Captain Obvious To The Rescue As Social Democrats Aim To Oust Super-Minister Turk

Earlier today Social Democrats filed an interpelation of “super-minister” Žiga Turk (SDS) in charge of education, sports, culture and science. A constitutional procedure where the parliament debates the work of a particular minister and usually, but not necessarily, votes on demission of the said minister, the move is a showcase of political ineptitude par excellence and is matched only by the (initial) response of the minister and the party in question.

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The original Capt. Obvious

Going after an individual minister this late in the game, when the entire government is falling apart faster than you can say “anti-graft report” is political amateurism at best. More likely, it is a premeditated political strategy of trying to engineer and then capitalise on a protracted government dissolution, picking off one minister at the time. As if PM Janez Janša will just stand there, idly watching as Igor Lukšič tries to pick his government apart. Tries being the operative word here, as the interpelation is by no means a done deal as SD has not yet secured the necessary 46 to oust the minister.

Captain Obvious

On the other hand, minister Turk, too, showed that he skipped school when political prowess was taught. In his initial response he lamented the interpelation as a “political act, aimed at testing the feasibility of a no-confidence vote against PM Janša”. Well, thank you, Captain Obvious. A political act? Designed to test a new majority? You don’t say… Well, here’s a newsflash: every act by the parliament is by definition political. And since an absolute majority is needed to oust either a PM or a minister, a new majority in the parliament will by definition need to be formed if the vote to dismiss Turk is to succeed. Basics, really.

But the real winner is Turk’s statement that the move “lowers the level of political culture in the country.” This coming from a minister who lowered the level of funding for culture beyond anything remotely acceptable. And not just culture, mind you. Turk’s was a portfolio (including R&D) that suffered some of the deepest cuts during Janša’s austerity frenzy. Whether or not Turk put up a fight for his turf is a matter of some debate, but when met with an uproar, he and his top aides were far from conciliatory. Furthermore, given half a chance, the minister would defend crack-pot social theories and pseudo science. And yet when the opposition throws the book at him, he sees that as lowering of political culture?! All this and we didn’t even mention the manure-hole that is his Party’s twitter account or the incredulity of various Party-friendly magazines and/or websites. No, really, when a senior SDS politico starts talking about “the level of political culture”, the phrase pot calling kettle black doesn’t even being to cover it.

Pot calling kettle black

Nor does it in the case of the SD. Namely, the party is riding high in the opinion polls right now. As pengovsky wrote a couple of days ago, they’ve more or less already started campaigning and Igor Lukšič made it plainly obvious that he’d like to see early elections being held sooner rather than later. In this respect his interests converge very much with those of Janez Janša, as neither of them would like to see a new political force (say, one or more parties) enter the scene. This probably put both parties at the top, allowing them to form the “Grand Coalition” (not unlike in Germany) and split whatever is left of the booty in this country.

That the two parties can overcome their ideological differences was shown many times, including a deal over 1,5 billion investment into Šoštanj coal power plant, where more sensible heads at the EIB apparently decided to have another look in the matter before coughing up a 440 million loan.

Now, on the whole, there is nothing wrong with a grand coalition. OK, so it hasn’t been done before in Slovenia, but there’s no real science to it. The problem however, if this were really to come about, is twofold. First, the turnout in an election with only the usual suspects present would in all likelihood be criminally low, thus perpetuating the questionable legitimacy of the political elite. And second: in the past twenty years a lot of people went in cahoots with Janez Janša, thinking they’ll be able to control him. None succeeded. Nothing suggests Igor Lukšič would fare any better.

In this respect, the move to oust minister Turk is indeed a pure energy waster, since it only prolongs the life of Janša’s defunct government, which will anyhow be rendered inoperative in a matter of days as both DeSUS ministers will formally quit their posts and the party will have left the coalition.

