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.

Continue reading Presidential Elections 2017: Hoisting Tits Up The Flagpole And Seeing If Anyone Got Wood

Slovenian Elections: The Purge

In what can only be described as a rout, Miro Cerar won Sunday Slovenian elections in a landslide, winning 36 out of 90 seats, with two of those being reserved for Hungarian and Italian minorities. Thus, the law-professor who in August will turn 51, is the new Slovenian PM-presumptive.

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Miro Cerar, PM-presumptive (source)

Having said that, the real work begins for Cerar only now. In the election campaign he notoriously avoided taking a position on any specific issue, clearly aiming for (and achieving) a catch-all effect. Even his victory speech on Sunday night was lacklustre, to say the least. It was more of his dalai-lama-meets-law-professor-meets-soft-populist rhetoric, nothing and everything at the same time.

PM-presumptive meets the coalition

On one hand, this is understandable. Cerar won, but if Zoran Janković, winner of the last elections is anything to go by, it is very easy to squander a relative majority by closing too many doors early on. On the other hand, it was Cerar who was given a clear mandate to rule the country so he needs to start taking positions and dictate the tempo. Until now, he was mostly re-active, for example excluding a possible coalition with Janez Janša‘s SDS only after Janša shot first and excluded a possible coalition with SMC.

The main issue for Cerar therefore is to make sure he does not become a hostage to his coalition partner or partners. Most likely plural. Namely, if here were to form a two-party coalition, DeSUS is his only choice. Which means that every time a sticky issue would come up, Karl Erjavec would balk and threaten with leaving the coalition, thus forcing Cerar to give in. And Erjavec can be really persuasive. Just ask Janša, Pahor or Bratušek.

So step number one for the PM-presumptive is to leave DeSUS out. Which already limits his options. Step number two will most likely be to make sure his is more than just a single-vote majority, again, for the above reasons. This means he will have to reach both left and right. With ZL not being a viable option, Cerar’s possible coalition partners include Social Democrats, Alenka Bratušek Alliance and the NSi. And mathematics suggests he will try to form a ruling coalition will all three of them.

Such an approach would be advantageous for many reasons. Fist, it would put him at a comfortable 51 votes. Second, it would adhere to his pre-election “why can’t we all just get along” mantra. And third (and perhaps most important) it would leave enough room for manoeuvre vote-wise for any of the junior coalition partners to depart from the common line every now and then and still not endanger the 46-vote majority.

Thus, for example, the SD could oppose further privatisation plans (and keep what is left of their electorate happy) while the legislation could still be passed, without endangering either the 46-votes majority or the coalition itself.

And last, but not least, this approach would be reminiscent of the way the late Janez Drnovšek put coalitions together and it is always good to be compared to Drnovšek, even though Cerar right now doesn’t even come close to the legendary PM. However, while Cerar is mulling his next move, the exact opposite seems to be going in the SDS, as their shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach backfired badly.

The purge

That the SDS took a beating goes without saying. Sunday saw their worst performance in the last decade and only slighty better than their results in 1996 and 2000 elections. Even worse: when compared to the overall number of eligible voters, support for SDS in 2014 elections boils down to a mere ten percent of adult Slovenians. Granted, this says a lot of other parties as well, but is especially damaging for a party which promotes itself as the only one defending patriotic values and does a lot of flag-waving at every opportunity.

After Janez Janša was admitted to prison due to a confirmed guilty verdict in the Patria Case, the SDS made their glorious leader the focal point of their campaign. SDS MP and one of party vice-presidents Zvonko Černač took centre stage and demanded Janša be released at every opportunity. No longer was their election platform important, they focused solely on Janša, claiming elections are not free and fair without him.

After the results came in, Černač repeated the #freeJJ mantra and added the party will not be taking active part in parliamentary procedure. There were even reports about their elected MPs not actually taking office, but the plan was supposedly dropped as it became clear that in that case new elections would simply be called for vacant seats.

Anyhoo, after the SDS openly threatened to derail parliamentary procedure, media back-lash ensued followed by what was reported as a fierce debate in the party Executive Council. As a result, Černač backtracked on the issue, saying he was “misinterpreted”. Now, let’s take a moment and reflect on this.

