Implosions Left and Right

While most of the English-speaking world Europe is watching in awe as Red Ken Livingston enters a tailspin, forgets to bail out and ultimately self-destructs, other meltdowns are taking place that are just as epic. Or sad. Or epic sad. And since the country is on autopilot for the next couple of days on account of the holidays and whatnot this is as good an opportnity as any to take a look rumblings on both sides of the political spectrum. It just so happens that a substantial part of both left and right-wing is imploding on an increasingly spectacular scale with some serious ramifications for the political spectrum at large.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-14563-1389273987-5
Animation obviously purely symbolic (source)

The spectacular meltdown of the IDS congress (one of three constituent parties of the United Left) was slowly brewing for some time now but the force with which the party leadership was literally manhandled into dropping its plans to, well, unite the united left into a single party did come as a surprise. At least to an outsider.

Theory vs. Practice

The basic outlines of the story are as follows: The United Left (ZL), in essence a coalition between three parties, IDS, TRS and DSD and a grassroots initiative (several NGOs and associations) has come to a point where it needed to decide whether to evolve into a single party or continue as before. Aside from financial and organisational implications (the monies received by the ZL are split three ways, any substantial decision must be debated and approved thrice, etc) of unification there were also ideological and theoretical misgivings. A single party means a single platform, a single leadership and – most importantly – subscribing to a singular, albeit imperfect, decision-making process of a parliamentary democracy.

This does not mean that the United Left (specifically, the IDS as its most theoretically fluent and ideologically pure member) is in the business of fomenting a revolutionary overthrow of the government but it does mean that they se the current model of representative democracy as inherently flawed and a part of the very problem it wants to correct (corruption, state-capture, income inequality, access to resources etc). As is usually the case in such matters, theirs was a party of a direct and participatory democracy and their decision-making process reflected that.

The fault-lines between the IDS (headed by Luka Mesec who doubles as a de facto leader of the coalition) and the other two parties (TRS and DSD, chaired by Matjaž Hanžek and Franc Žnidaršič respectively) became apparent pretty soon. Mesec was this theory-laden kid from an idealistic party while the other two were comparatively veterans of the political process, with Hanžek being a former ombudsman and an analyst at government’s Macroeconomic department while Žnidaršič was an MP for DeSUS before he fell out with Karl Erjavec and formed his own party.

But after the surprisingly good result in 2014 elections which saw Mesec and five other coalition candidates (including Hanžek) elected as MPs for the United Left, the reality of a parliamentary day-to-day life soon sunk in and Mesec apparently recognised the necessity of compromise and faster decision-making. The most elegant way of achieving that would, of course, be through party unification under a single banner with a single leadership (with Mesec at the top, of course).

The sell-out

The problem is that the IDS rank and file was not all that hot over the idea of running in elections in the first place. They (correctly) saw that the IDS would be unable to maintain an honest critique of the system if they were to enter the political arena themselves. Mesec and his supporters in the IDS, however, equally correctly recognised that, barring the storming of the Winter Castle, the only way to change the system is to change it from within. Because democracy and whatnot.

And when Mesec did indeed get elected MP, he was immediately branded a sell-out and an elitist by the ideologically pure wing of the party, this at the same time as he was branded an anarchist by the right-wing in the parliament.

Things hit a brick wall the other day during IDS congress in Krško, where Mesec wanted the membership to green-light the unification process but got heckled, browbeaten and literally manhandled by ways of being pushed up against the wall and threatened with physical violence into dropping (or, as he sees it, postponing) the plans. The whole congress was anything but an orderly affair and Mesec’s only way out was to orchestrate a failed quorum vote, thus ending the congress without a vote on the matter.
The fallout is pretty dramatic with the IDS – and by extension – the ZL in disarray and the future of the party, the coalition and indeed the “true” (genuine? far? rabid? pure?) left in general. This as much seems to be the consensus among the two main opposing factions within the IDS, with each accusing the other one of destroying what little chances the political left-wing has had to consolidate, refocus and revitalise.

The ZL is not yet out, but it is definitely down. And it was all by their own hand, falling into the pitfalls of electoral success, just as pengovsky had warned almost two years ago. And, watching from the sidelines, the Social Democrats will of course gladly welcome back all those disappointed voters who have switched to ZL. Old flames and all that. Expect the SD to get a slight bump in the polls in the next few weeks.

For Janez is an honourable man

But the ZL imploding is just an isolated incident compared to the clusterfuck that has engulfed the right-wing and where a full-blooded Shakespearean drama is unfolding. Namely, Janez Janša is rapidly becoming redundant. He is starting to see the writing on the wall and he doesn’t like it.

