and sometimes completely ignored, but he learned his lesson since. However, he makes it painfully obvious that he would rather skip the debate and go straight to the vote, more or less knowing what the outcome will be.

While part of his (over)confidence is his ego, which at times is big indeed, a big part of his quick-draw style is mere mathematics. Namely, he (his list, to be exact) holds an absolute majority of twenty-three city councillors, dispensing with coalitions, constant horse-trading and procedural booby-traps. This is not to say that none of the above happens. It does. But much less frequently than it used to under previous mayors.

And therein lies the riddle mayor Janković has to solve in the coming weeks. He is widely believed to run for re-election. After all there are project which will be completed well after 2010 elections, most notably the car park below Central Market (another project that ran into stiff grass-roots opposition). It would, in all honesty, seem a bit like he’s bailing out on his projects if he didn’t run. On the other hand, he gets the heebee-jeebiees whenever he has to listen to ramblings of city councillors who have nothing better to do but to on and on and on and on…. like the proverbial bunny.

Although his current ratings make him virtually unbeatable on election Sunday a little less than a year from now, it seems safe to assume that The List of Zoran Janković (his councillors) would no longer hold an absolute majority in the City Council, thus forcing Janković to form some sort of a coalition, which would be much more time consuming and much less productive, neither of which is his forte.

Then, there’s a question of motivation. He ran in 2006 because Janez Janša ran him out of Mercator a year earlier. He wanted to hit back at Janša and to prove to politicos in general that he can beat them at their own game. He won on both counts, leaving little to be desired. Save, perhaps, the position of a prime minister, something he sort-of-hints on from time to time. But so far it seems that he only enjoys making top echelons of Slovene politics jumpy and insecure, slowly becoming their worst nightmare. This was true enough when Janša was in power and it is no less true now, when Borut Pahor is the top dog.

So, analytically speaking, there are four parts to the enigma that is the political future of Zoran Janković. 1) Is he motivated enough to run for re-election 2) if yes, is he willing to risk having to “suffer” in a coalition government 3) if yes, will he consider running for higher office in 2012 parliamentary elections, and 4) if yes, go to question number two.