Second Republic Revisited

As expected, the big coalition pow-wow turned out to be a non-event with a predictable result. PM Borut Pahor outlined six priorities his government has to tackle in the remaining 18 months which effectively remain until elections, for all his boasting Karl Erjavec of DeSUS was sidelined and his cajoling to re-open the issue of pension reform was apparently ignored by the rest of the coalition partners. LDS and Zares pointed out a couple of issues they intend to stick to outside the immediate six-point priority plan (the new Family Code and the issue of Patria APCs respectively, to pick examples at random), while the Social Democrats have problems of their own, especially regarding the fate of finance minister Franci Križanič for whom the Court of Audit recommended a demission for dereliction of duty. In short: rumours of this coalition’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

Janez Janša during his particular pow-wov Saturday last (source: SDS)

However, that is no to say that Monday’s huddle was all about sipping tea and checking sports results. Waves were created especially by Gregor Golobič who stepped in front of the press late on Friday, just in time to make the evening news and plenty of ink in Saturday’s newspapers. Leader of Zares made plenty of noises about the need to change the constitution to break the impasse this country apparently found itself at. What made Golobič’s proposal intriguing was the fact that only days earlier Janez Janša and his SDS floated their very own idea of constitutional changes, claiming that the time was ripe for a “second republic” which should break the impasse this country apparently found itself at.

Although Golobič said that he had no problem cooperating with anyone, even Janša on constitutional changes and Janša too said that he would work with anyone to bring about the necessary changes, one should no go ga-ga over it. Rather, what we’ve seen is a cheap political bluff on Janša’s side with Goobič calling it as soon as possible.

La deuxième république

SDS leader talked at length about the need to create the “second republic” which would effectively tackle issues of today much like the “first republic” more or less successfully tackled issues of a fledgling democracy Slovenia was twenty years ago (and then some). The thing is that apart from a fancy but possibly embarrassing name, Janša thus far has little to show for this second republic of hid. Truth be told, he said that the new and improved constitution would be outlined until the end of the year by which time SDS would be ready to take power once again.

At this stage it is not entirely known whether this latest constitutional dash by Janša has anything to do with his previous exploits of this nature, the last of which was his ten-point-plan for constitutional changes which he floated in 2009 upon being re-elected to the post of SDS commander-in-chief president. But given the fact that he scheduled the new constitutional draft eleven months from now suggest, that SDS will go back to the old drawing board and start from scratch. Again.

“Second republic” is a bit unfortunate name. Not only did Borut Pahor use it way back in 2000-2004 term when he was serving as president of the parliament during governments of Janez Drnovšek and Tone Rop, but also because both Janša today and Pahor back then were obviously alluding to the French Second Republic, which was of rather ill fate an ended with a coup d’etat by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, from then on known as Napoleon III. Obviously, I’m not saying Janša wants to perform a coup d’etat (we’re past that, methinks), but there could be an echo of the subconscious here 😉


I’m joking, obviously. But Janša apparently is not. He made it perfectly clear that he intends to increase the number of seats in the parliament in 2012 elections and with help of “compatible” parties (namely SLS and NSi) gain not only an absolute, but a two-thirds majority, enabling him to go through with constitutional-changes-to-be. This masterplan was uveiled and a party conference titled 50+ which apparently stood for percentage of support he wants to win in 2012 and was not code for “mid-life crisis”.

