2018 Parliamentary Election: Five Takeaways Of Week One

The 2018 parliamentary election campaign in Muddy Hollows is in full swing and while pengovsky was going to write up a couple of post on the matter, adutling is hard af, requiring him to play catch-up. On the other hand, as a general rule, the less political parties can offer in terms of a platform, the more they tend to try and entice emotional responses, engage in divisive rhetoric and generally muddy the waters. Which is why one has to occasionally look back and separate the important from the fluffy.


Latest polling numbers and trends by Volilna napoved poll aggregator site (source)

So, without further ado, here are a few takeaways from Week One of the utter shit-show the 2018 Slovenian parliamentary election is shaping up to be.

1. There are functional illiterates among us

That functional literacy is a bit of an issue in Slovenia is nothing new. And while there have been cases of parties having their candidate lists rejected for failing to fulfil gender quotas the inability of those aiming to become representatives of the people to follow a relatively simple set of instructions reached new heights this time around.

The law stipulates that each of the eight lists a political party must submit to the State Electoral Commission if it is to run in every voting unit the country must include at least 35 percent of candidates of the opposite sex, i.e: if a majority the candidates on the list are men, at least 35% must be women. Which is why the state electoral commission threw out an entire list of candidates for The United Left – Sloga, a leftist-nationalist-populist ragtag outfit led by former defence minister and senior member of Social Democrats Janko Veber (not to be confused with The Left, a parliamentary party led by Luka Mesec which, confusingly, used to be know as The United Left). But proving that God is not only cruel but also enjoys irony, the same fate befell the United Right, an ultra-right/populist combo between Aleš Primc of anti-equal-rights-referendum infamy and Franc Kangler, former mayor of Maribor and the spark that lit the fire of the 2012/2013 Winter of Discontent.

Adding insult to injury, The United Right had not one but two of its eight lists nixed due to failures on the quota requirements, with Aleš Primc himself being on one of those two lists. And while the decision of the Electoral commission is being challenged in court, it is becoming painfully obvious that Aleš Primc is not the right wing political prodigy pengovsky believed him to be and that his master-plan of reunification of Church and the State will have to wait while he enrols in Algebra 101.

As for Janko Veber, his ineptitude is only eclipsed by the chilling realisation that this man a) was mayor of Kočevje where he encouraged setting up barricades against Romani people in 2006, b) as president of the parliament granted nationalist fringe nutcases access to a public forum during the 2012/2013 protests and pretended they represented the protest movement and c) abused military intelligence to derail the sale of the state-owned Telekom Slovenije as minister of defence in 2015.

Ironically, one of the nutcases Janko Veber invited to parliament back then was none other than Aleš Primc. Let it never be said again that God does not have a sense of humour.

2. Imitating Trump, bigly

Pengovsky wrote some time ago that once for a change, Slovenia got ahead of the curve by inventing trumpism long before Donald Trump did. The talk of a wide-ranging left-wing conspiracy, deep state, and secret socialist cabals that bend and shape the society to their will was and is the norm in Muddy Hollows since at least the dawn of democracy. But as usual with the Americans, they take a nice little European idea pump money into it, turn into a fucking blockbuster and then pretend they invented the whole thing. But I digress… This election campaign, political parties, especially those of the populist and/or nationalist flavour, are trying to outdo one another in being trumpier than Trump.

Make Slovenia great again? Goes without saying.
Build the wall? We already have one. Built by the liberals, no less.
Muslim ban? Fuck it, just ban everyone.
Abortion ban? Now that you mention it…
Lock them up? Naturally.
Drain the swamp? Why, of course.
And the list goes on…

This goes hand in hand with the fact that this time around very few players actually have a plan. (see below). But it also goes to show that the existing political class is weary, shop-worn and bereft of fresh ideas while their challengers by far and large don’t even come close to being competent. Which brings us to a structural problem of Slovenian society which is not exclusive to the political class: attempts at achieving excellence often stop at “good enough”. Which why we can’t have nice things.

3. The competition is not all that good, it is the market leaders that stink

As noted above, most parties don’t know what exactly they should be doing. Sure, they know the ropes, attend events, take photo-ops [in Slavoj Žićek voice] and so on and so on, but that is the bog-standard campaigning one comes to expect at a time like this. But for the most part, they seem content to just go with the flow, as if they’d rather be somewhere else. No-one is trying to set the narrative, no-one is attempting to hijack the agenda and no-one is trying to stand out in the crowd.

