The results were in on Sunday night and… well, it is a clusterfuck. SDS won a relative majority with 25% of the vote and just as many seats in the parliament but party leader Janez Janša will be shitting Lego bricks trying to put together a workable coalition. Far behind SDS in second place is LMŠ of Marjan Šarec with 13 seats. After that, the field gets crowded. Social Democrats (SD) of Dejan Židan and SMC of Miro Cerar have 10 seats each, The Left have nine followed by NSi with seven. DeSUS of Karl Erjavec and SAB of Alenka Bratušek have five each. Rounding off the pack are Zmago Jelinčič’s nationalists (SNS) with four seats. This is the most fractured parliament Muddy Hollows has had in ages, and putting together a coalition will be a nightmare, No wonder there is plenty of talk of a repeat vote in six months’ time.
Unofficial final tally (more data at source)
However, upon closer inspection things get even more interesting. First, the fact that Zmago Jelinčič and his SNS have barely made it above the 4-percent threshold and remain vulnerable to either results of absentee votes or potential legal challenges in individual precincts. More importantly, and possibly with great ramifications for coalition negotiations, neither Alenka Bratušek nor Karl Erjavec were elected to the parliament. Which means both will have a critical interest in joining coalition where they will serve as ministers. Given that they control ten votes between them, this is a distinct possibility.
Having said that, separating winners from losers in Sunday vote can produce some interesting results:
Winners:Viktor Orban, SDS, SMC, The Left, Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), SNS, Ljudmila Novak, Pollsters.
Neither-nors: SD, NSi, LMŠ.
Losers: SLS, DeSUS, Karl Erjavec, Alenka Bratušek, Matej Tonin, Marjan Šarec, Turnout.
Let’s take a look at this in slow motion
Viktor Orban The Hungarian illiberal democrat invested – via proxies – a not insignificant amount of money in SDS campaign. Just what exactly the nature of those financial transactions was, will presumably be investigated one way of the other (pengovsky’s bet: it begins with an “L” and ends in “-aundering”) but fact of the matter is that foreign campaign financing is illegal. With Orban’s man in power, the possibility of legal and/or diplomatic ramifications decreases substantially, meaning that Orban has an added incentive in seeing Janša not only clinch the PM nomination but to have him form a government as well. Who knows, maybe there are other FOO’s (Friends of Orban) who might be willing to invest into other Slovenian party leaders’ pet projects. It would all be just a huge coincidence, of course.
As of Sunday, Orban has shown that he is not above meddling into other countries’ affairs and doing it successfully. It was also shown that he will peruse this network of – call them that – puppet regimes to amplify his illiberal agenda by having media in one country repeat the narrative he sponsors in another country, thus giving it an air of “internationalising the problem” and making it look worse than it really is.
Case in point Sunday’s demonstrations in Macedonia where Orban-supported nationalists opposed the name-change proposal aimed at resolving the long-standing dispute between Macedonia and Greece. This protest, while nothing more than a political rally, was reported on by the Orban-controlled Slovenian media as if a revolution was about to break out. This is how the game is now played.
However, not all is rosy in Slovenia for the Hungarian leader. While he can be expected to enlist Janša’s support as often as he can and try to lure his new vassal into the Visegrad-4 group (provided Janša actually gets to be PM, see below), he may soon find out his latest protégée is torn between opposing loyalties. Namely, while Janša’s political (and financial) debt would be to Orban, his overreaching loyalty will have to remain with Teutonic Lady Angela Merkel.
Germany continues to be Slovenia’s most important export market by far. And if Janša were to collude with Orban too much, Tante Angela just might find it useful to tighten the screw on Slovenian economy a bit, prompting Janša to fall back in line. And if the Glorious Leader would prove overly obstinate, she could effectively apply pressure on NSi (Janša’s presumed coalition partner) who are unabashedly pro-CDU as a whole.
While not a landslide, the party led by Janez Janša did win by a large margin. SDS will have almost twice as many seats as LMŠ, the second-strongest party. However, 25 seats is a long way off from 46 seats minimum for Janša to be appointed PM. His two “natural” allies are NSi, which ever since the change at its helm seems overly eager to get in bed with Janša and the SNS, whose leader Zmago Jelinčič said some time ago that he’s ready to join a Janša-led coalition and take up the culture portfolio.
