Presidential Elections 2017: Year Of The Women

With six, nay, five weeks until the first round of the presidential election in Muddy Hollows, the field is getting slightly more crowded and the race somewhat more interesting than initially imagined.


From left to rigth: Ljudmila Novak, Romana Tomc, Angelca Likovič, Suzana Lara Krause, Maja Makovec Brenčič (source, source, source, source & source)

As expected the main political parties (i.e. those with deputies in the parliament) were struggling to find people willing to challenge incumbent president Borut Pahor. After all if recent polls are anything to go by, the guy is more popular than Donald Trump at a white-supremacist rally. But since one has to keep up appearances, these parties had (or still have) to field candidates, lest they be perceived as not giving a flying fuck about the office of the president. Which for the most part they don’t, but that is widely considered to be a bad approach to an election.

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President Pahor Mounts a Reaganesque Defence in TEŠ 6 Investigation

Vacation, as per von Clausewitz, is a continuation of stress by other means. And while pengovsky planned to post extensively during the vacay it turned out that another von (Moltke, in this case) was right when he observed that no plan survives the initial contact with the enemy. Which makes one wonder just what exactly President Borut Pahor’s plan was yesterday when he faced off with former coalition partner and former leader of now-defunct Zares party Gregor Golobič as they both testified in front of the parliamentary committee investigating the clusterfuck that is the TEŠ 6 power plant in Šoštanj.


Gregor Golobič and Borut Pahor (right) (source: RTVSLO)

Now, sitting presidents in Slovenia don’t often get called to testify in parliamentary investigations. In fact, the last one to have done so was Milan Kučan, testifying in 1995 on the circumstances on the JBTZ affair in 1988, one of the key events in emergence of multi-party democracy in Slovenia and its drive for independence. Additionally, this was – by pengovsky’s admittedly perfunctory count – the very first instance of a sitting Slovenian president facing off with a contradicting witness. This alone makes yesterday’s a truly remarkable event. Then there’s the fact that it was Golobič vs. Pahor, a former and a current political heavy-weight respectively who used to bat for more or less the same team as coalition partners in Pahor’s 2008-2011 government (later brought down by Golobič for reasons including but not limited to TEŠ 6). And secondly – or thirdly, for those keeping count – the mere fact that the showdown at OK TEŠ 6 took place less than two months before the first round of presidential elections makes this a rather extraordinary occurrence.
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Presidential Elections 2017: Hoisting Tits Up The Flagpole And Seeing If Anyone Got Wood

Slovenian presidential elections got a slightly unexpected impetus in the past ten days or so with the emergence of what seems to be the most credible challenger to president Pahor to date.


Marjan Šarec (left) and Milan Jazbec (right) are challenging president Borut Pahor this Autumn

The whole presidential race thing is in a bit of a flux right now. Obviously, everyone knows it will happen but few people know when exactly. Which is why the dynamic is slow at the moment although we’re already in mid-June and the clock is ticking.

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Tele-kom, Tele-go

The supervisory board of the Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SDH) is expected to finally end the sad saga of the sale of Telekom Slovenije today. The state owned telco was put up for sale as a part of the deal then-PM Alenka Bratušek and her FinMin Uroš Čufer made with Brussels in 2013 to avoid a bailout that would send Slovenia into the special Olympics category together with Greece and Cyprus (as well as Ireland and Spain, to a lesser extent).

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Telekom Slovenije management might get new bosses soon (source: The Firm™)

To cut a long story short, the company was put up for sale soon after the SDH was formed and when it became clear that the new Slovenian government will go ahead with the attempted sale, despite PM Cerar’s vocal reservations during the election campaign, all hell broke loose. Cerar’s government nearly went tits-up with the SD threatening to quit the coalition (but didn’t and wouldn’t, because gravy train), there was a very public and very loud stooshie between the PM and his defence minister Janko Veber of SD, who was then relieved of his duties. And in general, as the days passed, the debate on Telekom was becoming ever more charged.

But in the end Deutsche Telekom, the supposed bogeyman in this story did not even place a bid, leaving Cinven, a British fund to go at it alone. Which was a bit of a #wtf moment, especially for opponents of the sale as it became clear that people are not exactly queuing to snap up the company. And after much wrangling the final offer was around 110 euros per share with additional 20 per share later on if certain conditions are met and benchmarks achieved. Yesterday, Telekom Slovenije (TLSG) traded at 98 euros per share. And in the end it was all about whether the SDH will accept Cinven’s offer. And this is where the fun really starts.