Truth be told, Janša might have a point. The government’s ratings are at an all-time low, SDS is comfortably leading public opinion polls and ruling Social Democrats are fighting off competition from Karl Erjavec’s DeSUS to keep second place, while LDS and Zares would barely make the cut, according to the latest public opinion poll. In theory, all Janša has to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

How to tame your Karl

But as noted in the beginning, rumours of the coalition’s demise were grossly exaggerated. Not only did it take the parties in power surprisingly little time to find common ground, the supposedly down-and-out players on the left refused to go on the defensive and instead delivered a few well aimed punches of their own. Case in point being the sudden taming of Karl Erjavec and DeSUS who now suffer all the drawbacks of a single-issue party. Erjavec tried in vain to reopen the debate on pension reform. The move was apparently rejected flat-out which left him without political ammo, even though he was uttering words such as “street”, “protests” and “unrest”. The rest of the coalition was – on the surface at least – left unfazed by this and didn’t go beyond adopting Golobič’s proposal to seek cooperation with three independent MPs. As much as broadening the number of votes the coalition can count on in the parliament sans DeSUS, the move is aimed at taunting Karl Erjavec whose two former MPs are now independents and DeSUS leader made it plain that he is unhappy about being in the same boat with people he threw out of the party.

Then there is Zares’ constitutional bid. While it looks revolutionary on the outside (revamping referendum and election rules, establishing the mayor/MP conflict of interest and so forth), Golobič also said that he is willing to cooperate with Janša on this issue and since Janša said that is willing to cooperate with anybody (after all, this is the constitution we’re talking about), we’re supposedly looking at a Janša-Golobič led constitutional reform. Obviously, hell will freeze over before the above happens.

Taking the edge out

Neither of the constitutional bids are in pengovsky’s opinion what they appear to be. So far, Janša’s bid is only a thinly veiled attempt at gaining momentum to insert himself back at the top spot. The fact that the bid thus far lacks substance only reiterates the fact. Historically, the current leader of the opposition always looked for short-cuts to power. Be it referendums, no-confidence votes, calls for early elections or calls for constitutional reforms, Janša’s general aim in the past fifteen years was to gain power by almost any means possible. Ironically, the only time he didn’t fail in that enterprise was when he waited patiently and won the elections fair and square. But back then he also had substance and the electorate to back it up. Today, he has neither. Sure, he might be leading polls by a large margin, but when push comes to a shove, his own voters seem rather lukewarm and no longer support all of his bids en masse, case in point being the referendum on RTV Slovenia, where turnout was criminally low on both sides of political spectrum.

On the other hand, although carrying slightly more substance, Zares’ constitutional bid was very much tongue-in-cheek. Rather than jump-starting the long and painful constitutional process 18 months before elections, its primary function seems to be to take out the edge of Janša’s bid. Most of what Golobič wants can easily be achieved via normal legislative procedure and does not require a constitutional majority (two-thirds of all MPs in two consecutive votes). Thus the only real effect now is that Janša no longer monopolizes the debate on constitutional reform, which probably means that the issue will die out sooner rather than later.

Who stands to lose the most

Also, one must not forget that both Janša and Erjavec, while apparently giving the coalition a run for its money, have problems of their own especially with regard to Patria Affair, where they are facing their own respective trials, with Janša’s SDS in hot water also over financing its pre-election “free newspapers” Slovenski Tednik and Ekspres.

Point being that everyone, including Janša and Erjavec stand to lose a lot in the next eighteen months, especially given their current standing. Thus – illogical as it may seem- the one who stands to lose the least is the government of Borut Pahor. While pengovsky thinks that there’s more to its achievements than meets the eye, there’s no doubt that the general impression of this government is it being long-derailed, chaotic, inept, scandal-ridden and trying to run in several directions at the time. From this point on things can only go up. Whether or not they will, remains to be seen.

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Killing Križanič Softly (With His Song)

Finance minister Franci Križanič is on the outs, it seems. Yesterday the Court of Audit released a follow-up report on several issues pertaining to ministry of finance, and in several cases found that no improvement was made and declared a grave dereliction of duty by the ministry and as a result recommended to Prime Minister Borut Pahor to start the demission procedure for minister Križanič.