What happens when the alpha-male leaves the pack

For the first time on bob-knows-how-many years, the SDS made a complete and unreserved U-turn in a little more than 24 hours. This is the first example of what pengovsky projected the moment Janša was put behind bars. The alpha-male is out of the game on a daily basis and his replacement does not carry nearly enough clout for decisions and moves to go unquestioned.

And there’s a lot of bad blood in the SDS right now. Some of their key people didn’t get elected even though they were thought of as fixtures of Slovenian politics. Cases in point being the above mentioned Zvonko Černač (which means he has even less clout in the party and his position as Janša’s point-man is in peril) as well as Jožef Jerovšek, who served as SDS MP continuously since 1996. Ditto Andrej Vizjak, who got elected for the first time in 2000 and held many posts ever since, including that of minister of economy (2004) and labour (2011).

Moving away from the SDS, Franc Pukšič, the industrious former mayor of Destrnik, who held an MP seat continuously since 1996. Pukšič started as an SDS member but switched to SLS in 2008. Since the party didn’t make it above the 4% treshold, one of the more distinctive features of the parliament is gone. Just like that. Ditto for Pukšič’s much more mild-mannered party colleague Jakob Presečnik.

Rout of the left

The purge of course wasn’t limited to the right side of the political spectrum. Lucky for them, a lot of more experienced SD members decided to retire and had evaded the voters opening a can of whop-ass on them. But the purge of the SD is going on for quite a while now. In six years they went down from thirty (2008) to mere five MPs (2014).

The purge, however, was complete for what was left of Positive Slovenia. The party of Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković didn’t make it above 4%, reducing Zoki’s aura of invincibility to, well, sundust. Janković is in a lot of trouble right now (both legally and politically) and should start getting concerned with his plans for another term as Ljubljana mayor. His opponents smell and see blood and his tenure in the city hall is all of a sudden much more insecure. The party, however, is more or less dead in the water. It might carry on, but it will remain a mere shadow of its former victorious self.

The caretaker PM Alenka Bratušek, however, fared slightly better. When her fight with Janković split PS down the middle and she and her supporters went to form their own party, her stated goal was to best PS in the polls. Which was kind of weird at the time as the consensus was they should be concerned with making it to the parliament first. But in the end, it turned to be one and the same goal. Bratušek can, in a sense, count herself as coming out victorious. But the price that was paid for her four MP mandates was extortionate. On the bright side, however, she can once again resume comparing herself to Brigitte Nyborg of Borgen 😉

Skipping over the NSi which continues to take its rightful place in the parliamentary political spectrum, even increasing their result by one MP seat, this leaves us with the real surprise of the election Sunday, the United Left (ZL).

The surprise

The party of “democratic ecological socialism” was looking to Greek Syriza for a role model and is questioning the established order of things. In the end they got 5.96 percent which translates into six seats. They sport a three-member presidency, but it was Luka Mesec, the youngest of the trio of leaders, who emerged as the most recognisable face of the party. It was his appearance on a POP TV-held debate on Thursday, three days before the elections which sent the party rocketing from around 2.5 percent way above the parliamentary threshold, in the end nearly tripling their result.

On a personal note, pengovsky got into a bit of hot water with ZL fanbase for saying that Mesec brought in votes of older women on account of him looking good and saying smart things. A rather tedious debate followed where accusations of mysoginistic statements were thrown in my general direction. But while further analysis did indeed show their voters mostly come from below-45 age group, a third of their vote still comes from 45+ age group. A third, meaning two out of six percent of votes won. Which means, 45+ age group was just as instrumental in pushing the ZL above 4% than younger voters.

Additionally, another analysis showed about 50% of ZL voters decided to pick them in the last couple of days, emphasising the importance of Mesec’s appearance and performance in the debate.

