While leaders of the new centre right coalition busied themselves with signing the coalition agreement at high noon on Wednesday, President Danilo Türk rained on their parade a bit, calling a press conference at exactly the same time, where he announced that he will not be making another PM nomination and added that he will leave it to the parliamentary groups to settle the matter as they see fit. In other words, he refused to go with the flow and nominate SDS leader Janez Janša for the PM post.
Signing of the coalition agreement. Looks like the Presidium of the Central Committee 🙂 (Photo: BoBo/RTVSLO)
In all honesty, the new PM apparent was quite unfazed by this, as he had already secured a majority of 52 votes (50 coalition plus both minorities MPs) and will be laughing all the way to the voting booth, as the parliament is scheduled to vote on Janša’s PM bid later today, but the president’s remarks and moves are not to be just discarded. Firstly, because he’s the president and secondly, because he went all out against Janša, thus firing his first salvo in a possible (but not yet confirmed) re-election bid. In fact, The Prez pulled precious few punches, saying that he still considers Zoran Janković as an appropriate candidate and since his first choice did not secure a majority, he did not make another nomination. He added that in his view Janša does not have the necessary legitimacy for the nomination due to the fact that he is on trial for the Patria Affair and had therefore left it to the coalition itself to do the magic.
The feud between Türk and Janša goes way back, all the way to the election Sunday 2007 when Danilo Türk won the presidential elections by a landslide in what was – among other things – a protest vote against the first Janša government, an event which saw Janša go into sulking mode, unleash the war against tycoons (which he helped create) and, as it turned out, set the tone of the political debate which lasts to this very day. There was a lot of bad blood between the two, especially after Janša’s SDS tried to implicate Türk in the Velikovec bombing of 1979 by means of creative photocopying archive documents. It was in the aftermath of the Archivegate that Türk said in an interview that the politics of Janez Janša should be rejected and later on that he will be very careful as to whom he will nominate for the PM position. So, in one sense The Prez remained true to his word (the will-nominate/will-not-nominate flip-flop notwithstanding). However, in making his point and exercising – albeit necessary – forays into daily politics, The Prez again threaded on thin ice.
Saying that Janša does not have the legitimacy for the PM post is tricky at best. Now, to be sure, Janša indeed does have a huge legitimacy problem, but that is not for the president to say. Or, if the president does say it, he should be damn well prepared to do everything constitutionally possible to make sure Janša does not clinch the nomination. Namely, as president, Danilo Türk swore to uphold the constitution and act in the best interest of the country. One of the basic constitutional principles is the presumption of innocence. Thus, until proven guilty, Janša is free to run and be elected to any office.
If you do it, do it with style
Alternatively, if being on trial and/or having been indicted is the new standard, than the president should not only make a token effort to have the parliament elect a PM with a clean record, so to speak, but should use any and all procedural possibilities available to him, including nominating another candidate and – this is vital – speaking before the parliament on the issue. For the president can ask (and is usually granted the request) to address the parliament on whatever issue he (or she) sees fit. Granted, this would in all likelihood change nothing, but neither does just saying that Janša has a legitimacy problem and leave it at that. Both approaches are sure to produce an ominous backlash especially from SDS faithful, but hey – if you gotta go, you do it with style.
Pengovsky would be much more pleased if The Prez did none of the above. A short press release saying that he will not be making a nomination would suffice. Even more, it would perhaps be politically opportune for the president to in fact nominate Janša, just for the sake of doing the unexpected, but that’s water under the bridge now.
So, unless things go badly wrong for the SDS leader, Slovenia will sport Janša 2.0 in a couple of hours. History, they say, tends to repeat itself. First as a tragedy and then as a farce. And there are indications that Janša’s second term will be something of farce.
Not only is the PM-apparent on trial in one of the biggest corruption scandals in the (albeit short) history of this country. Two out of four other coalition leaders are, eeer, judicially challenged as well. Karl Erjavec of DeSUS was cleared of charges of abuse of powers and negligence in a case tangential to Patria Affair, but the case in on appeal and the verdict is still not in. Gregor Virant, however, was recently sentenced to a month in prison with a two-year probation period because of libel (pending appeal). One of these two men will be running the parliament for the next few years, the other will probably be named a minister.
