The Tale Of Two Prime Ministers

It was the best of times it was the worst of times. It was the age of Light it was the age of Darkness. Depending on whether you were Janez Janša or Alenka Bratušek yesterday. Namely, the two former PMs have seen their political outlook clear and muddle respectively less than 24 hours apart. Or so it seems.

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Hand. Over. (source)

After a retrial was declared in the Patria Case, the newly assigned judge ruled the statute of limitations expired in this case as the alleged crime took place in between August and September 2005, before the Penal Code was changed to allow for a two-year extension in cases where the constitutional court ordered a retrial. There was some speculation that the extension will be granted especially since the new proviso was generally used retroactively, but mostly for post-WWII summary trials, thus paving a way for true acquittal of those innocent people who somehow were in the way of the Communist regime.

Interestingly enough, this was exactly the spin Janša – more precisely, his stellar lawyer Franci Matoz – wanted to make by arguing that he’d like the extension to be granted in order to clear his name in front of a judge rather than simply through a legal proviso. However, you’ll be excused for thinking that the way things unfolded was good enough both for Matoz and for his client. Because, no matter how you look at it, Janša, as well as his co-accused Ivan Črnkovič and Tone Krkovič, as well as Walter Wolf, who fled to Canada, are once again innocent. That the first three will probably sue the state for wrongful incarceration (numbers around half a mil per person are being circulated) is almost a given.

What is not a given is any kind of reset to the way things were before. While sporadic shouts of how this government lacks legitimacy are almost unavoidable, it seems to have dawned on Ivan’s legal squad at least that any scenario involving a rerun of elections is impossible. Not practically impossible, not virtually impossible, simply – impossible. Not in the least because the public have, for all the deficiency and occasional amateurism of this government, come to appreciate the sense of political stability and even dullness of day-to-day politics. Not that there aren’t screw-ups, boat-rockers or a certain amount of mischief in general, it’s just that none of it seems to be cataclysmic.

Not to be discounted is the fact that the Party burned a huge amount of resources defending its Glorious Leader tooth-and-nail. This has had noticeable effect on the ability of the party to form policy and/or take positions on issues not directly connected with the main strategic objective.  Also, a number of high-profile individuals turned out to be lacklustre in the cause at hand and have as a result fallen out of grace of the party leader(ship).  And although this strengthened the party on the inside, it also reduced its reach beyond the immediate rank-and-file. Which might also explain why the SDS, while closely trailing the SMC in the opinion polls, did not get any sort of  lasting bump in the opinion polls. Which also helps explain the overall resignation regarding possible political dividends of the whole affair.

So, while Janez Janša is now scott-free, he and his party are now, optimistically speaking, back to square one, while the political landscape has changed quite a bit. Just how well they can adapt to the new reality and hit the ground running will decide whether theirs will be a slow but sure path to oblivion or whether they will be able to reinvent themselves and form a new and viable political platform. The party proper, however, has also managed to put off the question of a post-Janša future. The operative word here being “put off”, and not avoided. Because sooner or later this will become an issue.

But for the time being, Janša still has a party to run. Afterall, he at least has a party. Unlike his successor in the PM seat Alenka Bratušek who is literally seeing her Alenka Bratušek Alliance disintegrate before her eyes.

Namely, Jani Möderndorfer, head of the party’s parliamentary group is looking for a new political home. He quit the party and the group yesterday and is rumoured to be on the verge of switching to Miro Cerar’s SMC. All of which pengovsky predicted as early as July. And while the media are focusing on the dire political straits the former PM found herself in, the real story here is the new balance of the Force within the coalition.

You see, when Bojan Dobovšek quit the SMC parliamentary group and went independent, the SD, most junior of the coalition partners, went orgasmic at the prospect of actually starting to matter in terms of securing a parliamentary majority of 46 votes (at that moment SMC had 35 votes, DeSUS 10 and SD 6). Theirs was a short-lived happiness, however, as DeSUS poached Peter Vilfan from ZaAB in late July, thus once again making itself the sole indispensible coalition partner. Should Möderndorfer really sign up for the SMC, Miro Cerar’s party would be back to 36 votes and the coalition as a whole would have a vote more than it began the term with.