Now, anyone with any experience in campaigning will tell you that TV debates are not really about substance but rather about showmanship. You might have the best platform in the world, but if you’re not telegenic enough or if you make too many mistakes, you might as well throw in the towel. So the point pengovsky was trying to make is that while ZL platform is nothing to scoff at, it was Mesec’s TV performance (his telegenics) that made the difference. But, the fan-base insists it was the platform that brought in the entire six percent of the vote.

Shifting the discourse

Be that as it may, the ZL is in and is bound to shift the political discourse to the left. Which in itself is not a bad thing. Too many things in this society are taken for granted and thought of as set in stone, which is one of the reasons this country moves at a sluggish pace at best.

But theirs is a hard task. They will inherently be branded as far-left, even though one could make the argument they are the only “true-left”, platform wise. Secondly, their set of ideas is only one of many competing sets in the parliament, all of which are perfectly legitimate, some more appealing to one part of the society, some to another. Thirdly, they are newcomers. Pushing your agenda has to do a lot with knowing your way around rules and procedures of the parliament. Fourth, they will need to hold their nerve and not lash out against more experience MPs patronizing them or even setting procedural traps for them, supposedly to “put them in their place”. The parliament is a tough neighbourhood and while everyone is smiling and wears a tie, backstabbing is often the norm. And lastly, the ZL need to be careful not to get smug too soon.

A lot of people invested a lot of hope into them and while the some expectations are unreasonable by default, the ZL MPs were not elected to the parliament to be like other MPs but to be better than them. And that’s a benchmark others before them failed to achieve.

PM Bratušek Resigns, Looks To *Early* Early Elections

Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek resigned from office earlier today. This was the end result of a coalition pow-wow on Saturday where apparently cooler heads prevailed in the post-PS-congress fuck-up and realised it don’t matter a pair of dingo’s kidneys if the government holds on for a few more months and agreed to hold early elections ASAP.

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AB’s letter of resignation (source)

While president of the parliament Janko Veber said in a statement about an hour ago that 22 June is not feasible as election date, other summer dates are being looked at. The “problem” is that school recess starts that weekend as well which might pose a problem from a constitutional point of view (a bit more on this later on).

It all went tits-up

That the ruling coalition went tits-up became apparent a week ago, when Jay-Z ousted Bratušek as PS chief. Disintegration of the party followed, with the PM quitting PS and taking half of the parliamentary group with her, while Zoran Janković was left to pick up the pieces.

Thus a curious situation ensued, where the PM is fact a political apatrid (EDIT: although she is apparently in the process of forming her own party), while president of one of the coalition parties apparently wasn’t even invited to partake in the huddle. Namely, Zoran Janković was reportedly overlooked when invites for the meet were sent out which technically makes even more of a mess of the whole thing. Which gives enough of a glimpse of the clusterfuck we’d have experienced if Bratušek administration were to try and continue in the current setup.

The word “fugly” would not even begin to describe it. Just to give you an idea: Although Bratušek left the PS, Janković insisted the congress gave her full support to stay on as Prime Minister, while voting him in as chief of the party. How he came to this conclusion remains a mystery, as congress didn’t vote on the issue. Bratušek on the other hand fulfilled her promise to quit the party and the premiership if she loses the congress vote, putting Slovenia in the classic “what happens if an unstoppable force meets an immovable object” conundrum. Luckly, that particular scenario was avoided. Temporarily, at least.

That it not to say that Jay-Z will not have a say in the way things unfold. Even though the PS parliamentary group split down the middle and the party under Janković is left with 13-or-so MPs (out of 29 they began the term with), it will take a nod from Janković as well to try and cut a short-cut to early early elections.

The procedure

Namely, the procedure that is triggered by resignation/fall of the government calls for at least three rounds of attempts to find a new majority in the parliament, with ten MPs having unlimited options to put forward their candidate. Thus, theoretically both PS and the SDS as well as any other group that could muster ten MPs (say, the SLS-NSi combo with its newfound happiness) could delay elections for a considerable time.

This, however, will not be the case, apparently. While the SDS remains suspect (pun very much intended;) ), there seems to be a consensus, albeit grudging one, that no parliamentary party will seek to put forward their PM nominee. For his part, president Borut Pahor already said he will not be putting forward a nominee as well, which basically covers all the bases and open the theoretical possibility of elections as early as summer.