Franci Križanič, once dubbed minister for optimism (source)

This basically a remake of what was happening to Karl Erjavec of DeSUS a year ago almost to the day. Back then PM Pahor said publicly that he has no choice but to heed to the request of the Court of Audit and this should be the standard course of action from now on. Which puts him in a bit of a tight stop this time around, especially since Franci Križanič is not just anybody but a heavyweight of Pahor’s very own Social Democrats. On the other hand, he is also very accident prone and has had Pahor save his ass publicly on a couple of occasions. Without going into too much detail, the gist of the matter is that in the opinion of the Court of Audit the ministry’s accounts are not up to standard. This is not something new and the auditors first raised hell way back under Janša’s government, when finance portfolio was held by all-but-forgotten Andrej Bajuk and it is safe to say that things go even further back. But the point is that the ministry is now run by Križanič and that things still aren’t in order.

Officially, PM Pahor gave Križanič a week to explain himself and the finance-minister-in-peril already said that he has no intention of resigning. However, this is more or less the same song we’ve heard in case of Erjavec. In fact, rather than being between a rock and a hard place, Pahor might be looking for a remake of that particular hit-single. We’ve seen time and again that a vocal support from the prime minister can soon crumble into sun dust, cases in point being several former ministers. Furthermore, Pahor has the ability to play stupid and claim no hidden agenda to the point of everyone else’s huge embarrassment, usually resulting in other people doing his dirty work. And so far all the signs point to Pahor cutting Križanič loose.

So, why would he do that? First of all, Križanič is about as popular a fetid dingo’s kidney. True, finance ministers tend to get that way, especially during times of economic crisis. But apart from objective reasons, Križanič has has more than his share of fuck-ups. He is also apparently heavily at odds with minister for development Mitja Gaspari who (apart from being former governor of the Bank of Slovenia) once held the post of finance minister so he pretty much knows the turf. But the main issue seems to be the immediate fate of Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB) the largest state owned bank, where Križanič supposedly favoured strong state ownership, while Gaspari suppose to be a bit more, well, liberal, in that respect.

And then there’s the inter-party thingie. Križanič is an SD heavyweight, especially powerful within Ljubljana branch of the party. It was some time since Pahor shook up his own party ranks and opposition within the party has built up in the mean time. Križanič represented the more “social” part of Social Democrats and was apparently on good terms with old party hands and also won praise from the party’s youth organisation (not that the latter bears any significance). So what we are witnessing might possibly be described as killing a few stones with one bird, with PM Pahor giving the finger to the opposition within the party as well as getting rid of a minister of mixed fortunes and who just might have outlived his usefulness.

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A Pow-Wow Turned Photo-Op

Earlier today Duša Trobec Bučan was confirmed as new minister for local self-government and regional development, thus succeeding Henrik Gjerkeš who resigned from position after he was caught driving under the influence. With this ends yet another episode of inter-coalition tug-of-war which some hoped would bring down the government of Borut Pahor but instead – as usual – fizzled out into a quick photo-op.

Coalition leaders. A family photo from happier times (source)

Namely, the last few days Slovene political scene was abuzz with a top-level coalition huddle which took place yesterday and was supposedly called to close ranks and plug some holes in a government which just scored a new low with only 23 percent approval rating. However, amid “a flurry of expectations”, which just journo-speak for hoping that a general fist-fight will break out, the only thing the yawning press core got was yet another statement about “a firm decision that this government will within next-year-and-a-half “do everything in its power to ensure economic and social recovery”.

So, what happened? I mean, noises were made and the scene was set for at least a mid-season political cliffhanger. To an untrained eye, it may seem as if the stars of the feud are DeSUS of Karl Erjavec and Zares of Gregor Golobič. Indeed, the pensioner party is becoming ever more obnoxious, especially after they broke the 10-percent mark in public opinion polls, besting even the ruling Social Democrats. On the other hand, Zares seems to be opting for some hard-ball politics, seemingly going after DeSUS for not supporting the pension reform and the Budget Act, both of which are key documents. Thus Zares’ second-in-command and president of the parliament Pavle Gantar said in no unclear terms that a party which does not support key documents has no place in the coalition (note that the statement did not come from party leader Golobič). On the other hand, Erjavec struck back saying that it was Zares’ MPs who voted against the government on multiple occasions, so would Zares please shut up, thank you very much.

