The Tale Of Two Prime Ministers

It was the best of times it was the worst of times. It was the age of Light it was the age of Darkness. Depending on whether you were Janez Janša or Alenka Bratušek yesterday. Namely, the two former PMs have seen their political outlook clear and muddle respectively less than 24 hours apart. Or so it seems.

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Hand. Over. (source)

After a retrial was declared in the Patria Case, the newly assigned judge ruled the statute of limitations expired in this case as the alleged crime took place in between August and September 2005, before the Penal Code was changed to allow for a two-year extension in cases where the constitutional court ordered a retrial. There was some speculation that the extension will be granted especially since the new proviso was generally used retroactively, but mostly for post-WWII summary trials, thus paving a way for true acquittal of those innocent people who somehow were in the way of the Communist regime.

Interestingly enough, this was exactly the spin Janša – more precisely, his stellar lawyer Franci Matoz – wanted to make by arguing that he’d like the extension to be granted in order to clear his name in front of a judge rather than simply through a legal proviso. However, you’ll be excused for thinking that the way things unfolded was good enough both for Matoz and for his client. Because, no matter how you look at it, Janša, as well as his co-accused Ivan Črnkovič and Tone Krkovič, as well as Walter Wolf, who fled to Canada, are once again innocent. That the first three will probably sue the state for wrongful incarceration (numbers around half a mil per person are being circulated) is almost a given.

What is not a given is any kind of reset to the way things were before. While sporadic shouts of how this government lacks legitimacy are almost unavoidable, it seems to have dawned on Ivan’s legal squad at least that any scenario involving a rerun of elections is impossible. Not practically impossible, not virtually impossible, simply – impossible. Not in the least because the public have, for all the deficiency and occasional amateurism of this government, come to appreciate the sense of political stability and even dullness of day-to-day politics. Not that there aren’t screw-ups, boat-rockers or a certain amount of mischief in general, it’s just that none of it seems to be cataclysmic.

Not to be discounted is the fact that the Party burned a huge amount of resources defending its Glorious Leader tooth-and-nail. This has had noticeable effect on the ability of the party to form policy and/or take positions on issues not directly connected with the main strategic objective.  Also, a number of high-profile individuals turned out to be lacklustre in the cause at hand and have as a result fallen out of grace of the party leader(ship).  And although this strengthened the party on the inside, it also reduced its reach beyond the immediate rank-and-file. Which might also explain why the SDS, while closely trailing the SMC in the opinion polls, did not get any sort of  lasting bump in the opinion polls. Which also helps explain the overall resignation regarding possible political dividends of the whole affair.

So, while Janez Janša is now scott-free, he and his party are now, optimistically speaking, back to square one, while the political landscape has changed quite a bit. Just how well they can adapt to the new reality and hit the ground running will decide whether theirs will be a slow but sure path to oblivion or whether they will be able to reinvent themselves and form a new and viable political platform. The party proper, however, has also managed to put off the question of a post-Janša future. The operative word here being “put off”, and not avoided. Because sooner or later this will become an issue.

But for the time being, Janša still has a party to run. Afterall, he at least has a party. Unlike his successor in the PM seat Alenka Bratušek who is literally seeing her Alenka Bratušek Alliance disintegrate before her eyes.

Namely, Jani Möderndorfer, head of the party’s parliamentary group is looking for a new political home. He quit the party and the group yesterday and is rumoured to be on the verge of switching to Miro Cerar’s SMC. All of which pengovsky predicted as early as July. And while the media are focusing on the dire political straits the former PM found herself in, the real story here is the new balance of the Force within the coalition.

You see, when Bojan Dobovšek quit the SMC parliamentary group and went independent, the SD, most junior of the coalition partners, went orgasmic at the prospect of actually starting to matter in terms of securing a parliamentary majority of 46 votes (at that moment SMC had 35 votes, DeSUS 10 and SD 6). Theirs was a short-lived happiness, however, as DeSUS poached Peter Vilfan from ZaAB in late July, thus once again making itself the sole indispensible coalition partner. Should Möderndorfer really sign up for the SMC, Miro Cerar’s party would be back to 36 votes and the coalition as a whole would have a vote more than it began the term with.

