An Exercise in Futility

No, this is not a blog-post about the incredible stupidity of implementation of e-voting that was floated today by minister of interior Gregor Virant. Nor it is a write-up of a fairly sensible move by the said individual to reshuffle local self-government. This is not even a take on the government plan for a (fire)sale of several state-owned companies or the storm in the teacup caused by Croatian Agrokor taking over Mercator retail chain. True, all of the above would have deserved today’s title. Instead, pengovsky will be dealing with an even that was mostly and wrongly ignored.

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The NSi shadow cabinet (source)

Namely, the ChristDem Nova Slovenija (NSi) led by Ljudmila Novak formed its “shadow cabinet” a couple of days ago. The move is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it shows that even 20 years after implementation of a liberal democracy some people fail to grasp the difference between various political and electoral systems. Case in point being the shadow cabinet.

Now, to be hones, this is not the first shadow cabinet that was formed in this country. The very first one was formed by the reformed Communist party and was led by Emil Milan Pintar and was not so much of a snub to the new democratically elected government as it was an attempt to show that even the former socialist rulers know how to play this new game of democracy. Of course, it soon turned out that a shadow government in a multi-party coalition/opposition system doesn’t really cut it and although it occasionally made noises, it was more or less DOA.

Fast forward a decade or so, to 2004 when LDS spectacularly lost elections to Janez Janša‘s SDS. Amid all the in-fighting, bickering and turmoil Tone Rop formed a shadow cabinet. Whether it was to keep the party together or just out of sheer disbelief that someone else is running the country, it doesn’t really matter. Point is that the shadow cabinet became a shadow of its former self sooner than you can say “party disintegration” and it wasn’t spoken of since.

Enter Ljudmila Novak, who days ago presented her own “shadow cabinet”. Comprised mostly of party heavyweights, it was in fact not so much a “shadow cabinet” as it was a shadow of the party’s former self which only showed that being a member of the parliament is no guarantee for understanding the peculiarities of a given system of government.

Namely, a shadow cabinet is a feature of Westminster-style two-party system, where the opposition is ready to jump in with its own people running the country should the balance of power suddenly tip in their favour. On the other hand, a single party sporting a shadow cabinet in a multi-party-coalition-type system is either a joke or a show of presumptuous arrogance. Usually both.

However, from a purely political point of view the move by NSi signals something entirely different. Namely, it is a thinly veiled attempt by the party leadership to exit one particular shadow – that of Janša’s SDS. With the Party leader being convicted in the Patria case, the timing is as good as any. Thus the NSi shadow government is not so much an attempt to keep the government in check but rather to put some distance between the parties. But as a significant part of NSi rank-and-file sees Ivan as their leader in spirit if not in politics, this, too, is quite possibly an exercise in futility.

Unless, of course, Janša’s conviction is upheld by the court of appeals. And it is quite possible this is the bet Ljudmila Novak made.

 

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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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Protip: When You’re In A Hole, Stop Digging

The deadline Gregor Virant gave Janez Janša to quit the PM post or else… expires tonight at 2400hrs. Apparently a last-ditch effort was made this afternoon by Ljudmila Novak of the NSi to break up the staring contest but to no avail. Although he has yet to officially break the silence over the issue, Janša did throw around enough hints to make it plain he has absolutely no intention of resigning. This puts Virant in a tight spot, because he will have to make good on the “or else…” part of threat or lose what little credibility he has left. Or, rather, had gained during the fallout of the anti-graft report.

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(source)

It remains to be seen whether Virant will back off at the very last minute. Pengovsky wouldn’t put it past him to “extend the deadline” a bit, since apparently the political partied had nominated members of the State Sovereign Holding (SSH) supervisory board. And if pengovsky is correct and if this was really (mostly) a power-play of galactic proportions for the mother of all companies, the tension should start to dissipate.

You’re in a hole. Stop digging. Nao.

However, it could be, that despite everything Gregor Virant indeed dug himself too deep. Which is yet another example of Slovenian politics not being able to stop digging when in a hole. Virant is increasingly running out of options. If he quits the coalition and forces early elections, he’ll be made the fall guy for everything. Shit will be dug up on him, he will be dragged through the mud and all the bonus points he scored piggybacking on the anti-graft report will be just a fond memory. Indeed, even today some public opinion polls put him below the parliamentary threshold. Janša knows this, which is why he’s playing hard-ball. That and the fact that it’s his ass on the line as well. If he quits, he’s history. So, he dug himself in pretty deep as well.

