In what came as a bit of a shock late on Tuesday evening, the executive council of the SMC voted unanimously to expel from the party its No.2 man and former Speaker of the parliament Milan Brglez. Official explanation, as lacking as it was, cited “actions contravening decisions of the executive council” (*breaks open a bag of popcorn*).
For his part, Brglez was quick to take to social media and decry the move as stifling of dissent within the party and hinted (or, rather painted in big fat letters) that he was being purged because he opposed SMC going in coalition with Janez Janša’s SDS. The SMC, naturally, didn’t see it that way.
After Brglez’s social media blitz, his former party countered with a narrative of its own, reiterating the commitment not to go in bed with SDS and not-at-all-subtly hinted that Brglez was following a personal agenda rather than that of the party and as a result had to be terminated.
What is surprising here is not fact that Milan Brglez and Miro Cerar have parted ways but rather the swiftness and brutality of it and (what appears to be) the sheer size of miscalculation on Brglez’s part that led to this.
It is absolutely no secret that lately relations between Brglez and Cerar were ranging mostly from cold to fucking frigid. The two were thought to have patched things up since the latest tussle took place over the fact of the Aliens Act, but apparently the glue which somehow held the two together has become unstuck post-election and the relationship went up in smoke sooner than you can say Speaker of the Parliament.
It seems that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Just as pengovsky wrote in the previous post, the first test of political prowess and coalition potential of various parliamentary parties was appointing a new Speaker, a post Brglez held the last four years. Ultimately, the job went to NSi leader Matej Tonin (for the time being, at least, a topic yet to be written on by yours truly) but it was no secret that Cerar wanted and possibly still wants the job.
Which is why the outgoing PM was apparently more than just a little miffed when Brglez said he himself would be ready to continue as Speaker. Yesterday, former Speaker claimed that he was misinterpreted and that he did not intend to challenge Cerar for the post but rather ensure a transition until coalition negotiations were wrapped up. Given the fact that temporary solutions have a curious habit of becoming permanent, Brglez’s benevolent interpretation should be taken with a grain of salt. But even if true, it is amazing how Brglez overlooked the possibility of his comments not playing out as (allegedly) intended.
Moreover, it is almost incomprehensible that Milan Brglez, the Great Pragmatist of 2014, who wouldn’t even explicitly agree to the notion of equal rights for LGBT community for fear of losing the centre-right vote prior to elections four years ago, would make such a gross miscalculation. Not only did it cost him the Speakership, as untenable as it may have been, but it also cost him a senior government portfolio as a consolation prize (probably foreign affairs, see below) and, ultimately, it cost him membership of the party that he helped co-found.
And yet, this does seem to be the case. After all is said and done, what we have here, ladies and gentlemen is, sadly, little more than yet another case of a politician’s ego writing checks his body couldn’t cash. As if he learned nothing from the case of Bojan Dobovšek and other people who quit the SMC during the last four years, ostensibly because they couldn’t keep their ambitions in check and their mouths shut.
Namely, things like this are becoming a bit of a SMC tradition. Shortly after his stunning 2014 landslide victory, Miro Cerar unceremoniously sacked the party secretary general Peter Jamnikar, a man widely credited (correctly or not) with being responsible for much of the 36% percent SMC won back then.
Reportedly, Jaminkar saw much a larger role for himself in the newly-minted coalition party than Cerar was prepared to grant him, causing the parting of ways. Similarly, Bojan Dobovšek MP left the SMC parliamentary group soon after the formation of the government, ostensibly because he felt he should have gotten a high-profile portfolio. As Dobovšek turned independent, he made a number of accusations against Cerar regarding aiding and abetting corruption rather than fighting it, which was a key SMC platform plank back then.
