Keep Calm and TEŠ6

Debating the ever more derailed project of Šoštanj power-plant bloc 6 (TEŠ6) the parliament played the blame game entire day yesterday. It was both fun and gruesome to watch. Like German 70s porn. Called by the opposition SDS it had one goal and one goal only. To put a daylight between them and a project that is spiralling out of control as has almost tripled in cost, going from 600 million to 1.5 billion euro. To put things in perspective: 1.5 billion may not seem a lot. It won’t buy you a Virginia-class nuclear submarine, to pick an example at random. But on the other hand, it represents about 4.5% of total Slovenian GDP. It will also buy you a lot of German 70s porn.

20130717_tes6a

Now, you may or may not be fully up to speed on the issue, but while quite long in the making, the issue became hot during the Pahor era, when Zares of Gregor Golobič started making noises raising hell about how this project is run so badly it is going to explode into everyone’s face. In retrospect they were right and this was arguably the single most important issue that brought down the government of Borut Pahor. Namely, it emerged that an ad hoc SD-SDS special interest coalition formed on this project specifically and passed a law of a state guarantee for a 400 million loan by the European Investment Bank. At the time it was hailed as the only infrastructure project in Slovenia worthy of its name, a backbone of Slovenian energy self-sufficiency and a jobs maker in the area.

Very few people asked themselves how exactly TEŠ6 helps energy self-sufficiency if it is only meant to replace the ageing blocs 4 and 5 and thus producing almost zero net increase in megawatt hours. Few people asked themselves just how exactly do 3500 jobs warrant over a billion worth of stimulus when the entire country is going down the shit-hole. And finally, nobody really took care of the project, which means that TEŠ6 still has to produce a single megawatt of electricity.

A shitload of people had and still have a vested interest in this project which is why it was defended furiously. Case in point being this POP TV video from 2010 (Slovenian only) where Srečko Meh, a SD heavyweight from Velenje/Šoštanj area goes after Gregor Golobič from the very beginning, defending the project as financially sound, economically justifiable and socially necessary. Fast forward three years (June 24 2013) and Srečko Meh posts a video (Slovenian only), slamming the SDS for calling the parliament debate and pre-emptively distancing himself from the project and the parliament-approved guarantee he helped secure.

You see, TEŠ6 was meant to be a hunting ground both in terms of money for pet projects as well as securing high paying jobs for selected people. Which is why the entire project was based of the principle of fait accompli, with stuff being done first and then asking the relevant authorities to either OK it or cough up the dough. or both. Energy is where the money is and TEŠ6 was earmarked to burn the local lignite which has the energy density of a well-behaved rock and is pricey to say the least. It is also a matter of some debate whether – after decades of mining – there’s enough lignite left for the entire life-span of TEŠ6 or will this mean importing coal, driving the cost up even more. In fact, yesterday’s parliament session even pointed to the possibility of the power-plant making a loss. Yes. you read it correctly. Apparently, TEŠ6 is so screwed up it is liable to lose money rather than make it. It should come as no surprise then that Uroš Rotnik, CEO of the plant at the time when the deal with Alstom was sealed is now under criminal investigation

What we saw yesterday was a classic example of pot calling kettle black. It was perverse seeing SDS and SD pointing fingers at each other and screaming bloody murder over a billion-and-a-half worth example of pork-barrel politics. In fact, in a bizarre show of complete disconnect, the SDS actually moved to have the parliament set the price tag at 1.3 billion and not a penny more. As if Alstom, the French construction company which got the contract to build under suspiciously favourable conditions, would give a damn.

But if you think anything changed, you’re mistaken. The 800 million already spent remain with Alsom and 400+ mil state guarantee for an EIB loan stands, despite a new majority in the parliament and a new government at the helm. The only decision that begs mention is a measure instructing the Court of Audit to go over the books of state-owned HSE, the mother company of TEŠ. But the law does not give the Court the power to dig into companies that are indirectly state owned, like TEŠ is. So in fact, the parliament yesterday almost unanimously decided that the project is a disaster and then voted to carry on with it.