Until recently is was common to think of the right-hand side of the political spectrum as a more or less solid bloc, with Janez Janša’s SDS providing the bulk of the, well, building blocks while the ChristDem NSi provided the rest, usually almost identical to those of the SDS. In the good old days, there was the agriculturaly-minded People’s Party (SLS) as well, providing at least some colour, but those days are long gone. However, rather than expanding its base at the expense of smaller parties in the bloc, the SDS found its support dwindling and the breadth of the bloc diminishing. Not by much, but consistently, little by little, every election cycle. As a result, the NSi suddenly found it, too, can grow a spine and started following its own line. This was helped by the decapitation of the Slovenian Roman Catholic Church (RKC) ordered by Pope Francis in the wake of the financial collapse of Maribor diocese. Until then the RKC leadership considered Janša their chief political ally but the new Church leadership is evidently less political, a fact which hugely benefits the NSi as it can organically build on its Catholic pedigree. This was especially evident during Janša’s incarceration on account of the Patria Case and was already causing unrest and nervousness within the SDS, as it focused all of its resources on getting its leader out of jail.

The price Janša is going to ultimately pay for this will be bigger than he ever imagined. He has surrendered so much power and was out of the picture for so long that other people have made their own power bases on his turf. Specifically, this goes for Aleš Primc of the same-sex marriage referendum infamy, who led the daily (now weekly) protest gatherings in front of the Ljubljana courthouse. While the main goal was to get Janša out of the joint, an unintended (?) side effect was that Primc had cultivated an always-on protest movement which is currently still protesting against the judicial system, but is able to pivot and change tune virtually at a moment’s notice. And while Janša is their idol, this movement is controlled by Primc. And when Primc announced he intends to form his own party, things started to fall apart pretty quick for Janša.

The illustrious leader of the SDS has grown testy, offensive, self-destructive and willing to pick a fight with anyone who will dare criticise him in the slightest possible way. Not unlike the Republican primaries. But that’s another story. He is acting like a schoolyard bully who senses that no-one really fears him anymore and can only maintain dominance by harrasment. Thus Janša has in the past few weeks implied two journalists of TV Slovenia are prostitutes, told all those celebrating the uprising against WWII Nazi occupation to fuck off (literally) and had a fallout with an ex-spy-cum-con-man-cum-amateur-historian Roman Leljak who until now was dutifully digging up dirt on Janša’s enemies but has now apparently gone rogue.

In the good old days, Janša would have been able to deal with such challenges to his authority swiftly and with extreme prejudice. Most likely, other people would do that for him. But good old days are long gone, indeed. Janša had no choice but to support Primc’s initiative, lest he risks Primc siphoning off rank-and-file support. But those with acute feeling for the direction of wind blowing are already shifting course and Janša apparently lacks the power and authority to stop them. Which is why he’s actually trying to cajole and browbeat them into toeing the line. More or less unsuccessfully.

Death by a thousand cuts

After Dimitrij Rupel threw Janša under the bus in July, Janša’s spook-protege Damir Črnčec did more or less the same (albeit more gently) last December by calling for the old guard to make way for fresh faces. Then comes the Primc who not only takes over the street but also Janša’s pet media project, the Nova24 TV (think Fox News under North Korean production) where he installed himself as the programming director, basically controlling the project content-wise. Then there are incessant rumours about a couple of SDS MPs looking to jump ship and switch parties, mostly because the SDS and its leader have grown so radicalised. And to top it off, a few days ago SDS parliamentary group chief Jože Tanko defied the party, the boss and the entire right-wing by voting in favour of a new and heavily watered-down law on same-sex unions (more on that subject soon).

Meanwhile, the NSi is successfully rebranding itself as a modern, business-oriented centre-right party, actively courting the media and putting together the media-political event of the year with its own hashtags and all. It seems they plan on going far.

Pengovsky always assumed that if Janša ever goes, he will go out with a bang. Now it seems it will be more of a whimper, brought on by a slow but unstoppable bleeding of support and authority. A (political) death by a thousand cuts.

Playing To Lose, Cerar Goes About Saving Private Mramor

Yesterday, finance minister Dušan Mramor offered to resign over a bonuses scandal that’s been overflowing for about two weeks now. In what was a somewhat unexpected move, PM Cerar did not accept the resignation. Instead he subjected Mramor to a mere slap on the wrist and then proceeded to extol Mramor’s track record at the ministry. Although the affair involved relatively modest amounts, the public and the media were indignant and the pundits were near-unanimous that Cerar will let Mramor go. Since he didn’t, the overall sentiment is that Cerar committed political suicide and will never be re-elected again. The truth, in pengovsky’s view, is somewhat different: Cerar has long since become unelectable, most likely on Day 2 of his tenure. It just took him over a year and two pan-european structural crises to come to that conclusion. Thus in terms of his own political future he has little to lose. He can, however, make the remaining three-and-a-half years count. And for that, he needs Mrarmor more than Mramor needs him.

