Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum (Policy)

It takes a special sort of naiveté to look at the last ten days in Muddy Hollows and see it as anything but a shameless run for cheap political points. The matter at hand is the issue of one Ahmat Shani, a Syrian refugee who ended up in Slovenia where the state is refusing to process his asylum application and is now facing deportation to Croatia.


Ahmad Shami (source)

Ahmad Shami was a part of the 2015 refugee exodus which – despite numerous warning signs – caught the EU more or less unawares and scrambling for stop-gap solutions, hobbling the Schengen area and inducing levels of panic and overreaction not seen since, well, the eurozone crisis. But Ahmad Shami probably cared less about that than getting to safety and making sure his immediate family could follow in his footsteps.

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The Aftermath Of An Election

The ordeal is finally over. Borut Pahor was elected to a second five-year term, fending off a second-round challenge by Marjan Šarec, the mayor of a mid-size town in central Slovenia. But although Pahor’s victory was expected, he had to work harder and longer for it and won with by a much smaller margin that generally expected at the outset of the campaign.


The runner-up and the incumbent (source)

Still reeling from the clusterfuck after the first round when a number of of prominent polling agencies called the race for Pahor even ahead of the vote, the pollsters were more or less on target this time around. Most of final polls coalesced around 55/45 percent for Pahor but the final tally showed Pahor won in the end by 53 percent to Šarec’s 47 percent. That’s a mere six-point spread.

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A Reshuffle By Any Other Name

What turned out to be a resignation-happy week, culminated on Friday last with a collective fuck-you-we-quit by the trio heading the KPK, Slovenia’s anti-graft body. Goran Klemenčič, Rok Praprotnik and Liljana Selinšek announced their resignations in what they called a protest against the fact that – despite their best efforts – the powers that be are doing their best to ignore the systemic issues of corruption in Slovenia (full statement in English here)

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Samo Omerzel (DL) and Jernej Pikalo (SD) (source: RTVSLO)

The move opens a plethora of interesting questions, not in the least the fact that their successors must be appointed by the very man who (at least by the virtue of his position) oversaw the making of the clusterfuck that is TEŠ6 coal powerplant. That be Borut Pahor, of course, who as PM did nothing to stop the investment which soon thereafter spiraled out of control and went from a doctored 600 million to ass-whooping 1,4 billion euro without a single megawatt of energy being produced yet. But we’ll deal with that in the coming days. Mostly because there is shit going on in executive branch of the government as well.

Namely, after she ditched minister of economy Stanko Stepišnik and minister of health Tomaž Gantar bailed out of his own accord, PM Alenka Bratušek was faced with a miniature coalition crisis. Predictably it was Karl Erjavec of DeSUS who started making noises about how a proper cabinet reshuffle is overdue and that it should include head of SocDems Igor Lukšič who opted not to take on a ministerial position when Bratušek formed her government.

This flip-flop position was thus far very profitable both for Lukšič and his party. The SD is leading in every poll imaginable not in the least because Lukšič manages to avoid the daily bad press and lets senior party figures take the heat while he supports the government unless it is opportune not to do so. Seeing this, Karl Erjavec thought he might squeeze out a concession or two, saying that unless Lukšič doesn’t take on a portfolio, he himself will “think about him remaining a part of the government as well”. Naturally, no-one took him seriously and lo-behold! Erjavec has taken on the health portfolio as well, it was announced yesterday. Which makes for a fun combo: Karl Erjavec, foreign and health minister.

A rather less funny but far more intriguing combo is Uroš Čufer, who – in addition to finance – temporarily took on economy portfolio as well, thus joining two areas (supposedly) critical to turning the fortunes of this sorry little excuse for a country. Legally, this “pro tempore” solution can only be done for a period of six months (three plus three) and it seems PM Bratušek opted for it because Erjavec may still get what he wants, while Čufer will either go boom or bust in the same period. For “boom” read survive the banking stress tests and sell off at least some state-owned companies and for “bust” read none of the above.

At any rate, while no-one is calling it like that, an across the board cabinet reshuffle is in the air. Especially since the coalition will begin negotiating a new agreement, extending until next parliamentary elections in late 2015. Also, minister of infrastructure Samo Omerzel is in a bit of a fix these past few days over his company doing business with state-owned motorway company DARS and although only today the company stated that it bailed out on extending the deal, it may be to little to late. The PS is making noises that Omerzel should go for the same reason Stepišnik had to go – not because he did anything illegal, but because it was unbecoming. And on merit, they have a point. Politically, however, this can heat up things a bit and not just because the opposition is clamouring for his removal.