 

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How To Lose Voters And Alienate People

As pengovsky noted yesterday, Gregor Virant is more or less a political corpse, he just doesn’t know it yet. How so, one might ask, if the man is the president of the parliament (nominally the second most senior position in the country) and was the potential king-maker in Zoran Janković‘s PM bid. In short, the man is on top of his game. What could possibly go wrong?


I know it’s a good film. I just couldn’t resist…

In fact, everything that could go wrong, already did. Virant made every error in the book and the fact that he finds himself presiding the parliament is more a result of chance than of a carefully executed plan. Leader of the Gregor Virant Citizens’ List (DLGV) came to the forefront seemingly out of nowhere at the beginning of the election campaign and stole quite a bit of limelight from the eventual winner of the elections Zoran Janković. Previously of Janez Janša‘s SDS Virant went solo, apparently due to mounting discord with Janša, who – as proven time and again – does not tolerate independent-minded individuals within his inner circle for long. In short, he had plenty of political capital to fool around with. And then he went and blew it all (almost) at once.

Item 1: Money. ‘Nuff said.

Item 2: Playing both ends against the middle. You don’t negotiate with both main contenders at once the same time, especially not if they’re political and ideological opposites. This is not the Cold War and you’re not Tito, Naser and Nehru combined.

Item 3: Backstabbing. When you negotiate, you do it in good faith. You don’t piss in your potential partner’s pool, even if it means you end up being president of the parliament.

Item 4: Jumping ship. You better have a good excuse. Saying that the other side wasn’t serious about it when you all but closed the deal is a sorry-ass excuse. Also, saying at first that Janković is “dictating terms rather than negotiating, hence no deal” and then saying that “he’ll agree to just about anything, hence no deal” is just pitiful.

Item 5: Janez Janša. Virant got points for splintering from Janša. By rejoining him only a couple of months later, he’ll be making a lot of his supporters unhappy. Also, by following Janša and applying the same scare tactic on his MPs (instructing them not to pick up ballots for the secret PM vote), he is turning out to be just a bleached copy of his former party boss. And no-one likes unoriginal people.

Item 6: No more kingmaker. By allying himself with Janša, Virant lost his political sex-appeal as kingmaker. This role now yet again belongs to Karl Erjavec (oh, the irony!) just as it did in 2004. As a result, Erjavec is in a much better position to dicatate terms to Janša than Virant.

Item 7: Reality check. If by any chance Virant contemplates playing hard-ball against Janša as well, he’ll end up alienating both centre- and right-wing of his base, not to mention losing whatever friends he has left in the parliament.

Item 8: Public opinion. In a recent poll by Delo newspaper, 25% of voters blamed Virant for the political stalemate. 27% blamed Janez Janša. And that was before he jumped ship on Janković and way before the vote yesterday.

A lot of people were surprised how fast Zares of Gregor Golobič and LDS of Katarina Kresal went down the drain in opinion polls in the previous term. Virant’s DLGV is well poised to achieve a new speed record in that department.

And it would be a shame, really.

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Slovenian Elections: The Janković Upset

In what was described as a shock win by the Beeb, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković won yesteday’s early elections in Slovenia. His fledling party Positive Slovenia won 28.5 percent of the vote, narrowly beating Janez Janša and his SDS, which won 26.3 pecent. The turnout was around 65 percent.


The presumptive PM (photo by yours truly)

The upset was only hinted at on the last day of the campaign by the very last result of a tracking poll conducted by Mladina weekly, which did in fact note a slight downward trend for SDS. Every other poll missed by a mile. It wasn’t that Janković’s support surged all that much, but rather that Janša bled just enough votes to push Janković over the top. As it seems that the last few days were crucial, it can be said with a degree of certainty that Janša hurt himself too much by a) fumbling the question of his real estate, b) avoiding the last debate on state television and c) acting as if the election result is a foregone conclusion.

a) Documents

Janša couldn’t help himself. In what was essentially “game over” for Janković, he went on the offensive and pressed Janković (and by extention Pahor and Virant) to disclose their financial and real estate documentation. Borut Pahor and Gregor Virant obliged promptly, Janković – who was already under media pressure on this – dragged his feet, but did produce (almost) complete documentation, challenging Janša to do the same. The SDS leader – unexpectedly – came under fire himself due to somewhat misterious ways of his real estate deals and took much longer than expected to hand over his papers. And even after he did so, it turned out the package is incomplete (he published the complete documentation on his Facebook page early on the last day of the campaign).

