The government of Borut Pahor lost a confidence vote yesterday evening. On the eve of the third anniversary of his electoral victory in 2008, Pahor (finally) submitted five candidates for ministerial spots vacated after Zares party left the coalition and Katarina Kresal resigned over corruption charges. In addition Pahor tied the result of vote on appointments to a confidence vote and after eight hours of debate lost decisively with 51 votes against and 36 in favour. Thus an extremely frustrating period in Slovene politics, which lasted at least (!) from the debacle on Super-referendum Sunday in June is brought to a close…
…sort of, anyway. With the confidence vote lost, Pahor’s government – as per constitution – assumed a caretaker role and will perform operative duties until a new government is elected or early elections are called. From this point onward, the constitution and the parliamentary rules and procedures are fairly straightforward. Upon consultations with the parliamentary groups, President Danilo Türk is to nominate a PM candidate within seven days. Should his candidate fail to win support, parliamentary groups can move in nominating candidate(s) directly. In either case, the candidate must win an absolute majority (46 votes) in the parliament. Failing that, a third round of nominations is held, where either The Prez or the parties can nominate one or more candidates, but this time only a relative majority is needed. Adding to that, the caretaker PM (in this case Borut Pahor) can demand a new confidence vote any time during those thirty days.
However, moves are being made to prevent most of the above from happening. President Türk is cutting short his visit to the UN to deal with the political situation at home (as he should be) but most parties have wowed not to propose any person to The Prez for nomination. Apparently they hope to cut the thirty days down to seven and have The Prez dissolve the parliament and declare elections ASAP. Should this scenario indeed unravel, elections could theoretically be held in late November or early December.
Head-on crash with reality
This sort of political expediency is to be expected, especially after a prolonged period of political limbo where the government was only semi-operative, bleeding both political as well as public-opinion support and facing an ever bigger heap of things that needed to be tended to, both on home and international fronts. Indeed, it was as if everyone was waiting for Borut Pahor to finally have that long-overdue head-on crash with reality. The latter is somewhat on the grim side. Political deadlock is exasperated by its economic sibling and there is little idea on how to proceed. To put it in other words: everyone agrees that things need to be done, but almost no one has any idea what needs to be done. Elections, therefore, are viewed as the obvious solution and almost everyone wants to get there as quick as possible. Really?
Not really. Pengovsky showed some time ago that Janez Janša‘s SDS had little interest in elections any time soon, because a) their electoral platform is still only in draft, b) it is politically beneficial for them to have the previous government take as much unpopular decisions as possible (it’ll be fun watching Janša try to pass pension reform) and – as of recently – c) Janez Janša spends most of his Mondays in court on trial for charges of corruption and abuse of power in the Patria Affair.
Also, a lot of other political parties or factions thereof are faced with the fact that most of their MPs stand a snowball’s chance in hell to be re-elected and have a intimate reasons for the current parliament to continue, both in terms of financial compensation and influence exerted. This is probably why MP Andrej Magajna (independent, formerly of Social Democrats) is reportedly seeking to create a national unity government comprised of Pahor’s SD and Janša’s SDS with little known MP Julijana Bizjak Mlakar of SD as Prime Minister.
Staving elections off
This is probably little more than a diversionary manoeuvre. Magajna needs 10 MPs to sign on for this but the party whips are probably making sure everyone is toeing the line at the moment. The few lose cannons that remain (such as Zmago Jelinčič’s SNS and Magajna’s independent co-travellers) probably can’t muster enough strength to pull off a stunt like that. Because that’s what it is, regardless of the fact that the move is perfectly within the constitutional bounds. Bizjak Mlakar would never stand a chance of being elected as an interim PM.
Caretaker PM Pahor already indicated that he will not seek a retake of the confidence vote, which basically leaves only President Türk as a possible game changer. Namely, nominating a PM-candidate (or not) is exclusively his domain in the first week of the caretaker period. And although he said some time ago that he’d call early elections had he the possibility to do so, he took a step back yesterday, saying that he wants to consider all options first. Granted, he’ll likely be pressured to skip nominations and go directly to early elections, but he just might want to make life more difficult for the parliamentarians.
Speaking of the parliament, there were some erroneous write-ups about how ousting Pahor’s government will gridlock the ratification of the agreement on European Financial Stability Fund (via @DrSeanHanley). This is not necessarily the case.
