Danilo Türk Eyeing To Be (S)elected UN Secretary General

The selection of the next Secretary General of the United Nations used to be a pretty dull affair. At least from the viewpoint of the general public. The big five states, the permanent members of the Security Council would, after a bit of behind the scenes wrangling and horse-trading, agree on the least-undesirable candidate. This time around, however, things are a bit more fun. And that’s not just because there’s a Slovenian entry, too.

20160411_dt
Danilo Türk during “informal hearing” (source)

Former president Danilo Türk made it no secret that he eyed the position soon after he lost the 2012 re-election bid. In fact, his entire diplomatic career, save the five years he spent serving as president of the republic, was connected to the United Nations in one way or another. Be it the country’s ambassador to the organisation and later a non-permanent member and (at one point) even chair of the UN Security Council or, further down the road, serving as Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs during the tenure of SecGen Kofi Annan. Add to that his mileage as professor of international law, his charity work and work in various forums and NGOs as well as contacts he developed around the world during this time, he’s a pretty strong candidate, at least on paper. Perhaps second only to Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO and widely touted as the frontrunner of the field consisting of eight candidates. Besides Türk and Bokova these include Srgjan Kerim, former foreign minister of Macedonia, Igor Lukšić, foreign minister of Montenegro, Vesna Pusić, former foreign minister of Croatia, António Guterres, former Portuguese PM, Helen Clark, former PM of New Zealand and Natalia Gherman, former foreign minister of Moldova. Did pengovsky say eight? Sorry, he meant nine. Namely, on the eve of the first day of “informal dialogues” with candidates Serbia submitted former foreign minister Vuk Jeremić as their entry, bringing the number to nine, with five of those coming from countries of former Yugoslavia.

Indeed, the fun part of this (s)election process is the sheer number of ex-YU candidates. All that’s missing now is a Bosnian candidate (or three of them) and we could have a rotating presidency, like in the good old days. But since we all know how that ended, maybe it’s best not to go down that road.

Anyhoo, while it was much fun to watch the candidates “informally present themselves” in a rather formal and organised manner, it was also fun to watch the representatives of UN member states and various groups somewhat struggle with the new process. While some questions to the candidates were specific to the point of crafting policy, others were outright duds, as if the representatives of member states didn’t exactly know what to do will all this (informal) power vested in them.

This goes for Türk’s hearing as well. He was asked a couple of hard questions, mostly on UN evergreens such as the Middle East conflict and misconduct of UN peacekeeping forces and he sailed through those pretty smoothly. But then again, he got a few softballs that were like “Dude, why are you even asking this?!”, but there, too, Türk fared pretty well, not coming across as patronising or condescending, an oft-repeated criticism during his stint as Slovenian president (full disclosure: pengovsky was involved with Türk’s 2012 reelection bid).

But the best part of today’s hearing was Liechtenstein asking Türk about his commitment to accountability and transparency. Liechtenstein and transparency. Now there are two words you don’t usually see in a positive correlation. But hey, if Arab countries can pretty much choose to ignore the various wars and conflicts on their own soil, if Israel can shift the blame for the shituation at home solely on the Palestinians and if Saudi Arabia can chair the UN Human Rights Council, then poor little Liechtenstein preempting the transparency issue any way it can is perfectly legitimate.

After all, this is the UN. And this is where Türk seems most at ease. Internationalist, but not interventionist. Recognising the sovereignty of member states, but not isolationist. Reform minded but recognising that different groups have different priorities. Good with buzzwords (people first!) but mindful of the reality and the UN’s heritage.

And this is where Türk probably nailed his presentation: When asked by te UK’s representative what the purpose of the UN is, Türk responded with one word: Peace

So, all in all, the man did good. Definitely better than a lot of people in Slovenia are willing to admit. In fact, a considerable amount of energy is being spent by his detractors back home to paint him as unsuitable for the job. Mostly on account of his supposed divisiveness, asking how can he unite an international organisation if he can’t even unite a country.