More importantly, his party blamed a broken-down scanner for the delay in producing the papers which instantly brought about unpleasant memories of the Archivegate. Voters’ memory is indeed short, but some people seem to remember.

b) Debate avoidance

Both Janša and Pahor canceled their appearance on the last debate on RTVSLO (state television) opting to appear on cable-only Info TV instead. While Pahor’s motives are unclear, it was more than obvious that Janša did not want to face Janković for the third time in a week and in a setting, where he would have to share time with “lesser” candidates. It was a snub both to his fellow candidates as well as to the viewers, who had to settle for Patrick Vlačič (SD) and Zvonko Černač (SDS) instead. While Vlačič was his usual acceptable self, Černač perfomed poorly, being unable to go beyond buzzwords and the general SDS mantra. It was not a good conclusion to the otherwise professionally conducted SDS campaign.

c) Foregone conclusion

Pahor and Janša on Info TV was meant to generate the appearance of the outgoing and the incoming prime minister having a civil chat on the pressing issues, possibly undoing the damage Janša suffered during a mano-a-mano with Janković on the said TV station. This, however, was Janša’s crucial mistake. His demeanor throughout the campaign was one of calmness and composure. Janša was already meeting with labour unions, EU ambassadors and was receiving support from fellow right-wing party leaders throughout Europe (including ill-concieved support from the jailed Julia Timošenko of Ukraine and Victor Orban of Hungary). In the end, it might have done more harm than good, probably convicing some of those who would have otherwise voted for him to support other parties. Either because it seemed game, set and match for Janša, or because the whole thing spilled over into arrogance.

The aftermath

Janković won, Janša lost. But winners (in their own particular way) also include DeSUS (the pensioners’ party) of Karl Erjavec, who seem to be disaster-proof, regardless of the clowning demeanor of the party president and Christian Democratic Nova Slovenija of Ljudmila Novak, which scored the unprecedented success of being the first party in history of Slovenia to make it back into the parliament. There is certain logic to it, as it is against the general order of things not to have the Catholics in the parliament in a country which is nominally 57% Roman Catholic.

The same logic applies to the apparent losers of this elections, both liberal parties, LDS of Katarina Kresal and Zares of Gregor Golobič. Neither of them made it above the 4% treshold. Zares scored a disastrous 0.65 % of the vote, while LDS fared only marginally better with 1.46 %. This, however, will not stand in the long run and I fully expect the liberal/social-liberal option to make it back into the parliament. But we’ll cover that in one of the upcoming posts.

One party no-one will particularly miss are the nationalists of Zmago Jelinčič. Scoring only 1.80 % of the vote they’re down and out. We’ll see if that’s for good, though.

Also, technically Borut Pahor’s Social Democrats must be counted in the ‘losers’ column, since they’re down to 10 seats from previous 28. But given the criminally low ratings Pahor’s government was getting in its last year, the fact that the SD came in third does soften the blow quite a bit.

What happens next?

Obviously, Janković will have to go about forming a coalition government. We already noted the seat-divison for the top three parties. Citizens’ List led by Gregor Virant came in fourth with 8 seats, DeSUS gor six seats, ditto for SLS of Radovan Žerjav, while NSi of Ljudmila Novak got the minimum possible four seats. Two seats are, of course, reserved for MPs representing Italian and Hungarian minotiries.

The PM-presumtive (that be Jay-Z) said time and again that he will not form a coalition with Janez Janša no matter what (as in: he’d rather gnaw his arm off than have to work with the man who snubbed him in every way possible during his 2004-2008 rule). And even though he reportedly initiated talks with SDS as well, that can be – for the time being – regarded more of a good-will gesture than real negotiations. Which leaves Zoki with a couple of options to go by: First (and least likely) is to try to isolate Janša and invite just about everyone and his brother to form a coalition, including the NSi. But since the latter went head-to-head with the new leader of Slovenia on a couple of occasions, including but not limited to Tito Street (where the NSi won the case in the Constitutional Court), odds are NSi will sit this one out.