The story does not end there, however. The side-effect of Möderndorfer’s jumping ship is the fact that ZaAB is now down to two MPs, one short for making the cut to claim parliamentary group privileges such as hiring staff and advisors as well as securing seats in parliamentary committees. In effect, this means the end of ZaAB as a parliamentary party. And while Bratušek was lamenting the lack of fidelity and loyalty in politics (at which point Zoran Janković probably went all Top Gun), she was presented with a much more immediate problem: how to regroup in the parliament and keep at least some of the resources available.

She immediately tried to form an independents’ parliamentary group, consisting of herself, the remaining ZaAB member Mirjam Bon Klanjšček and SMC renegade Dobovšek, but apparently that won’t fly due to a quirk in parliamentary Rules and Procedures which require that non-aligned MPs not be members of any political party. And Alenka Bratušek quitting Alenka Bratušek Alliance is, well, humiliating. What she could do, however, is call a congress of what is left of her party, move to disband it and notify the president of the parliament that her party is no more. Has ceased to be. Is expired and gone to meet its Maker. Is a stiff. Bereft of life, rests in peace and pushing up daisies. Kicked the bucket and has shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. That it has fuckin’ snuffed it and that hers is an ex-party.

But that, too, could soon become an academic debate as DeSUS apparently set its sights on Bon Klajnšček as well and should the pensioners’ party poach her, Bratušek’s only chance of seeing the inside of the parliamentary group would be to join an already existing one. For example, the Social Democrats, who have a bit of a tradition for co-opting former MPs who lost their parties. And should this really happen, one could claim that ZaAB had indeed joined Cerar’s coalition. Albeit posthumously.

 

 

A Reshuffle By Any Other Name

What turned out to be a resignation-happy week, culminated on Friday last with a collective fuck-you-we-quit by the trio heading the KPK, Slovenia’s anti-graft body. Goran Klemenčič, Rok Praprotnik and Liljana Selinšek announced their resignations in what they called a protest against the fact that – despite their best efforts – the powers that be are doing their best to ignore the systemic issues of corruption in Slovenia (full statement in English here)

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Samo Omerzel (DL) and Jernej Pikalo (SD) (source: RTVSLO)

The move opens a plethora of interesting questions, not in the least the fact that their successors must be appointed by the very man who (at least by the virtue of his position) oversaw the making of the clusterfuck that is TEŠ6 coal powerplant. That be Borut Pahor, of course, who as PM did nothing to stop the investment which soon thereafter spiraled out of control and went from a doctored 600 million to ass-whooping 1,4 billion euro without a single megawatt of energy being produced yet. But we’ll deal with that in the coming days. Mostly because there is shit going on in executive branch of the government as well.

Namely, after she ditched minister of economy Stanko Stepišnik and minister of health Tomaž Gantar bailed out of his own accord, PM Alenka Bratušek was faced with a miniature coalition crisis. Predictably it was Karl Erjavec of DeSUS who started making noises about how a proper cabinet reshuffle is overdue and that it should include head of SocDems Igor Lukšič who opted not to take on a ministerial position when Bratušek formed her government.

This flip-flop position was thus far very profitable both for Lukšič and his party. The SD is leading in every poll imaginable not in the least because Lukšič manages to avoid the daily bad press and lets senior party figures take the heat while he supports the government unless it is opportune not to do so. Seeing this, Karl Erjavec thought he might squeeze out a concession or two, saying that unless Lukšič doesn’t take on a portfolio, he himself will “think about him remaining a part of the government as well”. Naturally, no-one took him seriously and lo-behold! Erjavec has taken on the health portfolio as well, it was announced yesterday. Which makes for a fun combo: Karl Erjavec, foreign and health minister.

A rather less funny but far more intriguing combo is Uroš Čufer, who – in addition to finance – temporarily took on economy portfolio as well, thus joining two areas (supposedly) critical to turning the fortunes of this sorry little excuse for a country. Legally, this “pro tempore” solution can only be done for a period of six months (three plus three) and it seems PM Bratušek opted for it because Erjavec may still get what he wants, while Čufer will either go boom or bust in the same period. For “boom” read survive the banking stress tests and sell off at least some state-owned companies and for “bust” read none of the above.