20150313_blog
Miro The Man and Dušan The Man’s Man, some time ago. (source)

The gist of the story is that Mramor, while serving as dean of the Faculty of Economics in 2008, OK’ed use of special clause in labour legislation that provided for a 24/7 standby bonus. The clause was meant to be used to augment paychecks to various branches of first responders and similar services, but in mid-2008, apparently to circumvent the havoc wrought by the across-the-board austerity at the time, the faculty came up with this clause and, well, bent over backwards to expand its interpretation to cover university professors as well. The move worked so well that it was copied by nine out of eleven faculties, members of University of Ljubljana (Faculty of Theology and Faculty of Law being the notable exceptions).

Unmitigated disaster

Now, ever since the story broke, it has been an unmitigated PR disaster for Mramor and everyone else involved. This includes Minster of Education Maja Makovec Brenčič, former SD heavyweight and incumbent dean of the Faculty of Economics Metka Tekavčič and several other public personae. Especially daft was the feeble defence mounted by the faculty, now with Tekavčič at the helm, which only reinforced the perception of entitlement on the part of the academic elite. The fact that the whole issue centered on about half a million euros across nine faculties, did little to ausage the problem. Quite to the contrary. It is a known quirk of the Slovenian voter that the more he or she can relate to a number, the more emotional their response will be.

Case in point being Mramor who, over the years, accumulated around 45k euros in “standby bonuses”. 45,000 euros is not an unreachable amount of money. It’s about three-years-worth of average Slovenian wage. To put it another way, 45k will buy you an mid-to-upper-range BMW. Which is what makes the people so mad. They have an approximate idea about how much 45k euros actually is and they base their judgements on that. To put in perspective, only about a week ago, Slovenia was forced to pay 42 million euros (almost a thousand times more) to Croatia as damages for electricity not delivered from Krško nuclear plant between 2002 and 2003, when a political decision was taken to punitively and unilaterally withhold electricity from Croatia, even though the neighbouring country owns a 50% stake in the plant. Point being that the voters will more likely and more furiously take issue with smaller amounts of money. Doubly so if the payouts are legally dubious, as they are in this case.

Now, in the end Mramor has promised to pay back the whole amount, but only after being prodded by the media and – presumably – by the PM himself. Before that he somehow came to the conclusion that he would only pay back some 3000 euros. As if we learned nothing from the case of Gregor Virant in 2011.

Do-Goodnik becomes unelectable

But enough about Mramor. What he did was wrong, regardless of the motives. And while he’s not off the hook just yet, he does get to live another day or so and in politics a week is a lifetime. What is equally interesting, however, is why Cerar bailed Mramor out in the first place and squandered what little remained of the ethical platform the SMC ran on in 2014.

First, the already mentioned fact that Cerar has, in fact, been unelectable for some time. At the very least from the onset of the refugee crisis where he alienated a substantial part of the progressive vote by raising a razor-wire fence on the border with Croatia and empowering the military to police civilians. On the other hand, he only infuriated the right-wing which – although clamouring for these measures – predictably deemed them to little, too late, when finally passed. But in all likelihood, Cerar’s political demise began soon after he began his term, when the high-flying ethical do-goodnik platform met the bleak politcal and economic reality of Slovenia. After kicking ministers out for much smaller transgressions and having seen himself and Mramor brush with a similar affair, Cerar finally realized that it was in effect he himself who was pulling the rug from under his feet. Others were just helping.

Not that there was any lack of help. During yesterday’s press conference, Cerar took a swipe at SDS and SD, more or less saying that he will not have the composition of this government being dictated to him. That the SDS is making life difficult for Cerar is hardly news. After all, they’re the opposition, even if they’re being strangely blunt about that as of late. Namely, according to one source, the party openly threatened the SMC with making their life a living hell if the largest party does not support the SDS nominee for a vacant post at the European Court of Human Rights. The SMS refused to oblige. Hell did in fact commence.

SD ante portas

But the slap across the face of the SD was much more telling. The party, although still in relative ruin after its electoral flop, was given a new lease of life by Cerar’s strategic mistake of making them coalition partners. It soon started to re-establish its economic base and soon enough found itself in a massive brawl with the SMC over the sale of Telekom Slovenije. The SD lost that particular battle but stalled the whole thing just enough to derail the sale. Then came the beheading of the bad bank where SD gained a whole new range of informal power and – not unimportant – where Mramor lost. Which sort of made him the next target. And since he was apparently vunerable in the bonuses department… well, you now know the story.

