There was an almost audible gasp on social media in Muddy Hollows once the results finally came in and it had become obvious that Aleksandra Pivec ousted Karl Erjavec as DeSUS leader, by a landslide.
The implosion was immediate. Erjavec came into the congress as one of the longest-serving party leaders in the history of independent Slovenia and with an impressive CV of serving as foreign minister in three governments and as minister of defense in two, including the current one, but left almost as a private citizen, announcing his resignation from the government.
The ramifications of what almost immediately became known as #Karlexit are farily huge.
On the immediate level, DeSUS membership rejected the man who consistently failed to deliver. While Karl Erjavec was very adept at securing airtime and delivering one-liners, he did little for Slovenian pensioners (i.e. his party’s core constituency) beyond securing occasional indexation in pensions.
Long-term care, availability of seniors’ care centres, healthcare, all these things, DeSUS under Erjavec consistently left to others. And when they didn’t, the results were meagre, to say the least.
What Erjavec was good at, was securing a bargaining position for his party and a plum job for himself. And it worked for a long time.
Until it didn’t.
When Alenka Bratušek’s SAB started encroaching on DeSUS’s voters, things started falling apart for Erjavec. DeSUS’s MP count was halved from 10 to 5 in 2018 elections, despite Erjavec boasting about going up to 11. Then there was the defeat at the EU elex, where the party lost its single MEP and suddenly there were more mouths to feed than Karl could viably take care of. The base was getting increasingly unhappy and it all went tits-up for him on Saturday evening.
Then there’s the party level. Over the last decade and a half, Erjavec meticulously stuffed various levels of party hirearchy with people loyal to him. That these people didn’t come through for him this past weekend is a testament to just how unhappy the membership was with the now-former president.
But the way the congress was organised and and executed also shows that there’s work to be done within the party. While Pivec won in a landslide, 143 – 80, she obviously didn’t win over all the holdouts.
That the results were declared with a substantial delay and that it was obvious that the declaration was rushed (the head of the electoral committee was given the mintuae after he was already behind the lectern and was reading them a prima vista) also shows that the whole congress was not optimally planned.
Not to mention the fact that the delegates were treated to a hot meal only after the day’s work had been done which apparently irked many people in the hall the wrong way. In these things, details matter, and from the outside it seemed as if a lot of details were simply overlooked.
If Pivec wants DeSUS to bounce back, she has her work cut out for her. That said, hers is not an impossible task, given that the delegates voted to replace not only Erjavec but the entire senior party leadership which is now almost entirely female and consists of Pivec loyalists.
Lastly, there’s the government level. Pivec’s victory is in no small way a vindication of PM Šarec as well. While supporting her bid would be a bridge too far even for Muddy Hollows (meddling in other party’s business and all that), Šarec did make it known that he likes her mucho and that he likes Erjavec not so mucho.
Clearly, the party membership let it be known that it wants the party to play ball in this government and stop stirring shit up, which was Erjavec’s modus operandi every time he hit a rough patch, without actually getting much done.
However, Pivec would probably be well advised to try and look as independent of Šarec as possible, lest she be accused of making hers a satellite party in LMŠ’s orbit. And if she really does start standing up for pensioners’ demands, she’ll be on a collision course with the rest of the coalition pretty soon, because there’s only so much beating a budget can take.
But before we even get there, PM Šarec will have to navigate the shitstorm caused by Karl Erjavec’s impeding resignation from ministry defense.
You see, the moment the parliament takes note of #Karlexit, the clock starts ticking, leaving the PM three months to come up with the replacement. And since defense portfolio is within DeSUS’ purview, it will be up to Aleksandra Pivec to come up with a replacement candidate who will then have to win majority support in the parliament.
And if the nomination of Angelika Mlinar is anything to go by, things could get messy.
But seeing as leader of the nationalist SNS Zmago Jenlinčič seems to have come a sort of unofficial confidence-and-supply agreement with Marjan Šarec and is striking a more conciliatory tone lately, the prime minister can probably breathe easy, at least for the moment.
That said, it would be interesting to see if Šarec would be willing to take this opportunity for a mini cabinet reshuffle. If, for example, DeSUS and LMŠ were to trade defense and health portfolios (rumour has it that health minister Šabeder is fed up with everything and is looking for a way out), there could be something in it for everyone: Pivec delivers on her promise to do more social stuff, Šarec (or, more to the point, his national security advisor Damir Črnčec) gets the control of the entire security apparatus, while the government as a whole can get a bit of an energy boost.
So, yes, the ouster of Karl Erjavec or #Karlexit does have reprecussions on various levels of Muddy Hollows politics and the fact that the party is now headed by an almost-all female crew is just a tiny (although hugely symbolic) part of it.
But there’s a bonus track as well. Parallel to the Erjavec-Pivec showdown (where PM Šarec had a cameo role) there was a slightly more muted but just as important political kerfuffle between Šarec and President Pahor.
During the Iran Panic, when Erjavec wanted to look all stateman-like and shit, he gave the order to pull out Slovenian army instructor from Iraq, after Iran lobbed a couple of missiles at the Erbil military base where Slovenian personnel was stationed.
In this, Erjavec was supported by President Pahor who, as commander-in-chief was also keen to come across as all statesman-like and shit, and had an early-morning video call with the troops there, trying to look worried, but not worried enough to forget telling his PR people to make the best of the photo-op.
Seeing this, and after the whole troop-withdrawal thing ended in embarrassment for Slovenia, PM Šarec fired a couple of salvos at Erjavec and Pahor for, well, jumping the gun and using the situation for their PR stunts.
Neither Pahor nor Erjavec were particularly happy with the snide and the latter proceeded to publicly shame the PM. He claimed to have tried keep Šarec in the loop but that the prime minister had been sleeping and couldn’t be bothered while shit was going down in Iraq.
President Pahor, on the other had, took the unusual step of doubling down and openly supported Erjavec’s decision to order a withdrawal. That, of course would be the same Karl Erjavec Borut Pahor was desperate to kick out from his own government back in 2010.
Politics sure makes for strange bedfellows.
However, with Erjavec gone, Pahor is – albeit indirectly – left with a bit of an egg on his face. Not only has the pull-out been transformed into “an early troop rotation”, contrary to the commander-in-chief’s wishes, the president’s chick-fight-by-proxy with PM Šarec ended with the proxy scurrying off the pitch, humiliated.
In this round, Marjan Šarec scored a bigger victory than it seems.