Having said that, things will probably not go smoothly. Aside from the fact that summer early elections clearly favour only current parliamentary parties as their alternatives outside the parliament (such as once-parliamentary Zares now led by Pavle Gantar or the up-and-coming Verjamem of Igor Šoltes, Solidarnost or the United Left) need more to get their operations running, there is also the possibility that time will simply run out.

Due date

Elections are normally not held during the summer break (last week of June to mid-August) nor are they called in a manner which would mean the campaign would be held during the break, although the latter is more of an accepted convention than anything else. And since elections can be held forty days from the act of calling them at the earliest, this means that if anything is to happen, it has to happen by next Tuesday. Failing that, we’re most likely up for elections in late September.

Additionally, there is the factor of a possible constitutional contention of the election date, especially since the Constitutional Court seems to have acquired a taste to meddle in policy questions, case in point being the real-estate tax and the archive referendum, where they nixed May 4th as voting date on a marginal but politically prominent question of UDBa archives, courtesy of the SDS.

But even though we can reasonably expect the party of Janez Janša to stall things a bit (well, quite a lot in fact, since they’re again talking about impeachment of Alenka Bratušek), they’ve apparently started to prepare for a period without Janez Janša as their point-man. Following the upheld conviction of the SDS leader who is to serve two years in prison for corruption, SDS MP Romana Tomc resigned as vice-president of the parliament. Officially it was done in protest over “politically motivated conviction against Janša”, but it is quite possible she is designated to replace Janša at least temporarily.

Romana Tomc, SDS’ Alenka Bratušek?

Tomc was rumoured to have been considered a replacement for Janša during the 2012-2013 winter uprisings which called for his resignation as PM. Nothing came of it as a new coalition was formed under Alenka Bratušek, but Tomc has been near the limelight ever since. With no immediately apparent political baggage she just might be the person SDS is looking for to fill the void Janša’s (temporary) removal from inner circle of politics will bring.

Since SDS is in a good position to win the parliamentary elections as things stand, an apparently moderate interim leader, not unlike Alenka Bratušek (both gender- and rhetoric-wise) might just give that extra boost the party needs to climb all the way to the top, which has eluded Janez Janša but once for the last quarter of the century.

Anyways, as of today, Slovenia is in election mode, level 999 and will remain so until mid-autumn when local elections are held. Between today and then, however, we are to cast our votes in EU elections (25 May), archive referendum (rescheduled for 8 June) and early parliamentary elections. God forbid the President were to resign.

On second thought… :mrgreen:

Positive Discharge

Recently, Slovenian media widely reported of a rift in Positive Slovenia (PS), the senior coalition party. Both print and electronic media were awash with reports of sparks flying between PM Alenka Bratušek and Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković during a party huddle some three weeks ago.

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WIZJGTD – What Is Zoran Janković Going To Do? (source: The Firm ™)

According to Delo (Slovenian only), Janković, unhappy with being sidelined within the party, went head to head with Bratušek over how much extra money city of Ljubljana would get in the budget balancing act (which has since been passed). However, Bratušek apparently told him that “how much” actually means “if any”. Apparently this precipitated and angryish exchange and forced a roll-call in the party council where a large majority sided with the PM.

The Clash

The allegations of party in-fighting were dismissed publicly and interpreted only as a “spirited debate”, but it did not escape pengovsky’s attention that Renata Brunskole MP, who actively courted Janković to enter the national race in 2011 and even split from SD to facilitate this, basically hung Janković out to dry. She told the media mayors often have different views of state budget thus in effect withdrawing her support for Janković. Not totally unexpected, by the way, since she apparently doesn’t blink twice when switching allegiances suits her immediate political needs. But still, something Janković will not forget easily.

After allegations of a party rift came to light, Janković sought to play down the whole thing, claiming he supported the budget rebalancing act all along and that he believes Alenka Bratušek is an excellent PM. Conspicuously, he said nothing about her as party president, only saying that we will decide on whether he’ll run for party chieftain some time until autumn.

