Immunity for Janez Janša and Ivo Sanader

Janez Janša and Ivo Sanader share a great many things. Not only are both former prime ministers of their respective countries, their parties are also members of European People’s Party, they were both implicated in alleged (and then strenuously denied) fixing of border incidents between Slovenia and Croatia prior to 2004 elections and now they are both facing criminal charges. Talk about male bonding! 😈


“So, tell me Janez, what’s it like on the inside?” (source)

As you know, former PM and now opposition leader Janez Janša was indicted for aiding and abetting bribery and corruption (with four more people facing similar or graver charges). What has happened since is that the indictments were “tested” by the local court at which they were filed and the court approved them. This of course does not mean that the man is guilty, but it does mean that potentially the biggest procedural hurdle was cleared and that the trial will go forward.

Which is why today the parliamentary Committee for Public Office and Elections had to vote on whether Janez Janša should be granted immunity in the Patria Affair. Under Article 83 of the Constitution a deputy can invoke immunity if the maximum penalty for charges against him/her do not carry more than a five-year prison sentence. And since charges against Janša carry three years or less, the parliamentary Committee can (even against Janša’s wishes) grant him immunity.

But the man, who already knows what the inside of a prison cell looks like, said upfront that he will not invoke the immunity clause and hours ago the committee dully voted not to grant him immunity, which means that the trial can start with the full cast. Not so in the case of JJ’s buddy Ivo Sanader, who – it now appears – was virtually run out of office but not because of now-virtually-solved border dispute with Slovenia, but because there was no way to keep the lid on his (alleged) mischief.

One version goes that he was “summoned” to Brussels, but – instead of stalling yet another round of border-dispute negotiations – he was greeted by a stack of binders documenting in detail his supposed criminal activities, some of which are said to be connected to the downfall of the Hypo Bank and then to a series of fraudulent and embezzlement activities in his native Croatia.

However, unlike his Slovenian paisan, Sanader, having returned from what was officially a lecturing tour in the US (unofficially avoiding questioning by the parliamentary committee and Croatian CrimPolice), decided to claim his seat in the parliament and invoke the immunity clause, to which he is apparently entitled.

Fun times. Two former PMs looking at a prison sentence, while their successors iron out what even yesterday looked like insurmountable problems. Can it really be that easy? Nah, I’d be out of stuff to write, then… 😈

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Ljubljana Elections of 2010 (Part One: The Mayor)

With local elections fourteen days away it is high time pengovsky writes them up. Not that there’s a whole lot of interest in them in the first place. Case in point being this video featuring main contenders for mayor which drew about as much attention as a six-days-old fart (either that or it’s just that fucking bad :)). Be that as it may, fact of the matter is that as many as 770 people are running for mayors of 208 municipalities, of those sixty-nine are running for mayors of eleven urban municipalities.

If you’re a statistics buff, here’s some more for you, courtesy of the National Electoral Commission: 25,824 people are running for seats in municipal and city councils, of those 9,951 are women. There are 93 women running for mayor, while the youngest candidate is one Aljaž Verhovnik, age 19, who’s running for mayor of Ravne na Koroškem on a Social Democrats ticket. 23 incumbent mayors have no opposing candidate and are for all intents and purposes already re-elected. And, finally turning to Ljubljana, the nation’s capital sports the longest ballot as there are thirteen people running for mayor and twenty-four parties and lists which put forward 658 candidates for 45 seats in the city council.


Janković seems poised to continue to wear the mayoral chain and recieve foreign dignitaries (photo: The Firm™)

The Metropolis

Ninamedia polling agency and POP TV ran some polling results for Ljubljana ten days ago which were encouraging, Or discouraging. Or surprising. Depends on how you look at them. Pengovsky had the opportunity to look at the entire data set so my conclusions in this series will be based on more that just the sketchy report published first by POP TV and then by Finance daily.

So, where is we? Basically there’s no chance of an upset in Ljubljana mayor race. Incumbent mayor Zoran Janković has a 63% support among Ljubljana voters and is trailed a long way back by Mojca Kucler Dolinar of Nova Slovenija (NSi) who got a measly 6,2 % support. She is then followed by Zofija Mazej Kukovič of Janez Janša‘s SDS, who mustered a 5,3 % support.

Say what?

Let me run that by you again: Zoran Janković has a 63% of support to begin with. This is exactly the same level of support he won in elections four years ago. So despite all the mud that was thrown at him, despite the fact that sometimes things are not exactly as advertised, despite the fact that he has the political nuance of a bulldozer on steroids which alienated some of his political supporters and the despite the fact that he doesn’t give a shit about the “not-in-my-back-yard” syndrome, which spurred some sixty initiatives opposing many of his projects in Ljubjlana, despite all that he didn’t lose an inch of support among the electorate.

What seems to have occurred though, is that the above initiatives have generated enough support for Miha Jazbinšek (The Green Party), the lonesome cowboy of Ljubljana politics to end up in fourth place with a staggering 5,1 % of support, who constantly hovered around them, giving them advice (either solicited or unsolicited) Since Jazby, as he is popularly known runs for mayor primarily to generate enough votes for his list of city council candidates, the result is more than encouraging for him. If this goes on he might even get enough votes to not just get himself re-elected as councilman, but also to squeeze in another member of his list which would be a major achievment for the former environment minister (1990-1994) who runs a no-budget campaign.