From this point of view, had Cerar accepted Mramor’s resignation, the SD would have practically owned the government. They’ve squeezed a number of consessions out of Cerar as it is. The latest one being a shamelessly brazen creation of a party fief. officially known as the State Forest Company, it centralizes forestry management and falls under the purview of – yup, you guessed it – minister of agriculture, forestry and food, headed by leader of the SD Dejan Židan. Had Cerar allowed them to go any further, he would relinquish what little control he has on the home front.

Bond…. Sovereign bond

Ditto for the foreign front. Had Cerar relieved Mramor of his duties, Slovenia would in all likelihood start raising many-an-eyebrow of various investors all over the world. Until now, these were more or less happy to buy Slovenian debt precisely because Mramor and his predecessor Čufer handled the post-bailout situation adroitly and took the country of various watch-lists in Brussels, Berlin and Washington, even though (in all honesty) the pace of reforms and privatization has been glacial, at best. Bottom line, with the to-do list still being more or less the same as it was under Bratušek tenure, Mramor is Cerar’s best insurance against the possibility that the humanitarian and political crisis (in terms of EU issues) is joined by a resurgent financial crisis, too.

Thus, by protecting finance minister Mramor, Cerar conceded that he’ll lose the next elections. ironically, to win them, he probably has to play to lose, anyhow.

Transfer Window

Since the hubbub on the impending #Grexit has, for now at least subsided or – at the very least – morphed into #Agreekment, a short update on the sordid sorry state of Slovenian politics beckons. For it would seem that we have entered the Transfer Window.

20150720_blog

To be honest, what was and still is happening is peanuts compared to the sabre-rattling which occasionally threatened to break up the coalition, mostly along the privatisation fault lines. And although a full-scale political crisis was never a real possibility (not with the current distribution of power, at least), there was enough bad blood accumulated that some sort of a fallout was inevitable. Curiously, however, these tremors are not limited to the government of Miro Cerar only but are, for now at least, equally present in the opposition as well.

It takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-re-rat

The big shocker was the parting of ways between former eternal foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel and his political home of the last decade, Janez Janša‘s SDS. Rupel, a long-time LDS cadre under Drnovšek famously switched sides in 2004 and crossed over to SDS where he continued his diplomatic exploits. After Janša 2.0 government was toppled, the man fixed himself a cosy cushion to land on, having the outgoing government appoint him Consul General in Trieste (a prestigious but not all that demanding a position). However, he was axed from the position by his successor at the foreign ministry, one Karl Erjavec, following the letter of the austerity legislation, passed by Janša’s government (oh, the irony!) which stipulated that all civil servants over the age of 67 must retire, unless their superior finds a particular use for them. Needless to say Erjavec found no particular use for Rupel.

In fact, even before Teflon Karl started wielding the axe, Rupel and his supposedly coveted black book of contacts have been declining in demand. Which sort of made everyone think the man has finally thrown in the towel and limited himself to lecturing on a faculty of, shall we say, wanting reputation. After all, he clocked in his forty and should be able to enjoy the fruits of his long and illustrious career (give or take). Which is why it came as a complete surprise that he publicly announced his parting ways with the SDS. Quitting the Party is not small potatoes, because it was long assumed that if you in the Party, you in the Party.

Not so for the old fart Dimitrij. The Party, reeling from the massive haemorrhaging of resources to defend the Leader (that be Ivan) from the subversive communist abuse of the judiciary (that be The Patria Affair), just launched its shadow cabinet, a.k.a. SDS Council of Experts. Now, Rupel was apparently aiming at chairing the Foreign Policy Committee, but was passed over for Milan Zver MEP. This infuriated Dimitrij to the point of packing his shit up and leaving. He claims he was being punished for a recent interview in Reporter magazine where he (let’s be honest) failed to praise the Leader and swear to his infallibility. Instead, not only did Rupel had the guts to speculate on the post-Janša future of the political right, he even had the balls to state that there was, in fact, a period in Slovenian history where Milan Kučan (Janša’s arch-enemy) played a positive role. The nerve!

However, one could be excused for not entirely buying into Rupel’s self-righteousness. He is probably the only politico in this country which could possibly lay claim to have done a proper Churchill. Because anyone can rat. But it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat. Which is exactly what Rupel has done vis-a-vis Janša, parting ways in 1994, only to rejoin Janša in 2004 and now, another decade or so later, parting ways yet again. The conclusion here is simple: if Rupel is in search of a new political master (possibly Miro Cerar’s SMC), then the SDS is indeed in deep trouble since Rupel, one of the great survivors of Slovenian politics, apparently sees no further use for it. And parties which Rupel discarded himself of as un-prospective soon turned out to be politically marginalised and – ultimately – dead. Case in point every of his previous political dwellings: Slovene Democratic Union (SDZ), Demokrati Slovenije (DS), the once-mighty LDS and now SDS.