While the government is indeed in a caretaker role, the parliament remains fully empowered until a new one is elected. This means that the National Assembly can -among other things – freely ratify international agreements as it sees fit. Furthermore, since the deal i EFSF was hammered out while Pahor’s government still had full mandate, ratification of EFSF falls under the definition of “operational issues”. So the only problem with Slovenia’s ratification of the agreement is the general animosity towards bailing out other euro-zone members. But given the fact that just an hour or so after ousting Pahor’s government MPs approved the second tranche of monies intended for the bottomless pit that are Greek public finances, Slovenia should be the least of European worries. In this respect, at least. And if that isn’t enough for you, you should know Angie Merkel popped over in late August, no doubt telling both Pahor and Janša to make sure their political games don’t interfere with European handling of the economic crisis (which is nothing to brag about to start with)
So, how does this all play out
With options dwindling, parties will sooner rather than later be forced to show their hand and we’ll see who was bluffing all along and who had the cards to support chips on the table. Party discipline will play a major role and in this respect LDS, DeSUS and SD are most vunerable.
Social Democrats will soon face the classic problem: do they go on elections with an utterly unpopular leader (Pahor’s fall from grace of public opinon polls is probably one for the books) or do they waste time finding a new and – let’s be honest – much less charismatic face. DeSUS looks like it spent all its ammo and is failing at even basic political math (case in point being the media law, where they not only helped bring down the government proposal, but then signed on to a proposal written by some would-be media barons). The fact that party leader Karl Erjavec is not an MP only exasperates the fact, as he is missing out on the action after resigning as minister.
But at least it was the will of the people not to elect Teflon Karl to the parliament in 2008. Katarina Kresal of LDS, however, was elected to the parliament and was then elected as minister and could have returned to MP status upon resigning over corruption charges. Apparently striking a deal with LDS veteran Tone Anderlič who got in on her account as replacement MP she chose to take a pass and by that presumably secured Anderlič’s support to continue as LDS leader. Which is just about the worst move she could have made. Just as Erjavec, she’s outside the arena and possibilities of MPs making deals behind her back will increase as elections near.
These three parties look to poised to take a beating no matter what so pengovsky would not be surprised if moves to buy time would come from that direction. For some reason LDS seems especially suspect, but that’s just a hunch.
On the opposition side, however, SDS, the presumptive winners of elections have a different set of problems. We went over the abc’s of platform, Patria and pension reform at the beginning of the post, so let me just add this: given everything, Janša and his SDS should be scoring about 60 points in the public opinion polls. Instead, they’re constantly pegged in the high 20s. This means they have a long way to go if they want to achieve their declared goal of 50+. And the sooner elections are held, the less chance of them achieving the goal.
Finally, getting somewhere
Which is why it’s good that Pahor’s government was ousted and why elections must be held as soon as possible. Pengovsky said some time ago that Pahor should resign ASAP for precisely those reasons. Now that current PM was taken out legs-first, so to speak, Janša will probably move in. But after publishing a long post on Facebook on Sunday evening about how everything in Slovenia is connected and how the whole thing is just a twenty years of communist conspiracy and about how he won’t be surprised if it comes to political assassinations (implying that he is the target), one can assume that a person of such mind at the very least needs to have its power (if not his head) checked.
As a result – and somewhat surprisingly, the parties which seem most equipped to focus on elections and their agenda are Gregor Golobič‘s Zares and Radovan Žerjav‘s SLS, with SNS of Zmago Jelinčič – as always – picking up the renegade vote, which might amount to a notable result this time around. Not that if will be an easy ride for any of them (especially Zares, which continually hovers around or below the 4% treshold) but all of them seem to have gotten their shit together.
The way the cookie crumbled
Whether or not that will be enough remains to be seen as it is waaay to early to tell. A lot can happen between now and election Sunday. But one thing is certain. Whatever government will be in place in the near future, it will have a clearer mandate to do have a go at things that should have been done years if not decades ago. That, at least, is something Borut Pahor got right in his speech yesterday which in general left a lot to be desired. Yes, he got a bad hand. Much worse than anyone thought. But that’s the way the cookie crumbled and if his role in the history of this country was to wrap up loose ends, then so be it. He didn’t play it brilliantly, but he did put a couple of scoops under his hat and for that he will rightly go down in history.