The issue is so charged both politically and emotionally that any politician with at least a half-developed survival instinct would rather walk away from it or find a way to maintain status quo. And every so often even PM Cerar gave the impression that he would rather see the Telekom problem simply go away. But it didn’t and in the end, the SDH management OKd the Cinven deal and kicked the issue upstairs, to the supervisory board. Which after much deliberation OKd the deal as well but kicked it upstairs to the government, acting as SDH’s shareholder assembly. And after even more deliberation (an eight-hour cabinet meeting on Sunday last), the government decided to kick the issue downstairs, to the SHD supervisory board, saying they’re paid to do it and that it’s their job.

Thus an interesting situation was created whereupon the SDH management, its supervisory board and government green-lighted the deal, and now everyone is looking around, waiting for someone to say “sold!”. The Board is apparently scheduled to meet later today as to catch a deadline set by Cinven. The fund is threatening to pack-up and leave should the deal be nixed or final decision somehow delayed yet again.

But on the fate of the deal hinges the internal dynamic of the coalition. Namely, should the deal go south at the very last moment (and that at the moment seems unlikely, despite the massive pressure from anti-privatisation camp), the SD, now barely hanging on would probably score massive points, overtake United left (ZL) at the top spot in the polls and probably start calling the shots within the coalition. Most of them, anyway. Because not only is the SD fighting a politically symbolic battle, the outcome will have massive repercussions for the party in terms of access to resources, influencers, decision makers, and the party’s own political prospects.

Watching very carefully will be Karl Erjavec of DeSUS, who is mostly sitting this one out, but is gearing up for a similar fight over Zavarovalnica Triglav, the largest insurer in Slovenia. If Miro Cerar and his SMC prevail, then Teflon Karl better start preparing a different strategy to keep Triglav in state hands and, by extension within his sphere of influence. If, however, the Telekom is not sold, then Erjavec can simply cash in the support he gave to the SD prior to election, divide the spoils and live happily ever after.

Not that the anti-privatisation camp is throwing in the towel, either. While the SD will probably not leave the coalition over the Telekom (not that it could, with its six votes, anyhow), they are trying everything else. Thus yesterday evening an 11th hour attempt was made at derailing the deal. Mladina weekly ran a story about a due-diligence, commisioned by a potential bidder which supposedly showed Telekom shares are worth as much as 190 euro.

Now, under normal conditions would have been a bombshell. But these are not normal conditions. The pressure brought to bear in this case is beyond anything we’ve seen in recent history. At the very least, this is the first time the wrangling, arm-twisting and threats are done out in the open, at the highest level of politics and public life in general. Therefore, the first question that begs asking is why is it then the British fund is the only bidder? This phantom bidder could have made an offer of say, EUR 150 per share and still make a deal of the decade. But it didn’t. And that’s all that matters.

At any rate, whatever the fuck the SDH supervisory board decides today, will probably mark the end of a period. Not just for Telekom Slovenije, but for Slovenian politics. The fallout will be massive. If the deal falls through, what little credibility Cerar’s administration gained at home and in Brussels, will have disappeared as the PM will be seen as being shoved around easily. If, however, the SDH board does finally OK the sale, Cerar’s problems are far from over. Not only on account of DeSUS holding a baseball bat to fend of privatisation of Zavarovalnica Triglav but also because the anti-privatisation camp nearly succeeded this time around and will be anything but disheartened in the next round.

And while early elections are not in the cards any time soon (not yet, at least), life in the ruling coalition will become increasingly difficult as the SD seem to have found their voice (their only problem being that it is the same voice the ZL is using, only much more effectively). With this in mind, the possibility of a coalition expansion or even reshuffle seems plausible.

 

 

Social Democrats Between Cerar And Veber-y Hard Place

in 1994, then-defence minister Janez Janša, refusing to quit office over Depala Vas Affair was removed from office by a parliamentary majority in what was probably one the most tense periods of Slovenian statehood. A defence minister using military spooks against civilians to his own needs is never a good idea, let alone in a fledgling democracy. And in an ironic fuck you by Mother History itself, twenty-one years later, almost to the day, Slovenia is again faced with a defence minister running amok and refusing to stand down. This time, however, it’s not Janez Janša, the now near-fallen leader of the SDS, but rather Janko Veber, of Social Democrats (SD) who directed OVS, the military intelligence service, to poke around the sale of Telekom Slovenije. Namely, he defied PM Miro Cerar and refused his calls to resign. AS a result, the PM will now ask the parliament to replace Veber.