A smack in the face

But if Jazbinšek is (percentage-wise) on a par or even better than most of the candidates save Janković, this also a smack in the face for established political parties (i.e: those which are represented in the national parliament). Namely, local elections in Ljubljana transcend the pure local nature of the phenomenon. Ljubljana has always been prime battle ground between the left and the right, even more so since Janković took power in 2006 in what was a direct “fuck you” to then-PM Janez Janša. Back then the political right united behind a single candidate and France Arhar (former governor of the Bank od Slovenia, now CEO of Slovenian branch of Unicredit) won almost 20% of the vote. Fast forward to today and candidates of the three main right wing parties, NSi, SDS and SLS, Mojca Kucler Dolinar, Zofija Mazej Kukovič and Janez Žagar can muster only 13,5 percent of support between them.

But the situation is even worse for the left wing parties. Metka Tekavčič of Social Democrats barely registers with a meagre 2,1 %, while Meta Vesel Valentinčič of DeSUS and Milan Hosta of Zares hover around 1% mark. In that respect the only party which saved itself grief it doesn’t need is LDS which openly supported Janković and did not nominate a candidate of its own. However, that may work against them. Sure enough, they will not be wasting resources on a lost battle for mayor, but as a result they may not get enough exposure for their list of candidates to make a decent result. Currently LDS holds three seats in the city council (initially it held five, but then two members switched allegiances) and anything less than that would be a bitter disappointment. And truth be said, this is probably exactly why Zares sent Hosta into the battle: to steal the limelight from LDS, chip off some more votes and come out on top in a continuous low-intensity struggle between two parties which rose from the ashed of once almighty LDS.

Also-rans

The list of would-be mayors obviously does not end there (pengovsky can, contrary to some reports, count to thirteen) thus it is only fair that we mention the rest of the poor sods who barely register on the voters’ radars: Marko Mitja Feguš, who also ran for mayor in 2006 and won an impressive tally of 69 votes (yes, sixty-nine). This year Feguš (a landscape architect) runs as a candidate for List for Clean Drinking Water and has had a stroke of luck with the floods of last weekend, where he actually sounded credible for a moment. But only for a moment. Especially since the LCDW (headed by Mihael Jarc) made local news not as much for their drive for clean tap water but much more for their opposition to erection of a mosque in Ljubljana some years ago.

Then there’s Jože “Joc” Javornik of Slovenska Unija, which (a bit of political gossip) is ran by Metka Tekavčič’s ex-husband and minister of labour Vlado Dimovski. Among also-rans we find Jože Drnovšek (presumably no relation to the late president) a candidate for Naprej, Slovenija (Forward, Slovenia), a ridiculous proto-Nazi party whose chief Blaž Svetek reportedly runs a whore-house on the outskirts of Ljubljana. Then we have another proto-Nazi who goes by the name of Miha Majc and runs as a candidate for Stranka slovenskega naroda (SSN – Party of Slovene Nation) which made its claim to five minutes of fame during the near-fuck-up on Croatian NATO entry. And last (and most likely least) we have before us Janez Lesar, a candidate for Social-Liberal party, who was ran the city services in the early 90s and was pretty powerful back then. Time’s a bitch, however, and Lesar (who seems not to be entirely with us) is running on a platform of more biomedicine for everyone.

End of Part One

Since the power in the city lies with the city council as much as with the mayor, the results of council elections will be just as interesting. Perhaps even more so. More on that on Tuesday…

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Lahovnik To Quit As Minister And MP (His Schwartz Just Ain’t Big Enough)


Lahovnik and Golobič while they were still on the same team (source)

Yesterday the government communication office released the infamous letter minister of economy Matej Lahovnik sent to Prime Minister Borut Pahor in which he detailed grievances against his former party boss and ministerial colleague Gregor Golobič. Lahovnik’s adios to Zares was not really a surprise, but the timing left a lot of people, yours truly included, a bit baffled. Pengovsky speculated on reasons why Lahovnik took the Fatboy Slim approach (right here, right now) and now it turns out that he thought his Schwartz was bigger than anyone else’s and he turned out to be dead wrong. As a result, he announced his resignation earlier today and even said that he will not re-take his position as MP.

The letter was widely expected to be a bomb-shell. It turned out to be a dud. Basically, Lahovnik complained that companies owned by or connected with Ultra (a company in which Gregor Golobič owns a 7% stake) applied for public tenders and such. Lahovnik’s main grievance – at least according to the letter – was the very fact that a company in which a sitting minister owns a stake runs for public funds. But the devil is – as always – in the details. Lahovnik goes on to write that in no instance (at least no instance which he detailed) did any of the companies win any tenders, but – and this is where he seems genuinely pissed – in one case the company files a lawsuit against his ministry for kicking it out of the tender.

