Social Democrats Between Cerar And Veber-y Hard Place

in 1994, then-defence minister Janez Janša, refusing to quit office over Depala Vas Affair was removed from office by a parliamentary majority in what was probably one the most tense periods of Slovenian statehood. A defence minister using military spooks against civilians to his own needs is never a good idea, let alone in a fledgling democracy. And in an ironic fuck you by Mother History itself, twenty-one years later, almost to the day, Slovenia is again faced with a defence minister running amok and refusing to stand down. This time, however, it’s not Janez Janša, the now near-fallen leader of the SDS, but rather Janko Veber, of Social Democrats (SD) who directed OVS, the military intelligence service, to poke around the sale of Telekom Slovenije. Namely, he defied PM Miro Cerar and refused his calls to resign. AS a result, the PM will now ask the parliament to replace Veber.

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Now, drawing parallels between Janša and Veber only goes so far, although a nasty one pops up on a seemingly unrelated question of handling the issue of Roma family Strojan some years ago. This time around, there is no danger of the select army units being deployed to “secure key installations”, no thousands of protesters in front of the parliament sporting pitchforks and shovels and threatening to do generally unpleasant things to deputies if defence minister goes. But one would think that the political class would have advanced both in style as well as content in the past twenty-odd years. Especially political veterans such as Veber who definitely have enough mileage to know better.

As a result, a clusterfuck of reasonable proportions is now brewing inside the ruling coalition. The SD is, for the moment, standing firm behind Veber with party boss Dejan Židan (who doubles as minister of agriculture) going on and on about Veber doing nothing inappropriate and that SD will defend ministers who do their work. On the other hand, Cerar’s demand Veber step down won him a round of applause from the opposition NSi and SDS, while coalition member DeSUS is apparently still calculating how to profit from this as of today on the same boat with Cerar.

The thing is that although technically his boss, PM Cerar cannot simply dismiss Veber. Because constitution. The ground law namely states that ministers are nominated by the PM but appointed to office by the parliament, hence it is only the parliament which can dismiss them. This stipulation has caused trouble more than once, with mixed results. Amazingly, back in 1992, during his second administration, Janez Drnovšek tried to replace Jožica Puhar of what is now the SD (!) but failed. Puhar later resigned of her own accord, while Drnovšek went on to become one of Slovenia’s iconic political leaders.

The same conundrum, albeit with much more melodrama attached, was faced by PM Borut Pahor in 2010, when he demanded that DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec resign as minister of environment due to a damning report by the Court of Audit. Teflon Karl refused, forcing Pahor to call upon the parliament to remove Erjavec from office. Only then did the man give in and resigned, saying he wanted to spare the PM further embarrassment.

And this is quite possibly the scenario we are facing today. Not unlike DeSUS in 2010, the SD in 2015 can, despite reportedly a strong faction in the party to do so, ill afford to quit the ruling coalition. Because resources. You see, the party is but a mere shadow of its former self. It won 30 seats in the parliament in 2008. Six years later it hardly mustered six. And it fared only marginally better on municipal level. The only asset it really still has is its organisation and ground network. But that needs to be supported somehow, mostly by influence exerted on various levels to either bring in financing or to please the right people. Preferably both. And you can not do that when in opposition.

So while PM Cerar might be faced with an undesirable prospect of a single-vote majority in the parliament (SMC and DeSUS combined can put together 46 votes), going back to square one, reopen coalition negotiations and try to lure Alenka Bratušek’s ZaAB to join in on the fun or even give a shot to a minority government rule, the SD is faced with a much more fundamental question of its survival. Of the party as a whole, not just survival of its current leadership set and the gravy train attached to it. The on

The only thing going in favour of the SD is the vast amount of experience it can draw from. The SMC is still well-versed in the intricacies of political maneuvering and is prone to trip over things that need not being tripped over. One such thing is the SD trying to shift the blame for the current situation on the SMC, saying the PM is not adhering to the coalition agreement by speeding through the motions to replace Veber. But Cerar really doesn’t have any other option. Even before the whole thing escalated to boiling point it was clear the PM can not simply let this one slide. There he was, faced with a minister who clearly stepped is bending over backwards trying to explain why, of all the possible agencies, bureaus and directorates did he have to pick army spooks to assess the sale of Telekom. Furthermore, why the bleeping bleep did that he, while claiming to have acted in the interests of national security, exposed the inner communication of military intelligence which – if nothing else – showed that the service was just as divided on the issue as the rest of the country. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a security risk. And Veber trying to explain all that was a textbook definition of a shitty job.

