Hollywood is laden with epic “I quit” scenes, with pengovsky’s favourite still being the one in The American Beauty. But the cesspool that is the Slovenian political landscape can occasionally offer a gem or two regarding the style in which someone tells someone else to “take this job and… fill it!”, to put in the words of Abe Simpson
Gregor Golobič and Zares exit the coalition (original image here)
A moment like this occurred yesterday when Zares of Gregor Golobič officially quit the ruling coalition, leaving PM Borut Pahor to his own devices, with LDS leader Katarina Kresal by his side (for the moment, at least). Ever since Zares issued what for all intents and purposes was an ultimatum for a radical cabinet reshuffle, lest the party quits the coalition toute-de-suite, the PM either did not understand the message or thought Golobič was bluffing and did nothing which lead the three remaining minsiters of Zares to quit their posts. Thus Darja Radić, Majda Širca and Irma Pavlinič Krebs followed the example of Gregor Golobič who resigned his ministerial post on the eve of the super-referendum Sunday.
To top it off – and probably to make sure that there is no doubt about who if the dumper and who the dumpee in this case – Golobič sent a rather longish letter to Pahor and Kresal, outlining the reasons for Zares taking the plunge. He puts the blame squarely on the PM, accusing him of being unable to rein in special interests and bad practices which this government promised to uproot but failed to do so, thus (says Golobič) affirming and continuing misdeeds of the government of Janez Janša. He specifically cites cases of Patria APCs (Janša in scheduled to stand trial over allegations of bribery and abuse of power over that one) where the government failed to take decisive action. Ditto for the case of Šoštanj coal power plant where the stand-off between Zares and Social Democrats was further complicated by a conflict between local and national interests and which caused a lot of bad blood within Zares as well, provoking open confrontation between Golobič on one side and Matej Lahovnik (former minister of economy) and Cveta Zalokar Oražem (former MP for the party) on the other. Neither Lahovnik nor Zalokar Oražem are party members any longer. And although he doesn’t mention it specifically, the list could be expanded to include the LDS-led fiasco with Draško Veselinovič as the CEO of Nova Ljubljanska Banka, where Katarina Kresal imposed Veselinovič as her man at the helm of Slovenia’s biggest (and state-owned bank) only to see him forced to quit over extending the credit line to Boško Šrot in his failed attempt to take over Laško Brewery (Šrot is standing trial for that one as well).
In other words, the list of grievances is long and distinguished. What is not explicitly mentioned (but is sort of a public secret around here) is the fact that Social Democrats often hijacked Zares’ initiatives, saying that they will gain support in the parliament only if SD is the one who officially introduces them and (by extension) takes the credit. But the real bomb-shell comes in the second part of the letter (Slovene only):
Instead of elementary decisiveness and responsiblity in taking the decisions necessary to ensure the well-being of the country and its citizens and looking for actual not just PR effects, we are increasingly faced with a hyper-production of senseless buzzwords about radars, trains, convoys, ships, throwing in towels and so on, all of which only goes to prove that this particular line of politics has emptied itself and is completely void of ideas.
Golobič then goes on to add
Rejection of our call to reshuffle the cabinet by the PM and leader of the Social Democrats was in our view a short-sighted move, one which opens the door wide open for ascent of the transition right wing with all its properties and effects. We will take no part in this. We do recognise our share of responsibility for the duration of our time in the government. However in the case of scenario which is (knowingly or not) unfolding, we will do no such thing.
In other words, Golobič is saying that Pahor fucked up royally, squandered the chance to make a difference and gave us PR fluff instead, thus rehabilitating the ways of Janez Janša who is already considered the new PM-apparent. Truth be told, Golobič on some other occasions gave credit where credit was due, especially in the case of the Arbitration Agreement and subsequent revolutionary thawing of relations with Croatia, but in terms of internal politics, the letter was about as strong a condemnation as they come.
Pengovsky believes that Golobič might be slightly off as far as ushering in Janša is concerned, but Pahor can take zero credit for that one. The leader of the SDS has crediblity problems of his own, including but not limited to Patria case, fake-grass-roots initiatives to call early election and – curiously enough – strange use of his Twitter account (where pengovsky even played an small and insignificant role).
