How Borut Pahor Is Turning Into A Slovenian Joe Lieberman

Slovenian Social Democrats are up for a long-overdue post-election convention on 2 June and all signs point to a bloodbath. Borut Pahor is facing multiple challengers and the next two weeks will probably see precious few punched being pulled. Of the three, Pahor’s main rival is Igor Lukšič, party heavyweight and ideologue who used to be the brains behind Pahor’s rise to power and served as minister of education in the previous government. Lukšič was removed from Pahor’s inner circle quite unexpectedly in a small scale party purge soon after the 2008 election victory and little love was lost between the two since then.

Borut Pahor never really came to terms with the results od 2011 parliamentary elections. What by any measure was a defeat of epic proportions, he strove and still strives to present it as a “good enough” result, saying that the SD got 10 percent even though some pre-election polls showed as little as three-point support. But fact of the matter is that the SD would score in the vicinity of ten percent even if it were led by a ventriloquist’s puppet Which, incidentally, is how many people see Pahor in the first place.

Pahor was not a bad Prime Minister. In fact, he and his government had the right instincts and addressed the correct issues. The arbitration agreement with Croatia alone is enough to give the man a Medal of Honour. The fact that he tried to offset the first onslaught of the worldwide economic meltdown by raising the minimum wage while the business sector cried murder was a gutsy move. And to his credit, his government came up with a set of sweeping labour market and pension reforms, which – as both of you readers know full well – went down the drain courtesy of the unholy alliance between the right-wing opposition and the labour unions. But good ideas are a dime a dozen and after suffering the traumatising defeat on the super-referendum vote, Borut Pahor was never able to recognise that the buck stops with him and never took responsibility. Yes, the unions fucked him over (paying dearly for it under current Janša administration). Yes, the then-opposition went to epic lengths to undermine any and all policies he came up with and relentlessly beat the drums on various cockamamie scandals which turned out to be nothing but elaborate character assassinations. But at the end of the day, it was Borut Pahor who was at the helm of the country and he counted on everyone else to help him steer the ship while he was running out of ideas on what to do next. And this is where he reached the point of no return.

When Pahor Met Merkozy

When his tenure was nearing the terminal stage, he liked to use the phrase “Franco-German train” which was suppose to mean that Slovenia should follow France and Germany in their economic policies. In fact, he’d often say “either we’re on that train or we are no more”. This Franco-German railway arrangement soon thereafter became known throughout Europe as Merkozy, shorthand for hardcore austerity and an all-out neoliberal agenda. Which is what Pahor bought into as the lack of vision on his part settled in completely and he became preoccupied with his legacy and immediate political future. Bottom line: No matter how often he quoted Churchill, unlike the old English fart Borut Pahor was not a PM fit for a time of crisis.

This became painfully obvious just prior to elections, when (against many an advice) Zoran Janković went national and the obviously-outgoing PM went ballistic, concocting a phrase “behind-the-scenes uncles” which supposedly handled Janković, instructing him to take over the reins of the political left-wing from Pahor. This line of reasoning conveniently forgot to take two things into account: a) that Pahor never really steered the left wing (although he wanted to) and b) that by that time Janković was way beyond anyone’s control including that of former president Milan Kučan who (pengovsky has it on good authority) privately advised Janković not to enter national politics. Such reasoning pushed Pahor ever more towards Janez Janša and – augmented by his chronic and notorious need for compromise – played a key part in him not lifting a finger when Janković was tripping over his own legs trying to clinch the PM post (and failing miserably).

Step by step, inch by inch, Borut Pahor was nearing a position where his positions were becoming very similar to those of Janez Janša and his government. Most notably on the fiscal rule, which apparently was the straw that broke the camel’s back and caused a very public rift within the party and its parliamentary group. As a result. the constitutional amendment enacting the fiscal rule does not have the necessary 60 votes in the parliament, but staying true to his reality-denying self, Pahor maintains that eventually he’ll deliver the necessary votes, allowing the government of Janez Janša to pass the amendment.

Falling Down: “I’m the bad guy?!”

Now, whether or not this is just a matter of political physics (distancing from one object inevitably draws you nearer to another object) or a carefully executed masterplan remains to be seen. With Pahor’s modus operandi to date, this would indeed seem more like an accident and I can totally see him as Michael Douglas in Falling Down, when he finally realises what he’s done and says “You mean, I’m the bad guy!?” But he’s not there yes. In fact if one were to draw a parallel, one could compare Borut Pahor to Senator Joe Lieberman, who – as you’ll remember, used to be the next Vice-President of the United States, but then gradually gravitated towards the Republican party, at one point actually addressing the GOP convention in 2008, supporting John McCain against Barack Obama. Interestingly enough, Pahor did in fact make several appearances at various right-wing pow-wows but thus far limiting it to addressing think tanks and affiliate organisations. Why?

Well, our why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along-and-love-me top-tier politician is widely expected to run for President of the Republic in the upcoming election. Which is somewhat weird, given that the incumbent Danilo Türk is of left-wing provenance and was more than once a target of a smear campaign, case in point being Archivegate concocted by the SDS. Given that Janez Janša already put forward his candidate Milan Zver, MEP, Pahor running for the highest office in the country seems illogical. But then again, nobody ever accused him of being logical.

You Want Me In That Office. You Need Me In That Office!

You see, Pahor was on the brink of running for that very same office in 2007 and went through a very tragicomic and very Pahor-like episode of public soul-searching including admitting on live television that he simply doesn’t know what to do. He was eventually persuaded by his inner circle to take a pass and go for the PM spot a year later. Which he did and succeeded. But his overtures to the political right wing, provided that there is at least a tiny bit of logic behind them suggest, that he wants a crack at the job and he wants it now. Which is why he is reluctant to criticise Janša with anything harsher than “we don’t always see eye to eye”. This would also imply that he has (or thinks he has) some sort of a deal with Janša on this issue.