However, this only secures 36 votes for Janša. Where he’ll find additional ten is anyone’s guess. Pengovsky developed a cute little scenario where Karl Erjavec engineers a pretend-coup within his parliamentary group (see below) and then “sacrifices” himself to take up a ministerial position. Not to be outdone, SD would then jump on board, giving Janša a solid majority but an unstable government. Admittedly, that is a lot of if’s. Also, given that Jelinčič is always on the lookout for a higher bidder, Janša’s government-forming attempts could be derailed even sooner. So Janša and SDS might even be relegated to losers’s column soon. It is, as Ryan Heath of Politico notes: in a coalition system you “win” only after forming a government.
Ah yes, the old chestnut of “winning” by coming first. No, you only “win” an election when you form a government.
— Ryan Heath (@PoliticoRyan) June 4, 2018
LMŠ and Marjan Šarec
Winning thirteen seats, the LMŠ did OK, but nothing more. And it is only the fact they are the runner-up party that keeps them from the losers’ column. At the beginning of the year, still riding high on Šarec’s nearly successful attempt to unseat president Borut Pahor, Šarec was consistently leading in polls. It even seemed to the untrained eye that the election result was more or less a done deal and that Šarec only needed to show up to collect the prize. Indeed, he may have thought that himself as his cavalier approach towards campaigning soon made it clear that his entire platform boiled down to “putting your foot down and having it done”, regardless of the issue.
As campaign intensified, however, Šarec was increasingly bringing a knife to a gun fight, all the time somehow thinking he held the upper hand. This notion literally came crashing down together with his jaw, when in the penultimate TV debate Janša very skilfully had Šarec disavow any possibility of a coalition with SDS, only to deliver a death-blow by asking why was Šarec then meeting with him during the campaign in the first place. Šarec was lucky the campaign ended the very next day, otherwise he would have probably seen his numbers plummet into single digits.
Not that he learnt his lesson, apparently. Even after being cut down to size, Šarec still maintains the aura of a pub-politican who claims he has all the answers. Case in point his implicit expectation that he will be nominated as PM-designate sooner or later and that he will be successful in putting together a ruling coalition. There is not a single shred of evidence at this moment that would point in that direction.
The reality for Šarec is much more bleak. Since Janša will get a crack at forming the government first and will have a mountain of his own to climb in that respect, Šarec’s MPs will be prime targets for poaching, extortion, back-scratching and plain old bribery. In short, rather than entertain lofty thoughts about premiership, Marjan Šarec will have his hands full with keeping his MPs on a leash. Doubly so as their backgrounds are varied, their overall ideological persuasions are unknown (it is assumed some are more left- while others more right-of-centre) and every single one of them is politically untested.
The Modern Centre Party, formerly the Miro Cerar Party, was on life support as late as January this year and with no end in sight for inter-coalition and inter-party struggles, the future looked rather bleak. Then Miro Cerar resigned in a master-stroke of pure political genius, completely turning the table and resetting the narrative. He went from a beleaguered incumbent to an underdog candidate literally overnight. Polls reflected this and since that moment on the continued survival of the party was no longer in question. Rather, the result started to matter.
After Cerar’s resignation SMC hovered in low double digits for a while but as the effect started to wear off they slipped again. In the end, however, they did manage a final push that put them a fraction of a percent below the 10 percent mark, earning them as just as many MPs, thus making them the third strongest party in the parliament, tied with SD in terms of seats. And although a number of its prominent MPs were not re-elected SMC will play a prominent role in the next parliament. Especially if an attempt at a left-wing coalition will be mounted.
Finally, SMC and Miro Cerar did manage to pull off a unique feat: outside of the initial spawning of political parties in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the SMC are the first new party to have won an election, formed a goverment (or at least been a coalition partner) and was not wiped out in the next election . That alone earns them a spot in the winners’ column.
Almost the same goes for The Left, albeit without the “has formed a government” element. Brought to life as The United Left, a coalition of four distinct groupations before the 2014, they chose not enter any sort of coalition and decided that starting as an opposition party would serve them better. Wisely so, as it turned out, since they had enough problems of their own to deal with in the last four years. Things culminated in a botched congress where the leader (or “coordinator” as they called him) Luka Mesec attempted to transform the coalition into a single party only to be thwarted by the anarchistic element within his own faction. Reportedly, the political showdown even boiled over into a fracas or two.
Be that as it may, a mail-in congress was more successful and after a batch of departures the party solidified, Mesec regained his footing and put on quite a performance during the debates. This, combined with some effective messaging by the party which successfully positioned itself as the new face of workers’ rights and labour activism resulted in an exceptionally good performance for the party which clocked in nine seats in the parliament, much to the chagrin of the “traditional” Social Democrats, who have only one more.