If political bellwethers such as Rupel are anything to go by, then the SDS should start worrying. However, one should not have high hopes for the SDS to change course any time soon. In fact, regardless of some pretty obvious intra-party opposition, the party proper is by and large committed to its president, increasingly creating a universe of its own and interacting with the reality the rest of us are experiencing only when need be. And before either of the two readers of this blog start pointing out the @prenovljenaSDS (reformed SDS) Twitter account it should be noted that the account might just as well be a ploy of Janša to see who follows the account and thus single out the descenders within his ranks. Just sayin’ 😉

Tr00 fans only

Not that the SDS is overly concerned, it seems. Because, although they’ve lost Rupel, they’ve gained (for all intents and purposes) Aleš Hojs, nominally one of the VPs of the ChristDem NSi, but in reality a tr00 JJ fan. Namely, after the NSi declined to join SDS shadow cabinet, continuing on their own course (an approach which served them well ever since they found their spine a couple of years ago), they poached Hojs and co-opted him as shadow defence minister, thereby sticking a wedge in both NSi leadership as well as rank and file where Hojs does have a certain amount of clout.

The NSi is, for the time being, choosing to ignore the issue and Hojs nominally still remains a member of the NSi senior structure, but they will have to get rid of him expeditiously. The bad blood between the former S/M partners of the political right keeps on accumulating and the NSi with its new-found confidence and a couple of policy scoops under its belt (notably, the recently passed law on post-WWII grave-sites) will not be able to tolerate in-party insubordination and impunity.

Bruised egos

But such solo acts can last surprisingly long. Case in point being Bojan Dobovšek, until recently an MP for SMC of Prime Minister Miro Cerar. Namely, Dobovšek quit the party months ago, citing “continuing old practices” in filing governmental positions, hinting and cronyism and corruption. But you could not be blamed for thinking Dobovšek was – not unlike Rupel – sore for being looked over when booty was split. In this case, he was widely tipped to become the minister of interior.¸But the spot went to Vesna Györkös Žnidar, while Dobovšek quit the party but remained a member of the SMC parliamentary group. Which is technically legal, most unhygienic and sure to generate a lot of media attention. If you catch my meaning.

However, about two weeks ago Dobovšek quit the SMC parliamentary group as well, thereby changing the internal relations within the coalition. Because with him gone, the Social democrats, most junior of coalition partners suddenly started to make a difference, as they provided the votes necessary for the coalition to claim a majority. While Dobovšek was on-board, the SMC and DeSUS themselves had 46 votes with SD more or less simply providing the body-count.

But with the man gone, SD leader Dejan Židan started boasting how the party will now claim its rightful spot, prompting DeSUS main honcho Karl Erjavec to tell Židan to get off that horse and not get ahead of himself. At that time it seemed as if Teflon Karl is (finally) suffering from a case of bruised ego. Little did we know the old trickster was about to do some political poaching of his won. Late last week Peter Vilfan of Alenka Bratušek’s ZaAB announced he is switching allegiances and crossing over to DeSUS.

Transfer window

Vilfan, former professional basketball player (hence the title of the post) started out as an unlikely politician in Ljubljana city council, first elected in 2005 on the coat-tails of Zoran Janković’s sweeping mayoral victory and then – in similar vein – to the parliament in 2011. He quit the city council in February 2014, officially due to corruption charges against Janković, but was rumoured to have ulterior motives in a real-estate deal that a city council vote on a news zoning plan about that time would enable and wanted to avoid unseemly appearances.

Anyhow, Vilfan resigned as MP a couple of months later as well. He was involved in a traffic accident, hitting a pedestrian with his car and was a DUI suspect. To his credit Vilfan did not try to skirt the issue but quit almost immediately and paid the hurt senior citizen a visit in the hospital. Luckily, the victim only suffered a broken arm and a lab analysis showed Vilfan was not intoxicated while driving. In a sense he kept to a standard of political hygiene that one would expect from a representative of the people. Which, sadly, is news in Slovenia. But it probably also helped Vilfan get re-elected in 2014 snap elections as one of four MPs of Alenka Bratušek’s fledgling party ZaAB, which splintered off from Jankovič’s Positive Slovenia. But soon after AB’s failed Euro-bid, things went south there as well, culminating for now in Vilfan switching teams.

Adding insult to injury, DeSUS not only picked up an MP, bringing their total to eleven, they also again marginalised the SD, giving enough votes to PM Miro Cerar to marginalize the most junior coalition partner and – not to be overlooked – being able to drive an even harder bargain protecting their particular interests in an already sluggish privatisation process.