Barely functioning government
Anyways: as a result, the ruling coalition barely deserves its adjective. The government has only thirty-three votes in a ninety-seat parliament, which makes it practically impossible to govern as the balance of power is now almost completely shifted towards the parliament. There is a gap twelve votes wide and bridging even once would be a political and logistical nightmare. Doing it on a per-vote basis is practically impossible. The government is bleeding as it is and pulling off a stunt like this (and doing it repeatedly) would require inhumane quantities of strength, politicking, horse-dealing and manhandling. It simply can not be done.
Even more so. With four ministers gone, the government is on the verge of being legally defunct. Namely, the Law on government specifies (Article 11) that the government is considered fully empowered if at least two thirds of ministers are appointed (ministers without portfolio notwithstanding). Since there are fifteen full-blooded ministries in this government, Pahor’s government is only two ministers short of being found operationally incapacitated. True, he can temporarily overcome this by assigning a sitting minister to take over another portfolio for a period of no more than six months, but this provision was meant to speed up the formation of the government, not extend the life of a nearly defunct one.
A day late and a dollar short
To put it graphically: when Golobič quit his post of science and higher education minister, PM Pahor entrusted the minister of (primary and secondary) education and sports Igor Lukšič (SD) to take over. He is reportedly poised to take over the ministry of culture as well, while minister of development and European affairs Mitja Gaspari (SD) is rumoured to stand in for Darja Radić in the economy portfolio. By that same token Aleš Zalar (LDS) is rumoured to take over Public Administration ran by Pavlinič Krebs. Given that minister without portfolio tasked with relations with diaspora Boštjan Žekš is already standing in for Henrik Gjerkeš, who was minister without portfolio tasked with local self-government until he quit for driving under the influence, you can see, that this is not even funny any more. Instead it’s bordering on ludicrous. That the government is mulling a reorganisation of the ministries, reducing them in number is just another case of PR spin and alleviating the symptoms rather then administering the cure.
In what is a glimmer of hope, reality seems finally to have caught up with PM Pahor as well, although he came a day late and a dollar short. Word on the street has it that he realised the gravity of the situation just prior to the official celebration of the Statehood Day Friday last and nearly had a melt-down. Whether that is true or not is basically beside the point but it is telling that it was Katarina Kresal who gave the initial reaction to Zares walking out yesterday and that the PM was seen only later in the evening at another official function where he gave a relatively impassioned speech. He is, however, expected to make an announcement regarding the new political reality in the next day or so.
What is this? Afghanistan?!
However, that the leader of the remaining junior coalition party said yesterday was also a relatively ill-conceived attempt at calming an explosive situation. Namely, Katarina Kresal more or less said that what is left of the government will first pick up the pieces, try to pass the remainder of planned legislation and then (this is the important part) work for an orderly transition to early elections, adding that they can’t just drop everything and walk out thus implicitly accusing Zares of doing precisely that. All fine and dandy, it sure as hell ain’t nice being dumped when you’re down and out although – mind you – it is entirely unclear what this will do to Zares’ ratings which leave a lot to be desired as it is.
But the bit about “orderly transition towards early elections” is just plain nonsense (and I’m being kind here, because I kind of like KK). What is this? Iraq? Lybia? Af-fucking-ghanistan?!? Slovenia has no need for “orderly transition” of any kind because save political hard-headedness of the current PM there is nothing that is out of order. Even more so: the constitution clearly provides for exactly these kinds of situation so there is no need to “work towards” anything. The scenario is very simple. If the government falls one way or the other, the sitting ministers and the PM continue in a caretaker role until a new cabinet is appointed. This applies even if the entire cabinet resigns tomorrow. Implying that the world will end if they all just let go is misleading at best. Doubly so since the government is barely functioning as it is.
Calls for early elections are mounting although few of them are genuine. It is a failure by the PM not to be able to tell those which were fake from those which weren’t. The one made by Zares was – well – meant for real.