As of Monday, DeSUS (the pensioners’ party) is officially no longer a member of Slovenia’s ruling coalition. That in itself is hardly news any more. Prime Minister Borut Pahor now runs a minority government which will have to seek more or less ad-hoc coalitions on a per-vote-basis which has in essence been the case for some time now.
PM’s “Malo Morgen” moment two weeks ago (source)
With DeSUS out of the coalition it will be interesting to see how the party and especially its leader cope with a new reality of their own making. Despite Karl Erjavec‘s exuberance (we’re bigger than Coca-Cola, he once famously said), things are not all that peachy. The party which played the king-maker twice (2004 and 2008) and which has seen a surge in public opinion polls at the end of last year, dropped as much as 50% in later months and now holds only a fraction of its former public opinion support. What’s worse, the remaining two ministers from DeSUS’ quota decided to stay on in the government, flipping a bit of a bird in Erjavec’s general direction. Combined with one of the axioms of Slovene political landscape, that the voters frown upon parties which quit a ruling coalition (i.e. are not team players), it all leads to the conclusion that DeSUS’ heyday is fast approaching an abrupt end.
This of course brings us Zares, whose leader Gregor Golobič also announced he intends to quit as minister and suggested all remaining coalition leaders (taunted by the political right as the KGB – Katarina, Gregor, Borut) quit their posts and in effect either form a new government with a fresh mandate or eventually bring about early elections. Since neither ‘K’ nor ‘B’ did not warm to the idea, ‘G’ announced his resignation effective on the eve of ‘Super Referendum Sunday’. Whether or not Gregor Golobič will be alone in that enterprise of whether he will be taking the rest of Zares ministers (interestingly, all women) with him remains to be seen. Ditto on how and if this particular departure would reflect on Zares’ poll numbers. The latter at the moment suggest that despite all the shit thrown at the party and its leader (and for some of that they’ve themselves to blame) Zares would have made the 4% threshold needed to remain in the parliament. Whether or not the trend will continue after Zares quits the government (and not necesarilly the coalition itself) is the proverbial 64,000 dollar question.
Not that any of the above seems to trouble PM Borut Pahor a whole lot. Last Saturday he threw a big pow-wow with his party’s big-wigs and told them to ‘keep their eye on the chessboard since not all is lost and they still can open up a path to both the king and the queen’. The metaphor was even more elaborate than that and pengovsky is not entirely sure everybody understood the message PM was trying to convey. In fact, it looked as if the PM himself was struggling with this particular metaphor despite being known for his poetic rhetoric.
At any rate, fact of the matter is that Borut Pahor is in much deeper shit than he is willing to admit. Some weeks ago during a regular press conference he went into a mild rant on how those who would have him replaced should first come up with a viable alternative for his position. Even more, he gave some substance to rumours that not only is the political right seeking to oust him from power but that there are elements on the political left who are looking for ways to replace him while continuing with the current coalition until elections in autumn next year.
Just who is seeking to replace Pahor and – just as important – with whom is a matter of some speculation. One of the more wild version was that President Danilo Türk was considering to switch positions, but anyone who a) is remotely aware of The Prez’s ambitions and b) recognises the realities of politics in Slovenia can immediately dismiss such speculation as ludicrous. Namely, The Prez would quite possibly rather gnaw his arm off before he’d trade places with Pahor, especially in the current situation. In fact, it is safe to say that no self-respecting politician in Slovenia would serve as Pahor’s stand-in for all the farms in Cuba.
Case in point being European Commissioner for environment Janez Potočnik, who has always been a likely candidate for the top government job. He has all the necessary qualities: he ranks high in polls, being in Brussels he is removed from the Slovene political cesspool (hence high ratings) and he has an illustrious record having operationally led Slovenia joining the EU and has been appointed EU Commissioner practically immediately afterwards He also has extensive economic background being head of the government Macroeconomic office before taking up negotiations on EU accession which in minds of the many makes him just what Slovenia needs at moment. The problem is he wouldn’t touch Slovene politics with a ten-foot-pole, or as he elegantly put it in his much publicised letter, he ‘has a job to to in Brussels first and he intends to finish it’. Which translates as ‘nothing from me before 2014 when my term ends’ by which time it is understood that Slovenia will either have made it out of this crisis or it will have gone down the drain already. In either case the current touch-and-go nervous situation will be long gone.
