The clusterfuck is complete. There will be a bloodbath.
(Jaša L. Zlobec, 1993)
One wonders how the late Jaša L. Zlobec would have commented the current political situation. But the above quote, 20 years old and said in a different context by the ever-lucid and much-too-soon-departed former MP for LDS is more than just a fitting description for the imminent congress of Positive Slovenia.
Game of Thrones
It is now clear that barring a U-turn at the 11th hour, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković and PM Alenka Bratušek will go head-to-head for party leadership and few people expect punches to be pulled. Only one of them will come out of the congress hall alive (politically, that is) and the result will have profound effects, both short- and long-term. But even though there can be only one president of the party, Friday’s setup is starting more and more to look like Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding. In the end, everyone dies.
Namely, the PS presidential struggle is actively entering the WTF section. First and foremost, it appears that every single junior coalition party is trying to have a say in it. Which is weird, but not completely unexpected. The weird part is that suddenly their opinions appear to count, media-wise. Karl Erjavec, Igor Lukšič and Gregor Virant seem to comment more on the situation in PS than they do on their own affairs. As if meddling in PS’s business somehow keeps the limelight off their own problems. Which it does. But they will die, too. Politically, I mean.
The three parties virtually manhandled Janković off the party helm in
March February last year (in the wake of the damning anti-graft report), demanding PS get rid of Zoki lest they pass on a PS-led left-wing government. Their influence on the continuing of the Bratušek-led government has been pretty obvious ever since. But this time around, they’ve cornered themselves in: having entered the coalition on the sole proviso of Janković removing himself from the top of the party, it is widely expected of them to quit the coalition if Zoki wins on Friday. OK, so Janković doesn’t see why they would do something like that, but we’ll cover that particular disconnect with reality a bit later on.
They all die in the end
The thing with junior coalition parties is that with a possible Janković victory, they die either way. If they do indeed quit the coalition (as they should) and force early elections, the electorate will probably take it out on them, most notably Gregor Virant’s DL which just went south of 2% in public opinion polls. The coalition as a whole would fare poorly in such elections, too, and that would mean the SDS-led right-wing swoops back into power, Patria case be damned. On the other hand, if the coalition parties choose to maintain the coalition despite Janković emerging victorious, they would have only postponed the inevitable for a year or so and see themselves beaten to the pulp in 2015 elections. No wonder SD, DeSUS and DL have plenty to say these days on PS leadership.
But if PM Bratušek wins the party struggle, she will probably make them pay for making her job all that more difficult. Namely, every syllable Gregor Virant utters on the issue is making Zoran Janković more determined to challenge Bratušek. Because this is the one thing no-one seems to understand. With Jay-Z every action forces equal and opposite reaction and the more they want him out of the picture the more he wants back in. In this respect it is not unreasonable to say that the junior coalition parties have in no small part themselves to blame for the fix they’re in.
But that’s just the sideshow. The main event, the headliner, if you will, is scheduled for Friday afternoon. The build-up we’ve witnesses in the past few days and weeks suggests both Janković and Bratušek believe they’ve got things under control. Logic dictates at least one of them is terribly wrong.
The speed at which Bratušek and the PS Executive Council called the congress (technically, they rescheduled the event originally planned for October last year) suggests they wanted to give Janković as little time as possible to stage a comeback. And since there was no definite date for congress to be held, it would appear Bratušek and her people think they’ve secured a majority in the congress and want to get the leadership issue over and done with while the majority lasts. Like Sun Tzu said: battles are won and lost before they’re even started.
On the other hand, Janković believes in his ability to sway the crowds and the fact that he almost single-handedly built PS from the bottom up, winning the 2011 elections and almost reducing Janez Janša to tears. In a manner of speaking. Thus Janković believes he is a) entitled to the party leadership and b) is confident that majority of party members prefer his victor’s charisma over the occasionally stumbling style of Alenka Bratušek.
But this is where we enter the disconnect-with-reality territory. Ever since winning the elections, Janković was on the losing side of national politics. At first, he failed to form a government. Then he was forced to quit party leadership. After that, his October bid to stage a come-back was thwarted by postponing the congress. And now he seems to be the underdog.
He said he will not be campaigning in the field, thus implicitly admitting time is not on his side. Instead he opted for a letter-to-the-members approach, but was beaten to the punch by Bratušek who sent her letter to party members first, thus setting the tempo and the tone of the game. Janković seems to be increasingly left to his own devices, re-launching his personal webpage, reactivating his Twitter account and using media access he has as mayor of Ljubljana. According to media reports he is also organising free transportation for his supporters to the congress. This is apparently within party rules, but media reports suggest this is not being done using PS assets.
Janković maintains this is not a fight of him against Bratušek, but rather a fight to return to the party platform from which the PM and her government deviated too much. In short, this is a fight between PS hard-line and soft-line. And yet, since both Jay-Z and AB came to personify their respective fractions, this is precisely a fight between the two protagonists. Sure, this is business, but in politics, business has long ago become personal. Especially since both of them said publicly they will quit the party if the other side wins.
Janković apparently thinks a lot of that is pure bluff. At least in terms of Gregor Virant, Igor Lukšič and Karl Erjavec threatening to walk out if he wins. Zoki may have a point, to an extent. There are noises about coalition parties not being serious with their threats. In fact, if Gregor Virant’s DL walks out, they might as well file to be erased (pun very much intended) from political party register because they will never again see the inside of the parliament. Igor Lukšič, for his part, said publicly the SD will not be the first to quit the coalition ranks, leaving Karl Erjavec (again!) in the role of the king-(queen-)maker. And Erjavec, as we know from previous experience, can be
bought persuaded to go one way or another.
House of cards
But pengovsky’s bet is that all three parties will soon realise staying in the coalition will hurt them even more than leaving it as they would lose what little credibility they have left. If this is the bet Janković is making, he needs a reality check, pronto. Not in the least because Alenka Bratušek will most likely resign as PM if Zoki wins, taking the government and coalition with her. It’s all a house of cards, really.
The PM, for her part, has done fairly little campaigning, too. But then again, she has the party assets at her disposal as well as the support of a large majority of the PS executive council, most member of which presumably do her bidding. Also, being a PM and all she enjoys a broad media access as well with the added bonus of her appearing all statesmanlike (stateswomanlike, that is).
Additionally, Bratušek is winning over people who supported Janković’s 2011 bid. Pengovsky already wrote about how Milan Kučan‘s tete-a-tete with her was a message to Janković, but other people followed in Kučan’s footsteps, including Rajko Kenda, Spomenka Hribar, Svetlana Makarovič and – most notably – Miran Goslar, the very person who brought Janković in as CEO of Mercator and a man Janković often said has the highest regard for. Despite this Janković dismissed their calls to withdraw from the race “for the greater good”.
Ride of the Valkyries
“The greater good” in this case is not preventing Janez Janša returning to power. The leader of the SDS in this case really only serves as the bogeyman PS membership knows and is thought to fear instinctively. The true “greater good” is the fact that despite the Troika is no longer around the corner, Slovenia is still held virtually at gunpoint by foreign lenders as well as Brussels-am-Berlin. One wrong move and the yields on Slovenian bonds which have been falling slowly but steadily will shoot back up out of fear of already-sluggish reforms halting to a complete stop.
Granted, Slovenia secured its financing for a while, even returning to the euro market, but the accumulated debt gives precious little room for manoeuvre and unless the yields continue to drop (and the GDP somehow bounces back in the black) there is no way we can get out of this mess of our own accord. Analysts know this and they project early elections in case Janković wins. This, apparently would again draw a negative outlook for Slovenian bonds.
And you know what that means.