Incidentally, Jamnikar and Dobovšek went about establishing a new party ahead of this year’s election. The Dobra Država (Good State) Party scored an impressive 1.52 percent of the vote, putting it behind Pirate Party and a far cry from the 4% parliamentary threshold. So much for political acumen of either of the men. At any rate, Brglez now seems poised to follow in Jamikar’s and Dobovšek’s footsteps on the road to political obscurity as he suddenly finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Namely, although he was terminated from the party he remains member of the SMC parliamentary group (as the two memberships are not directly linked), which right now surely provides for many an awkward moment.
However, if – or rather, when – Brglez quits the group as well (mind you, there is no way to throw him out), SMC will be a vote short, affecting the parliamentary pecking order in everything from seating arrangements to committee memberships, access to parliamentary resources, number of advisors the party can take on within the parliamentary budget and so on. Most importantly, it very likely affects the leverage against Marjan Šarec and other potential coalition partners when spoils will begin to get divided.
To put it bluntly, an 10-votes-strong SMC could (and probably would) demand Šarec extend them the same concessions as he would to the Social Democrats who won marginally more votes but got an equal number of MPs. A 9-votes-strong SMC, however, will find it harder to negotiate the same or even a better deal than the SD with 10 votes, especially if Cerar were really to demand the speakership for himself as a part of a coalition deal.
Question is, where does Brglez go to once he quits the SMC? A former speaker is a prime trophy for any party. However, he would probably have to lie low for a while, as whichever party decides to adopt him will inevitably draw the ire of the SMC, regardless of the fact that they threw Brglez out rather than him quitting of his own volition. Doubly so if this party were to join SMC in the coalition.
Technically, Brglez can choose any parliamentary group he wants or can stay independent. The latter is not an option, however, as Rules of Procedure state that only a parliamentary group is entitled to resources of the National Assembly and that a parliamentary group consists of at least three MPs. This means that sooner or later he will join one of the centre/left-of-centre parties.
A man of his intellectual and academic background would not be out of place in The Left, despite their Luddist tendencies vis-a-vis international relations. Brglez, a professor and lecturer in the field could probably inject some much-needed perspective into the brashness and knee-jerk anti-Atlancisim prevalent within The Left. Question is, whether that would be at all welcomed inside the party which has only recently recovered from a fierce internecine ideological fight.
Alternatively, Brglez could join SAB or – slightly more tongue-in-cheek – DeSUS, as both parties need a shot in the arm. DeSUS slightly more so as they were decimated at the polls and retaining only five seats now desperately need a win of some sort. Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), however, woud surely be glad to see her MP count increase from five to six as well, especially as it would give her seniority in relation to DeSUS, adding insult to injury in a fight over pensioners’ votes where she came out on top, much to Karl Erjavec’s chagrin.
The one party that will probably not want Brglez in their midst are the LMŠ. Marjan Šarec is learning quickly that coalition negotiations are as much about egos as they are about platforms and taking Brglez onboard would probably annoy Cerar to no end, possibly even cause him to bail on the coalition altogether.
This leaves Brglez with the Social Democrats, who have a history of giving shelter to former senior figures from other centre-left parties. And since their MP count would go from 10 to 11 if Brglez were to join, they would truly become almost equal to LMŠ and could dictate terms of the coalition agreement much more effectively. Who knows, maybe they could even get the speakership for Brglez as the largest junior coalition party. Admittedly, that would probably rub both the SMC and NSi the wrong way, but could at least be a useful negotiation tactic.
One thing is for certain, though. No matter what he does, Milan Brglez will now be forced to remain an MP, even though he was widely expected to take over as foreign minister (a position he coveted in 2014 but was outmanoeuvred for it by Karl Erjavec). Now, none of that is possible. Not only will the SMC not be putting his name forward for obvious reasons, any party joined by Brglez cannot afford to do that either, as a government position for Brglez would mean he would have vacate his seat in the parliament which, in turn, would be filled by the next in line on the SMC ticket, thus again realigning the parliamentary balance of power, making the whole exercise pointless.
Which, sadly, is a perfectly good description of the current episode as a whole.