Now, it seems plausible that Vilfan jumping ship on Bratušek will start an exodus from the party group. Well, exodus might be overreaching a word since after Vilfan’s departure the ZaAB party group is down to three MPs, a minimum required to actually be a parliamentary party group rather than just a set of independent MPs and enjoy the perks that come with it, such as participation in committee memberships.

Exodus

But the point is that remaining ZaAB MPs may well be on the market as well. Save former PM Alenka Bratušek herself, although given the egotistical lows she performed after successfully bringing the country from the brink in 2013, it is not entirely inconceivable she’d quit her own party group, too. But that’s just pengovsky being evil. More realistically, rumour has it that Mirjam Bon Klanjšček is to follow in Vilfan’s footsteps and make DeSUS male/female ratio look better come Autumn, the big question is just what exactly will Jani Möderndorfer do.

The man with a plan, the other great survivor of Slovenian politics, he hasn’t placed a bad political bet in his life. At the very least ever since he helped start a rift in the Ljubljana section of LDS in 2002 which ultimately led to the party breaking up and emergence of Zares (of which he, ultimately, was not a member). He then stuck with Janković all the way to the parliamentary elections in 2011, emerging as leader of the largest parliamentary group. But when things came to a head within the party in 2014 and Janković came to collect, Möderndorfer chose PM Bratušek over Janković. Wisely so, it transpired, since Janković’s Positive Slovenia proper did not make it above the 4-percent threshold in 2014 elections, while Bratušek’s ZaAB did, just barely.

Therefore, it will be interesting to see if Möderndorfer jumps ship as well or will he go down with it for the first time. From where he stands, both are equally legitimate. The interesting part is that he now faces a dilemma not dissimilar to that of Dimitrij Rupel: does he quit politics and gets a job (he is, among other things, a certified sign-language interpreter), or does he make another leap, possibly finding himself on the same boat as Rupel – as a member of the SMC.

Politics indeed makes for strange bedfellows.

Slovenian Elections: The Purge

In what can only be described as a rout, Miro Cerar won Sunday Slovenian elections in a landslide, winning 36 out of 90 seats, with two of those being reserved for Hungarian and Italian minorities. Thus, the law-professor who in August will turn 51, is the new Slovenian PM-presumptive.

2040716_cerar
Miro Cerar, PM-presumptive (source)

Having said that, the real work begins for Cerar only now. In the election campaign he notoriously avoided taking a position on any specific issue, clearly aiming for (and achieving) a catch-all effect. Even his victory speech on Sunday night was lacklustre, to say the least. It was more of his dalai-lama-meets-law-professor-meets-soft-populist rhetoric, nothing and everything at the same time.

PM-presumptive meets the coalition

On one hand, this is understandable. Cerar won, but if Zoran Janković, winner of the last elections is anything to go by, it is very easy to squander a relative majority by closing too many doors early on. On the other hand, it was Cerar who was given a clear mandate to rule the country so he needs to start taking positions and dictate the tempo. Until now, he was mostly re-active, for example excluding a possible coalition with Janez Janša‘s SDS only after Janša shot first and excluded a possible coalition with SMC.

The main issue for Cerar therefore is to make sure he does not become a hostage to his coalition partner or partners. Most likely plural. Namely, if here were to form a two-party coalition, DeSUS is his only choice. Which means that every time a sticky issue would come up, Karl Erjavec would balk and threaten with leaving the coalition, thus forcing Cerar to give in. And Erjavec can be really persuasive. Just ask Janša, Pahor or Bratušek.

So step number one for the PM-presumptive is to leave DeSUS out. Which already limits his options. Step number two will most likely be to make sure his is more than just a single-vote majority, again, for the above reasons. This means he will have to reach both left and right. With ZL not being a viable option, Cerar’s possible coalition partners include Social Democrats, Alenka Bratušek Alliance and the NSi. And mathematics suggests he will try to form a ruling coalition will all three of them.

Such an approach would be advantageous for many reasons. Fist, it would put him at a comfortable 51 votes. Second, it would adhere to his pre-election “why can’t we all just get along” mantra. And third (and perhaps most important) it would leave enough room for manoeuvre vote-wise for any of the junior coalition partners to depart from the common line every now and then and still not endanger the 46-vote majority.

Thus, for example, the SD could oppose further privatisation plans (and keep what is left of their electorate happy) while the legislation could still be passed, without endangering either the 46-votes majority or the coalition itself.

And last, but not least, this approach would be reminiscent of the way the late Janez Drnovšek put coalitions together and it is always good to be compared to Drnovšek, even though Cerar right now doesn’t even come close to the legendary PM. However, while Cerar is mulling his next move, the exact opposite seems to be going in the SDS, as their shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach backfired badly.