The story does not end there, however. The side-effect of Möderndorfer’s jumping ship is the fact that ZaAB is now down to two MPs, one short for making the cut to claim parliamentary group privileges such as hiring staff and advisors as well as securing seats in parliamentary committees. In effect, this means the end of ZaAB as a parliamentary party. And while Bratušek was lamenting the lack of fidelity and loyalty in politics (at which point Zoran Janković probably went all Top Gun), she was presented with a much more immediate problem: how to regroup in the parliament and keep at least some of the resources available.

She immediately tried to form an independents’ parliamentary group, consisting of herself, the remaining ZaAB member Mirjam Bon Klanjšček and SMC renegade Dobovšek, but apparently that won’t fly due to a quirk in parliamentary Rules and Procedures which require that non-aligned MPs not be members of any political party. And Alenka Bratušek quitting Alenka Bratušek Alliance is, well, humiliating. What she could do, however, is call a congress of what is left of her party, move to disband it and notify the president of the parliament that her party is no more. Has ceased to be. Is expired and gone to meet its Maker. Is a stiff. Bereft of life, rests in peace and pushing up daisies. Kicked the bucket and has shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. That it has fuckin’ snuffed it and that hers is an ex-party.

But that, too, could soon become an academic debate as DeSUS apparently set its sights on Bon Klajnšček as well and should the pensioners’ party poach her, Bratušek’s only chance of seeing the inside of the parliamentary group would be to join an already existing one. For example, the Social Democrats, who have a bit of a tradition for co-opting former MPs who lost their parties. And should this really happen, one could claim that ZaAB had indeed joined Cerar’s coalition. Albeit posthumously.

 

 

Oh, The iRonny

After less than a week as the Slovenian-appointed arbitrator at the Arbitration Tribunal, Ronny Abraham quit the post, saying he agreed to the appointment “in the hope that this would help restore confidence between the Parties and the Arbitral Tribunal and to allow the process to continue normally, with consent of the both parties” but realized this is not the case hence it is no longer appropriate for him to serve on the tribunal (this via CPA press release). Obviously, all hell broke loose this side of the Alps where only days earlier foreign minister Karl “Teflon” Erjavec lauded Abraham’s appointment as a victory for Slovene diplomacy. Sneers about victory turning into a defeat were inevitable, as were renewed calls for his resignation. The irony, of course, was not lost on anyone. Or, rather, the iRonny.

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Original picture via the ICJ

To be honest, other than driving Slovenian foreign policy from embarrassment to embarrassment, Erjavec is not really the man responsible here. I mean, sure, his bravado was unfounded as usual, but it was mostly for internal consumption rather than anything else. The man is sly enough not to have done any actual moves in this mess without express backing either of PM Cerar or the government as a whole. Indeed, Abraham was appointed by the government in an extraordinary session and – truth be told – Erjavec, for all his political prowess does not strike pengovsky as having the capacity of coming up with a heavyweight like Abraham, who currently serves as President of the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Which, incidentally, might be the clue to his resignation. Abraham stated in no unclear terms that the reason for his withdrawing is the fact that one of the parties (that be Croatia) has no intention of adhering to whatever decision the tribunal comes up with. Which is bad enough and not something you want on your resume, especially if you’re late to the party. But it could also indicates that he expect the case to land in front of ICJ some time in the future (something Croatia was hoping to achieve all along). But regardless od whether this happens or not, his message was clear: he will have nothing to do with cases where one of the parties reneges on a written and signed promise.

