In what is starting to become a bit of a recutring theme these days, prime minister Marjan Šarec lost yet another minister of his minority government. And still, the stability of the supposedly unstable government goes unshaken.
The man to get the can this time around is Jure “Super” Leben, minister for environment and spatial planning who, staying true to his surname, apparently had more than one political leben in him and is now holding the dubious honour of being the only person in recent memory to resign from two different governments.
Amazingly, on both occasions Leben fell victim to the higher ethical standards imperative purported by the successive governments of Miro Cerar and now Marjan Šarec.
In 2014, when Leben was appointed state secretary (second-in-command) at the ministry of environment, his academic title became contentious as he was using the title “magister znanosti”, which roughly, but not directly, translates as “master of science”, or M.Sc..
And it was “not directly translates” part that got him in trouble, as apparently the master’s thesis he defended in the UK was not enough to earn him the Slovenian equivalent of M.Sc., and he had to continue using the UK title.
Which really shouldn’t be much of a problem, but since Miro Cerar was big on ethics back then he had to let Leben go, after what would become a typical period of hand-wringing.
However, in a tacit acknowledgement of his own overreaction, Cerar had his minister of infrastructure appoint Leben as state secretary a year and a half later, in charge of the Divača-Koper railway project, among other things
Fast forward to 2018 and Jure Leben survives the cull of the SMC in the parliamentary vote and is even promoted, this time as a direct pick to run the environment portfolio.
As if he knew or felt that his days were numbered, he hit the ground running, dashing around the country, getting a move on several environmental and ecological issues, reaching out to NGOs and citizens alike and, according to several accounts being the best minister for environment this country has had in a very long time.
Not that there’s been much competition in the last two decades or so, but still. Super Leben, as he was starting to be known, however, was haunted by ghosts of his infrastructure past.
To cut a long story short, the Koper-Divača Railway project (the 2Tir, as it is known locally) is a signature infrastructure project the likes of which Muddy Hollows has not seen since, well, the TEŠ6 debacle. And we all know how that went.
2Tir is, obviously, seen also as a giant source of government contracts. Hence, the competition to be a part of this project is fierce. And not all of it is necessarily completely kosher.
Which is precisely what turned out to be the case in the, well, case of a 2Tir scale model which was supposed to underpin promotional activities for the controversial project but turned out to be a huge stink-bomb.
Not only was the scale model prohibitively expensive, the winning bid was actually more expensive than the losing bid but the latter did then partook in developing the scale model as a subcontractor. Which is a suspiciously unlikely chain of coincidence, hence theCrimPolice got involved. And at some point Super Leben started feeling the heat from his former job. After all, he was the political supervisor of the project.
In the end Leben offered his resignation and PM Šarec had no choice but to accept it. That he did so reluctantly was more than obvious, as he at first even defended Leben. Specifically, he accepted Cerar’s defence of Leben at face value.
That he was keen on keeping Leben onboard was obvious as Šarec took the time to comment on the issue even though he was in Sharm el Sheik attending the EU-Arab League summit. No hiding behind “I’ll read the report when I get home” as was the case with former minister of culture Prešiček.
But having set a badass precedent with Bandelli, Prešiček and his own MP Krajčič, Šarec could ill afford to suddenly lower the standard and keep Leben in the government. Especially now when his approval ratings are going through the roof.
Šarec and his government are therefore starting to become the victims of their own success. The don’t-fuck-with-me attitude the PM took with excesses in his government thusfar has earned him ratings unseen since the heyday of the LDS.
But it is imperative for Šarec that these ratings continue for a little while longer, until the EU election, where he aims to scoop up the entirety of the liberal vote and then some. Therefore, he cannot be seen to be cutting slack to anyone, let alone his ministers or appointees.
Case in point DeSUS heavyweight, former Ljubljana city councilman and a basketball legend Peter Vilfan. He was tucked away into a government job after DeSUS got routed at the polls but turned out to be embroiled in some tax irregularities which he apparently wasn’t able to solve quickly enough. Thus he was forced to say goodbye to his job as a Šarec staffer.
With this, the minority government came full circle as every coalition member got into hot water and had to let someone from their own ranks go. Under any other circumstances we’d already be fairly deep in the political crisis territory.
To his credit, Šarec realises this which is why he wrote a lengthy Facebook post where he basically says that while every cause for resignation/demission was different, it all boils down to trust.
That may be, but one needs to consider political viability as well. Although nominally a minority government, Šarec’s coalition is surprisingly stable, even after numerous resignations. This is purely a function of no coalition party being excessively strong and yet all of them needing each other in full to continue in government.
To put it bluntly, as long as the ministerial positions of coalition party leaders will be safe, Šarec can kick out ministers and staffers as he sees fit.
But when a coalition party leader will be on the spot, it will be interesting to see just how strictly Šarec will apply his new and extremely popular ethical standards.
Mind you, all this before the government even proposed any new policy and legislation.