Were it not for the hilariously hypocritical brouhaha over a couple of Instafluencers doing in the European Parliament what Instafluencers do best, one would be excused for thinking that 2019 EU elections in Muddy Hollows are eons away.
Namely, as a part of their #thistimeimvoting (#tokratgremvolit) campaign, Ljubljana office of the European parliament hauled a couple of Instagram influencers to Brussels, showed them the ropes and let them take selfies with Slovenian MEPs. All in the hope of them, well, influencing their numerous followers to actually give a fuck or two about the upcoming EU vote.
It was cute and cuddly if slightly awkward as these things tend to be, when an institution as varied in composition and as sprawling in operation as a parliament tends to be (European Parliament even more so), wants to be hip and get down with the young crowd.
This outreach to influencers is a part of a pan-EU campaign aimed specifically at getting the youth off of their assess and into voting booths. Which is not a bad idea, given the fact that it was mostly the young vote that went AWOL and precipitated the various nativist electoral successes across the EU over the last couple of years. Yes, UK, we’re looking at you.
On the other hand, wherever pro-EU forces won, they won due to, among other factors, animated young voters which turned out in droves, be it because they were concerned over their future or because the candidate(s) spoke in a way that resonated with them. Or both.
And it is this sentiment that the strategic heads at the EP are looking to replicate. Whether or not they will be successful remains to be seen. But the fact that nativists in Muddy Hollows have been raising a stink about local influencers in Brussels does indicate that the move resonated beyond the immediate influencing bubble.
Having young people come out and vote would indeed be nice and hopefully the EU institutions will take the campaign beyond selfies with MEPs, nativist hypocrisy be damned.
It will all have been in vain if the political parties in Muddy Hollows will not get their shit together and start acting like grown-ups. For right now things are looking more like a high-school male pissing contest gone wrong than a serious gearing up for what is being touted as a historical vote.
It’s not that this particular neck of the woods hasn’t had its share of elections lately. In fact, the EU vote scheduled for May this year will have been the sixth popular vote in the last eighteen months or so.
Four of those were outright elections while two were chalked up to the referendum on the Koper-Divača railway. (the original in 2017 and a re-run with the same result in 2018, after the Supreme Court annulled the first result, which Miro Cerar used as a pretext to resign).
As a result, a bit of election fatigue seems to have settled in. Going on past experience, European elections in Slovenia are the unloved child of aquis communitaire and the national thirst for EU funds. Turnout never exceeded 30 percent and campaigns to date have been lacklustre at best. And yet, there is always an inordinate amount of elbowing for positions and screen time. 2019 is no exception
Case in point being the NSi where Ljudmila Novak, unceremoniously removed as partly leader by the youngsters in the party just before the June parliamentary election, reportedly didn’t make a stink about it on the understanding that she would be put in an electable position in the upcoming EU elections.
NSi, woe be thy name
That understanding was based on a lot of assumptions which are now being interpreted in various ways. Chief among them is NSi heavyweight, the party’s sole MEP and former Slovenian PM Lojze Peterle who claimed that Novak agreed to take second place on the list with him being the Spitzenkandidat.
Not so fast. Either Novak had a change of heart or Peterle was jumping the gun and tried to spin things to his advantage a little too hard. And when party leadership started asking questions, Peterle sent an angry letter to NSi pooh-bahs which obviously leaked and in which he basically stated that he is entitled to the Spitzenkandidat spot and that any attempt at denying him what he sees as rightfully his is a result of politicking by lesser men.
Shit obviously hit the fan immediately.
Realistically, NSi can expect to pick up one out of total of eight seats allocated to the Slovenian MEP contingent which means that the question of the lead candidate is of paramount importance. The fact that Peterle wanted the spot for himself suggests that despite boasting in the letter about how much of the vote he brings in, he is somewhat unsure of his overall electability to his fourth consecutive term, or – perhaps even worse – that he has gone completely tone deaf and feels that the party somehow owes him despite the fact that he left an exceptionally light footprint in the European parliament.
Be that as it may, meetings were held and reportedly feathers were flying but in the end, it turned out Peterle overplayed his hand.