But if that is the case, his clinging to party leadership is all the more illogical. True, it doesn’t say anywhere that a sitting party president can’t be the head of state, but of the few high standards that were set in Slovene politics, a non-party president is one of them. Milan Kučan, Janez Drnovšek and Danilo Türk, the three individuals holding the office to date were either unaffiliated with any party (Tűrk) or relinquished their active party roles prior to or upon assuming office (Kučan and Drnovšek). Pahor, on the other hand, is fighting tooth-and-nail to continue as the top dog of the Social Democrats and it would make little sense to quit the job only months after the convention. Provided of course that he’d keep the party job and then win the presidential election.

None of the two are certain, mind you. OK, his chances of surviving the in-party challenge are marginally better, but a lot can change in the two weeks. Fact of the matter is that the party is split, especially those senior party members who can throw some weight around. The parliamentary group and Borut Pahor more often than not appear to be two different items and the two things that work in Pahor’s favour are the fact that there are three challengers: former minister of education and party ideologue Igor Lukšič, former minister of transport and the “cool guy” of the crowd Patrick Vlačič and a former member of National Council Zlatko Jenko. This of course practically ensures that the opposition vote will split at least two if not three ways.

Challenge For The Challenger

Of the three, Lukšič is the only one who is capable of mounting a serious challenge. He’s an old party hand, knows Pahor inside and out and was with the party through thick and thin. Which buys him quite a lot of clout. He’s also a very harsh critic of austerity measures and recognises that the left as a whole needs to reinvent itself. His problem is that he’s no good at sound-bites and sometimes has trouble getting the message across. Which may be Pahor’s second saving grace. The current SD president has neither the results nor the content to continue in his capacity. But he just might. It’s not that Lukšič doesn’t know the inning and the score, it’s just that he has trouble hitting the home run. And as we’ve seen time and again, “close” doesn’t cut it. We’ll see if Lukšič can get his act together in the next two weeks.

As for his implied presidential ambitions, you can bet your ass that Janša will once again try to screw him over and clinch the office for a right-wing candidate for the first time in history of this country. The scenario is farily simple: First, he’d enjoy seeing Pahor take on Türk, splitting the left-wing vote down the middle, thus increasing chances of Milan Zver making it to the second round, possibly facing Pahor. Should that happen, a lot of left wing voters would probably stay at home in protest during the second round of the vote, practically giving the victory to Zver. And even if Pahor won, Janša would be only marginally worse off, since Pahor would (as per custom) go above and beyond the call of duty to indulge Janša over and over again. And if somehow both Pahor and Türk made it to the second round, Janša would obviously support Pahor, achieving the same result.

In fact, the only situation Janez Janša wishes to avoid in the presidential election this autumn is a face-off between Danilo Türk and Milan Zver, be it in the first or the second round. And Borut Pahor seems to be working hard to prevent that from happening.

P.S.: Many apologies for not posting in over two weeks. Again, things to see and people to do…

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Lame Duck Government

The government of Borut Pahor is as good as dead. After having their respective pow-wows, the remaining junior coalition parties, Zares of Gregor Golobič and LDS of Katarina Kresal demanded that either a comprehensive cabinet re-shuffle takes place (Zares) or a new government formed under the existing coalition (LDS). In both cases this includes the change at the top spot, effectively meaning that both parties want PM Pahor to step down.


Prime Minister Pahor during today’s press conference (source)

Of the two, the call by Zares is more radical as they want to see a result within fourteen days lest they quit the coalition. LDS on the other hand made a more hard-line call but they didn’t provide a time-frame, meaning that theirs was more a show of force rather than an actual commitment. On the other hand, Zares presented Pahor with an offer he can’t really afford to accept. Namely, if Pahor accepts Golobič’s offer and returns his mandate, he admits he has little or no control over the situation. On the other hand, if he doesn’t take the deal, Zares walks out of the coalition and Pahor’s coalition is down to 34 votes.

However, the PM decided to play hard-ball and challenged Zares to make good on its threats. As hinted yesterday by Igor Lukšič, minister of education and senior SD member, Pahor flat-out rejected Golobič and basically told him to go stick his head in a bucket (not in as many words, of course). Even more, the PM said that should he lose a confidence vote, his party will not put forward another candidate for the top spot but will rather work towards calling early elections. Translation: Pahor will blame Zares if the government falls.

However, behind the thick veil of bluff Pahor served today, he is only buying time and still considering his next move. He is not clear on whether the government will propose an emergency law or a rebalanced budget in order to save the 300 million needed and whether he will tie a confidence vote to either of the acts. He also entertained journalists’ questions on whether he will consider a thinly veiled offer Janez Janša made yesterday to form a grand SD-SDS coalition, but then found a plethora of reasons (all of them valid) why that would be an extremely bad idea. In other words, he can not decide on just how high a wager he is prepared to place in this particular game of political poker.

So, how will this play out? Despite Pahor’s insistence that he expects Zares to “extend the deadline”, the party of Gregor Golobič will most likely quit the coalition in two weeks. That this will happen on Statehood Day (June 25) is likely a coincidence, but a very symbolic one: 20th anniversary of Slovenian independence will be celebrated amid political turmoil. How very fitting 🙂

But little will change after that date. Zares, not being a part of the coalition , will have the luxury of picking which projects it will support, but one can hardly expect the party to go over to the opposition side. So, what we will have, will be a lame duck government, surviving on a daily basis unless of course Prime Minister Pahor finally makes up his mind and either seeks a new coalition (unlikely) or steps down and allows for early elections. Odd are that the current shaky coalition would find them more beneficial than the opposition which remains ill prepared platform-wise.

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