If Cerar ignored the issue or even supported Veber, he would have not only condoned Veber’s actions but – just as importantly – empowered the SD to the point of near-invincibility, because if you can get away with abusing military intelligence for political purposes, you can get away with anything. And before the faithful jump citing Veber’s concern for national security, we should not forget his party chief Židan who yesterday more or less plainly told the newsmedia the true casus belli was not national security as such but rather control of the Telekom. And this evening, Veber upped the ante, echoing Židan and even implied that while he was working in the interests of the country, Cerar wasn’t. Which is stopping just short of accusing the prime minister of high treason. And that’s a statement that’s very hard to walk away from. So the question do jour is whether the SD will walk away from Veber or from the government.

If pengovsky were a betting man, he’d bet on the former. Especially since there are other big companies for sale as well and if the SD quits the government, they relinquish what little influence they will have over the issue after the dust settles.

 

 

President Türk To Call Early Elections Today

The deadline to nominate a candidate for Prime Minister has passed at 0000 hrs this morning. President Danilo Türk had until then to pick a candidate and submit his or her name to the Parliament for a confidence vote but did not do so. Equally, parliamentary groups (or ten individual MPs) did not put forward a candidate of their own, which means that the ball has dropped and early elections will be called today.


The Prez in discussion with army officers earlier today (photo by yours truly)

Truth be told, a candidate who would try to form an interim government until autumn next yeas was mulled, but these were only half-hearted attempts. First, Andrej Magajna (independent, formerly of SD) floated the idea of a grand coalition between the still ruling SD of Borut Pahor and SDS of Janez Janša, with Julijana Bizjak Mlakar, MP for SD and Prime Minister. The idea was rejected flat-out by both parties as well as Bizjak Mlakar herself. Magajna’s move was widely perceived as an attempt to extend this parliament’s term and – by extension – his own income (5k per month plus benefits ain’t peanuts). Hence, Magajna was slightly more cautions when professor of political sciences and author Gojko Stanič announced that he’s preprared to form a government given enough political backing. But since Stanič recently published a book on how to solve the economic and social crisis Slovenia is experiencing, the good doctor was probably spot-on when she tweeted that Stanič’s move was more for publicity than anything else.

But all of the above were just sideshows. The main act was with the President who consulted all parliamentary parties on Monday on how to proceed. Well, not exactly “all”. As per their custom as of late, Janez Janša’s SDS skipped their appointment, saying they hold The Prez partly responsible for the mess Slovenia is and basically said they’ve nothing to say to each other, especially since The Prez said in an interview that politics of Janez Janša should be rejected.

What SDS conveniently forgets to add is that President Türk said this in an interview for Mladina weekly, amid a scandal where SDS tried to implicate him in the 1979 Velikovec bombing in Austria and then even forged creatively copied archive documents to “prove” their claims. The scam was uncovered and all hell broke loose, but nowadays the issue is barely mentioned. But hey – the party that is poised to win elections doesn’t give a shit about the Office of the President (or any other elected office), unless of course, a cooperative person is in charge there. Cases in point being every President to date. This of course will not prevent Janez Janša to happily accept the nomination for PM when he presumably win the elections the Prez is about to call.

The announcement is scheduled for 1400 hrs local time but hints were already given on Twitter by former president of the parliament Pavle Gantar of Zares that elections will be held around 19 November. Given that 19th is Saturday, this was probably just an educated guess, after all, Gantar has had some experience calling elections himself -local elections in his case. But the constitution stipulates that elections must be held no later than two months after the parliament is officially dissolved (although it technically remains in power until the first session of the new parliament). Thus the window for election opens on Sunday, 30 October (a month long election campaign is expected) and closes on Sunday, 27 November. Thus it seems plausible that President Türk will go down the middle and pick either November 13th or 20th as election dates.

We’ll know in a couple of hours, so watch this space 🙂

EDIT @ 14.30: President called election on 4 December 2011, while dismissal of the parliament is effective on 21 October 2011. This way the shortest possible deadlines were given while the parliament was given the chance to wrap up any outstanding issues.

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The Prez Was In Surgery. Why Wasn’t Anyone Told?

President Danilo Türk underwent a surgical procedure on Tuesday, removing malignant tissue from his prostate, the Office of the President said earlier today. According to the statement the procedure was successful and the President is expected to make a full recovery, returning to his duties next week.


The Prez was under the knife (source)

Wishing good health and speedy recovery to The Prez, pengovsky is somewhat troubled by the post festum announcement of presidential medical woes. The issue in itself is nothing new and has been debated time and again: to what extent is the public entitled to know medical details of their elected officials?. Slovenia has a patchy history on this. First Slovenian president Milan Kučan was relatively free of medical problems (at least those we know of) and during his two-and-a-half terms in office was admitted to hospital only once, due to kidney stone problems. Before Kučan, the first Slovenian Prime Minister Lojze Peterle had his appendix removed while in office.