The arbitration, however, continues. Slovenia will again appoint an arbitrator, probably in the next two weeks (the usual suspect are already lining up in the media stream), the only difference being that the government will take much more flak over it. Both from the media (which have unreservedly echoed politicians’ cries of happiness first time around) as well as the opposition. In fact, while conspiracy theories about who’s really behind the shenanigans were initially on the back burner, they’re on full-throttle this time around. Stupid as they are.

initially, the word on the street was that the Sekolec-Drenik leak was orchestrated by either the Social Democrats (junior coalition partners) or the opposition SDS of Janez Janša. The logic of it being that the SD is a) in control of the intelligence community by virtue of having the defence portfolio and b) still pissed with PM Cerar over #Vebergate and the sale of Telekom Slovenije (which, incidentally, fell through). Or, in the case of the SDS, that the general assumption that Janša still has every fucking intelligence service penetrated with this people back from his heyday as the defence-mofo-in-chief.

Both of these theories have holes the size of Greek debt-to-GDP ratio in them. Namely: the SDS would have been a prime suspect, had it not been for the slight detail of Janša still rotting in jail at the time of the first Sekolec-Drenik convo. At that particular junction the Party was completely focused on getting the Glorious Leader from behind bars and could spare precious few resources to pull a stunt like that – and then sit on it. As for SD, the explanation is painfully simple. Right now, they can’t even tie their own shoelaces, let alone orchestrate what would in these circumstances amount to high treason and get away with it. Case closed on items One and Two

Then there’s the idea that it’s the Americans who were somehow punishing Slovenia for supposedly being too close to Russia. The largest-circulation Slovenian tabloid Slovenske novice even ran a story to that effect. Which is some of the biggest load of bullshit we’ve seen recently in this sorry excuse for a country. Because not only is the Slovenian-Russian hug-fest at the Russian Chapel on the Vršič mountain pass an annual event dating back a whole lotta years (cue Led Zeppelin), the incessant belief that this sorry excuse for a country is a battlefield for proxy wars between superpowers is, well, delusional at best. Damir Lucić in Rijeka-based Novi List took apart the Croatian aspect of this particular argument quite well (Croatian only). Basically, his argument goes along the lines that the Croatian notion of US being in Croatia’s corner on this one is weird (to put it mildly) in the context of US oil company pulling out of oil exploration/exploitation off the Croatian coast, citing border disputes of all things (this time with Montenegro where one of the richest oil fields is tought to be located).

Pengovsky’s favourite (not in the least because it was concocted by moi personally) is that it was the Austrians which picked up the Sekolec-Drenik international call (spying on international calls is perfectly legal, both are foreign nationals and Sekolec lives in Vienna), somehow delivered the goods to Croatia on account of them being the Austrians neighbour’s neighbour (one usually gets along better with those than one’s immediate neighbours) and rocked the boat a bit. On the other hand, Slovenia could have some dirt on Croatia, courtesy of the Dutch, of all people. Which would account for PM Cerar’s appointing his Dutch counterpart Rutte to cast a vote in Slovenia’s name during the last round of the Greek clusterfuck in Brussels (Cerar puzzled a lot of people with that move and took a lot of flak over it).

Had the above really been the case, it would have been one for the textbooks, but unfortunately is has about the same amount of relevance as any other conspiracy theory on this particular issue. Absolutely none. The Austrians even went on the record saying the expect the countries to stick to the agreement (this, admittedly, via the Slovene Press Agency).

Anyways. No matter how you look at it, this is simply yet another case of Hanlon’s Razor, i.e. attributing malice where stupidity suffices. And boy, there is a lot of stupid floating around in this debate.

 

The Wire: Arbitration Agreement Edition

In the good old days, men were men, women were women, Eccentrica Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six was Eccentrica Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six and Slovenia-Croatia border disputes flared up every summer. Like clockwork. Then came the Arbitration Agreement and put an end to all that. And I’m not talking about hipsters here, if you catch my meaning. Since yesterday, however, it feels like the good old days.