On a tangential front Lovro Šturm, former judge at the constitutional court and president of the Council for the Republic (a pro-Janša think tank/astroturf society) started a pissing contest with anti-graft commission president Goran Klemenčič, claiming that the latter misinterpreted the law and that the report is therefore not worth a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys. Klemenčič responded by saying Šturm quoted an outdated version of the law, which sent Šturm ballistic, denouncing Klemenčič altogether and demanding an apology. After several days, Klemenčič responded saying that he will not be having this discussion, especially not in such a manner and that he expected more from former president of the constitutional court with whom he even collaborated on several project. Again, Šturm just couldn’t stop digging and published an open letter of his own (Slovene only), again denouncing Klemenčič and even accusing him of (academic) incompetence.

Letters are written, shouldn’t have been meaning to send

With Klemenčič (for better or for worse) being one of the most popular public officials, Šturm dug a pretty deep hole for himself. And as if that wasn’t enough, days ago the Council for the republic published yet another in a series of letters in English, completing the collection of right-wing bat-shit crazy which was put on display for the international public. Completing? Not really. Slovenian NSi and SDS members of the European Parliament sent a joint letter to President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy (the very same which Janša tried to screw over) defending Janša at all costs.

Van Rompuy, however, responded to a letter by Ivo Vajgl, MEP for Zares who basically asked, wtf was all the that hubbub about Herman supporting Janša. Van Rompuy’s office wrote that at no time was Slovenian internal politics discussed. With this the right wing basically got owned. Again, people. Stop digging, ferfucksake. At the very least, think twice before sending any more letters. I know. E-mail is a bitch. But still.

General strike

And just to round it off nicely, most of the public sector unions (and a strong private sector trade union) called a general strike tomorrow, disrupting mostly schools, some medical and other public services. It all has to do with what the union sees as one-sided move by the government by cutting public sector pay-checks after having already cut down availability of these services. Case in point being the education system, where the government was hard at work increasing funding for private schools at the expense of their public counterparts and is now going for the double whammy of cutting teachers pay-checks as well. No points for guessing where good paying teaching jobs will be.

Apparently, this was another case of the government being hell-bent on seeing its policies through, that it wasn’t really prepared to negotiate on anything. What it did, though, was to simply drop some plans for reorganising kindergarten level of schooling but was until today unwilling to address the issue of salaries. And when it did, the negotiating minister Senko Pličanič discovered that he really doesn’t have a mandate to do anything about it. So, tomorrow at noon Slovenia will see its first general strike since the wave of protests gripped the country.

Should be fun, so watch this space….

 

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To Viktor Go The Spoils

Prime Minister Janez Janša submitted his list of ministerial appointments for parliament approval Friday last and the first hearings were held Tuesday, with the second batch following today, with the government expected to be sworn in tomorrow. So let’s look at who these men and woman actually are (in order of appearance):


The J Team

Ljudmila Novak (NSi) – Leader of the Christian democratic party Nova Slovenija and the only woman in Janša’s administration is set to become a minister without portfolio, tasked with keeping relations with Slovenian diaspora. The single remaining “ministry-at-large” caused quite a stir. It was created by the previous Janša administration and was tasked primarily to keep tabs on the Slovenian diaspora, both immediately across the border as well as around the world.

Aleš Hojs (NSi) – Minister of defence. Last seen as member of the board of DARS, the Slovene motorway company and a relatively high-profile party member. No-one has any clue as to why exactly he gets to oversee the Slovenian Army, but since qualified defence ministers were few and far between in this country and the armed forces are one of PM Janša’s pet peeves, it can only be assumed he will take suggestions on how to run the ministry from the very top. The key to understanding of his exact role in the office will be whom he picks or is told to pick as his state secretary (the number two person in the ministry).

Senko Pličanič (DLGV) – Minister of justice and public administration. One of the merged ministries, this will be one hell of a portfolio to run. He will be directly responsible for negotiations with public sector unions and those can be a bitch to deal with, as the outgoing government of Borut Pahor can tell you with some authority. Public administration was Gregor Virant‘s portfolio in the first Janša government and it was thought that Virant himself would take the post, quit the position of the president of the parliament and let Karl Erjavec of DeSUS take it. But apparently Virant grew cozy in that chair very quick and made Erjavec take another prestigious position.