Speaking of Social Democrats, have you ever seen a baloon deflate in slow-motion? This, in short, is what happened with their campaign. At the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 the SD was riding high in the polls, often coming in first, but always running neck-and-neck with the SDS. As a result, SD leader Dejan Židan started harbouring thoughts of premiership, and did so pretty openly. Then Marjan Šarec entered the fray and started getting good polling results, which made SD leadership visibly nervous. Still, with SMC lagging and a traditionally good network, the party honchos were very confident a good result in in the offing. So much so they even chose “Confident Slovenia” as their election slogan.
But then slowly but surely things started going tits up. First, there was the final report on TEŠ 6 affair which put the SD on the spot for aiding and abetting corruption in the case. Then, the NLB-Iran thing. Ditto. Then it was the posters above the loos. And the fact that Dejan Židan comes across as bland on TV. And the fact that their messaging was all over the place.
In the end, dreams of a “Prime Minster Židan” crumbled to dust as did the result, with SD not making it into double digit area. Sad.
NSi, Matej Tonin and Ljudmila Novak
When Ljudmila Novak was replaced as NSi president in late January in what could arguably be described as a party coup by the younger council members, she took it remarkably well. Although she could hardly hide her displeasure she remained loyal to the new leadership. Granted, a possible deal to have her lead the NSi ticket in 2019 EU elections might have eased the pain, but still. She campaigned hard for the party and when the newly minted leader Matej Tonin landed in some hot water over pregnancy termination and needed to cut down on his media exposure, she was sent to cover for him in several debates and performed well. She was and remains loyal to her party, which makes her one of the very senior politicians in Muddy Hollows who at least on the outside are able to keep their egos in check.
The primary complaint against Novak was that the party under her leadership was unable to break out of the single digits. Upon taking charge, therefore, Tonin promptly promised NSi would break single-digit ceiling and win at least 10% of the vote. When that didn’t happen (the ticker stopped at 7%), Novak – asked to comment on the outcome – gave Tonin and his fellow plotters a solid burn saying that the “result is a bit disappointing as the young’uns projected a significant improvement”. Ouch. Apply ointment to the burnt area. A win, even if only a symbolic one for Ljudmila Novak.
To his credit, once the results came in, Tonin promptly offered to resign. Should the NSi council accept his resignation this would make him one of the shortest-lived party leaders in Slovenian history. And there were murmurings even before the election that Tonin (a social conservative) didn’t really want to take over the party before the vote, but that he was pushed to do it by his socially more liberal fellow youngsters who hedged their bets a bit thinking they could always get rid of him if he underperformed. In the words of Donald Trump, we’ll see what happens. (UPDATE: Nothing happened, the council didn’t even vote on the matter.)
To be fair, however, NSi did increase its MP count, going from five seats to seven which is not bad, given the circumstances. It’s just that their aspirations were way higher. So, count them among the neither-nors, whereas Tonin is off to the losers’ column. Perhaps for a week, perhaps forever.
Karl Erjavec and DeSUS
If every prediction parties made about increasing the number of seats held were to come true, Slovenian parliament would have to have 120 and not just 90 seats (incidently, an increase in seats was mulled years ago, but that’s a story for another time). As this is not the case, inevitably someone gets the leftovers. Enter Karl Erjavec and DeSUS, on whom the voters opened a can of kick ass
and split their MP count in half. The pensioners’ party thusly went from ten to only five MPs.
Adding insult to injury, Karl Erjavec himself was not elected to parliament. But as humiliating as that is, it also has huge implications for coalition building. Namely, despite his repeated assurances that he is willing to sit this one out (literally), past experience shows Erjavec will not say no to being shuttled around the world (or at least the continent) with all the pomp and circumstance and a security detail in tow.
Achieving this might be easier than it looks. All Erjavec needs to do is arrange for a pretend-mutiny within his parliamentary group which would then pressure him to “put country above party” and spin it as if he’s taking one for the team. No-one would believe the spin, but if it gets the job done…
Alenka Bratušek and SAB
Alenka Bratušek has a different kind of a problem. While both DeSUS and Karl Erjavec can safely be tucked away into the losers’ column, the former PM does not share the fate of her namesake party. Or is that the other way around? Alenka Bratšek single-handedly put her party above the 4% threshold, earning it a respectable result of five parliamentary seats (+1 in terms of the 2014 election, +3 in terms of what she was left with when her parliamentary group crumbled). In this respect the party is one of the winners of this election. However, in a cruel twist of fate, Bratušek herself was not elected and her only prospect of remaining in top-tier politics lies in landing a government gig. Some have even floated the idea of her heading the financial portfolio in a Marjan Šarec-led government.
