Wild Wednesday in Muddy Hollows

Harold Wilson once observed, and pengovsky is fond of repeating, that a week in politics is a long time. Rarely was this more true than in Slovenia these days, where Jože P. Damijan’s antics on national television seem all but forgotten.

Image of European Parliament with Ljudmila Novak, Karl Erjavec and Zdravko Počivalšek in Slovenia

The one-time PM-hopeful was replaced in the news cycle by the EU parliament debate on media freedom in Slovenia (plus Hungary and Poland), Karl Erjavec quitting DeSUS (again), Zdravko Počivalšek of SMC sending a CYA letter to everyone and Ljudmila Novak of NSi denying that she’s about to launch her own party. And you know what that other British PM had to say about denials.

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Presidential Elections 2017: Year Of The Women

With six, nay, five weeks until the first round of the presidential election in Muddy Hollows, the field is getting slightly more crowded and the race somewhat more interesting than initially imagined.


From left to rigth: Ljudmila Novak, Romana Tomc, Angelca Likovič, Suzana Lara Krause, Maja Makovec Brenčič (source, source, source, source & source)

As expected the main political parties (i.e. those with deputies in the parliament) were struggling to find people willing to challenge incumbent president Borut Pahor. After all if recent polls are anything to go by, the guy is more popular than Donald Trump at a white-supremacist rally. But since one has to keep up appearances, these parties had (or still have) to field candidates, lest they be perceived as not giving a flying fuck about the office of the president. Which for the most part they don’t, but that is widely considered to be a bad approach to an election.

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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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