But this is not the real feud. Despite ego-inflating poll results and his loud-mouthing about how he’s already thinking about 2012 elections, Karl Erjavec’s interests are primarily short-term. He is on trial for dereliction of duty in the Patria case and at the moment his party’s high ratings serve no other purpose than strengthening his position within the party, half of which would replace him given half a chance (exactly which half of the party that is depends on the situation at hand). What we are witnessing is Zares actually pushing Social Democrats into a bit of a tight spot, cashing in favours and support and thus carving out more manoeuvring room for it self. The party is currently near rock bottom poll-wise and has lately done a bit of bag-carrying for PM Pahor personally, notably with going all-out against building of a new Šoštanj coal power plant (siding with PM against local SD strongmen, although there are more angles to the story) and sacrificing the new law on RTV Slovenia on the referendum (provided that was the plan as detailed in this post).

So, rather than this being a Slovene version of Faces of Stupid contest between Zares and DeSUS, it looks more as if the former is trying to reposition itself vis-a-vis Social Democrats, which – the story goes – have often supported Zares’ legislative initiatives only after claiming them as their own. And it looks as if Zares is in for a fight. The grapevine has it that Gregor Golobič will soon come under heavy fire for his initiative of research and innovation centres. Golobič negotiated some serious money to be pumped into ten-or-so combinations of hi-tech companies and research facilities which have the highest potential to generate added value through innovation and subsequent production, but apparently allegations (probably in the form of “anonymous tip-offs”) are expected to arise that tenders were won only by people close to Golobič. That’s the word on the street, anyway.

But for the moment, Zares and Gregor Golobič seem to have gotten their way at least partly. Today their MPs abstained from the vote on Duša Trobec Bučan. Thus a message was sent that they too can leave the coalition should PM Pahor forget to take their interest into account as well. And while DeSUS’ possible au revoir to the coalition would be bad considering the five seats it would take with it (down from seven, by the way), it would not be catastrophic. However, should Zares and Gregor Golobič bid farewell and take their nine MPs with them, that would probably be the end of Prime Minister Pahor as well.

But the immediate disagreements seem to have been settled before yesterday’s big pow-pow. DeSUS got away with it yet again, Zares made a big show of saying they will not be pushed around (and took a swipe at DeSUS as well), while PM Pahor got his new minister appointed and is closing ranks yet again. And the media got yet another photo-op. Until next time.

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SLS Saves The Pension Reform

A funny thing happened yesterday. A vital piece of reform legislation – the pension reform – sailed through the parliament almost without a hickup. It was confirmed by a majority of 49 votes and is as such a major success for the left-wing government of Borut Pahor. But the composition of the “yes” vote in the parliament is where the funny starts.

SLS president Radovan Žerjav (source)

Since this is pension reform we’re talking about here, it was kind of expected that – despite being nominally a member of the ruling coalition – DeSUS and it’s leader Karl Erjavec will give PM Borut Pahor an exceptionally hard time over it. Indeed, in terms of securing a parliamentary majority the main sticking point seems to have been the rate at which pensions will increase relative to increase in prices. And while Erjavec demanded parity between the two indices, Pahor and specifically labour minister Ivan Svetlik insisted on a .25 rate, meaning that for every point inflation rises, pensions goes up .25 percent. Erjavec was adamant to the point of other junior coalition parties, notably Zares and its leader Gregor Golobič calling on Erjavec to make up his mind whether he’s a part of the team or not.