The purge

That the SDS took a beating goes without saying. Sunday saw their worst performance in the last decade and only slighty better than their results in 1996 and 2000 elections. Even worse: when compared to the overall number of eligible voters, support for SDS in 2014 elections boils down to a mere ten percent of adult Slovenians. Granted, this says a lot of other parties as well, but is especially damaging for a party which promotes itself as the only one defending patriotic values and does a lot of flag-waving at every opportunity.

After Janez Janša was admitted to prison due to a confirmed guilty verdict in the Patria Case, the SDS made their glorious leader the focal point of their campaign. SDS MP and one of party vice-presidents Zvonko Černač took centre stage and demanded Janša be released at every opportunity. No longer was their election platform important, they focused solely on Janša, claiming elections are not free and fair without him.

After the results came in, Černač repeated the #freeJJ mantra and added the party will not be taking active part in parliamentary procedure. There were even reports about their elected MPs not actually taking office, but the plan was supposedly dropped as it became clear that in that case new elections would simply be called for vacant seats.

Anyhoo, after the SDS openly threatened to derail parliamentary procedure, media back-lash ensued followed by what was reported as a fierce debate in the party Executive Council. As a result, Černač backtracked on the issue, saying he was “misinterpreted”. Now, let’s take a moment and reflect on this.

What happens when the alpha-male leaves the pack

For the first time on bob-knows-how-many years, the SDS made a complete and unreserved U-turn in a little more than 24 hours. This is the first example of what pengovsky projected the moment Janša was put behind bars. The alpha-male is out of the game on a daily basis and his replacement does not carry nearly enough clout for decisions and moves to go unquestioned.

And there’s a lot of bad blood in the SDS right now. Some of their key people didn’t get elected even though they were thought of as fixtures of Slovenian politics. Cases in point being the above mentioned Zvonko Černač (which means he has even less clout in the party and his position as Janša’s point-man is in peril) as well as Jožef Jerovšek, who served as SDS MP continuously since 1996. Ditto Andrej Vizjak, who got elected for the first time in 2000 and held many posts ever since, including that of minister of economy (2004) and labour (2011).

Moving away from the SDS, Franc Pukšič, the industrious former mayor of Destrnik, who held an MP seat continuously since 1996. Pukšič started as an SDS member but switched to SLS in 2008. Since the party didn’t make it above the 4% treshold, one of the more distinctive features of the parliament is gone. Just like that. Ditto for Pukšič’s much more mild-mannered party colleague Jakob Presečnik.

Rout of the left

The purge of course wasn’t limited to the right side of the political spectrum. Lucky for them, a lot of more experienced SD members decided to retire and had evaded the voters opening a can of whop-ass on them. But the purge of the SD is going on for quite a while now. In six years they went down from thirty (2008) to mere five MPs (2014).

The purge, however, was complete for what was left of Positive Slovenia. The party of Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković didn’t make it above 4%, reducing Zoki’s aura of invincibility to, well, sundust. Janković is in a lot of trouble right now (both legally and politically) and should start getting concerned with his plans for another term as Ljubljana mayor. His opponents smell and see blood and his tenure in the city hall is all of a sudden much more insecure. The party, however, is more or less dead in the water. It might carry on, but it will remain a mere shadow of its former victorious self.

The caretaker PM Alenka Bratušek, however, fared slightly better. When her fight with Janković split PS down the middle and she and her supporters went to form their own party, her stated goal was to best PS in the polls. Which was kind of weird at the time as the consensus was they should be concerned with making it to the parliament first. But in the end, it turned to be one and the same goal. Bratušek can, in a sense, count herself as coming out victorious. But the price that was paid for her four MP mandates was extortionate. On the bright side, however, she can once again resume comparing herself to Brigitte Nyborg of Borgen 😉

Skipping over the NSi which continues to take its rightful place in the parliamentary political spectrum, even increasing their result by one MP seat, this leaves us with the real surprise of the election Sunday, the United Left (ZL).

The surprise

The party of “democratic ecological socialism” was looking to Greek Syriza for a role model and is questioning the established order of things. In the end they got 5.96 percent which translates into six seats. They sport a three-member presidency, but it was Luka Mesec, the youngest of the trio of leaders, who emerged as the most recognisable face of the party. It was his appearance on a POP TV-held debate on Thursday, three days before the elections which sent the party rocketing from around 2.5 percent way above the parliamentary threshold, in the end nearly tripling their result.