First of all, it’s kind of hard to unite the country where a major political player with a substantial following (who is now on the outs, but more on that in the coming days) is painting you as the devil incarnate and working actively to undermine any possible consensus in the country, political and otherwise. And secondly, despite their name, the United Nations were most likely truly united only once in their history: When the original 50 members signed the UN charter. From that point onwards it was about geopolitics, own interests and alliance-building. Which is a part of the reason why the organisation’s top position is “only” a Secretary-General and not a full-blooded President. The UN is not about unity, it is about building a consensus, i.e. the smallest possible level of disagreement, one issue at a time. And this is something Türk knows how to go about. At least in a UN setting.

And when people ask, what will Slovenia gain Türk if gets the job, the answer is “not much”. After all, the government to date spent a ludicrous amount of EUR 7514 (that’s right, 7k euros) in relation to his bid. So why should there “be something in” for a country in what is essentially a private individual’s campaign (true, the government did endorse him and formally put his name forward, but still). What is at work here is the unhealthy tribal instinct of Slovenians where a Slovenian who – against all odds – makes it out there in the big, big world, is somehow morally bound to help his fellow compatriots with jobs, pet projects and free money. They don’t realize that the primary concern is that of the employer. Just as the EU commissioner from Slovenia has to take care of European policies and not those of his/her home country, so is the UN Secretary General tasked with running the UN smoothly and not with promoting the agenda of his country of origin. One of these days we’ll all learn. But not today, apparently.

Anyhow, for all the bravado of the new selection process, the fact remains that when all will be said and done, it will be down to the permanent members of the Security Council to come up with a name. Which means that the back-room dealing is far from being over and done with. And it is entirely possible that a completely different name comes up on top.

Still, one would hope that the entire process will be slightly more civil than the upcoming Republican convention.

 

 

 

Do Things Really Bode Well For Slovenia?

A guest post by Primož Cencelj of KD Funds in today’s web edition of the Financial Times (link kindly provided by @AdriaanN) provided an itch pengovsky needs to scratch.


The new national logo (via FB)

Now, for the record: I wholly understand the FT serves a specific (if wide-ranging) public and I’ve no problem with Slovenians providing insight into Slovenian matters for foreign public. After all, this is exactly what pengovsky.com is about. That and tits. But I digress…

The problem with the said blogpost is that yet again an economist is trying to pass as a political analyst. Specifically, Cencelj argues that “while the low turnout indicates a majority of Slovenes feel disenchanted with politics, those who voted [in the presidential elections on 2 December] expressed a willingness to cooperate, to support austerity measures and to break the political deadlock – in effect echoing the cries of the protesters. So, in practice, the 66 per cent landslide for Borut Pahor has boosted support for a long-overdue programme to curb public spending. As a result, on December 4, parliament voted for pension reform and on December 6 for stringent state budgets in 2013 and 2014.” (full article here)

Now, if this were a government spokesperson, one could say that this was a thinly-velied attempt at a media spin (blaming both left- and right-wing radicals for the riots included) But since Cencelj is working for a private investment firm, one can only quote Val Kilmer in Top Gun. I mean, ferfucksake, there is no way in hell you can interpret a 60-percent absence in Slovenian presidential elections as any sort of support for anything. As pengovsky wrote days ago, the wave of protests and the low turnout are an across-the-board rejection of politics as we know it.

Pension reform, which was passed days ago, has absolutely nothing with the protest wave. In fact, the adopted pension reform, although unquestionably a good thing given the current demographics, is such a watered down version of what the previous government pushed for, that a new reform is inevitable in three to five years. Which is OK, but will do precious little for a lowered credit risk. Even more, the fact that the trade (labour) unions finally came to an agreement with the government shows the former still operate well within the framework of “politics as usual”. As such they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Case in point: days ago Branimir Štrukelj, one of the more prominent union leaders showed up at one of the rallies in Ljubljana. Seeing that he was fast becoming the centre of media attention, other protesters started chanting “no one represents us”. Which is a fact. The pension reform does not address the issue of the precariat. It only addresses the needs and issues of full-time workers. Which is all fine and dandy, but the point is that in a year and a half since trade unions and the now-ruling SDS shot down the previous government’s attempt at pension reform, so much has changed that the existing corporatism model of “social dialogue” between the unions, the government and the employers is of limited legitimacy at best. It should be noted that Štrukelj and his teachers’ union supported the previous pension reform attempt and that Pahor’s goverment for all intents and purposes could have been slightly more flexible in negotiations back then. But the point is that eighteen months later Slovenian economic future is no longer solely in the hands of the usual players. The new guys (the amorphic protest movement) don’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about rating agencies, credit risk rating and equity premium risk.