NSi executive council, expected by Peterle to rubber-stamp his top spot instead decided that the former PM most definitely will not be put on top of the list. Importantly, no decision was yet taken on who exactly will now take the top spot, but odds now strongly favour Novak as Spitzenkandidatin.
However, the story might not end there. While both Novak and Peterle are fairly shrewd political operators (Novak slightly more so, as she apparently handed Peterle just enough rope to strangle his own ambitions with), the former PM is not known to go down without a fight.
Namely, since the electoral system allows for preferential voting, Peterle could mount some sort of guerilla campaign instide the party and sneak past Novak due to the number of preferential votes (i.e. votes cast specifically for him and not just the list as a whole). If you want to know just how awkward that would be, ask former SD leader Igor Lukšič (more below).
This, however, is not the only headache the NSi is dealing with. In what appears to be a fairly ham-fisted attempt at expanding their reach, some bright party soul decided to outsource two out of eight spots on the list and populate them with “members of civil society”.
Which sounds like a bright idea until one takes into account the fact that seven out of eight people on that list are probably just cannon fodder and that “civil society” and “political office” are mutually exclusive terms. At least when running for an MEP.
Add to that the fact that despite the above, the party (any party, for that matter) has an overflowing abundance of people whose ambitions vastly outmatch their political abilities, and you can end up with a sizable number of disgruntled party members.
The word on the street, however, is that the people slated for the remaining two spots are former ministers Žiga Turk and Franci Demšar. The two men served in different governments and for different parties (Turk in both governments of Janez Janša as an SDS appointee, Demšar as an SLS man in the final Drnovšek administration), but remarkably, both were in charge of (among other) the science portfolio.
Now, neither of the two is exactly a beacon of political thought, but they did eke out a not insignificant mileage in office between them. Which basically gives away the play completely.
NSi are not even remotely interested in allowing “civil society” on their EU candidate list. What they are interested in, however, is having people on it who could appeal to the disgruntled element of the SDS (Turk) and SLS (Demšar). Both understand the rules of the game well enough to know they don’t really stand a chance of actually being elected but that by playing their part they can get their backs scratched one way or another after the election. Provided, of course, they agree/are allowed to be on the list in the first place.
Speaking of SLS, the party that once ruled the rural vote supreme, is now but a mere shadow of its former glorious self and is once again headed by Marjan Podobnik, the man who led it during its heyday. Whether that will move the needle at all remains to be seen but the latest polls spell a bleak future for the party’s sole MEP and its former president Franc Bogovič. No wonder the NSi, which ran a joint ticket with SLS in 2014, rejected offers of a repeat engagement and is attempting to vacuum the remnants of SLS vote instead.
SDS loyalty tests
Moving on, it will be interesting to see who the SDS will put on their ticket. The Party’s three existing MEPs are expected to run again, but the final decision on the lead candidate and positions of various candidates, be they existing MEPs, or hopefuls rests with the party’s executive council which in reality means with party president Janez Janša.
In the past, these positions (or the lack thereof) was a pretty accurate indication of the pecking order within the largest Slovenian EPP party member. And after Romana Jordan, an outspoken and relatively independent SDS MEP in the 2009-2014 term was unceremoniously sacked from the list at election time, SDS class of 2014-2019 were careful to toe the line set by the Glorious Leader.
That said, there are grades to that as well. While Romana Tomc and Patricija Šulin were no slouches when it came to sticking to the party’s talking points, it was Milan Zver who regularly hit it out of the ballpark, subscribing fully not only to Janša’s increasingly toxic, hatemongering and nativist rhetoric but also regularely engaging in full-throated defence of Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, sometimes even at expense of Slovenia.
Who knows, if the Glorious Leader somehow overlooks Zver’s continuous expressions of bottomless loyalty, maybe the former Ljubljana city councilman can pay fealty to the uncrowned king of Hungary and try his luck on a Fidesz ticket. All he needs to do is switch residency . It’s not like he hasn’t done it before (moving from Ljubljana to Ptuj to run as an MP).