At any rate, while no-one is calling it like that, an across the board cabinet reshuffle is in the air. Especially since the coalition will begin negotiating a new agreement, extending until next parliamentary elections in late 2015. Also, minister of infrastructure Samo Omerzel is in a bit of a fix these past few days over his company doing business with state-owned motorway company DARS and although only today the company stated that it bailed out on extending the deal, it may be to little to late. The PS is making noises that Omerzel should go for the same reason Stepišnik had to go – not because he did anything illegal, but because it was unbecoming. And on merit, they have a point. Politically, however, this can heat up things a bit and not just because the opposition is clamouring for his removal.

The thing is that not only is DL supporting their minister (obviously) but they would – if push came to a shove – probably make demands against other coalition partners as well. Which points to the conclusion that the Social Democrats will have to say goodbye to one of their own sooner rather than later. And that can only be minister of education, science and technology Jernej Pikalo. Not because he would do anything really wrong, but because he has the least clout of the three SD ministers in the Bratušek Government.

With Dejan Židan being the Number Two of the Social Democrats and the key senior government official in a recently launched anti-tax-evasion campaign while Anja Kopač Mrak is heading the labour, family and social department which is a can of worms few people want to touch let alone open in the first place. Which leaves Pikalo. His replacement would mean that each of the coalition parties had to throw one of their own under the bus and – in theory at least – everybody would be happy.

This, combined with new ground-rules being laid, the possibility of parties switching some portfolios among themselves and the fact that PM Bratušek is looking to replace three to five ministers within a year of her taking office is nothing short of a full-blown cabinet reshuffle. It’s just that nobody will be calling it that.

 

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Mutiny On The Bounty

Oh, boy… Contrary to what pengovsky predicted two months ago, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković on Wednesday did in fact agree to run for president of Positive Slovenia, throwing a huge wrench in what was already a barely functional political environment. A shitstorm of epic proportions ensued which unmasked a huge rift within the party and threatened, well, omnishambles. These were temporarily put off by what for all intents and purposes was a below-the-belt move by party executive committee to postpone the congress until shortly before parliamentary elections. Which amounts to an in-party mutiny and drives a wedge between Zoran Janković and the party he founded in 2011 led to victory in parliamentary elections only seven weeks later.

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Zoran Janković vs. Alenka Bratušek (not an actual representation of roles ;))

Janković went all in on Wednesday and said he will stand in party elections, thus going head-to-head against Bratušek who confirmed her running some time ago. He also rejected speculations he would back down at the very last moment and went on to state that he sees no reason why junior coalition parties would quit the coalition if he were to return to the helm of PS. Well, maybe he didn’t, but Lukšič, Virant and Erjavec sure as hell did. But more on that in a moment.

PM Bratušek was on an official visit to Serbia on Wednesday and refused to comment on Janković move, but come Thursday, she was all like Cary Elwes in Robin Hood: Men in Tights and published a written statement saying that time for play is over and told him to bring it on, saying she will quit as PM if she loses party elections (Google translate here).

The stage was set for a showdown of epic proportions. Janković’s move was either motivated by one of those Tom Cruise moments or by the notion that he has little left to lose and decided that if he has to go, he will take the party with him. The former would go against him being suicidal, especially since he did hint at a possible “third option” a couple of weeks ago, namely, his retirement some time soon. He wasn’t really serious about it, but the mere mentioning of it suggest that he did take it into consideration.

Additionally, he apparently calculated the junior coalition parties have attached themselves to enough gravy-trains to continue in a Janković-led coalition rather than to quit their respective honey-pots, regardless of their insistence in Spring that Positive Slovenija is only acceptable as a coalition partner sans Janković. Furthermore, he figured (not entirely unreasonably, it must be said) that most of PS senior figures are somehow indebted to him politically. Lastly, he figured that he could easly sway the vote in the party Congress his way. Well, turns out he was right only on the last count.

immediately after his announcement on Wednesday all three junior coalition parties said that Janković as PS president means gave over for the ruling coalition which – by extension – meant early elections within a matter of months. The only coalition party that could reap some sort of benefits from this scenario are the Social Democrats which have seen a steady streak of top ranks in public opinion polls. Thus, even if DL and DeSUS would back down on their demands, the SD would almost certainly call it quits. Which why all three junior parties were watching each other, which would flinch first. With the congress only 17 days away on Wednesday, a proper flip-flop on the issue would be hard to execute.