This leaves Janković (PS) with SD, SLS, DeSUS and Virant’s List (LGV) to choose from. Social Democrats are almost necessary as coalition partners as they bring in ten votes. Additionally, If the PM-presumptive wants to achieve at least some sort of across the isle consensus on reforms, he will have to include at least one of the pro-welfare-reform parties, either Virant’s List of the SLS (both centre-right). If he includes both of them, he already enjoys a comfortable majority of 52 votes (54 if minorities are counted in) in a 90 seat parliament. The other possibility is a Jankovic-Pahor-Virant-Erjavec coalition (again, 52 votes) or a slightly less comfortable PS-SD-DeSUS-SLS combo with 50 votes.

But given DeSUS’ anti-reform stance, the PS-SD-LGV-SLS seems most probable. This would also probably mean (in addition to Janković at the helm) Borut Pahor as foreign minister (a field where Zoki is noticeably lacking both in skills and personnel), Gregor Virant as either minister of justice or of the interior (possibly both, as there is talk of reducing the number of porfolios) and Radovan Žerjav as agriculture or transportation minister (portfolios which SLS usually wants to control).

Timetable

The State Electoral Commission will declare the final official results no later than 16 December, which means that the new parliament will convene for the first time on or around 24 December. After that the President of the Republic Danilo Türk will start consultations with parliamentary groups upon which he will make his nomination for the post of prime minister. While the consultations are a mere formality, they help to establish a clear picture of whether the PM presumptive can secure a necessary majority in the parliament.

And if all goes smoothly, Zoran Janković, a self-made-man of humble origins, born to a Slovene mother and a Serbian father in a backward village in Serbia, who moved to his maternal country at the age of 11 and continues to be mocked on account of his mixed roots to this very day, will be sworn in as the eight Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia.

The irony of course is not lost on Janša… If only he hadn’t had Janković removed as CEO of Mercator retail chain in 2005…

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Slovenian Elections: Last Call

So, this is it. Election silence commences tonight at midnight and it’s hight time pengovsky wraps things up. This is why today’s tittage was rescheduled but tune in tomorrow (hint, hint :mrgree: ). Virtually all polls predict a decisive victory by Janez Janša‘s Slovene Democratic Party, with Zoran Janković‘s Positive Slovenia coming in second with about 10 percent gap. Further down the ladder, Borut Pahor‘s Social Democrats seem poised to finish third, ahead of Gregor Virant‘s Citizens List.


Poll numbers over the course of the campaign (see note at the bottom)

There are a couple of ways to look at this campaign. First, the fact that Top Four were reduced to Top Three. Gregor Virant crashed and burned early in the game and his Allowancegate was a gift that kept on giving, cutting him down from almost 20% to single digits. He just wasn’t up to it and went from bad to worse, not being able to stop digging even though he was in a deep hole already. In contrast, neither Zoran Janković nor Janez Janša did a particularly good job at explaining discrepancies in their financial and real estate reports but seem to have suffered very little in the polls (until today, that is). This can to an extent be explained by the fact that their voters are rather devoted to their respective political leader, but more likely it has to do with their fierce refusal to admit to have done anything wrong, even though Janković failed to declare a small part of his real estate to the anti-corruption commission (as in: did not tell he owns the wood). Also, he was anything but quick on his feet to disclose his financial obligations, but in the end did just that.

His main opponent, however, got into a lot of hot water demanding everyone else discloses their accounts and property, but then dragged his feet doing so himself. In fact, just before yesterday’s debate on POP TV his party claimed that their scanner broke down. Now that SDS and scanners don’t mix was well demonstrated in the case of creative photocopying and sure enough it turned out that this time too not everything was fine and dandy with Janša’s documents. The whole thing was revolving around how the SDS leader bought, sold and managed his real estate and it turned out that the initial contract, where he sold his existing property and bought an elite apartment in Ljubljana is fishy, with the buyer (a construction company which won many government contracts including construction of defence ministry building during Janša’s days at the ministry) being overly generous to the point of making economically unsound decisions. Re

But today, Mladina weekly, which is conducting a tracking poll over the last week, detected a marked drop in SDS’ ratings, virtually unchanged result for Janković and a rise for Social Democrats. According to this Janković is trailing Janša by only 3,6 percent. And that means that a lot of people will have a nervous 44 hour-wait.

