Following Monday’s resignation of minister for local self-government Duša Trobec Bučan DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec once again threatened to quit the coalition. Only this time he meant it as the party’s executive council yesterday voted in favour of the move which – this must be said – only formally confirmed what was a “new reality on the ground” for some time now: that DeSUS was no longer a member of the ruling coalition.
Karl Erjavec doing the Top Gun thing (photo by Anže Petkovšek/Žurnal24)
As a direct result of today’s events minister of environment Roko Žarnić said he will tender his resignation, while the third minister of DeSUS “quota” Ivan Svetlik (labour portfolio) remains in his position, since Erjavec “disowned” him because it was Svetlik and his team who came up with the pension reform which DeSUS vigorously opposes and which will be put up for a referendum vote.
Technically, this leaves the coalition of Social Democrats, Zares and LDS with 42 out of 46 needed votes to secure a majority in the parliament and in effect makes it a minority government. The government secure additional votes by wooing the three independent MPs, Franci Žnidaršič and Vili Rezman (both formerly of DeSUS) and Andrej Magajna (formerly of SD) although the latter is unlikely to cooperate since he went independent over the new law on RTV Slovenia (the law was later defeated on a referendum) and was a subject of a criminal investigation soon thereafter on suspicion of child pornography (no charges were pressed). Additionally, MPs for Hungarian and Italian minorities traditionally vote with the government, so unless new ground is broken, PM Borut Pahor can still secure a single-vote majority in the parliament. But for all intents and purposes, this is a minority government.
A minority government is not something one wishes for, especially during times of economic, social and what is shaping up to be a political crisis. Calls for early elections are therefore getting increasingly loud today. Leader of SDS Janez Janša already called on PM Pahor for the two parties to work together and vote for the dissolution of the parliament thus forcing new elections. On the other hand, leader of Zares Gregor Golobič proposed for leaders of all three coalition parties to step down from their positions in the government (which is effectively equal to resignation of the entire government) and elect a new government with a sole aim of attempting to win the referendum on pension reform. Obviously, both Janša and Golobič are playing an angle here but pengovsky suspects their true goals are exactly the opposite of their stated goals. To put it bluntly, I think it is Golobič who is trying to force early elections and Janša who is desperate to avoid them.
Pieces have fallen into place
Consider the timing. DeSUS has threatened to quit the coalition on so many occasions that nobody was taking it seriously anymore. But then it decided to walk out only a week after the National Assembly was back to the full complement of 90 deputies as the convicted Srečko Prijatelj of opposition SNS was replaced by Sara Viler. With this and DeSUS’ bailing out of the coalition it suddenly became possible for Janez Jansa to form a right-wing government, And if he were to convince all three independent MPs to support him, he wouldn’t even need minority MPs. Therefore, it all points to a conclusion that Erjavec’s move was coordinated with Janša and that what we saw on Monday was fully premeditated course of action.
Obviously, there are caveats to this logic, first and foremost being that Janša looks poised to win the next elections, be they a week or a year from now. However, at this moment he lacks one crucial element – an election platform. In fact, he and his party only began to initiate procedure which would eventually lead to forming a proper platform, but as thing stand now they’re not even close. Thus if elections were to be held any time soon, all Janša would have to run on would be his anti-government/anti-reform stance, which would make it very hard for him to explain how he intends to bring the country from the brink of an economic collapse.
On the other hand, Golobič and indeed the entire coalition (what’s left of it, anyway) would benefit from early elections for those very same reasons. While they would probably be up for some serious ass-whooping, but quite probably much less than they would be a year and a half from now. While this may sound stupid at first glance, the coalition has virtually zero problems platform-wise. Their problem lies in the unprecedented unpopularity of the government. Which is one of the reasons Golobič made his move yesterday.
But to have early elections it’s not enough for the parliament to simply dissolve itself as Janša would have us believe. For the dissolution to take place, several constitutional conditions must be met, chief among them being the inability of the parliament to elect a new government. Pengovsky covered the issue in this post, but just a re-cap: Once the PM resigns (or a new one is elected via a no-confidence vote), the parliament has three attempts to appoint a new government nominated by the PM-elect. In the first two attempts 46 votes are needed, while in the third attempt only a relative majority is needed. Given that Janša can muster 46 votes at any time, it is highly unlikely that a new left-wing government will be elected.
That, however, does not necessarily mean we’re up for elections any time soon. Also, Janez Janša might be tempted to take over as PM sans elections via a no-confidence vote. Not only would he thus avoid awkwardness of explaining why exactly did he oppose the government on social reforms, he would also be slightly better equipped to handle the Patria Affair, where he is (let us not forget) about to stand trial for aiding and abetting in corruption.
Wisdom and historical precedents dictate, that Janša skips the opportunity to take over the government, especially after the fiasco in 2000, when shortly before elections when Janša masterminded toppling of the government of Janez Drnovšek and a right-wing government was formed with Andrej Bajuk, only to lose spectacularely in elections six months later. But Janša is not known for learning from his political mistakes, so this will be fun to watch.
Slightly OT: Regardless of the way Janša becomes PM yet again, it would be oodles of fun watching how an indicted person gets elected to a top political office. Only in Slovenia, people! 🙂
Defending status quo long after quo had lost its status
PM Pahor is not keen on stepping down of his own accord, as this would imply that a) he had run out of options and b) he admits to making bad calls in the past. The same goes for his party, which found itself between a rock and a hard place: it has an utterly unpopular leader and no one of note to replace him. But sitting this one out is not an option, so sooner rather than later things will begin moving in that department as well. They might be tempted to try and wait until the referendum on pension reform. But that’s a good two months away and a lot can happen between now and then so that is probably the worst course of action they can take at this moment. As things stand, status quo can simply not be defended.
And this is a lesson which Karl Erjavec will apparently learn the hard way. He quit the coalition over pension reform. Again, there is plenty of historical precedent on quitting a coalition and history teaches that every (and I mean every) party which went down that road was later punished for it on election night. Slovenes simply don’t like rats. Period.
How will it play out?
In the final analysis it turns out that – as is often the case in politics – black is white and white is black. Given the fact that we’re up for three more referendums between now and the summer – pension reform, black market labour and possibly access to top secret archives – there will be plenty of opportunity for the parties to take it out on one another and thus show what exactly is their position (or lack thereof) on various issues.
Early elections are an option, but a remote one. An interim government is far more likely, but who will form it remains an open question at this stage. As things stand now, pengovsky would place a wager on Janša at least attempting to form what he would probably call a national unity government. But that can change, so watch this space…