OT: since a fallen government would most probably result in The Troika descending from Brussels-am-Berlin, the election result would matter about as much as a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys, but I’m sure few people even considered that.

So, this was miscalculation numero uno, not unlike the one Janković made in 2011, when he was negotiating a coalition on his own and wouldn’t cave in to personal vanities of other party leaders. It was this clash of egos that ultimately cost him his premiership and that nearly caused a total political breakdown today. Namely, his running for party president also flew in the face of those who threw him under the bus in late July. He was challenging them as much as he was challenging PM Bratušek and somehow thought his move alone would sway those still on the fence to his side. But again, since Bratušek upped the ante a day later and told him in no uncertain terms that she will only play this game is she heads both the party and the government, a lot of people suddenly stood to lose quite a lot if the government would indeed fall. Not to mention the prospect of yet another election or that of a Brussels intervention. Janković was forcing them into a battle no-one really wanted to fight. Miscalculation numero dos.

And yet, if the battle were to be fought, Janković would probably win hands-down. In this, he was correct. It goes beyond saying that the one thing Alenka Bratušek lacks is charisma. She is a technocrat. A bean-counter, if you want to be unkind to her. If she were pitted against Jay-Z on open stage, she might as well throw in the towel (which reportedly she thought of doing immediately after Zoki’s announcement). For Janković on stage is a sight to see. Regardless of whether one likes him or hates him, one has to admit that he can work the crowd. Especially if the crowd wants to be worked. And congress delegates aren’t exactly a hostile bunch. No-one expected the PS congress to be like the 14th congress of the Yugoslav communists, when the Party fell apart.

This, apparently was a fact recognised by PS ExCom which on Thursday afternoon decided to pull the rug from under Zoran Janković entirely and postpone the congress until some time before elections. Since there is no definitive date for those, the congress is as good as canceled.

But as things stand now, Zoran Janković chipped off yet another piece of what little authority Alenka Bratušek has in Slovene politics. To an extent, one can understand him. He was increasingly sidelined by his own party and no doubt saw it as going beyond the terms of his mutually agreed “freezing of party leadership”. Not the sort of person to take being left out of the loop lightly, he tried to engineer a spectacular come-back.

That he was wrong to do so, can be gauged by the simplest of methods: several prominent SDS members were supporting his bid, saying that a party leadership should be contested in an open manner. Which is all fine and well, but SDS is approving of developments in other parties only when it suits them and they too saw Janković returning to head the PS as a short-cut to early elections which they would probably win.

With these developments, the separation of Zoran Janković and Alenka Bratušek is complete and the upside for her is that no one in their right mind can now claim that hers is a puppet government controlled by Zoran Janković. In fact, it was all a bit like Admiral Roebuck versus M in Tomorrow Never Dies (at 4:10). And although the pundits say she missed her chance to establish herself as a political leader, she has only now opened the possibility to do so.

Namely, both JZ and AB remain candidates when the congress finally convenes, but by then Slovenia will either be under a Troika administration or will have fixed its finances enough to start breathing again which would give Alenka Bratušek a leg to stand on politically. Curiously enough, in all this conundrum the only support (if you can call it that) she got was from the European Commission which said that now is not the time to experiment politically. Translation: they need an operative government to work with/dictate terms to.

As for Positive Slovenia, things do not bode well. The ripple effect will no doubt be felt down the party ranks and some serious work will have to be done to repair the rift in the coming months. If that is at all possible. The very fact that congress was postponed means that party senior figures have not (yet?) won the hearts and minds of rank-and-file members. Some time in the future, there will be hell to pay. It isn’t entirely clear who will pick up the tab, but it should be noted that the mutiny on the Bounty was eventually put down.

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Habemus Congregatio

With Gregor Virant‘s Citizens’ List (DL) ting in favour of joining the coalition of Alenka Bratušek earlier tonight, the PM-designate is expected to present to the parliament a full list of ministerial nominees tomorrow. This brings Slovenia a step closer to having a fully operative government which is to replace the administration of Janez Janša. Thus the coalition agreement between PS, SD, DL and DeSUS was signed shortly before midnight tonight. It gives Bratušek a majority of votes which can, if need be, excpanded to 55 out of 90 votes, including the three independent MPs and two MPs for Italian and Hungarian minority.