 

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Janša Taking Country Hostage As Virant Quits The Coalition

Yesterday Gregor Virant put his money where his mouth is and quit the ruling coalition, taking ministers Senko Pličanič (justice and public administration) and Janez Šušteršič (finance) with him. Virant himself also resigned as president of the parliament, effective Monday. Thus his party Citizens’ List entered the opposition and left Janez Janša with 43 votes in a 90 seat parliament, making his a minority government.

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(Image via @fraticesevalter)

With this a turning point has been reached, especially since DeSUS of Karl Erjavec is apparently going to follow suit fairly soon and SLS of Radovan Žerjav is also making noises about jumping ship (albeit at a later date). This leaves Janša with unequivocal support only ChristDem NSi led by Ljudmila Novak and nowhere near at least theoretically operative government. In fact it is safe to say that Janez Janša’s downfall is a matter of weeks rather than months.

Fighting tooth-and-nail

Things will of course not go smoothly. Breaking his silence for the first time since the anti-graft report which set in motion this chain of events was published, Janša today unleashed hell and accused Virant of partaking in a long-planned conspiracy to remove Janša from power. He also added he will not be resigning of his own accord and dared Virant and anyone who would follow in his steps to form a new majority and move for a no-confidence vote. Translation: Janša will fight tooth-and-nail to remain in power, if only in the form of a caretaker government.

And this is the crux of the matter. Janša accuses everyone and his brother, from the anti-graft commission onwards of destabilising the country. In fact, it is he who is the major source of instability. Coalitions crumble, reports get published, politicians resign. Sure, it’s time- and strength-consuming, but hardly uncommon in a democracy. What is uncommon is the notion that established tools of a (parliamentary) democracy should be sidelined in the name of “stability of the country”. Not surprisingly, this is very similar to what the Constitutional Court used as an excuse to ban referenda on bad bank and state sovereign holding, when it said that functioning of the country takes precedence over the right of the people decide these issues in a popular vote. It also shows Janša does not understand or – probably closer to the truth – doesn’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about what the protest movement wants. But then again, neither do Virant, Erjavec or Žerjav. Let alone Igor Lukšič of SD or Alenka Bratušek, acting president of Zoran Janković‘s PS

In fact, it seems that right now the entire political master-class are hedging their bets. They’re playing an angle and they all have a lot to lose. First and foremost is Janša. His 30-odd minute rant followed by a brief Q&A on live television today showed just that. He was playing hard-ball which included trying to put a wedge between ministers Pličanič and Šušteršič on one side and Virant on the other. Indeed it would be quite a feat if both ministers switched sides. At the moment it seems unlikely but not impossible, especially since neither of them was elected to the parliament in the first place and is thus about to quit front-line politics. Also, Janša chided Virant for having the audacity to tell Janša what to do and said that it is unbecoming of a small parliamentary group to make demands on a large parliamentary group. In other words, everyone should know their station. Having said that, however, Janša did bring up the question of electoral system which – in addition to Virant – is supposedly the source of Slovenian troubles.

Talking sense into Janša

This shows that Janša is seriously considering the possibility of a snap poll and is trying to hi-jack the issue, again proposing a two-round majoritarian electoral system (which would actually spell disaster for Slovenia, but we’ll leave that for another time). But it would seem that someone talked some sense into Janša, since he did allow for other possibilities to be considered as well. And on a larger scale of things, the electoral system is a problem. It will not solve the current situation per se, but changing the voting system could address one of the basic complaints of the protest movement: the illegitimacy of the political system (note: not illegality, illegitimacy). Even more, this passage in Janša’s rant was the only thing which had any sort of a meaning, which means that he was trying to send a signal of some sort. However, what he conveniently forgot is that not only do (former) coalition partners demand he resign, the people want that too. And for a plethora of reasons, not just the anti-graft report.