Now that the effect of Miro Cerar’s resignation gambit is wearing off, public opinion polls are returning to numbers we’ve been used to before the PM’s surprise move. Some pollsters are seeing a bump for Janša’s SDS and they seem to be on to something but we’ll see if the upward trend will continue or if maybe it has already crested.

The one party that does stand out is LMŠ of Marjan Šarec which – as noted so often – is basically doing fuck all and yet maintains second place in the polls. Again, we’ve seen this tactic before. It was used with great success in 2014 by outgoing PM Cerar and his SMC, when they maintained amorphous positions on more or less everything thus allowing the voters to project anything they wished onto the party that ultimately the vote in a landslide.

Speaking of the SMC, they’re in a bit of a bind. As noted, the effect of Cerar’s resignation has worn off and in the absence of another well-executed disruption they’re forced to campaign on a platform of “keeping up the good work”. Which sounds about as appealing as a statistics class on a sunny Friday afternoon. In some perverse way, therefore, the SMC is becoming a victim of their own success. They’ve managed to calm things down politically and turn (most of) the economy up to the point of becoming boring, which is killing them. And as they slip back in polls from low double digits into solid single digit territory, people inside the party (especially some MPs) are getting nervous and are starting to look for other options. Either by trying to switch party allegiances or by providing supporting non-parliamentary parties hoping, they make it to the parliament. But, as Thomas Dekker wrote long ago, This principle is old, but true as fate, Kings may love treason, but the traitor hate.

In fact, the only party that seems to have done at least some original work on their platform is the Christian democratic NSi but even that turns out to be your garden variety supply-side economics with a touch of nativism. The rest, however, didn’t really bother at all. DeSUS, for example, is running on basically the same platform it has run on in 2014, The Left simply nicked Jemery Corbyn’s “For The Many Not The Few” wholesale while the Social Democrats went around asking their members what they want and came up with a melange of contradictory commitments titled Self-confident Slovenia which, embarrassingly, abbreviates into… SS. Go figure.

4. Orban comes to collect

Missing above is the SDS of Janez Janša, and for good reason. When he’s not busy imitating Trump, the Glorious Leader of the Party spends his time hugging tight his fellow paranoid leader and the man who ultimately controls a large part of the Slovenian right-wing media, Viktor Orban. Janša tied himself to Orban in a way that he can’t let go even if he wanted to. People in Orban’s orbit own and/or control most of the SDS-spawned media, from print to television and it was these people who were the likely source for the botched money-laundering credit line Janša was trying to set up via Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Consequently, Janša is inviting Orban to pretty much everything he can and Viktor seems happy to oblige as much as he can. At least while the polls are good for the SDS. Case in point last Friday when the Hungarian leader attended not one but two SDS conventions and was happy to stoke nationalism and xenophobia via some pretty badly disguised dog-whistling. Call it taking care of investment.

5. Doing the same thing and expecting a different result

The main investment in Slovenia Viktor Orban is protecting are not the beleaguered right-wing media outlets but rather the second line of the Divača-Koper railway. Anxious to get the project going (everyone loves construction projects!), the ruling SMC planned to get some 200 out of 960-or-so million euro from the Hungarian state as they are thought to gain from increased capacity of the line as well. And the deal is indeed sweet for Hungary as it only gets to chough up the dough after the construction has started.

Which is why neither Orban nor the SDS were too sad when the repeated vote in a referendum on the project, the very thing that caused Cerar’s resignation in March again split his way. And while this time around votes against slightly outnumbered the votes in favour (by 0.2 percent) the attendance was way below the quorum required for the law to be rescinded. So, Viktor Orban can rest easy, as he’ll get his railway no matter who wins the vote in June. Why then was the SDS so adamant in supporting the repeat referendum, you ask? Because they had gambled that is could be held together with parliamentary election, making it a single-issue vote rather than a competition in ideas and platforms. Which only further strengthens the point on just how empty of ideas Slovenian political parties are (see above).

As a result, SDS handed Cerar and SMC an easy win at the time when they need it the most. Again.

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    pengovsky

    Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

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