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(source: RTVSLO)

In a curious twist of fate, the Vatican curia needed less time to elect the new Pontifex Maximus (that be Francis I., in case you were just unfrozen cryogenically) than the new Sovenian coalition needed to hammer out a deal. In fact, “habemus papam” beat the “habemus congregatio” by a few hours. But I guess it is easier to pick the supreme minister than a minister in a Slovenian government.

We’ll leave the list of nominees for some other day (maybe tomorrow) but even now it is perfectly obvious that the real winners is Karl Erjavec, who is poised to continue as foreign miniser. A few other people are expected to continue in their current positions, notably minister of health Tomaž Gantar (DeSUS) and minister for justice Senko Pličanič (DL).

Speaking of DL, there seems to have been hell to pay tonight at DL HQ, since Janez Šušteršič quit vice-chairmanship of the party. He said he will continue as party member, but the rift between his faction and that of Gergor Virant seems insurmountable. Although it must be said that the move to enter the coalition got a pretty solid backing tonight at DL. However, it appears that a party schism is forming within the DL and that could present PM Bratušek with more of a problem than she may anticipate this early in the game.

At any rate, the coalition agreement is signed and if there are no last-minute surprises Slovenia could have a new government within a week’s time. It will move away from purely austerity and across-the-board-cuts policies into a combination of spending cuts and growth stimulation with special emphasis on infrastructure projects. That and the banking sector. Plus a few other points of interest. And a possible increase of value added tax.

But we’ll deal with these issues in the coming days. Until the new cabinet is sworn in, the old one is still fully in charge, making last-minute appointments left and right.

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When It Rains It Poors For Janša

MPs are gearing for a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Janez Janša tomorrow and the heat is on. Positive Slovenia nominated acting party leader Alenka Bratušek for the post and if things don’t change too much until tomorrow, Janez Janša will have been voted out of office in about 18 hours.

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(source)

That things undoubtedly went south for Janša became obvious yesterday, when both SLS ministers, Radovan Žerjav and Franc Bogovič (who is to replace Žerjav at the helm of the party) tendered their resignations. In response, Janša tweeted about Žerjav that “the worst minister of economy this country ever had left the post”. A classic poor-me-fuck-you response by Ivan, the reason for which became obvious a bit later in the day, when Žerjav said he’s in favour of the no-confidence vote. This probably clinched the deal for Bratušek, since any vote without SLS on-board would be tricky, especially since not every MP of the hastily assembled coalitions (PS, SD, DeSUS, DL and now SLS) will vote for Bratušek and (by extension) against Janša.


The said tweet

Now, the problem with Janša’s tweet is many-fold: First and foremost and for the umpteenth time, this is no way for a prime minister to communicate. I mean, ferfucksake dude! I realise you’re convinced everyone is out to get you, but have some self-respect. Second: While it is true that there’s precious little to be said about Žerjav as minister of economy, it was Ivan who nominated him. OK, so there was a fair amount of horse-trading involved when Janša was forming his coalition, but it’s not as if anyone held a gun to Ivan’s head while he was picking ministers. Quite the opposite, one would think. Thirdly, tweeting in this fuck-you-very-much attitude makes him an ever more sore loser than he already is, especially after Žerjav replied via SLS’ twitter account thanking Ivan for the assessment of his work and wishing him all the best in the future.


Who knew: Žerjav is capable of sarcasm

But tomorrow’s no-confidence vote is not the only fall from grace which befell the stricken PM. Adding insult to injury, the Slovenian PEN club is set on ruling whether to expel Janša due to his “public statements in violation of PEN’s charter to defend freedom of expression”.

When it rains, it, well, poors

Despite writing his first book in 1992 (Premiki, Mladinska knjiga), Janša was made a member of PEN in 1988 immediately after his arrest by the Federal Army. At the time, the PEN club stretched its rules a bit, but since it was all for a good cause, no-one really minded. Well, a quarter-of-a-century later, the tables have turned and those same people who stood up for him are now standing up to him. Problem is, Ivan don’t take that too well. In fact, he blasted PEN saying it had degenerated into a den of informants of Yugoslav secret police (see here for Google translate)

Nor did he take it well when the Supreme Court (not to be confused with the Constitutional Court) denied him an injunction against the anti-graft commission. Janša disputed the report and sued to have the anti-graft report removed from the web pending the ruling. The Administrative Court denied the last request and when Ivan petitioned the Supreme Court to revise the decision, citing violation of his human rights (“I am at the peak of my political career”, he wrote), he was denied again and told that “his human rights were not violated in any way, shape or form, since being a prime minister is not an individual’s human right“. Ouch. Basics, of course, but… ouch.