Virant, Erjavec and Žerjav are also hedging their bets. A snap poll is not exactly what they want because they run the risk of being thrown out of the parliament. OK, so Virant won a couple of brownie points for having found his spine, but would be spent in an electoral campaign sooner than you can say “confidence vote”. Which is why he’d much rather see a new PM elected in the parliament than elections being held. Ditto for Karl Erjavec, who is locked in a intra-party leadership struggle which means that DeSUS walking out on Janša is as much a political move against Janša as it is a PR-manoeuvre to rally people in the party support within the party. Žerjav on the other hand is probably looking to sort out his succession (he’s quitting as party chief in March) and doesn’t want the party to campaign without a leader.

Predictably, Igor Lukšič wants early elections ASAP since public opinion polls put his party at the top while today Alenka Bratušek floated the idea of forming an interim government with a mandate to tackle specific projects including changes to the voting system and then hold elections in about a year’s time. Needless to say that PS is not doing particularly well in the polls right now.

But coming back to Janša: the only way he’s apparently ready to negotiate is with him continuing as PM. Should that not be possible, he already announced SDS will be returning to the opposition. And you can be sure that he will pull no punches when trying to shoot down anything and everything a potential new government would try to pass through the parliament. The problem is that neither the (former) coalition partners nor the protest movement see Janša as a legitimate player any more. But then again, as far as protest movement is concerned, every other political leader is struggling with its legitimacy as it his. Which is why also part of the reason they’ve ganged up on Janša.

Scenarios

Exactly a week ago, pengovsky wrote of four possible scenarios on how all of this can play out. As of today this boiled down to scenarios one and four. But despite everything he said today about other people being responsible for the situation, the primary responsibility lies with Janša. If he chooses to prolong the situation by clinging to his job (as he is likely to do) he will be indeed holding the entire country hostage to his political survival.

Which is why it is no surprise that the government today upped the ante in relations with Croatia which is to join the EU on 1 July. Janša’s Cabinet did not approve basic points of Slovenian brief to the ad-hoc court on Slovenian-Croatian border. Some say that happened because Janša wants to lay claim all the way to the Croatian town if Savudrija. Which would basically send the entire Arbitration Agreement negotiated under Pahor’s government down the drain.

Funny, how this reminds pengovsky of former Croatian PM Ivo Sanader who was looking to pick a fight with Slovenia but then surprised everyone by resigning only 14 days later and is now rotting jail. But that’s jus me being evil.

 

 

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Borut Pahor’s Mitt Romney Moment

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Vote of Confidence: How PM Janša Just Screwed Entire Slovenian Politics Dry

Speculation was rife in Slovenia today that PM Janez Janša will tie a confidence vote to tomorrow’s vote on initiating procedures to enshrine the fiscal rule in the constitution. In less than twenty-four hours the country found itself in the middle of a political cliffhanger, since the government does not have the necessary two-thirds majority to change the constitution. It was obvious from the outset, however, that the whole thing was nothing more than an elaborate bluff, it’s primary goal not being mustering the votes necessary but rather a disciplinary measure, smoking out this government’s “internal opposition” and bringing them back in line for much more crucial votes which this government faces down the road.


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Namely, the government of Janez Janša enjoys a stable majority in the parliament. The coalition has 52 votes (53 if you count the overly-indulging former PM Borut Pahor) and can pass legislation virtually at will. In fact, this is exactly what it is doing, as the parliament only this week passed 20-or-so laws, most of them under emergency procedure. Not that there was any real emergency, but the government asked for multiple quickies and the MPs who support it complied no-questions-asked. Such is the discipline within the coalition and there really is no need for Janša to test whether or not he has the support of the parliament.

That Janša was entertaining the thought regardless shows only that he is willing to (ab)use legal instruments to further his own grip on power. Tying the vote of confidence to a 2/3 majority would create a legal and political clusterfuck of epic proportions because it would mean the fall of a majority government without a viable alternative coalition to replace it. Which would probably suit Janša just fine as he thrives in an uncertain environment and would most likely end up on top again, even stronger. Truth be told, he most likely already got what he wanted and thus screwed the entire Slovenian politics dry.