Social Democrats playing it safe
On the other side of the spectrum, the Social Democrats are careful not to repeat the omnishambles of 2014, when the unchecked ambition of their then-president cost the party dearly.
Back then, the party had two MEPs. Tanja Fajon had just finished her first term as MEP, while Mojca Kleva Kekuš was rapidly increasing her visibility, having come to the European Parliament as a replacement MEP after former foreign minister Zoran Thaler got caught with his pants down in the Cash-For-Laws scandal of 2011.
However, rather than putting the two women as centrepieces of the campaign, Igor Lukšič forced himself on the top spot, assuming that would secure him the cushy MEP job.
The voters, however, had other ideas.
The party performed poorly, netting just enough votes for a single MEP, no doubt at least in part because of the relatively unpopular lead candidate and the controversy surrounding his being on top of the ticket. Adding insult to injury, Fajon got twice as many preferential votes as Lukšič and this it was she who got elected to the European Parliament instead of Lukšič.
It was all quite embarrassing. The defeat ended Lukšič’s political career and continued the party’s decline, reducing the once all-powerful party to a bit player.
Obviously, no one wants a repeat performance, which is why this time around there is no doubt that Tanja Fajon will be their Spitzenkandidatin. As per Večer daily, she will be joined on the list by Matjaž Nemec (of Brexit-babbling fame) while former Speaker Milan Brglez, who switched to SD from SMC after falling out with Miro Cerar, is apparently being given The Treatment and pressured hard to run on the ticked, presumably as cannon fodder, useful only as a tool to scoop up as many votes as possible.
While were talking about self-absorbed leftists, Levica is widely expected to make a strong showing and compete directly with SD for at least one EP seat. In this they will be helped enormously by the fact that the European Left has nominated Levica’s lead candidate Violeta Tomić as one of their two Spitzenkandidaten (the other being former Belgian trade unionist Nico Cue).
Since polls are currently showing SD and Levica within a couple of percentage points of each other, things could get messy.
Nothing, however, comes even close to the mother of all bloodbaths that is shaping up in the ALDE corner of the Slovenian political sandpit.
The situation is fucked up to begin with. Slovenian ALDE parties are notoriously reluctant to strategize with one another and even more aghast to pool resources. Mostly because they seem to be caught in a continuous Top Gun Loop where their egos keep writing checks their bodies can’t cash.
It happened in 2009 when Liberal Democrats (LDS) and Zares (LDS splinter-group-turned-major-player) each ran their own tickets. They only won one EP seat each but could have had perhaps added a third if they joined forces, since they won more than 20% of the vote between them as it was. But as there was more bad blood between the two parties than either one was willing to admit, cooperation was nigh impossible.
Fast forward to 2014 and four ALDE factions (SAB of Alenka Bratušek, former LDS MEP Jelko Kacin, Zares and centre-right Civic List of Gregor Virant) can’t agree on a common candidate list which results in the four of them netting a grand total of zero EP seats.
However, an ALDE candidate did get elected back then. Ivo Vajgl, former foreign minister, jumped ship on Zares and switched to Karl Erjavec’s DeSUS in 2014 and got elected against some very long odds.
All of the above, however, was just a precursor to the spectacular shitshow that are Slovenian ALDE parties and their EU ambitions.
The liberal landscape changed quite a lot in the last five years. Zares and LDS are completely out of the picture. SMC is about to undertake their first European election, but have in the mean time been reduced from the largest Slovenian party by far to a supporting role.
Ditto the party of Alenka Bratušek who crashed and burned in her own EU ambition in 2014, where the former PM more or less nominated herself for the post in the Commission of Jean Claude Juncker and was rebuked in a particularly vile manner by the European parliament aided and abetted by Bratušek’s political opponents in Slovenia. These included Cerar who used the controversy to push Bratušek aside and put forward Violeta Bulc as his pick for the Commission post.
And as if there wasn’t enough bad blood between SMC and SAB, LMŠ of the incumbent PM Marjan Šarec now added its own exaggerated ambition to the mix, claiming as many as three top spots on the hypothetical list for themselves and expecting SMC and SAB to simply roll over and serve as cannon fodder to win as many votes as possible at the behest of the LMŠ.
