We were in for a cliffhanger. Today the parliament voted on Zoran Janković‘s bid for the post of Prime Minister with the outcome being far from predictable. Janković needed 46 votes but after Gregor Virant’s Citizen List gave him the finger on Monday evening, the winner of December 4 elections only has a 44-vote coalition.
Janković minutes before the fateful vote (photo: RTVSLO)
Janković’s coalition forming attempts got off to a rocky start. PM-presumptive got himself into a cock-fight with outgoing PM Borut Pahor early on, while Gregor Virant accused him of not so much negotiating but rather dictating terms. It all culminated in a clusterfuck at the end of which Gregor Virant saw himself get elected to the post of President of the Parliament, courtesy of an ad-hoc coalition between DLGV, DeSUS,NSi, SLS and SDS. Seemingly having learned his lesson, Jay-Z re-initiated negotiations and was all praised for the “new and much more constructive approach”. And indeed it looked as if the coalition deal will be cut like a butter with hot knife, with PS, SD. DeSUS and DLGV initialling the agreement during the weekend.
Playing both ends against the middle
But the ink on the paper didn’t even dry properly, when Virant was already in a huddle with Janez Janša, Radovan Žerjav and Ljudmila Novak, hammering out their version of a coalition agreement and apparently agreeing to that as well. Virant said that his party’s executive council will take the final decision on Monday evening, when they decided – without a vote against – not to go with Janković. However, careful observers immediately noted that Virant did not explicitly say that he’ll go into cahoots with Janša.
Virant’s chief negotiator Janez Šušteršič gave the flimsiest of excuses for the move for bailing out on a deal with Janković, saying that the PM-hopeful was not serious about it and would agree to just about anything to make the deal. He also said that DLGV and PS did not see eye to eye on some key points. In this he of course contradicted himself, showing that these were more excuses than real reasons. Also, Virant’s epic flip-flop from “he’s dictating terms, thus no deal” to “he’ll agree to anything, thus no deal” did not go unnoticed. It looked as if Virant was playing both ends against the middle and trying to end up on top, just as he did during the vote for the president of the parliament. This would mean Janković got screwed over yet again, this time due to no fault of his own (unlike the first time around).
Digging a new political low
As a result, Janković was left two votes short of an absolute majority, but claimed all along to have secured enough votes. This prompted a frantic search for supposed rats on the right side, with a couple of possibles coming from Virant’s own party. The political right went into emergency mode and announced that they will not even be collecting the ballots, much less casting their votes. With this they hoped to smoke out any possible converts (and en passant dug a new low in Slovene political culture). For a while it looked as if the two minority MPs might chip in their two votes, but they went on the record saying they stand by their previous statements that they will not be casting the decisive votes and will support a candidate who will secure 46 votes without them.
In the end, there weren’t any converts. Janković got only 42 votes, four short of the necessary absolute majority and two less than his coalition could nominally muster, which only adds insult to injury. It remains to be seen whether or not Janković will repeat the bid for PM, but since the right wing parties moved fast and already invited DeSUS and SD to enter coalition negotiations, odds are that Janša will have a go. But just as Janković could count on only 44 votes (give or take), Janša has no more to begin with and needs at least DeSUS to form a majority.
Will Janša step in?
And this is where things get blurry. Namely, it is entirely possible that the two votes Janković fell short of, were that of DeSUS’ very own Karl Erjavec and Franc Jurša. This is pure speculation and conjecture on my part, but word on the street has it that Jurša is somewhat more right-wing oriented than the rest of the pensioners’ gang, while Erjavec was apparently manhandled by the party’s executive council into supporting Janković. And since it was a secret balot, no one can actually say for certain who cast the single no vote and which four MPs abstained. On the other hand, it could still happen that – just as he did Janković – Virant doublecrosses Janša as well. I agree that is not likely to happen, but it is an entertaining to think that DLGV would actually play to come out on top, screwing both Janković and Janša out of their PM bids. Some say that this is the so-called “American plan”, where the US would like to see neither Janković nor Janša at the helm, but rather “the third man”, which Virant often hinted could be his chief-negotiator Janez Šušteršič. Again, not that this is a likely scenario.
What happens next? The president of the republic will re-open consultation with parliamentary groups to see if there is a new or at least a different consensus regarding a candidate for the PM. Türk did not rule out the possibility of re-nominating Janković, but that was before SDS officially invited DeSUS and SD for coalition talks. One thing the president did make clear, however, is that he will be making a nomination. This of course means that he could end up nominating the man who used forged documents, trying to implicate President Türk in the Velikovec Affair. But democracy is a cruel mistress and she has a sick sense of humour. On the other hand, even if Janša gets nominated, the outcome is far from certain. Not only does he not yet have the necessary votes, with him being the one who has to broker a deal, the relationships between potential partners will change rapidly. Erjavec will have to do some master salesmanship within his own party to ally DeSUS in the right wing coalition yet again, while SD membership will most probably mount a bloody revolt if Pahor as much thinks about jumping on that particular bandwagon.
Thus, what we saw today was not a forming of a right wing coalition, but rather an orchestrated attempt to prevent Zoran Janković from becoming prime minister, with little afterthought for consequences. It was, in fact, old boys preventing the new kid on the block from getting where the relative majority of the people wanted him. Theoretically, this can even end in yet another snap elections, but in all likelihood it will not come to that. With the new guy out of the picture, the established political players can now return to their business as usual and stop worrying about competition. This includes Virant, who is a) on the scene for more than a decade and b) is – as of today – a political corpse. He just doesn’t know it yet.
On the other hand, Zoran Janković could very well again run for Ljubljana mayor.