Thus the question which causes many a talking head to predict yet another installment of the “hot political autumn” (the classic and probably most abused idiom in Slovene political lingo) therefore is, whether Jay-Z is going to run for president of Positive Slovenia during their September huddle.

Option One

There are two options, obviously, one more likely than the other. Option One: Janković runs for head of PS, Bratušek as per her earlier stated intentions does not put up a fight, Zoki gets elected head of the party (again), all hell breaks loose within the coalition, early elections are called, cue the Apocalypse.

Now, this scenario has a slight problem: it is way too straightforward. If current ratings are anything to go by, the only two parties which might be interested in (yet another) early elections are Social Democrats of Igor Lukšič and SDS of Janez Janša. The latter perhaps even more so since they are in opposition with Ivan basically hiding under a rock somewhere, save occasional sightings on Party meets and via Twitter. Janša’s political star is fading fast courtesy of the anti-graft report, a gift, by the way, that keeps on giving.

On the other hand, early elections might look appealing to Lukšič (his party secretary-general tweeted as much), since they do offer a chance to mitigate the 2011 ass-whooping the voters served to Borut Pahor and come out on top. With SD being the only coalition party that has both adequate reach and ground network, that may even be doable, especially if they manage to pin all the unpopular things of the Bratušek administration to the PS.

But Lukšič might face an unexpected problem: his party. Specifically, party heavyweights who have too much vested interest in this government continuing, or – at the very least – not having yet another government come in and running the danger of shaking things up. This includes (but is not limited to) the faction(s) supporting the massive headache that is the TEŠ6 power plant in Šoštanj. If too many key SD people became too cosy, early elections might prove to be a bridge too far for Lukšič.

But even so, calling early elections is not exactly a walk in the park. Even if SD quits the coalition due to Janković comeback, PM Bratušek might try to continue with a minority government. Namely, despite Karl Erjavec of DeSUS and Gregor Virant of DL professing their intention to vacate the coalition immediately if Zoki gets back in the game, they both stand to lose plenty. And while DeSUS can still be counted on making it above the 4% threshold on election day, DL is all but finished and the further away the election day is, the better.

Enter Kučan

But this is the less likely scenario. Apart from Janković’s insistence that he never really quit as party president (but merely “freezing” his position, pending a party vote), the only thing that goes in favour of Zoki’s mounting a leadership bid is former president Milan Kučan saying in a recent interview that he ought not to.

That’s right. Some days ago Kučan, commonly seen as Janković’s mentor, gave an interview to a TV station in his native Prekmurje region saying “if Janković can not lead his party due to corruption charges – and it is my belief he can not – then the same goes for a president of any other party, regardless of the support within the party ranks” (full video here, in Slovenian).

Now, Kučan obviously drew a parallel between charges against Janković and Janša, both implicated in reports by the anti-graft commission. Not only did Kučan say Janković shouldn’t lead the PS anymore (thus implicitly supporting PM Bratušek), he also drew a parallel between JJ and Jay-Z, something the latter has tried very hard to dismiss ever since the reports were published.

The pundits went into a frenzy, interpreting this as Kučan throwing Janković under a bus, the final nail in Janković’s political coffin and so on ad nauseam. However, Zoran Janković didn’t get where he is today by taking orders from other people. In fact, while he has always maintained he has deep respect for Kučan, he has defied him politically before. Apparently, Kučan advised him against running for mayor in 2006, but Janković did and won in a landslide. Similarly, the former president apparently privately advised Janković not to go national in 2011 election, but Janković did, again winning in a landslide, but ultimately failing to clinch the PM job. After Janković announced his bid amid much media furuore, Kučan supported him, but noted that he did so for “different reasons”.

Anyways, point being that Kučan lost control of Janković years ago – if he had any in the first place, that is. Also, history shows Janković reacts badly when being told what to do and is liable to do exactly the opposite, just to prove his point. But again, the probability of anything like this happening is, for the moment at least, fairly small.

At this junction, a word of caution is necessary: With Janković, any decision he might or might not take is of academic value at best until a week or so before deadline. As a politician, he often acts instictively, making any sort of rational analysis of his actions useless. During the years, he has toned down this approach significantly, especially after the government-forming debacle in late 2011, but as he often says, he’s too old to change.