But before that happens, Šarec must cobble together a coalition (not at all likely) and for that to happen Janša must first blow his chance (not impossible but not all that likely, either). Which means Bratušek is a long way from securing her spot as one of Slovenia’s senior politicians. Even worse, going on previous experience, she should watch her back within the party as well. Her all-male parliamentary group is utterly untested in national politics and does not exactly ooze loyalty, at least looking from the outside. Yet again, Alenka Bratušek runs the risk of being cast aside after doing all the hard work for men to be able to continue playing in the sandpit.
The People’s Party? Good fucking riddance and don’t let the door hit you on your way out. While we came to expect the anti-migrant rhetoric from the goon squad of the SDS, the crassness and xenophobia of the SLS was sub par even for this particular course. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the SLS was once the epitome of a rural centre-right party, a true people’s party with a folksy attitude and world outlook. A party of farmers and small business owners and the first non-socialist party formed at the onset of democracy of Slovenia. Usually (not always, but still) they were the guys with a down-to-earth take on things.
Those days are now gone forever. Under Marko Zidanšek the party not only failed to make a rebound, they opted to go down the rabbit-hole of nationalism and border-line hate speech. And while it is technically still a parliamentary party (its former leader Franc Bogovič is an MEP) and the party is still strong locally in certain municipalities, its demise seems to be only a matter of time. And none too soon, it seems.
The one group of people who were happy as fuck this time around were the pollsters. After failing to detect a massive late-game shift of voters towards SMC in 2014 and utterly blowing in the 2017 presidential election, all the polls came emblazoned with numerous disclaimers. People interpreting the polls further issued warnings about how polls are but a snapshot of the public opinion and how one can infer little more than trends out of a succession of polls.
Compounding the situation was the fact that all polls detected a massive pool of undecided voters as well as inclination of decided voters to switch allegiances. Thusly, even the exit polls were approached with caution. But in the end it turned out there was no late-game rush and that most of the undecideds turned into no-shows, which meant that the polls were more or less spot on. Which meant pollsters were like
— Andraž Zorko (@Andrazus) June 3, 2018
On the other hand, however, a low turnout is not really good news. True, when all will be said and done the final tally of 52% turnout is not the worst we ever had, but it’s pretty damn close. Four years ago the turnout was a percentage point lower but that particular vote was held at the onset of vacation season. This time around there’s no such excuse.
Having said that, there’s also the sad fact that for the most part, the campaign focused on trigger-issues such as migrants and whether other parties will join an SDS-led coalition, whereas everything else was more or less an afterthought. The sole exception being the pensioners who – as per usual – turned out to vote en masse.
Parties campaigned hard on pensions but were light on issues concerning younger voters, especially those who are at the beginning of their professional careers. Only The Pirate Party, which – despite doubling its 2014 result to 2.15 percent – remained a far cry from the 4-percent threshold, and to some extent The Left, attempted to address the young vote. No wonder then the turnout was lowest in the 25-34 age cohort and highest in the 55+ group.
Post-election analyses also showed that voters who chose not to vote skewed slightly to the left which seems to suggest that left-wing parties failed to mobilize a fair number of their potential voters. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise since a large majority of centre-left parties failed to establish any kind of pro-active narrative, instead resorting to slamming Janez Janša and his SDS. It is as if no-one on the left wing paid any attention to lessons of the Brexit vote or Hillary 2016. Simply saying “I’m not Donald Trump” does not win elections.
The SDS on the other hand ran a very slick campaign, aided by a loyal base and substantial amounts of Hungarian money which enabled them to make up for the losses suffered in 2014 and – combined with a lacklustre and fragmented campaign by centre-left parties put them on top with room to spare.
Still, the final tally shows that Slovenia is in for a protracted period of interregnum. President Pahor already indicated that he will nominate Janez Janša for PM in early July which in theory should give the man ample time to try and form a majority coalition. But since his presumed allies, the NSi and SNS only bring him up to
46 36 votes, leaving him 10 short of a majority (possibly more if he wants to have some margin of error), it’s time to break out the popcorn and enjoy the horse-trading and the inevitable shitshow.