The other “eternal candidate” is President of the Court of Audit Igor Šoltes who is always speculated to be waiting in the wings. He to is a man of some ambition, but other than the fact that he is a nephew of a socialist icon/strongman Edvard Kardelj little was ever said why he should or should not become the prime minister. Indeed, whenever these rumours became too persistent he found occasion to deny them and is clearly not a contender. Not now, not in the near future.
The above leads to the conclusion that – if the rumours of a left-wing anti-Pahor plot are true – some people need to have their heads checked. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly the most likely candidates for such an examination come from the ranks of Pahor’s very own Social Democrats. Pengovsky understands that some relatively powerful people within the party believe that the latter would be better off with someone else in charge, that – in short – PM Pahor became a liability rather than an asset.
This line of thinking is nothing short of stupid short-sightedness. True, Social Democrats’ ratings have slumped tremendously, but if the party gets rid of Borut Pahor this late in the game it will go from really bad to disastrous. There is no one, and I mean no one within the party with enough credibility within the party to replace the PM. Some party heavyweights might think that they can protect their positions and regain clout if they install someone more likeable and cooperative as PM, but fact of the matter is that at the moment the SD needs Pahor more than he needs the SD. The PM could easily quit. In fact, pengovsky believes that he should quit his post ASAP if he wants to stay on top of the game. That he doesn’t do that can be put down to – depending on your point of view- determination, going for broke, vanity or naivetë, or a combination of all four. At any rate he made it clear that he intends to stay on, when he said that he will be replaced “malo morgen”
For the uninitiated, “malo morgen” is Serbian phrase meaning “when pigs fly”. It was widely used in the crisis leading up to the break-up of Yugoslavia, when compromise became increasingly impossible. Using “malo morgen” usually put an end to whatever debate there was, denoting that the person who used it will can simply not be persuaded to change his or her position. Thus, with PM using “malo morgen” he basically told that he will be carried out of the office legs first (politically speaking) before he quits the post of his own accord.
So, we’re back to square one. Borut Pahor now leads a minority government which technically has only 42 out of 46 needed votes. Theoretically the government can muster 46 votes needed to pass legislation by means of enlisting two out of three independent MPs and both minority MPs, but in this constelation things can get really ugly really fast, especially since one can not count on Karl Erjavec and DeSUS to support the government. They didn’t do it while they were coalition members so there’s no reason for them to start now. Given that Erjavec quite probably coordinated the timing of DeSUS bailing out of the government with opposition leader Janez Janša, PM Pahor can not really put faith in the rogue party’s promises of being “a constructive opposition”.
Pahor’s options are increasingly limited and they will be even more if and when Zares exists the government. While pengovsky does not expect them to defect over to “the dark side”, they will be one more loose piece of the puzzle the PM will have to take into consideration which is why it is entirely possible that Pahor will seek a confidence vote after the super-referendum Sunday of June 5.
Namely, public opinion polls suggest that the government will lose all three votes on June 5: on pension reform, balck market labour and access to archives. Top priority is of course the pension reform. Should this fail, the government already drafted a law on emergency measures with which it intends to cut public sector wages, pensions and welfare money in order to keep the state finances within manageable limits. Word on the street has it that PM Pahor will tie a confidence vote to passing of this measure, meaning that rejection of the law automatically means a no-confidence vote against the government which then assumes a care-taker role until a new government is elected.
Should, however, the parliament approve the law (which is by no means a given) then in a normal world this would mean renewed mandate for Pahor’s government to continue with current policies. But this being Slovenia and all, it is highly likely that the parliament – opposition included – will support the law, if only to prevent early elections and continue with an unpopular government in power to increase the opposition’s chances of winning 2012 elections.
In the coming days pengovsky will outline several possible scenarios for the benefit of the reading public as well as give you the low-down on all three referendums, so stay tuned