With two more days of campaign remaining, it is time for pengovsky to bring you the fourth and last instalment of 2010 local election guide-extraordinaire. For parts One, Two and Three click here, here and here respectively.
Debate of candidates for mayor of Ljubljana. Source: The Firm™
So, what to say about this campaign in Ljubljana local elections? One word comes to mind: lacklustre. In Slovene capital at least, there was no serious campaigning until the very end. As if the huge lead incumbent mayor Zoran Janković enjoyed from the start put his challengers off. To an extent that may very well be the case. However, this election season was also marked by striking similarities between platforms the candidates and their parties and lists were running on.
Again, one word: traffic. With mayor Janković sort of delivering on most of his election promises from 2006 (although, it must be said again, things are not always as advertised), most candidates focused on problems this city has yet to solve. And traffic in Ljubljana is one big clusterfuck which will probably get much worse before it gets better. Candidates somewhat differ on approaches, but the bottom line is that some sort of railway will have to be constructed. Question is, whether Ljubljana should have a tram or a fast regional railway, which would connect Ljubljana to its airport and nearby towns (with SDS’ Zofija Mazej Kukovič and notably would-be councilman Žiga Turk opting for both). In addition, there are plans (mostly by mayor Janković) for widening main traffic arteries to allow “yellow lane” for buses and other modes of public transport. All candidates also vow to complete the network of cycling lanes. The same goes for most of other issues. Almost everyone agrees on what is needed, but they differ on how to get there.
Where there was some scuffling, it had mainly to do with challengers taking turns in criticising and attacking how incumbent mayor Zoran Janković ran the city in the past four years. The hick-ups related to Stožice sports we documented on this blog as well. But criticism also went in the general direction of his conduct during sessions of the city council, presumed arrogance, authoritarian tendencies and overspending.
Janković in turn generally replied that most of the people trying to oust him from office have one way or the other been in power for years on end (either on state or city level) and that they had ample opportunity do things their way, but instead just sat on their hands and talked too much. As for overspending, he maintains that, although higher than in previous years, the city debt is still well within legal limits and is being repaid without a problem.
How much is true?
Well, technically Janković has a point about city debt. By law a municipality can raise loans only up to a certain percentage of budget income, with the whole debt not being allowed levels which would hamper normal functioning of a municipality. This level is decided on a case-by-case basis by the ministry of finance. In case of Ljubljana this means that the current debt ceiling is set at about some 170 million euros, while the city currently runs a debt of about 124 million.
If there’s one thing one has to concede to Janković and his team is the fact that they know how to juggle numbers. As the mayor brought three of his four vice-mayors straight from the board of Mercator, financial planning is something they’re pretty good at. Although, it must be said they too sometimes find it hard to accept the peculiarities of public finances where not everything always goes according to plan. But in general Ljubljana’s finances are in order, it’s just a case of how much manoeuvring space remains should a financial emergency occur.
Secondly, Janković will apparently never forget how the government of Janez Janša took away 60 mil of spending money in 2006. After keeping quiet for most of 2010, he again brought it up with regard to Mojca Kucler Dolinar of NSi and Zofija Mazej Kukovič of SDS (his leading challengers, but both struggling in single-digit areas of polls). The mantra is naturally not as effective as it was prior to 2008 parliamentary elections, but Janković is very much an instinctive politician and his actions are rarely pre-meditated.
Which also reflects in the way he ran the city and (specifically) city council sessions. Pengovsky often said that the incumbent mayor is about as delicate as a buldozer on steroids when it came to enacting his policies. But if he was a bit rough around the edges at the beginning of the term, he got his bearings pretty soon and as a rule followed procedures. When he didn’t the city council rebelled (there was an issue of quorum) and he learned his lesson.
There are two things that work in Janković’s favour (and no, it is not media bias – a claim predictably uttered by Janez Janša a couple of hours ago). He is a text-book definition of a hands-on manager, who will go above and beyond the call of duty to oversee how things are progressing. He is also very approachable (if he wants to be) and he is known to be a great motivator, leading mostly by example. However, he is also the kind of person who loses his temper quickly if he feels people are wasting his time and can be very direct about it (to put it mildly). Case in point being a couple of outburst both in city council sessions as well as in press conferences. In one word, he is extremely charismatic.
And charisma is exactly what his opponents lack. Granted, most of them can hold their own. Some have more mileage in Ljubljana politics than it even bears thinking about. Some are in the race just for the heck of it, still others to lay groundwork for future terms (the latter case being especially Zares’ Milan Hosta).
In terms of campaign quality, the candidate that underperformed the most is in pengovsky’s opinion SDS’ very own Zofija Mazej Kukovič. Since she was deemed Janković’s main challenger, she was expected to tackle the incumbent mayor on a variety of very specific issues. But as time election day approached, it became painfully obvious that she is unable to go beyond clichés of allegations of mismanagement, corruption and dictatorial tendencies. She and her party also piggybacked on the initiative to hold a referendum on the recently passed new spatial-and-zoning plan, but failed to actively support it beyond posing for cameras while signing the petition. The deadline for collecting 11,000+ signatures to hold a referendum was yesterday and the initiative failed, in part due to lack of support from SDS, the only right wing party in Ljubljana with a power-base strong enough to make a difference.
On the other hand, the party which exceeded expectations (pengovsky’s expectations, at least) is LDS. In part still reeling from the 2004 meltdown, constantly scuffling with Zares and with its top two people (interior minister Katarina Kresal and justice minister Aleš Zalar) being almost constantly under fire, the party, which is not known for unity, closed ranks and got their shit together. Having been additionally fucked over by Zares which (contrary to expectations) ran their own candidate for mayor – thus trying to chip off votes from LDS, which supports Janković – the party went into town-hall-meeting-mode, organising events and discussions and tried to present itself as open to new ideas and approaches. We’ll see if the tactics works, but the overall impression was above average.
In the race for mayor Janković is poised to repeat his landslide victory of 2006. Pengovsky still maintains that the incumbent mayor will receive about 56 percent of the vote, but he will still leave his challengers in the dust. Ditto for the race for city council, where pengovsky projects The List of Zoran Janković winning about 20 seats and SDS about 10, while both will be followed by LDS, SD, DeSUS, Zares, The Green Party and possibly The List for Clean Drinking Water.
This concludes the Guide. Tomorrow is a you-know-what day, and pengovsky will be back with electoral results on Sunday 10 October, soon after 1900 hrs. Stay tuned!