Also, Cencelj writes that “the living standard will get worse before it gets better”. Which is the usual mantra in the age of austerity. And it may even be partly true. Partly, because in the five years since the crisis struck, the living standard only got worse. And it shows no signs of improving. History shows that things will eventually get better. But at what cost? One of the common messages of the protest movement, apart from “we’ve come to take back the country you stole”, is that the people are not the cause of the crisis, therefore are no longer willing to pay for it. And this is the (economic) gist of it. The bill for the economic slump is being shoved down people’s throats. And those who took to the streets are saying they will not foot it.

Some say those who protest really have no reason to, because they are not having it all that bad. Well, they’re not having it bad yet. According to the Slovenian Statistics Office as much as 13.6 percent of the population are officially poor while additional 5.7 percent are subjected to social exclusion (data for 2011). Altogether as much as 19.3 percent of Slovenes are not living the life considered average in Slovenian society.

Interestingly enough, the country with the highest rate of poverty is Latvia, which is being put forward as the model for solving the crisis. Really? This is the good that bodes for Slovenia? You see, when the really poor come out to protest, the credit risk will be the last thing on anyone’s mind. A lot of people will hold on for dear life if/when the boat starts rocking in that particular manner.

Bob forbid it should come to that. But if the proponents of “business as usual” continue to refuse accepting the new reality where the usual measures of things simply don’t count any-more (or, if they’re extremely lucky, don’t count as much any-more), everyone will find themselves yearning for the good old days of solid “industrial action”. And that includes labour unions.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Second Republic (Again)

(note: the following should have been published last night, but the server was down for maintenance, hence the post is back-dated)

The balance of power in Slovenia has shifted. Well, the balance of power in the fast-shrinking political/media bubble at least. As results of presidential elections came in on Sunday and Danilo Türk conceded defeat, it became clear that president-elect Borut Pahor will play merely a supporting role in the new political reality. Usually, on election night the order of appearance of political players in the national press centre is clear. The defeated candidate (or candidates in case of parliamentary elections) comes first, gives the concession speech and slowly fades into oblivion. Everyone with a vested interest comes next, with the victorious side coming in last. On Sunday however, it was the president-elect who gave his victory speech in the in-between slot, while Prime Minister Janez Janša had the last word. Just so everyone knew who’s the boss.


Almost 25 years ago Kongresni trg was full of people protesting for Janša. Today they protest against him.

And what a speech it was. While lauding the victory of Borut Pahor, he announced – in the wake of the wave of protests which is still sweeping the country – nothing short of changes to the political system of this country, hinting at sweeping changes in the judiciary, self-government, election system, the constitution and so on. Pahor’s speech, on the other hand, was full of fluff.

At any rate, it took Janša less than 48 hours to come up with a slightly more detailed, eleven-point plan on revamping the political system:

-Electing MPs directly
-Provide for possible re-call of an elected MP
-Provide for possible re-call of mayors and city/municipal councilmen, limit mayors to serving two terms maximum
-Disband the National Council
-Institute a trial period for all newly appointed judges
-Keep the permanent mandate for judges after the trial period, but subject all existing judges to re-election by the Judiciary Council which is to be strengthened with judicial experts and supreme judges from other EU member states
-Set up a special court dealing in the worst cases of white-collar crime. Judges in this court to be nominated by the President and appointed by the parliament with a 2/3 majority
-Set up financial police
-Disband all agencies and institutions which cannot be found in other EU member states
-Take away all privileges enjoyed by elected officials after they leave office
-Provide for a simpler procedure to call early elections and form the government.