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Arbitration Tribunal in session (source)

Croatian daily Večernji list ran a bombshell of a story, claiming Slovenia acted in bad faith vis-a-vis the Arbitration Tribunal and had the country’s agent with the court Simona Drenik (full disclosure: pengovsky knows her personally) discuss tactics of Slovenian case with Jernej Sekolec, the country’s appointee to a five-member tribunal. Obviously all hell broke loose, with the Croats going all Captain Renault on arbitration and hinted at bailing out of the proceedings, which, if the three phone records are to be believed (and so far no-one has denied their authenticity), were going well in Slovenia’s favour.

There are multiple aspects to the issue, not in the least why exactly were the records made public now, when they were apparently made between November last year and January this year. But while Croatia is crying foul, the debate in Slovenia immediately took on a holier-than-thou attitude, taking the Zagreb spin at face value and started dissecting the Sekolec-Drenik convo, looking for clues to support Croatian claims. Which are, well, on rather thin ice.

Namely, Croatia claims that Slovenia tried to influence the tribunal consisting of three independent experts plus an arbiter from either side by coaching the national arbiter in aspects that are beneficial to the Slovenian cause. Well, is the Pope Catholic? I mean, both sides have put forward a memorandum stating their case and left it to the tribunal to decide on the merits of claims. The fact that both countries agreed to appoint a national arbiter shows that the conflicting parties wanted to have a) continuous oversight over the proceeding (as opposed to being merely informed of the decision) and b) the ability to at least try to steer the deliberations to their benefit. Sekolec at one point even implies that everyone subscribed to the tacit understanding that the national arbiters are by default biased (duh!) by hinting at the three foreign experts (occasionally?) meeting separately to discuss the issues at hand.

The gist of the story is that the tribunal is due to release a binding decision in December and – apparently – award two-thirds of the Bay of Piran to Slovenia and provide for a short corridor to international waters. Thus a key Slovenian maritime goal would have been achieved, after more than two decades of border incidents and even armed confrontations on land and on the sea. Which explains why the Croatian side went public with the wiretaps only now and not immediately after they were recorded.

For all intents and purposes, this is a major intelligence scoop by Croatian spooks. Despite the prevailing narrative of “amateur hour”, Slovenian foreign ministry takes security pretty seriously. Doubly so in the case of the arbitration. This, pengovsky knows for a fact. So what we are dealing with here in all probability is not two bureaucrats with a frivolous attitude towards security but rather a major breach or even an inside job (conspiracy theories! \o/). Which means that Slovenian spook services will have a lot of explaining to do.

But the main takeaway here is not that Sekolec and Drenik were indeed confabulating (no-one on the Slovenian side denied the authenticity of the recordings and both have since resigned) but that the Croats went public with phone taps at all. Which means either that a) the breach was since sealed (unlikely, given the panic on the Slovenian side) or b) the wiretap had lost operational potential and Slovenia achieved what it wanted regardless. Which left Zagreb only with the nuclear option, to burn their asset and hope the whole thing takes the arbitration agreement with it.

Doubly so when one takes into account the fact that the final decision of the tribunal is to be published in December, awfully close to Croatian parliamentary elections where the incumbent left-wing government is apparently poised to lose to HDZ, prompting PM Milanović to suck up make overtures to right-wing voters to try and turn the trend. Should the tribunal indeed award more than a half of the Bay of Piran to Slovenia, the projected defeat of the Milanović government would most likely turn into a rout, especially since the Blut-und-Boden rhetoric is even more hyped-up in Croatia as it is in Slovenia. So while official Zagreb is professing its shock and innocence, the conclusion here is that the other party is trying to mitigate the disastrous effects a decision, favourable to Slovenia, international credibility be damned.

Interestingly, while Croatian political class is united feigning disbelief (former PM Jadranka Kosor, who signed the agreement with Slovenian then-PM Pahor, called the deal null and void), it is getting a lot of help from Slovenia as well. Not only did PM Cerar and FM Erjavec immediately leave Sekolec and Drenik hang out to dry, the two have been treated to a generous helping of proper backstabbing, either by various elements of the opposition, trying to cash in on the panic or by would-be arbiters who failed to wiggle their way into this story. Case in point by judge at the Constitutional Court and a long-time diplomat Ernest Petrič who saw it fit to delve right into the fray (Slovenian only).

