No matter how you look at it, Slovenian prime minister Janez Janša is not having a good post-epidemic. His majority in the parliament has shrunk down to a single vote in a matter of days, the biking protest movement shows no signs of abating and his onslaught against the public broadcaster somehow continues not to go according to plan. And to top it all off, there is his Twitter habit which keeps backfiring.
While there is no real danger of PM Janša again becoming ex-PM Janša anytime soon, shifting gears from the adrenaline-filled environment of political epidemiology to the mundane everyday of coalition-processed policy did not go smoothly for the Glorious Leader, and it showed.
That is not to say that everything was bad for PM Janša these days. In fact, the decision to repeal the state of epidemic in Muddy Hollows generated a lot of media interest and the government milked it for all it was worth. In the day where the whole world is desperate for good news, a country slowly emerging on the other side of the covid-tunnel surely counts as such.
However, in what is becoming a worryingly regular occurrence, the government then proceeded to make a mess of things, scaling back its buzz-generating statements about Muddy Hollows being open to all EU citizens.
The law of the land as of this writing is that EU/Schengen nationals are, in fact, still subject to a 14-day quarantine, unless they are entering as tourists and can provide a confirmed booking to that effect and/or own property in Slovenia, or they are covered by one of the seventeen exemptions from the quarantine requirement.
Some may argue that the new rules have fundamentally the same effect as the narrative pushed by the prime minister. That may or may not be the case, but the appearance of going from “yes, we’re open” to “well, actually…” is anything but sexy.
What the PM neglected to mention (but someone else has, <sinister laugh>) that there was a reason the end of the epidemic was rushed a bit. Namely, if it hadn’t been declared until 15 May, the social and economic stimulus measures known as PKP2 (see below) would go stay in place for another month, blowing an additional 1,5 billion euro hole in the budget.
This, of course, is not the first time the government’s messaging is all over the place. In fact, we’ve witnessed and experienced similar flip-flops, caveats and walk-backs throughout this epidemic.
In retrospect, some of this was inevitable, as the situation was incredibly fluid and fog-of-war effect was very real. But now it appears these sort of communication mishaps are the norm rather than an exception.
Speaking of norms, there was a lot of that thrown around on Tuesday evening when parliamentary committees were debating the latest anti-coronavirus legislative package, lovingly nicknamed PKP3 (no, Slovenians don’t do acronyms well).
Just as its predecessor, the PKP2 (see note about acronyms above), this package, too, will presumably qualify as super-emergency legislation, exempt from the usual referendum checks (this, too, was legislated quickly under the anti-epidemic banner).
And just as its predecessor, the PKP3 includes some provisions that have little to do with its stated aim, namely to restart the economy but have much to do with the executive branch evading checks by the legislative branch. This sort of piggybacking problematic legislative solutions on an otherwise necessary-if-ill-thought-out bill are also becoming increasingly common. The parliamentary legal service, as usual, did a stellar write-up of all the things that should be fixed in the bill (in Slovenian).
The government introduced the PKP3 bill with only a week of validity of PKP2 left. Whether that was by design, to put pressure on the parliament, or by ineptitude, remains an unanswered question. This scribe votes for ineptitude, because Hanlon’s razor.
But in a clear sign that the epidemic is no more, the opposition refused to roll over and rubber-stamp the bill. Quite the opposite: it made full use of rules and procedures and rained amendments on the coalition and then even tried to mount a filibuster, which is an extremely rare sight in Slovenian parliament.
A taste of their own medicine
The coalition seemed to be taken by surprise and reacted angrily. Well, at least PM Janša and the Party did.
But anger and surprise are not really appropriate here. The opposition, in this case spearheaded by Levica, gave the SDS a taste of their own medicine using the Party playbook from their time in the opposition.
In the past decade or so, the SDS has studied parliamentary rules and procedures in detail, identified the weaknesses and used every twist and turn to maximise their influence and bargaining power in the parliament whilst disorienting the government and trying to dent the unity of the ruling coalition.
Speaking of the ruling coalition, its majority has been – for the time being – reduced to a single vote.
In that other sign that the epidemic was over and normal programming was resumed, Jani Moederndorfer, an SMC MP switched party allegiances for the fifth time in his career and decamped the junior coalition party for a spot on Team Šarec, becoming the fourteenth MP for LMŠ.
Days later, Moderndorfer was followed by Gregor Židan, another SMC MP who crossed over to opposition Social Democrats, led by Dejan Židan. Apparently, despite sharing the surname, the two Židans are not related. As a result, the opposition is not +2 MPs, with Moderndorfer especially being an valuable asset.
Until now, the Great Survivor of Slovenian politics has mostly moved around parties occupying similar bandwidth of the political spectrum and always had the good fortune and/or cunning to land in a social-liberal party which had the most clout at any given time.
But his fifth team change my be his most principled yet. As SMC joined the Janša coalition and started drifting from centre-left to centre-right, Moderndorfer was very much not onboard with the shift and opposed the move from the get-go, both on political and ideological grounds. So it was only a matter of time before he jumped ship and that time came a couple of days ago.