The political/media bubble was taken by surprise. It needn’t be. The “sweeping reforms of the political system” are nothing more than the same old story Janša has been going on about for fifteen years now, only slightly updated. You don’t believe me? Here’s a version from 2009 and here is the 2011 edition. No wonder Janša was able to come up with the latest version so fast. He merely updated the file on his iPad.

But despite all the waves Janša and his SDS made with the latest incarnation of the “Second Republic”, this is little more than clever diversionary tactics. Pengovsky tweeted as much yesterday evening and Janša’s further statements today only prove this point.

Namely, a day earlier leader of Social Democrats Igor Lukšič, trying to capitalise on Borut Pahor’s presidential victory, went in front of the cameras and said that early elections were needed in order to break the political deadlock this country is facing. But when journos pressed him on the issue, asking why doesn’t he simply move for a no-confidence vote, he said plain and simple that his party can not muster the 46 votes necessary to overthrow the government.

I mean, talk about political amateurism… Lukšič said this country is in a political deadlock. He added that it can only be broken via early elections (the same instrument Borut Pahor bent over backwards to avoid a year and a half ago). And yet at the very next moment he admits that he has a snowball’s chance in hell to bring Janša’s government down. Correct me if I’m wrong, but a government which you can’t really bring down is not particularly unstable, no? In fact, one would be hard pressed to put words “unstable government” and “Janez Janša” in the same sentence. Case in point being the fact that Janša is the only PM in the last sixteen years to have completed a full four-year term.

Janez Drnovšek was ousted as PM only months before his 1996 – 2000 term endend, Andrej Bajuk replaced him for eight months, only to see Drnšovek get re-elected later in the year and then quit two years later to get elected President. Tone Rop took over for the remainder of the term and got his ass whooped by Janša in 2004. Pahor took over in 2008 and saw his coalition crumble in 2011, forcing early elections later in the year, which – after a failed PM bid by Zoran Janković – reinstated Janša at the helm. Lukšič thus shot himself in the knee big time only hours after his man pulled off a political stunt of the decade and got elected president after first having been ousted as PM and later as party chief.

Janša obviously capitalised on Lukšič’s open-mouth-insert-foot moment and offered to hold early elections two months after all eleven points of his newest plan. But to call early elections would mean that the parliament would have to dissolve itself and with this in mind it becomes clear that chances of early elections right now are about two to the power of 276709 to one. It is thus obvious that the latest Janša blueprint is just a semi-clever ploy.

Truth be told, both Igor Lukšič of SD and Zoran Janković of PS rejected Janša’s blueprint, but since this was expected, SDS tried to sell this particular load of fecal matter as its response to the demands of the protesters in the street. There’s one caveat, though. While it is true that a few of Janša’s proposals are broadly going the same directions as the protesters’ demands, the PM is bending over backwards trying to side-step the fundamental demand – that he resign from office. And most of the political elite with him. The people don’t want changes which would lead to Janša’s even greater grip on power. They want heads rolling.

And in all honesty, Janša too doesn’t need this blueprint. He and his government are working hard to dismantle remodel in their own image education, health and judicial systems. With the media under pressure yet again, he can achieve his “second republic” just fine even without it. He already controls the parliament. He controls the economy. And as of last Sunday, he also controls the president of the republic. Not sure if Borut Pahor knows this, but that’s the way it is. The Second Republic is already here, its just that we’ve been too busy to notice. And Janša wants to keep it that way.

The only unknown in this scenario are protests. The political class, even down to “middle managers” is shit-scared and they honestly don’t know how things will turn out. I don’t think anyone does. Individuals who started the riots are apparently in police custody and newspapers report they were well organised, paid to stir up trouble and that the trail of money leads to a particular political party (no points for guessing which one). And among those arrested yesterday in Maribor are apparently four members of the Slovenian army.