Namely, earlier this evening an 11th hour compromise was reached, putting the vote on fiscal rule off until September, which places the debate conveniently close to presidential elections. And let us not forget this is not the first time he pulled a stunt like that. Back then he did it a week after Danilo Türk was elected president, this time around he tricked others (namely, president of the parliament Gregor Virant) into placing a debate a few weeks before the elections, possibly hijacking the debate entirely.

As an added bonus, he also forced the hands of Karl Erjavec (DeSUS) who was immediately ready to jump ship saying that he’s willing to be a part of any coalition and of Radovan Žerjav (SLS), who openly toyed with the idea of yet another early elections, excluding up front the possibility of someone else heading the government under the same coalition. Both Žerjav and Erjavec will pay dearly for their political amateurism. Additionally, Igor Lukšič of Social democrats made a bit of a blunder, saying that “if the going really gets tough”, the SD will support the fiscal rule. Well, the going got tough long ago and Janša now has Lukšič by the you-know-whats as well and the newly minted SD leader will have to spend a lot of energy to get out of this particular fix.

Right now, fiscal rule is the least of Slovenia’s problems. While not peachy, national finances are a far cry from that of Greece, Spain or Portugal (public debt in Slovenia right now is about 47% of GDP). This country has other problems: banking sector is cause for immediate concern with pension, labour market and health reforms coming in close second, as detailed here by Edward Hugh of Economonitor

That after six months in office Janša tackled none of the above (even the banks are on hold until Autumn) only further strengthens the point that the whole point of today’s exercise was purely political with the ultimate goal of not relinquishing power, but tightening the already firm grip on it. After all, why would someone who six months ago went to great pains to clinch the PM spot, suddenly just give it up. Especially since he has this huge millstone hanging around his neck…

 

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Not Everybody Gets To Be An Astronaut When They Grow Up (A Few Notes on Borut Pahor)

On Saturday before last former PM Borut Pahor was ousted as president of opposition Social democrats. In what was nominally a four-way race, his only battle-worthy adversary was Igor Lukšič, unofficial party ideologue and until Pahor’s 2008 electoral victory one of his closest allies who eventually prevailed in the second round of the vote, winning by the thinnest of margins. While Pahor won a 180 votes, Lukšič got ten more, ending Pahor’s fifteen years at the party helm. Pengovsky had again things to see and people to do and apologises profoundly to both readers for lack of posting and will try to make amends in the near future. So let’s start with what the near future has in store for Igor Lukšič, Borut Pahor and the Social Democrats.


Igor Lukšič and sour-faced Borut Pahor (Photo: Borut Peterlin/Mladina)

Pahor didn’t try very hard to hide his presidential ambitions. And so he tried to steal the show in Kočevje by announcing his presidential bid right there and then. The trick was that this was not followed by a withdrawal from the race for party president but – it seems – was meant as an ace up his sleeve to secure victory. It almost worked. At the very least, it put the party and its newly minted president into a rather tight spot as Pahor made it no secret that he fully expects the party to back his bid. Sure enough, almost immediately noises were made to that effect both by various local branches as well as Lukšič himself, although the later was careful to acknowledge Pahor’s ambitions but as yet stopped short of backing him. This, apparently, is a matter to be decided upon later this month by the new party leadership.

Igor Lukšič is caught between a rock and a hard place. He ran on a somewhat radical(ish) platform which promised a Hollandesque anti-austerity shift to the left for Social Democrats (where they supposedly belong anyhow) but seems to have taken to heart the tight margin by which he won the contest and interprets it as a call for moderation of his own views which apparently includes backing Pahor lest he risks a party-wide schism. However, supporting Pahor quite probably is just about the only thing he should not be doing. Pengovsky wrote on this a couple of days ago in a different setting and it stirred a little debate on whether it is the right thing to do and whether the SD (which is not in the greatest of shapes, to put it mildly) could actually benefit from Pahor’s bid and possiby even victory in presidential elections. However…

First of all, the notion that the party is somehow indebted to Pahor is utterly misleading. Yes, Pahor did lead it to power, securing the best result ever in 2008 elections. But he also led the party into the single largest routing at the polls, where the voters opened this huge can of whoop-ass on him, cutting the SD down to size from some 30% to a mere 10%. In other words, under Borut Pahor and in the three years that it was in power, the SD lost two thirds of its voters. Not even SLS was hit that hard in 2000 when they went down from 19 to 9 percent. Incidentally, when Pahor took over as party leader fifteen years ago, the SD (then still under the acronym of ZLSD) held about 9 percent in the parliament, meaning that it apparently made a full circle under Pahor and that is was time for him to say goodbye.