Janez Šušteršič (DLGV) – Minister of finance. Arguably the mother of all portfolios and the most difficult right now. Also a sure-fire way for DLGV to sink even lower in public opinion polls (if that is at all possible, since they are already scoring on the low side of single digits). Šušteršič aims to cut up to 800 million euro of budget expenses in the first year alone. Since that comprises about 9% of the entire budget, shit is bound to hit the fan really soon.

Radovan Žerjav (SLS)Minister of economy. Again, no clue as to why exactly he gets to run this particular portfolio, since he is a chemist by trade and a politician by vocation, while the economy in this country is more or less in deep shit. Even more, he was the principal sponsor of a law which prevents people who held top positions in a company that went out of business to start a new company within ten years. As with every other coalition party leader, this particular nomination seems to be more a matter of prestige than actual competence.

Franci Bogovič (SLS) – Minister of agriculture and environment. Apparently capable and knows his way around both primary fields of work. His problem is that agriculture and environment are usually at odds with each other (which is why they were kept as separate portfolios) and Bogovič might have a problem reconciling both.

Tomaž Gantar (DeSUS) – Minister of health. Former mayor of Izola municipality and former head of Izola hospital should generally be on top of things. Hopefully, he will work to improve the reform of the health system which was drafted by his predecessor Dorijan Marušič and will not go back to square one.

Karl Viktor Erjavec (DeSUS) – Minister of foreign affairs. Ah yes, to Viktor go the spoils. Failing to secure the comfy position of the parliament president, leader of DeSUS went for the next best thing. He will now become the diplomatic face of Slovenia. And just when we thought that Dimitrij Rupel is the worst that can happen to a country’s foreign policy. Karl Erjavec has zero mileage in the field. OK, so he did go to NATO and EU meetings, but seriously… As foreign minister he is expected to be proactive and have a general idea of this country’s positions long before anyone asks us our opinion. The European deck of cards is being reshuffled and it will take a master poker player to bluff a country’s way out of this one. With Viktor as the foreign affairs boss, this looks highly unlikely. But then again, he can crack a joke like no other man can. Surely that must be worth something….

Vinko Gorenak (SDS) – Internal affairs. A commanding officer of a police station way back in socialist times (today that would probably translate into senior member of security forces of a totalitarian regime), he knows his way around police and internal affairs. His problem is the fact that he also gets to exert partial control over state prosecution, which was transferred from justice to internal affairs. With Janez Janša still in court over Patria affair, it’s way too close to comfort to have a senior SDS member be able to, say, launch a special investigation into the prosecutor who is trying to get Janša convicted. If you catch my drift…

Zvonko Černač (SDS) – Minister of infrastructure and spatial planning. Seems to be close to Janša lately and has jumped in as his boss’ chauffeur on occasion. Other than having some mediocre experience in the municipality of Postojna, it is a mystery (wrapped inside a riddle, hidden in an enigma) what exactly makes Černač so special as to be awarded the newly crafted infrastructure ministry which will arguably be crucial in any and all attempts to kick-start the economy (if that is at all possible, mind you). Well, maybe he’ll be just there to make sure the right folks get government contracts. Or maybe he’ll surprise us all and actually do something. He could, for example, go about making plans for upgrading Slovenian railway system.

Žiga Turk (SDS) – Minister for education, science, culture and sport. Well, the Ljubljana city councilman (he will vacate the post tomorrow as he is sworn in as minister) has his hands full. While he was busy going over his slides in a parliamentary hearing, couple of hundred of artists and culture-related people were busy decrying merging of culture portfolio with all the other (these were previously three separate ministries) and even burned a contra-bass as a sign of protest (in case you don’t get it: the message is we rather do it ourselves than let you enjoy it). It is ironic that demotion of cultural portfolio to the level of a state secretary brought together people who would usually rather cross a busy street than meet each other on the pavement. Culture is sacred for many a Slovenian (after all, our cultural identity was formed long before we even thought of calling ourselves a nation) and rather than just being a budget item, a lot of people took this a symbolic gesture of anti-patriotism by a coalition which for all intents and purposes draws heavily on patriotic feelings. It is therefore little wonder that the minister-to-be was awaited by protesters and booed to the point of being called “a stink” by a heckler. Which, for the record, was totally uncalled for, below the belt and utterly undeserved. Protesting and marching is one thing, calling names quite another.