Curiously enough, the only two high-profile individuals who have appealed for calm and warned against buying into the Croatian narrative are the two people who at the height of their game were seen as arch-enemies – Janez Janša and Gregor Golobič

Both appeal for calm and point out that it is Croatia which is in a weaker position, a stark opposite to the prevailing narrative of a Slovenian diplomatic failure. The President, however, who in his capacity as PM signed the Arbitration Agreement in 2009, was  – 24 hours after the crisis erupted – making hay while sun shone. Literally.

But, to be fair, the man did later say he expected the tribunal to finish the job. Whis it apparently intends to do, as per tweet of this Večer newspaper reporter

Just how exactly this will play out, is hard to say. But it does suggest Croatia found itself in a spot so tight, FM Vesna Pusić stated publicly that it doesn’t matter who made the tapes or how Croatia obtained them. Now, this is a bit of a Catch 22 situation for them, as problematic activity was detected by problematic methods and revealing that makes Croatia just as problematic as it believes Slovenia is. Which doesn’t exactly further their cause. Not to mention that wiretapping senior officials is somewhat frowned upon in this day and age. In the final analysis, the releasing of the tapes seems more like a domestic policy stunt to cover their asses if the tribunal really does decide to award a large part of the Piran Bay to Slovenia than anything else. But for all the talk about declaring the agreement null and void, just because they don’t like the result, it is worth to remember that one series which dealt with wiretapping, bad life decisions and tautologies.

A deal is a deal.

 

P.S.: For a good take on the issue, friend and colleague Nataša Briški provides over at Metina lista (Slovenian only)

Tele-kom, Tele-go

The supervisory board of the Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SDH) is expected to finally end the sad saga of the sale of Telekom Slovenije today. The state owned telco was put up for sale as a part of the deal then-PM Alenka Bratušek and her FinMin Uroš Čufer made with Brussels in 2013 to avoid a bailout that would send Slovenia into the special Olympics category together with Greece and Cyprus (as well as Ireland and Spain, to a lesser extent).

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Telekom Slovenije management might get new bosses soon (source: The Firm™)

To cut a long story short, the company was put up for sale soon after the SDH was formed and when it became clear that the new Slovenian government will go ahead with the attempted sale, despite PM Cerar’s vocal reservations during the election campaign, all hell broke loose. Cerar’s government nearly went tits-up with the SD threatening to quit the coalition (but didn’t and wouldn’t, because gravy train), there was a very public and very loud stooshie between the PM and his defence minister Janko Veber of SD, who was then relieved of his duties. And in general, as the days passed, the debate on Telekom was becoming ever more charged.

But in the end Deutsche Telekom, the supposed bogeyman in this story did not even place a bid, leaving Cinven, a British fund to go at it alone. Which was a bit of a #wtf moment, especially for opponents of the sale as it became clear that people are not exactly queuing to snap up the company. And after much wrangling the final offer was around 110 euros per share with additional 20 per share later on if certain conditions are met and benchmarks achieved. Yesterday, Telekom Slovenije (TLSG) traded at 98 euros per share. And in the end it was all about whether the SDH will accept Cinven’s offer. And this is where the fun really starts.

The issue is so charged both politically and emotionally that any politician with at least a half-developed survival instinct would rather walk away from it or find a way to maintain status quo. And every so often even PM Cerar gave the impression that he would rather see the Telekom problem simply go away. But it didn’t and in the end, the SDH management OKd the Cinven deal and kicked the issue upstairs, to the supervisory board. Which after much deliberation OKd the deal as well but kicked it upstairs to the government, acting as SDH’s shareholder assembly. And after even more deliberation (an eight-hour cabinet meeting on Sunday last), the government decided to kick the issue downstairs, to the SHD supervisory board, saying they’re paid to do it and that it’s their job.