Secondly. The notion that Pahor can do wonders for ratings, both of SD in general and of Lukšic specifically, is utterly misleading. One of the few political convetions this country has is that the President, although nominally not prevented from being an active member of a political party (or even its leader), is expected to limit, suspend or completely stop with his party affiliation. With Borut Pahor you can bet your ass that this is the very thing he would have dome were he to become president. He wouldn’t lift a finger to help the SD and not just because the position of the Head of State would require him to do so. The trick is that Pahor’s accross-the-aisle attempts often went above and beyond the call of duty. It’s his trade mark. He did it while he was president of the Parliament, he did it as PM and there’s no reason to believe that he wouldn’t do it as President of the Republic.

Which brings us to the third issue: When Borut Pahor ascended the throne of the PM one of his first moves was to cleanse his inner-party structure, notably kicking out Igor Lukšič, his long-time confidante and party ideologue. In fact, Pahor didn’t even blink. Why on Earth should Lukšič do it any differently? In fact, pengovsky submits that not only should the SD not support Pahor’s bid, it should also try to isolate him in the parliament and remove him from the media spotlight. Namely, if Igor Lukšič fails to do so, he will constantly be second-guessed by SD voters and the general public. What would Borut Pahor do? Oh, there he is, let’s ask him….

Fourth: If Pahor is to remain a permanent fixture in Slovenian politics, there will be no end to second-guessing Igor Lukšič who will have to deal more with the long shadow of Borut Pahor rather than issues that really concern the party. The silhouette of Borut Pahor will haunt him and could very well turn him into a straw-man president with former party president still effectively running the show.

Fifth: Until now Borut Pahor held two of the three highest offices in this country: President of the Parliament and the President of the Government. Becoming the President of the Republic would round it off nicely, no? But the thing is that in both cases Pahor ran on a social democratic platform and as a party leader. Also, in both positions he was overly indulgent to the opposition, drawing much criticism from the party ranks. What in Bob’s name does automatically qualify him to expect support from the political left? Especially since he is actively wooing the right-wing vote (appearing on Catholic radio for an hour long programme, no less).

Six: In the previous presidential elections, the SD supported the incumbent president Danilo Türk. After losing the grip on power and political reality, Borut Pahor started flirting openly with ideas that used to be called Merkozy but now rightly go simply the last name of the German Chancellor. If Pahor were to become the official SD presidential candidate, the party would (again) implicitly subscribe to his views and policies although it had rejected them only ten days ago.

And finally, numero seven: In all honesty, it is somewhat debatable if Pahor would be such a proponent of austerity programmes if the situation were a wee bit different and he didn’t run out of ideas and people who were willing to talk sense into him. And despite his relatively illustrious political carrer, this crisis-handling thing was a gross political miscalculation on his part. It might be just proof enough that Borut Pahor reached the limit of his political prowess and that he is no longer concerned with the public good but rather with keeping his political legacy more or less intact.

Which is why the new SD leadership should think long and hard on whether to support Pahor or not. Pengovsky thinks it’s better for everyone that the support does not materialise. Thus Igor Lukšič would not be haunted by Pahor’s political ghost, the SD would cease being a catering service for Pahor’s political needs and wants while the political left could rally around the incumbent president (who has problems of his own, but that’ll wait for another time).

In short: Bourt Pahor should be made to realise that losing an election and wooing the other side are not the stuff the presidents are made of. It may be hard on him and he may take it badly. But hey, not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up…

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