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Picture related

Now, drawing parallels between Janša and Veber only goes so far, although a nasty one pops up on a seemingly unrelated question of handling the issue of Roma family Strojan some years ago. This time around, there is no danger of the select army units being deployed to “secure key installations”, no thousands of protesters in front of the parliament sporting pitchforks and shovels and threatening to do generally unpleasant things to deputies if defence minister goes. But one would think that the political class would have advanced both in style as well as content in the past twenty-odd years. Especially political veterans such as Veber who definitely have enough mileage to know better.

As a result, a clusterfuck of reasonable proportions is now brewing inside the ruling coalition. The SD is, for the moment, standing firm behind Veber with party boss Dejan Židan (who doubles as minister of agriculture) going on and on about Veber doing nothing inappropriate and that SD will defend ministers who do their work. On the other hand, Cerar’s demand Veber step down won him a round of applause from the opposition NSi and SDS, while coalition member DeSUS is apparently still calculating how to profit from this as of today on the same boat with Cerar.

The thing is that although technically his boss, PM Cerar cannot simply dismiss Veber. Because constitution. The ground law namely states that ministers are nominated by the PM but appointed to office by the parliament, hence it is only the parliament which can dismiss them. This stipulation has caused trouble more than once, with mixed results. Amazingly, back in 1992, during his second administration, Janez Drnovšek tried to replace Jožica Puhar of what is now the SD (!) but failed. Puhar later resigned of her own accord, while Drnovšek went on to become one of Slovenia’s iconic political leaders.

The same conundrum, albeit with much more melodrama attached, was faced by PM Borut Pahor in 2010, when he demanded that DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec resign as minister of environment due to a damning report by the Court of Audit. Teflon Karl refused, forcing Pahor to call upon the parliament to remove Erjavec from office. Only then did the man give in and resigned, saying he wanted to spare the PM further embarrassment.

And this is quite possibly the scenario we are facing today. Not unlike DeSUS in 2010, the SD in 2015 can, despite reportedly a strong faction in the party to do so, ill afford to quit the ruling coalition. Because resources. You see, the party is but a mere shadow of its former self. It won 30 seats in the parliament in 2008. Six years later it hardly mustered six. And it fared only marginally better on municipal level. The only asset it really still has is its organisation and ground network. But that needs to be supported somehow, mostly by influence exerted on various levels to either bring in financing or to please the right people. Preferably both. And you can not do that when in opposition.

So while PM Cerar might be faced with an undesirable prospect of a single-vote majority in the parliament (SMC and DeSUS combined can put together 46 votes), going back to square one, reopen coalition negotiations and try to lure Alenka Bratušek’s ZaAB to join in on the fun or even give a shot to a minority government rule, the SD is faced with a much more fundamental question of its survival. Of the party as a whole, not just survival of its current leadership set and the gravy train attached to it. The on

The only thing going in favour of the SD is the vast amount of experience it can draw from. The SMC is still well-versed in the intricacies of political maneuvering and is prone to trip over things that need not being tripped over. One such thing is the SD trying to shift the blame for the current situation on the SMC, saying the PM is not adhering to the coalition agreement by speeding through the motions to replace Veber. But Cerar really doesn’t have any other option. Even before the whole thing escalated to boiling point it was clear the PM can not simply let this one slide. There he was, faced with a minister who clearly stepped is bending over backwards trying to explain why, of all the possible agencies, bureaus and directorates did he have to pick army spooks to assess the sale of Telekom. Furthermore, why the bleeping bleep did that he, while claiming to have acted in the interests of national security, exposed the inner communication of military intelligence which – if nothing else – showed that the service was just as divided on the issue as the rest of the country. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a security risk. And Veber trying to explain all that was a textbook definition of a shitty job.

If Cerar ignored the issue or even supported Veber, he would have not only condoned Veber’s actions but – just as importantly – empowered the SD to the point of near-invincibility, because if you can get away with abusing military intelligence for political purposes, you can get away with anything. And before the faithful jump citing Veber’s concern for national security, we should not forget his party chief Židan who yesterday more or less plainly told the newsmedia the true casus belli was not national security as such but rather control of the Telekom. And this evening, Veber upped the ante, echoing Židan and even implied that while he was working in the interests of the country, Cerar wasn’t. Which is stopping just short of accusing the prime minister of high treason. And that’s a statement that’s very hard to walk away from. So the question do jour is whether the SD will walk away from Veber or from the government.

If pengovsky were a betting man, he’d bet on the former. Especially since there are other big companies for sale as well and if the SD quits the government, they relinquish what little influence they will have over the issue after the dust settles.