Thus an interesting situation was created whereupon the SDH management, its supervisory board and government green-lighted the deal, and now everyone is looking around, waiting for someone to say “sold!”. The Board is apparently scheduled to meet later today as to catch a deadline set by Cinven. The fund is threatening to pack-up and leave should the deal be nixed or final decision somehow delayed yet again.

But on the fate of the deal hinges the internal dynamic of the coalition. Namely, should the deal go south at the very last moment (and that at the moment seems unlikely, despite the massive pressure from anti-privatisation camp), the SD, now barely hanging on would probably score massive points, overtake United left (ZL) at the top spot in the polls and probably start calling the shots within the coalition. Most of them, anyway. Because not only is the SD fighting a politically symbolic battle, the outcome will have massive repercussions for the party in terms of access to resources, influencers, decision makers, and the party’s own political prospects.

Watching very carefully will be Karl Erjavec of DeSUS, who is mostly sitting this one out, but is gearing up for a similar fight over Zavarovalnica Triglav, the largest insurer in Slovenia. If Miro Cerar and his SMC prevail, then Teflon Karl better start preparing a different strategy to keep Triglav in state hands and, by extension within his sphere of influence. If, however, the Telekom is not sold, then Erjavec can simply cash in the support he gave to the SD prior to election, divide the spoils and live happily ever after.

Not that the anti-privatisation camp is throwing in the towel, either. While the SD will probably not leave the coalition over the Telekom (not that it could, with its six votes, anyhow), they are trying everything else. Thus yesterday evening an 11th hour attempt was made at derailing the deal. Mladina weekly ran a story about a due-diligence, commisioned by a potential bidder which supposedly showed Telekom shares are worth as much as 190 euro.

Now, under normal conditions would have been a bombshell. But these are not normal conditions. The pressure brought to bear in this case is beyond anything we’ve seen in recent history. At the very least, this is the first time the wrangling, arm-twisting and threats are done out in the open, at the highest level of politics and public life in general. Therefore, the first question that begs asking is why is it then the British fund is the only bidder? This phantom bidder could have made an offer of say, EUR 150 per share and still make a deal of the decade. But it didn’t. And that’s all that matters.

At any rate, whatever the fuck the SDH supervisory board decides today, will probably mark the end of a period. Not just for Telekom Slovenije, but for Slovenian politics. The fallout will be massive. If the deal falls through, what little credibility Cerar’s administration gained at home and in Brussels, will have disappeared as the PM will be seen as being shoved around easily. If, however, the SDH board does finally OK the sale, Cerar’s problems are far from over. Not only on account of DeSUS holding a baseball bat to fend of privatisation of Zavarovalnica Triglav but also because the anti-privatisation camp nearly succeeded this time around and will be anything but disheartened in the next round.

And while early elections are not in the cards any time soon (not yet, at least), life in the ruling coalition will become increasingly difficult as the SD seem to have found their voice (their only problem being that it is the same voice the ZL is using, only much more effectively). With this in mind, the possibility of a coalition expansion or even reshuffle seems plausible.

 

 

Same-Sex Legislation (Predictably) Not Yet Home Safe

Remember when pengovsky wrote that the new same-sex weddings legislation is not yet home safe? Well, guess what…

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Modern Centre Party – SMC (source)

The SMC seemingly flip-flopped on the issue, saying they will not challenge a referendum initiative which would yet again put up the same-sex weddings issue to a popular vote. Naturally most of the supporters of same-sex weddings went apeshit and the SMC was served a proper Twitter-storm. Its intensity was probably confounded by the fact that in the eyes of many people the SMC finally saw the light by voting in favour of the legislation (and doing so en bloc) but has now retraced its steps and found itself on its pre-election neither-nor position.

And, admittedly, it did not look good. Even since Aleš Primc and his band of merry men initiated yet another referendum bid to strike down this harmless but ideologically very loaded piece of legislation, it was more or less the accepted wisdom that the parliament will use the recent changes to the constitution to their fullest effect, prevent the referendum on the grounds of this being a human-rights matter and then let Primc fight it the Constitutional Court. Well, apparently not. At the very least, not just yet. Namely, the ruling SMC stated they’ve no intention of denying the people a vote on an important issue. Later they’ve signaled the decision may be revised but at any rate this turn of events made a lot of people unhappy and they sure let the SMC know.