More known and widely reported was medical condition of the late Janez Drnovšek. In 1999, while still PM, Drnovšek was admitted to hospital and had a cancerous kidney removed. Three years after the operation he ran for president and was elected to the office despite confirming that he was “of slightly weaker health”. His embracing of alternative medicine to combat cancer caught international attention and his changed lifestyle was an inspiration to many in Slovenia and abroad. Nevertheless, Drnovšek died of cancer in late 2007, shortly after leaving office.

And of course, let us not forget the glorious fuck-up years ago while Janez Janša was Prime Minister, when he had his hernia operated. Then, as now, the media were informed post festum, but the fun began when his spokesperson (some say deliberately) made a typo and wrote that the PM had ligament (Slovene: kita) instead of hernia (Slovene: kila) surgery. However, “kita” is also slang for cock (or penis, if you prefer) and you can imagine the roaring laughter that echoed for weeks on end.

And while we’re on the subject, rumours are circulating of Janša being of ill health. Whether or not that is true and if true, what is the exact nature of his medical condition, no one save Janša and those closest to him know. Which brings us again to the question: How much should the public know?

For better or for worse, I think that there is indeed a limit to that. True, there is a certain logic in politicians presenting a clean bill of health before assuming and during their time in office. It’s nice to know that the people we trust to run the country as physically capable of performing the task. If a person in office has a debilitating illness, or a condition which is impairing him or her from doing the job effectively, then the public has the right to know and the politician in question most likely has to step down (hat tip: John Morrow on Quora)

But good health is no guarantee whatsoever that they will execute their office in the public interest. Case in point being President Drnovšek who (in my opinion) was one hell of a president after he changed his lifestyle on account of his disease. I’m not saying he was a bad president before that or even that he was a bad prime minister (his track record remains unbeaten), but fact of the matter is that his presidency has had a profoundning and extremely positive effect after he “turned alternative”.

But there are legal and political issues to consider as well. In case of president Türk’s surgery this means there should be at least some kind of announcement made. True, Slovene president does not have nuclear codes, nor are we at war (save with ourselves, but we don’t need a president for that). But despite everything, the President still is the Commander in Chief. Furthermore, the Constitution stipulates that in case of temporary or permanent incapacitation of the President, his powers are transferred to the President of the Parliament.

I imagine President Türk was under narcosis during surgery which means that for the duration of the procedure the powers would have been transferred to President of the Parliament Pavle Gantar. Hopefully, the necessary paperwork was filled out, but a public announcement was definitely lacking. Some would say that it’s not such a big deal, given the fact that the president’s powers in Slovenia are limited and that it’s a more or less routine procedure. But what if – Bob forbid – something went wrong?

Despite his limited powers, the President has some relatively important duties and obligations regarding the functioning of democratic institutions. For example, he nominates candidates for judges of the Constitutional Court. In fact, it was only yesterday when his nominee for a vacated post at the Constitutional Court Rado Bohinc was not approved by the parliament meaning Türk must go through the entire selection process again. What if he were unable to and the public were to find out through this that the presidential powers were transferred to Gantar?

I realise this looks like nitpicking but normally President Türk is such a stickler for constitutional details that this is quite a serious slip-up on his part and the part of his office. Again: I assume the powers were formally transferred but in the name of transparency, accountability and all the of-the-people-for-the-people-and-by-the-people shit, it would be nice if they would let us know that the Commander in Chief is going under the scalpel.

The same goes for the Prime Minister. Agreed, the PM wields more executive and less formal power, but in his case there is not even a clear line of succession as there is no formal Vice-PM (or something). Technically, the PM can decide which of his ministers can run the daily government business, but should the PM become incapacitated, there is no-one with parliament-mandated powers to run the executive branch. And the situation in Slovenia at the moment is so fragile that PM Borut Pahor reportedly cannot afford to be out of the country for more than three-or-so days.

However, most of these constitutional nuances are lost on general Slovene media. They are more concerned with why The Prez went to Innsbruck, Austria to have the surgery when he has professed his faith in Slovene health system. Well, that’s bullshit, methinks. The Prez can have him self opened up wherever he damn pleases, if he pays for it out of his own pocket. Which he has done in this case. And were he to choose a Slovenian hospital (apparently only Celje hospital is capable of performing a similar robotic surgery), he would be accused of jumping the queue.

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