Radovan Žerjav is also in court in civil case (the fallen construction tycoon Ivan Zidar sued him for slander) which leaves Ljudmila Novak of NSi the only one with a relatively clean record. Which is not surprising, since she took over the party after it was evicted from the parliament in 2008 elections. And just to complete the circle, the apparent leader of the opposition Zoran Janković is reported to have been indicted over tax evasion and abuse of power as well. Now, it is possible that all of the above will sputter out into nothingness and everyone will in the end be cleared (which is why presumption of innocence is so important) but if you talk credibility and/or legitimacy, there’s precious little to go around as it is.
Balking at 300 million, not blinking at 1 billion
Additionally, the new coalition vowed to cut budget expenses for something between 800 million to 1 billion euro in its first
term year. Which is somwhere between 8 to 10% of the annual Slovenian budget. While budgetary discipline is a noble goal and even if we can agree to disagree on approaches (some people say less radical cuts would produce better results), the question at hand is: when the outgoing government proposed a 300 million cut in public sector expenditures, the SDS went apeshit over it and refused to support the emergency law, threatening a referendum, yet now the very same SDS and its coalition want a 800 million cut and expect it to just sail through? Credibility my ass. Not to mention the fact that the whole of Europe already realised that too much austerity will stifle what little growth potential there is.
Saving on watering office plants
And lastly, there’s the eyewash with the “thinning of the government”. Janša’s coalition just passed a new law on government (which, incidentally, Janša 1.0 was the last to amend into its present form) and reduced the number of ministries from eighteen to eleven, merging a few portfolios and reshuffling scope of powers for others. Two changes that stand out are the merger of education, sports and culture portfolios (previously three separate ministries) and moving the Office of the State Prosecutor General from under justice ministry, to ministry of internal affairs (colloquially known as the ministry for police). Both of these are problematic at best.
Until now, culture was a relatively important portfolio, which included media policy oversight, not to mention keeping the country’s cultural infrastructure (museums, theatres, galleries and such) afloat and even building a couple of new ones. Sure, money can always be spent better, but what kind of message does it send, when a government reduces a culture potrfolio to the level of a secretariat, while farming, fisheries and agriculture, something that would be long dead if it weren’t for EU funds, still remains a full-blooded ministry?
As for shifting prosecution from justice to internal affairs, this is creating an unpleasant whiff of political control over the prosecution. You see, on paper, both the Police and the Office of Prosecutor General are relatively autonomous and it shouldn’t really matter what ministry they’re under. But a minister can still execute control over both agencies and of course it is better to have just one minister keep tabs on both the cops and the prosecutors. Especially if the minister in question is an SDS member and not from the DLGV quota as Gregor Virant had hoped when he demanded the move be made in an (again) naive hope that he will prevent up-front any Janša’s attempts to influence the judicial proceedings against him.
But lastly, the whole “thinning of the government” thing is not worth a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys. A true government reorganisation would encompass a redesign of policies and finances and remodelling of the bureaucratic apparatus which would reflect the new priorities. There was a half-hearted attempt at that somewhere during Pahor’s government and it didn’t really catch on. What the new coalition proposes is nothing but a few office changes which does shit even in terms of cutting down number of various government offices, agencies and directorates, let alone in terms of policy redesign (or horizontal interoperability, to use the more fancy term). In short: the only savings that will come from there will be lower bills for watering flowers in ministers’ offices.
With that in mind, pengovsky is keenly expecting the first address by the new PM-apparent and can’t wait to see whom he picks as ministers.
EDIT: This post was written over the course of the week an scheduled for publishing on Friday afternoon. Point being, I had no way of knowing Primož Cirman of Dnevnik newspaper will be using the exact same title in his lead in today’s Objektiv 🙂