Looking at it from another point of view, a few permanent fixtures are on the brink of dropping out of the parliament. LDS and Zares are registering low single digit percentage points and their only saving grace can be the fact that with such low numbers the margin of error is relatively huge and that it is possible that their voters are simply not detected. We’ll know for sure come Sunday. But even if both parties drop out, this will not last. Just as with Christian Democratic NSi of Ljudmila Novak, which dropped out in 2008 and looks poised to make it back, the (social-) liberal option has its rightful place in the parliament and when the pendulum swings the other way, they will most likely make it back over the 4%. But they are trying very hard to prevent dropping out in the first place. Zares of Gregor Golobič is throwing everything it has into the field (literally, they’re running a grass-roots campaign) while LDS of Katarina Kresal is beating the human-rights drum, reminding people of the 2004-2008 Janša government.

Another point of view is the dichotomy between fluff and stuff. There were some platform points that stood out: emergency financial legislation, TEŠ 6, pension and labour market reforms, some notable successes of the outgoing government (Arbitration Agreement, rectifying the issue of the Erased, Family Code, although pending a decision of the constitutional court) and so on. On the other hand, this was probably one of the most vicious, brutal and personal campaigns in recent history. Families were dragged through the mud, wives were interviewed standing next to their husbands during a debate, names were called and ad hominem attacks were the norm, especially by rank-and-file members. As per usual, journalists (yours truly included) were not spared.

But perhaps the single most defining moment of this campaign was emergence of social media as an important tool in the campaign. For the first time campaign-related tweets were published in near real time during debates (on POP TV) and the inflation of politicians, their supporters and fake accounts generated to create the necessary buzz and hate speech was – well – admirable (in a perverse sort of way). Also, social media – Twitter in particular – offered a rare insight into the campaign mindset. 140 characters are just enough to get the message across without too much spin and one could see how some politicians who usually act normally (even though they might not agree with you) went positively bananas, denouncing everyone who didn’t dance to their tune. God forbid someone actually pointed out basic flaws in their politics. On the other hand some politicians embraced Twitter and are actually using it to broaden the scope of the immediate debate. Then, of course, are also those who block other users to keep a neat and embarrassment-free timeline.

At any rate, the run is over, pengovsky decided on his vote long before the campaign began and all that’s left to do is to go out and vote. Whoever wins will probably go belly-up (politically speaking)relatively soon as the clusterfuck this country and this continent are headed into is worse than anything this generation has ever seen. We’ll probably have another elections in 2014. Provided there will be anything left to vote on.

So, tune in tomorrow for a generous helping of Friday Foxies and expect exit poll results on Sunday, some time after 7 pm local.

N.B.: Graph data is compiled from different polls with different sets of questions and different samples, so it is not directly comparable from a scientific point of view. Data still available as .xls file for download.

P.S.: Commenting is closed for this one until Sunday evening, but you can still place trackbacks and pingbacks to this pots.

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The Real Slim Shady – Slovenian Elections Edition

Ah well, it’s that time of the year, I guess 😀 After the hugely successful Primary Colours and its follow up, the Top Gun, pengovsky gives you yet another round-up of the political movers and shakers. Most of them you already know, a couple of them are new kids on the block. But at any rate, this should be at least mildly entertaining. Hope you like!

The Real Slim Shady – Slovenian Elections Editions from pengovsky on Vimeo.

Naturally, credits, where credits are due: Original videos are the work of their respective authors and/or entities including SDS, SD, LDS, Zares, Vest.si and Idea TV. Songs on the other hand you know, but still: Real Slim Shady (Eminem), U Can’t Touch This (MC Hammer), Money (Pink Floyd), Pass the Dutchie (Musical Youth), Ice Ice Baby (Vanilla Ice), Always Look On the Bright Side of Life (Monty Python), I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor), YMCA (Village People), Last Christmas (Wham) and Mah Na Mah Na (The Muppet Show version).

And on Tuesday, back to number crunching 🙂