And finally, Andrej Vizjak (SDS) as the new minister for labour, family and social affairs. Minister of economy in the first Janša administration apparently has some background in the field so it is expected that he will not be a complete failure, although it should be ridiculously fun to watch how he tackles unemployment while finance minister Šušteršič is shaving 800 million of the budget most of which goes to Vizjak’s portofolio as it is.

At any rate, these are all the king’s men. Nobody was really impressed by the list and even Janša himself said that this is the best possible team under the circumstances. But the trick is that this “best possible team” will have to produce the “best result ever” regardless of the circumstances, lest it go down in history as “the team that couldn’t”. If Pahor’s government way fighting an up-hill battle especially in economic policy, Janša’s ministers will be forced to climb vertically. Well, all except one. It is clear that – once again – Karl Erjavec already came out on top. Question is, will he stay there or is this just the beginning of a quick and uncontrolled descent…

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Janša 2.0

While leaders of the new centre right coalition busied themselves with signing the coalition agreement at high noon on Wednesday, President Danilo Türk rained on their parade a bit, calling a press conference at exactly the same time, where he announced that he will not be making another PM nomination and added that he will leave it to the parliamentary groups to settle the matter as they see fit. In other words, he refused to go with the flow and nominate SDS leader Janez Janša for the PM post.


Signing of the coalition agreement. Looks like the Presidium of the Central Committee 🙂 (Photo: BoBo/RTVSLO)

In all honesty, the new PM apparent was quite unfazed by this, as he had already secured a majority of 52 votes (50 coalition plus both minorities MPs) and will be laughing all the way to the voting booth, as the parliament is scheduled to vote on Janša’s PM bid later today, but the president’s remarks and moves are not to be just discarded. Firstly, because he’s the president and secondly, because he went all out against Janša, thus firing his first salvo in a possible (but not yet confirmed) re-election bid. In fact, The Prez pulled precious few punches, saying that he still considers Zoran Janković as an appropriate candidate and since his first choice did not secure a majority, he did not make another nomination. He added that in his view Janša does not have the necessary legitimacy for the nomination due to the fact that he is on trial for the Patria Affair and had therefore left it to the coalition itself to do the magic.

The feud

The feud between Türk and Janša goes way back, all the way to the election Sunday 2007 when Danilo Türk won the presidential elections by a landslide in what was – among other things – a protest vote against the first Janša government, an event which saw Janša go into sulking mode, unleash the war against tycoons (which he helped create) and, as it turned out, set the tone of the political debate which lasts to this very day. There was a lot of bad blood between the two, especially after Janša’s SDS tried to implicate Türk in the Velikovec bombing of 1979 by means of creative photocopying archive documents. It was in the aftermath of the Archivegate that Türk said in an interview that the politics of Janez Janša should be rejected and later on that he will be very careful as to whom he will nominate for the PM position. So, in one sense The Prez remained true to his word (the will-nominate/will-not-nominate flip-flop notwithstanding). However, in making his point and exercising – albeit necessary – forays into daily politics, The Prez again threaded on thin ice.

Saying that Janša does not have the legitimacy for the PM post is tricky at best. Now, to be sure, Janša indeed does have a huge legitimacy problem, but that is not for the president to say. Or, if the president does say it, he should be damn well prepared to do everything constitutionally possible to make sure Janša does not clinch the nomination. Namely, as president, Danilo Türk swore to uphold the constitution and act in the best interest of the country. One of the basic constitutional principles is the presumption of innocence. Thus, until proven guilty, Janša is free to run and be elected to any office.

If you do it, do it with style

Alternatively, if being on trial and/or having been indicted is the new standard, than the president should not only make a token effort to have the parliament elect a PM with a clean record, so to speak, but should use any and all procedural possibilities available to him, including nominating another candidate and – this is vital – speaking before the parliament on the issue. For the president can ask (and is usually granted the request) to address the parliament on whatever issue he (or she) sees fit. Granted, this would in all likelihood change nothing, but neither does just saying that Janša has a legitimacy problem and leave it at that. Both approaches are sure to produce an ominous backlash especially from SDS faithful, but hey – if you gotta go, you do it with style.

Pengovsky would be much more pleased if The Prez did none of the above. A short press release saying that he will not be making a nomination would suffice. Even more, it would perhaps be politically opportune for the president to in fact nominate Janša, just for the sake of doing the unexpected, but that’s water under the bridge now.