There are a couple of ways to digest this. The most obvious one is to say that the SMC flip-flopped on the issue or – even worse – that its support for the legislation was not genuine but rather a price they had to pay to join the ALDE (liberals) political group on the european level. This is possible, especially if reports from some months ago are correct and UK LibDems did indeed take issue with SMC sitting on the fence on this prior to elections. But one would like to think that European parliamentary groups take themselves slightly more serious than that and that a true about-face on same-sex weddings would have wider recriminations for the offending party.

So chalk that one to “possible, but not likely” column. A bit more likely is the possibility of the SMC parliamentary group not being entirely on the same page on the issue. There are thirty-six SMC MPs, most of them with little political experience and – understandably – of 50 shades of liberal ideology. So the decision not to go against the referendum head-on (not yet, at least), might have something to do with that. Keeping 36 people on-board on a highly divisive issue while they’re all lobbied and bombarded with arguments from all sides is not an easy task.

And finally, it could be the party simply got scared of its own power and what it can do with it. With great power comes great responsibility and never in the history of Slovenia did such a greenhorn party with such a politically inexperienced leadership hold so much power. And it seem probable, to pengovsky at least, that the moral imperative of ethical policy making simply got the better of them. As a result, Slovenia will once again be the battleground of rational-but-useless arguments in favour of same-sex weddings, opposed by emotional outcries backed up by manipulations, fear mongering and blatant lies by the opponents. The rhetoric is already there. Now it will only get worse (Slovenian only).

But the referendum rules have changed since the Family code was struck down two years ago. Which brings us to the fun part.

Because while the SMC said it will not impede the referendum initiative, there are unofficial signals it might back the bid to prevent the referendum. And while the (centre-)left parties are pushing forward with the bid, they can do didly squat without votes of the SMC. The way this works is that once the petition to hold a referendum is filed, the parliament can decide by a simple majority the referendum is illegal as it deals with basic human rights which then leaves it to the petitioners to challenge the decision at the constitutional court. And with the current composition of the constitutional court suggesting anything but a clear dismissal of the referendum, it seems reasonable to expect that the legislation allowing same-sex weddings will be challenged on a referendum one way or another.

And if there is a referendum, the new rules stipulate that the legislation is struck down if a majority votes against it, but only is this majority represents more than 20% of all eligible voters. Which means about 340.000 people will have to make the effort and cast their “no” vote on referendum day. Which is quite an obstacle.

With this in mind, other dimensions open up which put the SMC decision into a slightly more nuanced perspective. For example, it is not entirely clear whether the special session of the parliament can already be called. Namely, if you wanted to truly dot the i’s and cross the t’s (as lawyer-heavy SMC is probably inclined to do) it seems reasonable to wait and see whether the referendum petitioners will actually collect the necessary 40.000 confirmed signatures. While they’ve done it before, this is a condition that should not be taken for granted. If by any chance Primc & Co. fail in collecting the signatures, then the whole brouhaha will have been in vain and the SMC will have been vilified for nothing. Politically, at least. At the very least, this means the party still has about three weeks to decide whether to fight the referendum in court or not.

But the last – admittedly most wildly optimistic – scenario is also the most interesting. What if, just what if the referendum is held without being challenged in court and fails? What if the majority of the people votes in favour of the law or at the very least decide same-sex weddings are a non-issue and don’t bother to vote, thereby helping the legislation to survive? If that were to be the case, the SMC would suddenly be in the position to claim it gauged the public mood much more accurately than any of the left-wing parties. And even if their reasoning did not go this far, a favourable referendum outcome would give them back much of the political credibility they’ve lost in the past couple of weeks.

At any rate, there are a number of ways this story can unfold and not all of them are negative. But as pengovsky was warning even as the left was celebrating, the hard work had only begun.