The plot thus thickens. Mayor of Maribor Franc Kangler announced he will be resigning as mayor tomorrow, reportedly after having a pow-wov with Janša. Well, too little, too late. Demands of the protesters have long evolved beyond the issue mayor Kangler. Had he resigned ten days ago, he might have been able to prevent the havoc. But he didn’t and he couldn’t. Which is why he is no longer relevant and his resignation solves nothing. The people will apparently take to the streets once more and with Kangler out, someone else will become the primary target. Janša will do his damnest it’s not him.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Police Raid Zoran Janković

Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković got raided by law-enforcement agencies early this morning. The CrimPolice knocked on his door at about 6 am, produced a search warrant and searched his place, places of eight other individuals and fourteen places of work. While Janković himself was apparently not detained during the course of the investigation, six people were. This includes his two sons (one whom was in hospital, where his wife was having a C-section) as well as Uroš Ogrin, general manager of Gradis G, the principal contractor in the Stožice Complex project (and several other construction projects in the city).


Cop cars in front of the City Hall earlier today (photo: The Firm™)

Officially, the primary focus of the investigation is the Stožice complex and the flow of money surrounding it. The commercial part of the complex still isn’t finished, allegedly because GREP (a company established by Gradis G and the other contractor Energoplan for the purpose of constructing the complex) can’t secure a final credit line of about 15 million euro in what is essentially a 350 million euro project. Specifically, the police suspect (among other things) money laundering, abuse of office and fraud.

Right now no charges are filed. They usually aren’t in cases like these. It will take the cops over at National Bureau of Investigation some time before they sift through the pile of papers they’ve confiscated but it seems inconceivable that the prosecution would not press the case all the way to the court. Regardless of how watertight the case against the mayor really is.

Because even though everyone was loath to look at the case from the political point of view, it is obvious that the ramifications of this case go beyond mere questions of legality of Janković’s actions. With him being the president of the largest party in the parliament this somewhat levels the political playing field in Slovenia, since his arch-rival Janez Janša is knee-deep in the Patria Affair. Somewhat being the operative word here as no charges are pressed as yet against Janković, while Janša is standing trial. Since the investigation was apparently opened a year and a half ago it would be unfair to say that the whole thing is purely political, but there are too many coincidences here to just brush them off.

First, as with almost every other big story in the last year, the whole thing broke while PM Janša was out of town. This time around he was in New York, attending the UN General Assembly, calling for a world without genocide (I’m sure everyone else went: Hey, why didn’t we think of that?). Second, this happened after the State Prosecution was transferred under the portfolio of Ministry of the interior, now ran by Vinko Gorenak of Janša’s SDS. And third, the fact that the raid happened on the same day Jankovič’s daughter-in-law was in hospital, giving birth via a C-section, reeks of intent to humiliate. These procedures are planned in advance and while pengovsky is not pointing any fingers, it looks as if someone was looking to add insult to injury.

But even if these are pure coincidences, fact remains that the spotlight is now firmly on Zoran Janković and this will be exploited by his political opponents in every way, shape or form. Indeed, it wasn’t long since president Danilo Türk was called upon to “publicly denounce” Janković, who was Türk’s first PM nominee after 2011 elections and whose party Positive Slovenia supports the incumbent president in his re-election bid. Funnily, no-one calls on SDS presidential candidate Milan Zver to publicly denounce Janez Janša due to him being tried in a court of law. And you can be sure Borut Pahor will try to jump on that particular bandwagon as well.

But while the right-wing will howl about how this is the beginning of an end of Jay-Z and the “entire left wing”, there is an issue that will have to be dealt with mostly by Positive Slovenia and sooner rather than later: as things stand right now, the party appears united behind their man. But in the past members of this party and other notable left-wing politicos claimed that Janša should resign the moment the court accepted the charges against him filed by the State Prosecution. With regard to their leader, the SDS maintains that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. As expected, they are not willing to extend this luxury to Janković. But Positive Slovenia claimed an altogether different criteria, which is definitely more in line with the concept of a modern democracy. Thus it will be interesting to see how they respond if charges against Janković are indeed formally pressed.