Obviously, this particular idea went down like a lead balloon.
Then there’s DeSUS which, despite having the sole Slovenian ALDE MEP, never formally joined the family of European liberals. Namely, not only does Ivo Vajgl want to have another go in the European parliament, Karl Erjavec is reportedly harbouring Commissioner ambitions, which adds yet another level of complexity to an already fucktangular situation.
Thus, history may very well repeat itself. Since everyone is making outlandish demands, LMŠ, SMC, SAB and DeSUS run the risk of each of them going with their own candidate list and coming out empty handed, not because they really want to, but because their oversized egos will prevent them from reaching an agreement.
And yet, there is a way out of this conundrum.
The only way ALDE parties stand a chance of getting one or two EP seats is to form a common ticket headed by a strong (read: popular) candidate. And the only ALDE-affiliated politican that fits the bill is the current Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc.
Bulc is consistently polling among the top five most popular Slovenian politicians, mostly by virtue of being removed from the local shenanigans. Be that as it may, she has both the name recognition as well as a well an established profile that goes beyond Slovenian borders.
If LMŠ and SMC were to strike a deal where Bulc would be the ALDE Spitzenkandidatin but would at the same time be agreed to continue as Commissioner (a prospect she would no doubt like very much), she could perhaps pull in enough votes to win two seats for ALDE. And if she were to take on the Commission job, the parliament seats would go to the second- and third-placed candidates on the list, which would in turn be provided by LMŠ and SAB.
Under such a scenario, with Bulc, SMC would get the top spot on the ALDE list, but as she would be returned to the European Commission, both LMŠ and SAB would get to have one MEP. Everyone would go home happy.
Even more, an argument could be made that Alenka Bratušek and her SAB already have had their turn at the watering hole by getting the coveted infrastructure portfolio in the Šarec government and should let other ALDE parties in on the fun. In this version, Bulc would be followed on the list by two LMŠ candidates, both of which could be elected to the European Parliament one Bulc is reinstated as a Commissioner. SAB and DeSUS (if it decided it didn’t want to go solo after all) would then have to make do with consolation prizes in the form lesser-but-still-quite-fancy political appointments.
This would, of course, require an extraordinary amount of political skill, discipline and keeping plenty of outsized egos in check.
Needless to say that chances of this happening are quite slim.
Speaking of slim chances, outgoing MEP Igor Šoltes, who was elected on an independent ticked and allied himself with European Greens is desperately looking for someone to co-opt him as their MEP candidate. Unfortunately for him, there isn’t much demand for his services. Reportedly, he even approached the Slovenian Pirate Party but was rebuffed out of fears of him using the party only as a vehicle for his own promotion and not really caring about their agenda.
And while we are on the issue of Pirates: the party leadership seems to have developed a taste for national electoral races. But so far, they have little to show for it despite being one of the few (if not only) political party to build their platform specifically around the needs and expectations of young people. And yet, they can’t seem to make a breakthrough on the national level.
One of the reasons for that due to nature of things, the party lies dormant for much of the electoral cycle. National votes come up only every so often and by the time the Pirates get their shit together, establishment parties have already booked media appearances for weeks in advance and outspent everyone looking to make a difference by entering a political arena stacked against newcomers.
If Pirates ever hope to break out into the wilderness of national politics in Muddy Hollows, they really need to start working at the local level. There, they will be able to build and expand their operations network, gain valuable experience in the political craft and develop talent. Simply coming out of semi-hibernation every four or five years just won’t cut it.
There is, however, one final element that should not be overlooked. European election always saw a criminally low number of people voting. Hence the influencers goofing around Brussels and all that.
Throughout the years the low turnout was without exception interpreted as a combo of non-relatability of the EU and a trend of decreasing turnout in general.
Since the autumn local elections saw a surprise uptick in turnout and since last polls show EU is more popular in Slovenia than ever, there is some hope that the turnout would be substantially better than the last time around.
And while the bar for declaring success is admittedly quite low (anything above 30% would be lauded as a historic success), there seems to exist a non-zero chance of this actually happening.
No wonder nativists in Muddy Hollows are nervous.