The term “hot political Autumn” is a staple of post-holiday media diet in Slovenia. It’s supposed to represent the exact opposite of the Silly season and signal re-entry of many-a-player into political orbit. Only that the Silly season was not really happening the past few years. In fact, until this Summer, Slovenia has been experiencing one long, drawn-out political and economic re-alignment, making the period between 2010 and 2016 one big political blur. Just think about it: four governments, just as many elections (on national level only) and seven referendums, with one being a 3-in-1 special. And then there was the euro-crisis and the migrant crisis and the Patria affair and a whole range of clusterfucks large and small. Thus many people were befuddled when the government of Miro Cerar declared a collective holiday and got the hell out of Dodge for most of August. Maybe it was the Olympics, maybe it was real, but no one really missed them, except for a few warning shots from the media and the opposition, but most of those were catching a few extra z’s around that time, too.
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.
Well, fuck me sideways! Turns out pengovsky overlooked a bloody important aspect of Katarina Kresal’s resignation, even though he brought the subject up some time ago: the legal provision of the government having to have two thirds of ministers appointed at any given time lest it be declared inoperative. Two thirds? More than two thirds, in fact. Which is a bit of a game changer.
Borut Pahor and Katarina Kresal (source)
Namely, with Katarina Kresal out, the government of Borut Pahor is down to ten out of fifteen full-blooded ministers (those without portfolio notwithstanding). Since Article 11 of the Law on Government stipulates the need to have more than two thirds of sitting ministers (and not “at least two thirds” as pengovsky previously thought.) Pahor’s government will be one minister short upon the parliament formally taking note of Kresal’s resignation.
Open mouth, insert foot
With this in mind, pengovsky’s yesterday assessment of political shrewdness of PM Pahor pales somewhat (talk about putting a foot in my mouth!). It all boils down to the fact that it would be easier for the prime minister to have yet another beleaguered minister than no minister at all. With the September session of the parliament being laden with heavy agenda, yet another resignation was the last thing Pahor needed. And yet, this is exactly what he will have to do. Question is, are we any closer to early elections, then?
Short answer: no. The September session of the National Assembly will indeed be crucial. First, there’s the resignation of Pavle Gantar as president of the parliament and the need to elect a new one. Then there’s the budget rebalancing act which aims to shave off 500 million euro in spending. Then there’s the fact that the three-month period during which vacant ministerial positions can be run by other ministers is fast running out. And now the resignation of Katarina Kresal which threatens to sink the government below the point of being legally defunct.
EDIT: President of the parliament Pavle Gantar tweeted that the parliament could convene in a special session to formally take note of Kresal’s resignation. Other than pushing the time-table a bit, this possibly has no effect, especially if Pahor puts forward a nominee for any of the vacant ministerial positions.
Keeping the count above ten
All of the above are critical. But in terms of short-term survival, all PM Pahor has to do is to nominate at least one new candidate for minister, keep the ministers count above ten and take it from there. The proper course of action would of course be to nominate candidates for all vacant ministerial positions but at this point in time this might prove to be a tall order even though ministers are appointed by a relative majority of votes. However, should this not happen and the PM remains with ten or less ministers, the fun starts.
Now, legal experts who like to see themselves all over the media go on and on about how this is an uncharted and legally murky territory and would like to have the above Article 11 amended to provide especially for the case of the government not having enough ministers mid-term. But fact of the matter is that the power to nominate the PM and the ministers resides with the parliament and should the government slip below 11 ministers, the procedure for electing a new PM should automatically kick in, with the president holding consultations with parliamentary groups on whom to nominate as new PM. And should no candidate get elected, the President of the republic could dissolve the parliament and call early elections. Things are really quite clear, it’s just a matter of following them through.
So, despite Pahor literally bleeding ministers we are still basically where we were two months ago. To fore early elections, one would need a behind-the-scenes agreement that the procedure to elect a new government will be “followed-to-fail”. Pengovsky just doesn’t see that happening. Janez Janša is screaming for early elections on Twitter but at the same time rules out any deal with Pahor whatsoever. This does not compute. If he really wanted early elections, he would have moved to call a confidence vote a long time ago. He doesn’t and thus he didn’t. Early elections are a non-option for SLS, DeSUS and SNS because they all risk of getting sidelined in the brouhaha that would surely ensue, whereas Zares appears to be fine with whatever happens. Their only problem is that they would like to see early elections preceded by fundamental constitutional changes, which – given the current dispersion of political power – is next to impossible.
Prime Minister Pahor is on the brink of “operational default”, so to speak. But he can still recover and limp towards regular elections some time in mid-2012. Odd are this is what he will elect to do. Question is, why?
On a more personal note: with all of the above in mind, my apologies for bitching about on Twitter how Radio Slovenia got its facts wrong in their morning news broadcast. Reporting was quite on the mark, but the subsequent mumbo-jumbo by legal experts was still unnecessary, as the procedures are clear enough even though they’ve never been employed.