On the other hand, however, there’s always the possibility that Jay-Z will spare them the grief. Tonight he categorically denied any possibility of him resigning, but then again, you never know…

Enhanced by Zemanta

Borut Pahor’s Mitt Romney Moment

Slovenian and US menstrual election cycles are oddly in sync. No matter the clusterfuck this country is in, we’ll always find elections to have more or less simultaneously with the “Tuesday after the first Monday in November“. Four years ago it was parliamentary elections which gave us Borut Pahor and gave Barack Obama to the rest of the world. Well, except Iran. And maybe Israel. But that’s another story.


Borut and Mitt, the also-rans (sources: The Firm™ and NYT)

This time around, however, the game in both towns is presidential. Barack H. Obama is running for re-election in Washington, while Danilo Türk is running for another term in Ljubljana. Also running are Mitt Romney in DC and Borut Pahor over here. Or should that be in past tense?

You’ll remember how pengovsky wrote about Borut Pahor turning into Slovenian Joe Lieberman. Today, however, he seems to have suffered his very own Mitt Romney moment, and not even a full 24 hours after former Governor of Massechussets more or less tanked his presidential bid.

Namely, in a pre-session huddle with members of the press Pahor, who serves as MP for Social Democrats (where he lost a re-election bid as party leader) said that his 2008-2011 government was oblivious to the worsening situation in the banking sector and totally failed to detect a problem. Which was a bit of a duh! moment for everyone else, but it seems to have been a breakthrough for Pahor himself. Which would be all fine and dandy were it not for the small fact of him running for president of this country.

The post of the President of the Republic is the pinnacle of political hierarchy in Slovenia. Despite the fact that it is largely (but not completely) a ceremonial post, the president is elected by a popular vote and is as such often looked to for moral and political guidance. Borut Pahor, despite his undeniable political and diplomatic achievements (the Arbitration Agreement with Croatia being his lasting contribution to the short history of this country), was voted out of office on account of – well – bad leadership. Sure, the fact that the pension- and labour-market reforms were defeated on a referendum was the result of an unholy alliance between the right-wing opposition and labour unions, but even after the defeat he relentlessly clung on to power saying that the last thing this country needs is political turmoil. Failing to recognise the fact that by then the country was throat-deep in political turmoil.

He also did not realise that, for better or for worse, the buck stopped with him, the head of the government and of the largest coalition party. He actively evaded taking responsibility for the situation and thus only protracted the political impasse that had at the time gripped Slovenia. And when he did make a move it was far too little, far too late. And after being subjected to an open can of whoop-ass in 2011 parliamentary elections (SD plunged from 30% in 2008 to a meagre 10% in 2011) he blamed everyone and his brother for the defeat. In fact, the only proof that Borut Pahor does indeed have a back came only days ago, when he fell of a horse and hurt it. The back, I mean. The horse is reportedly OK.

The scene was repeated in June this year, when – despite the epic electoral defeat – he ran for re-election as party leader. The Social Democrats, in what appears to have been a rare moment of lucidity, ousted him by the thinnest of margins and installed Igor Lukšič as head of SD (Lukšič himself painfully underperformed ever since, but that’s another story). Pahor went on with his presidential bid regardless, as if he is somehow entitled to the top post, after having already served as head of the Parliament (2000-2004) and head of the government (2008-2011).

Thus, after objectively failing as prime minister and then as party leader, Pahor now of his own free will said that he also failed in realising the problems of the banking sector. And yet he truly believes that he is fit to be president of this country, at a time as perilous as any this generation has ever seen. This, ladies and gentlemen, is nothing less than a humongous case of disconnect from reality.

Despite his apparent panache and suaveness, Borut Pahor often came across as overly candid, naive and unable to properly gauge the political environment he was in. Not unlike Mitt Romney, who probably killed any chance he had to get elected president. And so, too, it seems, has Borut Pahor.

Unless, of course, the disconnect is not only with Borut Pahor.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta