Karl the Komeback Kid

With the return of Karl Erjavec to the helm of DeSUS this past weekend, things are shaping up for some serious end-of-the-year fireworks in Muddy Hollows.

Erjavec may have qualities but looking good in a mask is not one of them (source)

The fact that Komeback Karl made, well, a comeback, may seem a beautifully executed political long-play. In reality, it is anything but. Then again, Erjavec will be trying to milk the situation for all it might be worth. Including making a play for the post of the prime minister.

That its erstwhile leader was reinstated as DeSUS big kahuna with a two-thirds majority only reiterates the magnitude of the shitshow that Aleksandra Pivec had presided over after she somewhat surprisingly ousted Erjavec from the party top job back in January.

The question everyone in Muddy Hollows is obsessing right now – with some justification – is, what will Karl do.

Basically things boil down to whether Karl will bail on Janša’s coalition and re-join the emerging centre-left bloc now united under the florid designation of Coalition of the Constitutional Arc (KUL in Slovenian).

On that note, yes, they were actually going for a cool name, and yes, everyone agrees it is a bit too on the nose. But, it is what it is.

Karl loves it when a plan comes together

At any rate, as the second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic struck, the situation in Muddy Hollows has gotten seriously fucktangular,

People are dying by the hundreds every week, not in the least because the messaging is all over the fucking place and trust in government is as low as it ever was.

At the same time, the administration seems unable to re-evaluate its approach and is sticking by the measures, even those its own epidemiologists are saying are not working, all the while Janša & Co, are trying to blame everyone but them selves for the unfolding disaster.

If you’re thinking Erjavec’s case for bailing on this slow-moving car-crash is building itself, you’re not alone. It would seem that Komeback Karl made the same bet, taking his time, nudging the people who need to be nudged ever so gently and letting the plan come together.

However, the plan might not come together at all.

The two largest wrinkles in it are the fact that even with DeSUS on board, KUL would still be three votes shy of the 46 votes needed to topple the Glorious Leader and – just as importantly – DeSUS parliamentary group is not really keen on taking the plunge anyhow. At least not alone. At least part of the SMC parliamentary group would need to play along as well.

On one hand, this puts Erjavec in a similar bind that Aleksandra Pivec found herself in, back in January: being at the mercy of at least four out of five DeSUS MPs (with Robert Polnar MP anyhow presumed to be aligning himself with SDS should a push come to shove).

On the other, Erjavec is much more of a politician than Pivec ever will be. He knows his MPs like the back of his hand and was intimately involved in putting them on the ballot in the first place. And in case of Franc Jurša, the senior DeSUS MP, that even meant persuading him to run again, after Jurša had already announced his political retirement.

Thus, the odds of Erjavec getting his way are not insignificant, but it is not a slam dunk. Not by a longshot.

That said, if Erjavec somehow does manage to get all the ducks in order, he just might be able to make a play for the top job. This would mean that he would not only have to bring at least four fifths of DeSUS parliamentary group to the table, but at least three (likely more) SMC MPs as well.

Now that will be fucking difficult.

And that’s even before we get to the fact that not everyone in KUL is sold on having Erjavec as the anointed challenger to PM Janša.

Just the other day Luka Mesec of Levica was making noises about how his party considers economist Jože P. Damijan, who put his name forward about two months ago, to be the legitimate challenger.

KVE vs. JPD

Now, regardless of what Luka Mesec thinks, Karl Erjavec ( now styled by his operatives as KVE, short for Karl Viktor Erjavec) is a way better fit for the PM job than Jože P. Damjan (JPD) will ever be.

First and foremost, Komeback Karl has a shitload more of executive experience than JPD. Ironically, they both started their high level gigs at the same time, in 2004 as ministers in the first Janša government.

But JPD, at the time a neoliberal firebrand (before becoming a born-again keynessian years later), crashed out of that administration after only 90-somtehing days, after Janša nixed his plan to sell off Nova Ljubljanska Banka for 1.5 billion euros (in fairness, JPD’s lassez-faire instincts were proved correct six years later, then twice as much money had to be pumped into NLB to prevent Slovenia from defaulting on its debt in 2010). As a result, the grand total of his senior-level executive experience amounts to buying a table-footbal set.

In contrast, Karl Erjavec muscled himself into the post of defense minister in 2004, survived the Patria Affair unscathed, and never left the subsequent governments until 2020 (save that one time, when then-PM Pahor made it so awkward for everyone that Erjavec put him out of his misery and resigned, only to see Pahor’s administration collapse months later).

Even though Erjavec is known for his penchant for portfolios that come with a bullet-proof car and a security detail and can run on bureaucratic inertia, the fact that he has served under five PMs either as defense or foreign minister shows that he knows how to swim in the cesspool that is politics in Muddy Hollows.

And even though he is not what one would call a political visionary and has often made an fucking mess of things when he started having ideas, he is known to do reasonably well if he sticks to the script.

Case in point being his mini media-blitz in the spring of 2012, when he was told to use his passable French and stick to the talking points on French television. Which he did and helped calm the frayed political and financial nerves in the EU.

There is a case to be made that Erjavec as PM would be perfectly capable of following an agreed-upon scenario of epidemic management, followed by the first stages of post-epidemic social and economic recovery. Crucially, Erjavec would likely do this without engaging in culture wars, diplomatic embarrassments and illiberalism, all of which have become the staples of the current Janša administration.

To be frank, that is about as much as we could possibly expect from Erjavec under the best of circumstances.

The next fourteen days will be crucial

But seeing as one in two thousand a thousand Slovenians will have died from mid-March until Christmas, while Janša’s government is more focused on deflecting the blame rather than finding an effective set of measures (all the while attacking the media and anyone else who doesn’t express blind loyalty), this seems like a reasonable deal.

And the next election is due in a year and a half anyway. So even if Erjavec were somehow to pull off a Brigitte Nyborg and got to have a crack at the top job, his spell as PM would be short. But it would be the culmination of what is apparently a quite real personal ambition for DeSUS leader.

After which he might even think of running for president, something which pengovsky suggested the last time around. But first, Erjavec must convince people he used to boss around, to sign up to his plan.

And the fact that his in-party-rival-turned-ally and health minister Tomaž Gantar, and SMC leader and minister of economy Zdravko Počivalšek – both of whom Erjavec ideally needs on his side – are in the middle of public skirmish over what do next, complicates matters even further.

Tu use the government’s much maligned go-to phrase it uses every time it passes yet another half-arsed and manipulative set of measures, the next fourteen days will be crucial.

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pengovsky

Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.