On a personal note, pengovsky got into a bit of hot water with ZL fanbase for saying that Mesec brought in votes of older women on account of him looking good and saying smart things. A rather tedious debate followed where accusations of mysoginistic statements were thrown in my general direction. But while further analysis did indeed show their voters mostly come from below-45 age group, a third of their vote still comes from 45+ age group. A third, meaning two out of six percent of votes won. Which means, 45+ age group was just as instrumental in pushing the ZL above 4% than younger voters.

Additionally, another analysis showed about 50% of ZL voters decided to pick them in the last couple of days, emphasising the importance of Mesec’s appearance and performance in the debate.

Now, anyone with any experience in campaigning will tell you that TV debates are not really about substance but rather about showmanship. You might have the best platform in the world, but if you’re not telegenic enough or if you make too many mistakes, you might as well throw in the towel. So the point pengovsky was trying to make is that while ZL platform is nothing to scoff at, it was Mesec’s TV performance (his telegenics) that made the difference. But, the fan-base insists it was the platform that brought in the entire six percent of the vote.

Shifting the discourse

Be that as it may, the ZL is in and is bound to shift the political discourse to the left. Which in itself is not a bad thing. Too many things in this society are taken for granted and thought of as set in stone, which is one of the reasons this country moves at a sluggish pace at best.

But theirs is a hard task. They will inherently be branded as far-left, even though one could make the argument they are the only “true-left”, platform wise. Secondly, their set of ideas is only one of many competing sets in the parliament, all of which are perfectly legitimate, some more appealing to one part of the society, some to another. Thirdly, they are newcomers. Pushing your agenda has to do a lot with knowing your way around rules and procedures of the parliament. Fourth, they will need to hold their nerve and not lash out against more experience MPs patronizing them or even setting procedural traps for them, supposedly to “put them in their place”. The parliament is a tough neighbourhood and while everyone is smiling and wears a tie, backstabbing is often the norm. And lastly, the ZL need to be careful not to get smug too soon.

A lot of people invested a lot of hope into them and while the some expectations are unreasonable by default, the ZL MPs were not elected to the parliament to be like other MPs but to be better than them. And that’s a benchmark others before them failed to achieve.

Archive Referendum Results: Nothing To Be Happy About, Regardless

A few takeaways on yesterday’s archive referendum results. The turnout was a dismal 11.68 percent, with 67.32% against and 32.68% in favor of the new archive law. Since the quorum of 20% of all eligible voters against the law was not reached, the law stands as passed by the parliament.

20140609_blog_arhivi
Referendum results (source: dvk-rs.si, graphics via ChartGo)

Now, the response of the petitioning party (that be Janez Janša‘s SDS) was pathetically predictable: that at least they won “a moral victory“. That the “forces of UDBa are still at work”. That the people don’t appreciate the referendum as they should (clearly a case of pot calling the kettle black).

On the other hand, the government hailed “a referendum victory” with minister Uroš Grilc adding that Slovenia finally has a modern archive legislation. Incidentally, the last law to have survived voters’ scrutiny (albeit under the old rules) was 2005 referendum on the law on state radio and television RTVSLO. And that law, too, fell under the purview of Ministry of culture. Just so you know 😉

Now, while the bit about a modern piece of legislation might very well be true, everything else is pure bullshit-meter-breaking material. This is not a victory for the government. It is, at best, a defeat avoided. The feeling of “victory” is relative only to the ginormous foot the Party had just inserted in its own mouth. Namely, the SDS supported changes to the referendum legislation, instituting the “quorum against” which now worked heavily against them.

Bonus points in the fuckwit category go for Milan Zver MEP who tweeted that two-thirds of Slovenians slapped the government in the face (this by extension meaning that only people who cast their vote on Sunday are true Slovenians). That the turnout on a referendum they campaigned heavily for is comparable to the 2008 fiasco with referendums on regions only adds insult to injury. As does the fact that back then Janez Janša claimed victory as well.

But the biggest loser here are the people. Not because the law is now enacted (that, at least, is good) but because the SDS continues, even with the “new and improved” referendum restrictions, to abuse what is left of this crucial institute of direct democracy. This was the pattern for the better part of the past two decades and due to no small fault of the Party the word “referendum” is now tarnished beyond repair.

Under the new rules it is almost impossible for a group of concerned citizens or an NGO to challenge a piece of legislation unless they have access to a well-developed political party network which (by definition) makes them more of an astroturf group rather than a grass-roots movement. With continued abuse, the “almost impossible” will without a doubt become simply “impossible”, as ignoring referendum votes will become not only acceptable, but indeed desirable. The ultimate goal of making voters indifferent to public matters is thus well within reach. Case in point being the general approval the people met with the new referendum rules.

Citizens’ oversight is a scarce commodity as it is. Abuse of referendum legislation, such as witnessed Sunday last, only depletes it further. Pretty soon, there will be none left.