History repeating

So, unless things go badly wrong for the SDS leader, Slovenia will sport Janša 2.0 in a couple of hours. History, they say, tends to repeat itself. First as a tragedy and then as a farce. And there are indications that Janša’s second term will be something of farce.

Not only is the PM-apparent on trial in one of the biggest corruption scandals in the (albeit short) history of this country. Two out of four other coalition leaders are, eeer, judicially challenged as well. Karl Erjavec of DeSUS was cleared of charges of abuse of powers and negligence in a case tangential to Patria Affair, but the case in on appeal and the verdict is still not in. Gregor Virant, however, was recently sentenced to a month in prison with a two-year probation period because of libel (pending appeal). One of these two men will be running the parliament for the next few years, the other will probably be named a minister.

Radovan Žerjav is also in court in civil case (the fallen construction tycoon Ivan Zidar sued him for slander) which leaves Ljudmila Novak of NSi the only one with a relatively clean record. Which is not surprising, since she took over the party after it was evicted from the parliament in 2008 elections. And just to complete the circle, the apparent leader of the opposition Zoran Janković is reported to have been indicted over tax evasion and abuse of power as well. Now, it is possible that all of the above will sputter out into nothingness and everyone will in the end be cleared (which is why presumption of innocence is so important) but if you talk credibility and/or legitimacy, there’s precious little to go around as it is.

Balking at 300 million, not blinking at 1 billion

Additionally, the new coalition vowed to cut budget expenses for something between 800 million to 1 billion euro in its first term year. Which is somwhere between 8 to 10% of the annual Slovenian budget. While budgetary discipline is a noble goal and even if we can agree to disagree on approaches (some people say less radical cuts would produce better results), the question at hand is: when the outgoing government proposed a 300 million cut in public sector expenditures, the SDS went apeshit over it and refused to support the emergency law, threatening a referendum, yet now the very same SDS and its coalition want a 800 million cut and expect it to just sail through? Credibility my ass. Not to mention the fact that the whole of Europe already realised that too much austerity will stifle what little growth potential there is.

Saving on watering office plants

And lastly, there’s the eyewash with the “thinning of the government”. Janša’s coalition just passed a new law on government (which, incidentally, Janša 1.0 was the last to amend into its present form) and reduced the number of ministries from eighteen to eleven, merging a few portfolios and reshuffling scope of powers for others. Two changes that stand out are the merger of education, sports and culture portfolios (previously three separate ministries) and moving the Office of the State Prosecutor General from under justice ministry, to ministry of internal affairs (colloquially known as the ministry for police). Both of these are problematic at best.

Until now, culture was a relatively important portfolio, which included media policy oversight, not to mention keeping the country’s cultural infrastructure (museums, theatres, galleries and such) afloat and even building a couple of new ones. Sure, money can always be spent better, but what kind of message does it send, when a government reduces a culture potrfolio to the level of a secretariat, while farming, fisheries and agriculture, something that would be long dead if it weren’t for EU funds, still remains a full-blooded ministry?

As for shifting prosecution from justice to internal affairs, this is creating an unpleasant whiff of political control over the prosecution. You see, on paper, both the Police and the Office of Prosecutor General are relatively autonomous and it shouldn’t really matter what ministry they’re under. But a minister can still execute control over both agencies and of course it is better to have just one minister keep tabs on both the cops and the prosecutors. Especially if the minister in question is an SDS member and not from the DLGV quota as Gregor Virant had hoped when he demanded the move be made in an (again) naive hope that he will prevent up-front any Janša’s attempts to influence the judicial proceedings against him.

But lastly, the whole “thinning of the government” thing is not worth a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys. A true government reorganisation would encompass a redesign of policies and finances and remodelling of the bureaucratic apparatus which would reflect the new priorities. There was a half-hearted attempt at that somewhere during Pahor’s government and it didn’t really catch on. What the new coalition proposes is nothing but a few office changes which does shit even in terms of cutting down number of various government offices, agencies and directorates, let alone in terms of policy redesign (or horizontal interoperability, to use the more fancy term). In short: the only savings that will come from there will be lower bills for watering flowers in ministers’ offices.

With that in mind, pengovsky is keenly expecting the first address by the new PM-apparent and can’t wait to see whom he picks as ministers.

EDIT: This post was written over the course of the week an scheduled for publishing on Friday afternoon. Point being, I had no way of knowing Primož Cirman of Dnevnik newspaper will be using the exact same title in his lead in today’s Objektiv 🙂

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