The coalition may be down two people, but it is that much more compact now. There will be fewer solo excursions by potentially rogue MPs and with obstinate elements weeded out, SDS, NSi, SMC and DeSUS should be expected to run a slightly more streamlined operation.
Especially since the latter two parties have now, for all intents and purposes become wholly-owned subsidiaries of the SDS. Because, all in all, you’re just another brick in the wall.
About a week ago, the still-fresh DeSUS chief and minister of agriculture Aleksandra Pivec initiated a small purge within the party leadership and got rid of her secretary general and put a daylight between herself and health minister Tomaž Gantar who is now rumoured to be a short-timer.
Thus, Pivec took an axe to the architects of her ascent to the top of DeSUS pyramid. And while she is not the first political leader to throw people who knew too much to the dogs, DeSUS is not an exceptionally resourced party and dispending with both the secretary general as well as a political ally is a bit much and will not by necessity be much more dependent on Janša for political support.
While we’re on the subject, the SMC has been purged of its left-liberal MPs and it’s weight relative to other coalition parties has diminished (a fact that NSi hinted at capitalising on) and – even more importantly – has the upcoming interpellation of its leader Zdravko Počivalšek to deal with. This means that for the time being the Modern Centre Party needs to play nice to the SDS and have its MPs forget they once had a spine.
Which is why the SDS can take potshots at the SMC while the latter must lie back and think of England, as the phrase goes.
These boots were made for walking (all over the SMC)
Case in point the recent sacking of the director of the National Office of Statistics, the stubbornly non-partisan and expert body which is one of the most trusted sources of raw data in the country.
While no reason for the sacking was given (hence the dubious legal basis), the new acting director already said that one of his priorities will be assessing the effectiveness of the anti-coronavirus legislation but to do this (and here comes the catch) he will enlist the help of the government group that drafted the legislation in the first place. So a bit like a fox guarding the hens, then.
This, however, was only the lastest in the series of SDS walking all over SMC and other partners. A couple of weeks ago Muddy Hollows made a report to the European Commission on the state of the judiciary in the country. TL;DR: not glowing, but shit is getting done and rule of law is paramount.
But while the majority of the report was compiled by the ministry of justice under minister Lilijana Kozlovič of SMC, the report was sent to Brussels by the ministry of foreign affairs where the resident minister Anže Logar of SDS did more than just attach a forwarding cover letter.
Rather than simply writing “please find attached…”, the foreign minister put together a laundry list of issues the SDS has with judiciary in Slovenia, starting with “biased judges” and then working its way through trashing the independent branch of power and added his personal favourite, the alleged laundering of Iranian money through NLB bank in 2008/2009. Logar headed the parliamentary investigation into the matter back in the day.
Funnily enough, news leaked only days later that the last investigation into the alleged criminal act was closed and no charges will be filed.
In an ironic twist of fate, the prosecutor in charge investigation was often looked kindly upon by the SDS (as his family has strong ties to the Party), but even so they failed to have their witch hunt. To his credit, prosecutor Jaka Brezigar put rule of law and professional integrity above whatever political sympathies he might or might not have.
Needless to say that in the eyes of the Party faithful, prosecutor Brezigar went from hero to zero inside of a New York minute. He became a target of a online character assassination campaign that is usually reserved for people higher up on the totem pole of the political left.
The SDS, however, is not deterred by an insignificant detail such as a dropped investigation. Days after the dropping of the investigation was leaked, senior Party members continue to peddle the “NLB/Irangate has not been investigated” narrative.
So much for SDS’ commitment to the rule of law, I guess.
The fable of the boiling frog
Speaking of laundry lists, the PM published one of his own the other day, too. Using Compared to the above fuckery, PM’s own writing really fades in comparison. About two weeks ago, Janša posted a… text of sorts… on the official government website which he titled “War with media” and where he tries really hard to put a fresh spin on his usual asinine rants against any media outlet that would not pay fealty to him.
Naturally, the laborious word salad, which can’t get past the tired boiling frog metaphore, caused much hand-wringing in Muddy Hollows, seeing how it was by the PM and hinted at (but was careful not to actually use the wording) a war against the media but in reality it was just more of Janša’s same old boring shit he’d been pestering the entire country with for the better part of the last three decades.
It doesn’t really matter if this guy is in power or not, he keeps seeing conspiracies against him wherever he looks, traitors wherever he goes and efforts to undermine him, whatever he does. The only difference between then and now is that he keeps getting ever older, bitter and misogynistic.
The text is only marginally interesting for its Orwellian component, where Janša spends a better part of the text defending his appalling Trump-like Twitter habit, sets out a case for a war with the media and then – in a classic case of “what you see is not real” concludes that a war with media doesn’t really exist because there is no such thing.
And then, as the terrible writer that he is, undermines his entire plot-line by concluding that should his valiant statecraft efforts fall short of whatever migrant-free economically successful country he was promising, it will be the media’s fault.