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?

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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.

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pengovsky

Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

10 thoughts on “Political Future of Zoran Janković”

  1. What Janković proves, is that some sort of management didn’t do Ljubljana any harm, mostly. But the issues you point out about his style of ‘city management’ are valid ones.

    If, as you say, he’s aiming for higher positions up the political ladder, he’ll at least have to give the impression he’s not abandoning the city he’s been cleaning up for most of his first term, no matter what his motives may have been/may be. Abandoning Ljubljana now, when the going gets tougher, would not be a very positive signal to Slovenes in general if he’d ever run for the PM post. If he’s serious about both the city as well as his higher political ambitions, he has no other option than to swallow his pride and learn to deal with the ways of what he perceives as counterproductivity of his future coalition partners, wherever he ends up. It’s either that or go back to the industry…

  2. Didn’t do any harm? Have you guys checked out what kind of debts this guy is running up? After he is done there will be no money to do anything for at least two terms. Of course, that will mean he will appear to be the only mayor that ever started anything. Pretty smart, indebting your successors while using part of the money to save a failed real-estate project… He is deinitely a shrwed mofo, this one. A force to be reckoned with.

  3. @dr. Arf: I’m not saying that he is aiming for a higher position. But the mere possibility of him doing so is making a lot of people nervous. But I agree. If he decides to try his luck as the Big Kahuna, he’ll have to learn to love coalitions.

    @Blaz Weber 😉 Nice one

    @crni: a shrewd mofo, this one You can say that again. But in all fairness, the debt is still within legal limits. Yes, it has increased by a couple of orders of magnitude, but what most reports omit is the fact that the city ran a surplus three years ago and as a result its debt was minimal.

    And even if he maxes the budget out there will always be enough money to keep the city going.

    Not sure what you mean by a failed-real estate project, though.

  4. @crni: I would rather have a nice-looking city with some debt than a debt-free city that looks like a shit hole, with buses running straight through its heart. What are loans for, anyway. You get a mortgage so you can live in a nice house. What’s the use of saving up till you’re 60 to buy one without having to take out a loan?

    @Mr. P: I think he will run for Mayor, but will not run at the national level. Unless something huge happens (like Slovenians winning the World Cup and the team playing at the Ljubljana stadium might work), he doesn’t stand a chance to run *very* successfully at the national level. He has spent three years painting the “Ljubljana, c’est moi” image and the country extends beyond city limits. He may be an excellent manager and arguably an efficient mayor, but as much as this is making Pahor’s stance weaker than it should have been, compromise and extensive delegation are essential in national-level politics and both and I get the feeling that neither concept comes to Zoki naturally. And if he assesses that he does not have a chance at an overwhelming success, I do not think he will choose to run.

  5. I agree with dr. Fil on the ‘debt vs. cleaned up city’ thing. Besides, doesn’t the state owe the city a couple of millions from a loan they still haven’t repaid? That should at least cover some of the standing debt, no?

  6. I agree things need to be done. But buying up the Vergrad Celovska acodnos was bullshit. Also, “within legal limits” is not the same as “prudent and safe”.

  7. Vegrad on Celovška was a win-win. Ljubljana got cheap flats and market-price parking spaces. It badly needs both. Vegrad got money it badly needed.

    I do agree that he is pushing the envelope on debt, but the legislation allows a municipality to run a debt of about 20% of actual budget income.

    I’ll grant you, however, that we should keep a close eye on city-owned companies. A lot of things get financed through them. So far they’re making a healthy profit, but that can change.

  8. There’s no way this guy is NOT running for re-election. The way he hustles for every photo op and walks around town like he’s the sheriff*. Frankly, I can’t see how Ljubljana is gonna get him OUT of that position any time soon. I imagine right about now he is carefully studying a fax printout from New York City’s Bloomberg administration with guidelines on how he can go about changing the legislation to increase the term-limit.

    As for Prime Minister, I can’t see how Janki’s steely gaze and plastic smile (his version of “effervescent charm”) would really play on the national stage, Plus he is far too Ljubljana-identified and he just doesn’t play well with others. Unless this next term is about him getting in the sandbox and showing how many friends he can make there, I don’t think any parliamentary bid would be at all viable. That said, he is clearly angling for something beyond his post, how does “King of Ljubljana” sound?

    *Note: The other day I was with a group of friends and Janko came over to scold one of us for a baby stroller being in the “wrong place”. (WTF?! What mayor does this?) Luckily, before he arrived at our table I warned everyone to hide their wallets. Much appreciated advice.

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