Let’s be brutal. The fact that a company, where a sitting minister (or any other elected and/or public official) owns a stake,  no matter how small, runs for a public tender, is not entirely cricket. The world would be a much nicer place if these things didn’t happen. However, the Ultra issue was over and done with. At least on relation Golobič-> Zares-> Coalition-> Government (the opposition is still trying to keep the whole affair simmering on a low temperature).  If Lahovnik had a problem with that, he should have quit months ago.

From a legal point of view, however, there is nothing wrong with Ultra (or any other similar company) running for public funds. The law stipulates that a company where a public official and/or his immediate keen hold more than 20% stake cannot take part in public tenders. And if it does it anyway, it simply gets thrown out. Pengovsky should know, it happened once with The Firm™. No ifs, not buts, one simply gets a nice letter saying “Sorry, you can’t take part due to anti-corruption legislation”.

But Golobič’s share in Ultra is not above 20%. It is not even, say, 19.5%, which would imply that he is following the letter if not the spirit of the law. No, he holds a 7% share, which he apparently earned by working for the company and that’s it. There are scores of public officials which own various stakes in various companies. After all, we are running a sort of capitalism in Slovenia. But Lahovnik goes on to say, that he finds it hard to believe that Golobič would not use his influence to put Ultra at an unfair advantage vis-a-vis other companies running for tenders. That may be, but in all honesty, you don’t need to have a sitting minister among your stakeholders to better your business positions. All you need to do is know the right people.

However, as noted above, Ultra did not win any of the tenders Lahovnik takes issue with. So, not only was no law broken by Ultra running for tenders, even if pressure was brought to bear, the system worked and threw Ultra’s application out on merit. The fact that the company then filed a suit against Lahovnik’s ministry over it only reiterates the fact that the system worked, because seeking legal protection against what an applicant deems an unfair decision is perfectly normal. It is done by scores of companies practically on a weekly basis.

So, on the face of it it looks as if Lahovnik doesn’t really understand how the system works. Which is kind of hard to believe for a minister who runs a pretty important ministry and (among other things) gave thins country a electronic one-stop-shop system (e-VEM) for setting up your own company.

So, waddafuck is going on? It looks more and more that there was a clash between Lahovnik and Golobič. Either there was some sort of a leadership challenge (less likely, as Lahovnik reportedly refused taking over Zares) or – more likely – Lahovnik felt Golobič was pissing in his pool and wanted to put an end to it. Only he played his cards wrong and put an end to his political life (at least temporarily).

Namely. One area Lahovnik specifies in the letter is the energy sector. There’s a relatively huge debate going on right now in Slovenia whether to invest in Bloc 6 of Šoštanj Coal Power Plant (so called TEŠ6) or to start building the second reactor in Krško Nuclear Power Plant (known as NEK). Pengovsky says “both” and there seems to be a general consensus that Slovenia will need both investments in the mid-term, but the real question is which comes first. Lahovnik was very much in favour of TEŠ6, as it will replace the ageing blocs 3,4 and 5 and produce much less carbon dioxide to boot. However, since Šoštanj is part of Lahovnik’s electoral unit (constituency, if you will), this can also be seen as “bringing the bacon home“, to use an Americanism. Which would all be fine and dandy, had it not been for the fact that some dubious contracts were being signed for TEŠ6 even before the project started for real. I’m not saying that Lahovnik had a hand in this (he probably didn’t) and regardless of his feud with Golobič, energy still is Zares’ turf right now and if there’s a screw-up, Zares as a whole will take the blame anyway. But it seems probable that he felt he was being side-tracked and he took it personally.

The more pengovsky looks at this the more it seems as if Lahovnik only tried to do as much damage as possible and brought up the Ultra affair for no reason other than to hurt Golobič. But he took it too far and forced PM Pahor to choose between a seemingly competent minister and a whole coalition party. Pahor obviously knew where his priorities are and Lahovnik achieved nothing but maybe yet another dent in the government’s already ridiculously low ratings. As a result he really had no other option but to quit his post and PM Pahor undoubtedly told him that his credit just ran out.

This goes for his MP status as well. Upon quitting as minister he could have re-taken his MP seat as he was elected to the parliament first and made minister second. Thus he would have ousted Alojz Posedel of Zares, chipped off one sure vote for the coalition and would even help form a new parliamentary group “independent MPs”, as parliamentary Rules and Procedures specify three MPs are needed for establishing a specific group and there are already two independent MPs (Franci Žnidaršič and Vili Rezman who quit DeSUS months ago), all of which would probably weaken the coalition grip on parliamentary majority, if not immediately, definitely some time in the future.

However, Lahovnik was probably told in no unclear terms that he would be branded a political leper had he returned to the parliament and started stirring shit, so he is apparently returning to the Faculty of Economics from whence he came – and will possibly be awarded membership in one or two low-key supervisory boards somewhere out there. He might have thought he was doing a good thing, but in politics, just as in real life, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Such is the nature of the beast.

Oh, and just a technicality. Some Slovene media erroneously report that Lahovnik’s function will cease tomorrow. Not entirely true. While he has already tendered his resignation, he will remain in office in a care-taker capacity until a new minister is appointed.

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