Option Two

In pengovsky’s opinion, Janković will (cue Option Two) not run for president of Positive Slovenia. Even more, there is a high level of probability he will not run for a third term as mayor of Ljubljana, either. For some time now, Janković has been dropping hints about “a new mayor and a new team” every now and then. And while he only recently initiated a massive push to upgrade Ljubljana’s ailing infrastructure with a price tag north of 200 million euro, there is a certain lukewarmness in Jankovič’s demeanor.

While this could all be put down to pre-summer exhaustion, it should be noted that municipal elections are slightly more than a year away and that while all other parties in Ljubljana have thusfar failed to produce a strong challenger to Janković, his armor has been more than just slightly dented in the past two years. And, as we have seen time and again, to win an election, you needn’t be the best candidate. You just need to make the fewest mistakes.

2014 is also the year of European elections and it is unlikely the electorate would look kindly upon a political player that would bring them yet another trek to the polling stations, despite the fact that Janković at the helm of PS would probably mean a boost in public-opinion polls for PS which as things stand now, continually scores only high single digits. Despite being instinctive about politics (or precisely because of that), Janković is not suicidal.

In pengovsky’s view this computes into Jay-Z not running for head of the party, while his running for a third term as the mayor of Slovenian capital should not be taken for granted. Sparks were flying, but the lights didn’t go out.

Lessons of Maribor

While ministers-in-waiting were undergoing parliamentary hearings and while pope Francis was being installed with President Pahor rushing to be there when it happened, a short lull descended upon Slovenian politics which can and should be used to analyse Maribor mayoral elections which took place Sunday last. Pengovsky delivers.

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(source: vecer.com

Maribor, as you know, was the original flashpoint of the Slovenian uprising. Provoked by speed-traps installed around the city as a public-private partnership between the city and a privately owned company, it uncovered deep resentment, anger and rejection of political elite and politics in general by general population and quickly spread throughout the country. As a direct result of (occasionally violent) protests, Maribor mayor Franc Kangler stepped down, prompting mayoral elections held last Sunday where independent Andrej Fištravec won by a landslide in the first round, leaving other candidates, most of them running on party tickets, in the dust. There’s only one problem: the turnout was only 31 percent, criminally low even by Maribor standards where historically fewest people ever bothered to partake in a popular vote. Rok Kajzer (@73cesar) has a good piece on the aftermath of the Sunday vote (Slovenian only), but there are other implications as well.

Namely, the low turnout shows that resignation of a despised politician (in this case mayor Kangler) does not solve the basic problem, the disillusionment of the people with the political process and the waning legitimacy thereof. Even more: Maribor may have gotten a new mayor on Sunday, but the city council remains largely intact, although the protesters demanded councilmen resign as well. Only a few did, not enough to have the council dissolved. Meaning that while a new mayor will soon be in the office, the coalition in the city council more or less remains the same one which supported mayor Kangler. Which spells bad news for the new mayor as he will have precious few people to cover his back. It is as if the people sensed that the basic problems of this society can not be solved by early elections only.

Which brings us to lessons learned: firstly, that the entire political process is so tainted in the eyes of the people, that simply putting up new faces up for elections will get you nowhere. Sure, you may win the elections (as Fištravec did) but the actual problems remain the same. Or worse. And secondly, that early elections alone can not offer anything new if force(s) stemming from the protest movement are not able to properly form and present a viable alternative to the existing ruling elite.

Had other parties (most notably the SD) gotten their way and forced early elections as soon as this summer, chances are the turnout would be spectacularly low since only established political parties have the resources to mount a campaign in snap elections. Like Maribor. And had snap elections be called in Slovenia today, the turnout would possibly be equally horrid.

The notion that early elections alone can be harbingers of changes is ultimately flawed under present Slovenian circumstances, even though this is one of the core demands of the protest movement. The only way early elections can change something is by altering the political arena first. And that takes time. Plenty of it. Otherwise the established elite can also brush newcomers off as incompetent.