Ivan response was predictable: “The decision was expected. The PM has no human rights. Bull mastifs do, if they belong to the right owner” (Google translate here). Lovely, innit? Bringing back the drummed-up scandal which basically wiped out Katarina Kresal and where every single charge was dropped, because there simply was no proof. But that of course did not stop Janša from bringing it up. And the list goes on. Recently, his daughter was in the media after the anti-graft commission concluded t she and son of Jože Tanko, SDS’ parliamentary chief landed jobs at the state-controlled gas company after undue pressure was exerted. Not a full week had passed when the Party-friendly media started clamouring that anti-graft’s commission second-in-command Rok Praprotnik had landed that particular job not on merit but because he knew the right people.

By now you’re starting to see the pattern, right? Whenever Ivan or the Party land in deep shit, they start throwing it around in every direction possible, hoping that some will stick one way or another. That they are brazen in mixing fact and fiction in doing that doesn’t bother them one bit. Thus they’ve launched an “anonymous letter” alleging the PM hopeful Alenka Bratušek plagiarised part of her masters thesis. This comes after a string of high-profile revelations of MPs, elected officials and managers stealing academic work of others and claiming it as their own. Or simply forging academic credentials. It’s not that the SDS would be the only party with such a credibility problem, but theirs were among the most problematic cases, as Branko Marinič was forced to forfeit his MP post after receiving a suspended sentence in a criminal case, while Alenka Koren Gomboc was forced out by a procedural trick by her own party, after a long running scandal. And today yet another SDS MP was faced with allegations that his masters thesis is not entirely his own. So when the “anonymous concerned citizen” found out Bratušek mistyped the title of an otherwise credited source, they made it into an affair of practically biblical proportions. Indeed, it seems nothing but bad news for poor Ivan. If if rains, it poors. Pun very much intended.

Non-interpelation

We’ve come all this way and the vote hasn’t even been taken. One person who must feel slightly miffed about all of this is the super-minister Žiga Turk, who wrote up a 60-page response to the ill-conceived interpelation proceeding initiated by the SD. Pengovsky wrote back then that was one of the stupider moves SD made lately (and there were no shortage of them) but added that the stupidity was matched by Turk’s initial reply. Well, the full text only furthers the image.

The self-styled “humble engineer who sometimes just doesn’t get modern culture” went all out against SD, calling it a relict of the past, reeking of naphthalene and not even having come as far as Deng Xiaoping had in the 60s with his “it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white” doctrine. A classic text which would make Dick Cheney and Karl Rove proud not only disputes everything SD holds against Turk, but extols some of those very same things on the grounds of market economy. Also, at first he claims to have fought vigorously for this budget which was slashed almost 20% due to austerity policies, but a bit further down admits that there’s nothing he can do if there’s no money. Well, it seems there’s lack of money and then there’s lack of money (if you catch my drift).

Also, he extols President Pahor’s political leadership while he was running the SD, while at the same accusing his government of being the worst there ever was (he must not have gotten the memo about Žerjav, though). All this did not stop him from taking credit for projects that were pretty much near completion before he took office. Indeed, there wasn’t such an ideology-heavy text in Slovenian politics since, well, since he was writing about “re-communisation of Slovenia” or indulging in Haidt’s pseudo-science. Again, a pattern. Who would have thought, eh? Too bad Janša will probably get voted out of office first, denying Turk from standing front-and-centre, telling those fucking Commies off. It would have been quite a sight.

Bring popcorn

Not that there will be any shortage of fun in the next few weeks. Bratušek looks poised to oust Janša, but that only means Janša is in a care-taker capacity until she forms a government. And that might prove harder than it looks, since SLS will not be joining that particular party and both SD and DL are making noises about early elections sans an interim government not being such a bad idea.

Tomorrow will be ugly. Bring popcorn.

 

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