A few hours ago President Danilo Türk nominated Zoran Janković for the post of the Prime Minister. With this the first stage of a post-election political wrangling is concluded and the relevant players now move to stage two, which is not all that different except for the fact that we now know who gets to have the first crack at forming a government. This was of course already known on election night, but due to a combination of inflated egos, cloak-and-dagger politics and naiveté, the last month can only be described as a fiasco bordering on a snafu
The PM nominee in the parliament (photo: Boštjan Tacol/Žurnal24)
In all honesty, it was painful to watch how Zoran Janković fumbled (with a little help from outgoing PM Borut Pahor) the early stages of coalition negotiations, allowing lesser players to cash in while the political left was locked in a senseless dick-measuring contest.
A quick recap: immediately following his upset victory on 4 December, Zoran Jankocić intitiated what later turned out to be a preliminary round of negotiations with prospective (and slightly less so) coalition partners. Being a man of action and all that jazz, the “immediately” part should be understood literarly. While the rest of the political arena was still reeling from the shock of the result, Janković called at Borut Pahor the very next morning and was more or less given a cold shoulder, with the leader of the Social Democrats adding a thinly veiled insult or two, saying that he would rather have nothing to do with Janković and even went on the record that he disapproves of the (supposedly authoritarian) leadership style of the PM presumptive. This later erupted into a full blown war of words just prior to the inaugural session of the parliament, where – if all things were equal – the coalition would be at least broadly already agreed upon and a president of the parliament would be elected from the ranks of (future) coalition partners.
Apparently, Janković was quite blunt in telling Pahor there’s no place for him in the new government, which is what probably prompted Pahor’s furious response and things went downhill from there. At first Pahor was urged to run for president of the parliament but refused, then changed his mind at the 11th hour and ran anyway, in a move that appeared to have been coordinated and aimed at sealing the deal between PS and SD. Only it wasn’t and it didn’t. In fact, Pahor went solo, catching off-guard both SD and PS parliamentary groups. In retaliation Janković – who isn’t the one to let other people have the initiative – put forward his own candidate for President of the Parliament, Maša Kociper (Ljubljana City Councilwoman and first time MP), thus creating an insurmountable impasse, as the votes on the left were split between the two candidates.
It was all very basic political mathematics, in fact. Janković who (mistakenly, as it turned out) thought he had his back covered with Gregor Virant‘s DLGV and Karel Erjavec‘s DeSUS, could simply not let Pahor steal the momentum in the opening stages of the game, because that would inevitably mean the outgoing PM would gain the upper hand in any coalition negotiations, quite possibly forcing himself into the position of Foreign Minister. Admittedly, this was the pundint’s consensus early on, but it soon emerged that in a Janković-led government, there is room for only one ego: that of Zoran Janković, who – instinctively or otherwise – knows better than to let a potential challenger into his inner circle, especially if this person is also an expert in a field where Zoki is lacking.
Jay-Z gets screwed over
With the impasse being created, the (imagined) consensus between PS, DLGV and DeSUS for the latter two to support whomever Pahor and Janković agree upon, broke down just as Pahor backed down and SD agreed to support Kociper. Virant and Erjavec went rogue and formed an ad-hoc coalition with Radovan Žerjav (SLS), Ljudmila Novak (NSi) and Janez Janša (SDS) and elected Gregor Virant to the post of the President of the Parliament, nominally the second most senior position in the country.
Obviously, all hell broke loose. Whether or not this was a pre-meditated move or was indeed just aimed at ensuring the constitution of the parliament and adopting the emergency financial legislation before the year’s end (as the official line went) will probably never be known for sure. Pengovsky believes that it was a mixture of both. Namely, if the right-wing MPs were concerned with the legislation that much, they might have just elected Kociper and let things stand. But there was more to it.
With Zoran Janković being both the new kid on the political block as well as having the delicate approach of a buldozer on steroids, the rest of the political honchos were itching to teach him a lesson in humility. So the old boys made a quick deal and ganged up on Janković, screwed him over and effectively stalled the already protracted two-stage nomination process. That this was indeed the case, was shown beyond a shadow of a doubt in the last three weeks. That and the fact that there are still Top Gun references to be made in Slovenian politics.
Namely. Ever since his ascent to the top of the parliament, Gregor Virant became increasingly obnoxious and started taking his role of the king-maker way to literally. In fact, he began raising the bar for his entry into a coalition almost daily, as well as negotiating with Janković and Janša simultaneously and trying to form a “third block” of smaller parties to prop up his own position. This third block at first included DLGV, DeSUS and SLS and now includes NSi as DeSUS dropped out.
Virant’s fall from grace
If Virant didn’t already get the message, he will. That’ll in all likelihood become painfully obvious in the coming days. He made huge bets left and right, putting his people (namely Janez Šušteršič, also a possibility for the post of finance minister) as “a compromise PM candidate”, forgetting that he already won plenty, especially in light of the fact that he didn’t bring a lot of chips to the table to begin with (8% of the vote ain’t much, really). But a month has passed and President Türk did what everyone expected him to do from Day One, so Virant will definitely pay the price for his behaviour.
But turning to the president’s decision: OK, so he didn’t rush things, but separation of powers should not be taken lightly. The Constitution is clear on this issue and it instructs the president to make a nomination after conferring with parliamentary groups. The Prez did that, gave some more time for negotiations and then nominated Zoran Janković. Could he have done things faster? In hindsight, yes. But in hindsight Janković probably wouldn’t have left Virant and Erjavec to their own devices two weeks ago and would have had his “chief whip” Jani Möderndorfer keep close tabs on both. OK, so Möderndorfer should have done that in any case and that he didn’t is a #fail on his part.
#fail is all around us
Speaking of fails, US Ambassador to Slovenia Joseph Mussomeli made a bit of a faux-pas the other day. While visiting PM Pahor, who spent most of the last month in hospital with what was officially described as a serious ear infection, he was a wee bit too candid regarding the political situation and described – without naming names or political parties – what kind of a coalition he’d wish for Slovenia. It later emerged that various (but not all) party leaders discussed the situation with the ambassador with Ljudmila Novak of NSi rambling on about how the US wants a coalition which includes NSi.
Now, while pengovsky is more than happy to entertain thoughts about US hegemony, this is too rich even for my own perverted mind. Seriously, to think that there’s a Slovenian desk somewhere in the State Department, which advises the US ambassador on which parties the only world superpower would like to see in the ruling coalition in Slovenia? It seems Gregor Virant is not the only one whose ego is writing checks their body can’t cash.
BTW, Mussomeli earned himself a slap on the wrist by both President Türk and Slovenian foreign ministry for that one.
Do I hear 60 votes?
At any rate, the deed is done. Zoran Janković is nominated for the post of the PM and it is now entirely up to him to form a ruling coalition. Pengovsky believes things will go relatively smoothly from now on, at least compared with the last four weeks. The way things stand now, a coalition between PS, SD, DLGV and DeSUS seems the only viable option. In my opinion SLS is still in the picture, despite the fact that Radovan Žerjav said in no unclear terms that he will not support Janković for PM. But not supporting Janković does not mean not supporting the government or at least certain key government policies. And with SLS as a backup, Janković comes interestingly close to the 60 votes needed to amend the constitution.
Great things could be afoot. But note the conditional…