In all honesty Erjavec has a couple of reasons for giving such a hard time to PM Pahor. First, he was more or less forced to resign as minister of environment. He was also indicted for his alleged role in the Patria Affair and just to top it off two of his MPs (Žnidaršič and Rezman) quit DeSUS and went independent. Also, Erjavec was perhaps overconfident from pulling this very same trick four years ago when then-PM Janez Janša agreed to re-institute price-index/pension-rise parity. So for purposes of this pension reform DeSUS de facto left the coalition. But then, seemingly out of the blue, Slovene People’s party (SLS) came to the rescue and chipped in the missing votes.

Pengovsky often wrote that he has a soft spot for SLS. Regardless of their general ineptitude and hypocrisy, they usually came through when push came to a shove. This soft spot exists since the constitutional crisis in 2000 when SLS provided crucial votes to avoid suspension of elections in what was increasingly looking like an attempted coup d’etat. Anyways, leaving bygones be bygones, SLS (just as in 2000) apparently put two and two together and found out that their primary voters’ base (farmers and the like) are quite well-off with this pension reform.

This is the first across-the-isle vote in this term, perhaps signalling complex two-years of the remaining first term of Pahor’s government (yes, I know what I wrote. Suck it up and move on ;)). The message is three-fold: First, Radovan Žerjav of SLS sent a message to Janez Janša that he’s not the only dog in opposition-town. Second, Karl Erjavec was told that he and his DeSUS can be replaced, if need be and that he’s is stretching it as it is. And lastly, SLS is saying that is it open to deals, preferably those which will a) benefit its voters and b) keep the party in the parliament. SLS is probably desperate to avoid the chaos its cousin-party, Christian Democratic NSi cannot really get out of ever since it dropped out of the parliament in 2008.

Should be fun. Especially, since there’s yet another referendum looming, this time on the pension reform.

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Referendum on RTV Slovenia, Part Three: Mad As Hell

Third and last instalment. For parts One and Two click here and here respectively

Mad As Hell scene from The Network

So, the referendum on the new law on RTV Slovenia is on in four… no… three days. The opposition (SDS, SLS and SNS) is opposing the law and is encouraging people to vote “no”. The same goes for Andrej Magajna MP (formerly of ruling Social Democrats, now independent) whose support was instrumental in this referendum becoming a reality. The coalition is, naturally, encouraging people to vote “yes” and this includes – although he was apparently very reluctant about it – Karl Erjavec of DeSUS.

Even though the campaign was lacklustre in the extreme, it did pick up in the past few days, with especially the “yes” camp gaining quite a few professional endorsements, most notably by journalists of RTVSLO itself, as well as journalists of Delo, the largest Slovenian daily. These were not “all-out” endorsements, but statements that the law, should it be confirmed on Sunday, will indeed establish grounds for RTVSLO to perform its public service better, with less political involvement.

This, basically, is the reason pengovsky will support the law as well. As things stands now, RTVSLO is saturated with political interest. both left and right. This is a natural consequence of the perpetual tug-of-war in this particular institution and which the existing law (passed under Janša government) only expanded further and made, well, legal. But since every action provokes equal but opposite reaction, the ball was starting to swing the other way. This is why this law is important. Ridiculous as it may sound, it just may prevent the whole vicious circle to start all over, mostly by limiting political influence over RTVSLO. Given this (and a bit of time) we just may end up with something resembling a public service television.

This country needs public RTVSLO. It needs a standard bearer, an institution where talent is fostered, nurtured and properly employed. Where ratings are not the only game in town, but come as a result of quality news and other programming. Where news is more than just about crime, disasters and talk shows which make Jerry Springer (remember him?) seem appropriate. Yes, the above is part of life and world around us. But it’s not all about that. I don’t have to tell you things are bad…

…Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be…

…That’s not the way it’s suppose to be. People are mad, yes. Mad as hell. But TV (especially public TV) is suppose to inform and not simply instil fear and loathing to pump up ratings. If the law is confirmed, common sense and quality media have a fighting chance. Nothing more, nothing less. If the law is defeated, then… well…

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