The thing is that not only is DL supporting their minister (obviously) but they would – if push came to a shove – probably make demands against other coalition partners as well. Which points to the conclusion that the Social Democrats will have to say goodbye to one of their own sooner rather than later. And that can only be minister of education, science and technology Jernej Pikalo. Not because he would do anything really wrong, but because he has the least clout of the three SD ministers in the Bratušek Government.

With Dejan Židan being the Number Two of the Social Democrats and the key senior government official in a recently launched anti-tax-evasion campaign while Anja Kopač Mrak is heading the labour, family and social department which is a can of worms few people want to touch let alone open in the first place. Which leaves Pikalo. His replacement would mean that each of the coalition parties had to throw one of their own under the bus and – in theory at least – everybody would be happy.

This, combined with new ground-rules being laid, the possibility of parties switching some portfolios among themselves and the fact that PM Bratušek is looking to replace three to five ministers within a year of her taking office is nothing short of a full-blown cabinet reshuffle. It’s just that nobody will be calling it that.

 

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Captain Obvious To The Rescue As Social Democrats Aim To Oust Super-Minister Turk

Earlier today Social Democrats filed an interpelation of “super-minister” Žiga Turk (SDS) in charge of education, sports, culture and science. A constitutional procedure where the parliament debates the work of a particular minister and usually, but not necessarily, votes on demission of the said minister, the move is a showcase of political ineptitude par excellence and is matched only by the (initial) response of the minister and the party in question.

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The original Capt. Obvious

Going after an individual minister this late in the game, when the entire government is falling apart faster than you can say “anti-graft report” is political amateurism at best. More likely, it is a premeditated political strategy of trying to engineer and then capitalise on a protracted government dissolution, picking off one minister at the time. As if PM Janez Janša will just stand there, idly watching as Igor Lukšič tries to pick his government apart. Tries being the operative word here, as the interpelation is by no means a done deal as SD has not yet secured the necessary 46 to oust the minister.

Captain Obvious

On the other hand, minister Turk, too, showed that he skipped school when political prowess was taught. In his initial response he lamented the interpelation as a “political act, aimed at testing the feasibility of a no-confidence vote against PM Janša”. Well, thank you, Captain Obvious. A political act? Designed to test a new majority? You don’t say… Well, here’s a newsflash: every act by the parliament is by definition political. And since an absolute majority is needed to oust either a PM or a minister, a new majority in the parliament will by definition need to be formed if the vote to dismiss Turk is to succeed. Basics, really.

But the real winner is Turk’s statement that the move “lowers the level of political culture in the country.” This coming from a minister who lowered the level of funding for culture beyond anything remotely acceptable. And not just culture, mind you. Turk’s was a portfolio (including R&D) that suffered some of the deepest cuts during Janša’s austerity frenzy. Whether or not Turk put up a fight for his turf is a matter of some debate, but when met with an uproar, he and his top aides were far from conciliatory. Furthermore, given half a chance, the minister would defend crack-pot social theories and pseudo science. And yet when the opposition throws the book at him, he sees that as lowering of political culture?! All this and we didn’t even mention the manure-hole that is his Party’s twitter account or the incredulity of various Party-friendly magazines and/or websites. No, really, when a senior SDS politico starts talking about “the level of political culture”, the phrase pot calling kettle black doesn’t even being to cover it.

Pot calling kettle black

Nor does it in the case of the SD. Namely, the party is riding high in the opinion polls right now. As pengovsky wrote a couple of days ago, they’ve more or less already started campaigning and Igor Lukšič made it plainly obvious that he’d like to see early elections being held sooner rather than later. In this respect his interests converge very much with those of Janez Janša, as neither of them would like to see a new political force (say, one or more parties) enter the scene. This probably put both parties at the top, allowing them to form the “Grand Coalition” (not unlike in Germany) and split whatever is left of the booty in this country.

That the two parties can overcome their ideological differences was shown many times, including a deal over 1,5 billion investment into Šoštanj coal power plant, where more sensible heads at the EIB apparently decided to have another look in the matter before coughing up a 440 million loan.

Now, on the whole, there is nothing wrong with a grand coalition. OK, so it hasn’t been done before in Slovenia, but there’s no real science to it. The problem however, if this were really to come about, is twofold. First, the turnout in an election with only the usual suspects present would in all likelihood be criminally low, thus perpetuating the questionable legitimacy of the political elite. And second: in the past twenty years a lot of people went in cahoots with Janez Janša, thinking they’ll be able to control him. None succeeded. Nothing suggests Igor Lukšič would fare any better.

In this respect, the move to oust minister Turk is indeed a pure energy waster, since it only prolongs the life of Janša’s defunct government, which will anyhow be rendered inoperative in a matter of days as both DeSUS ministers will formally quit their posts and the party will have left the coalition.

 

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Remember, Remember, the Eleventh of November

Back to politics. President of the parliament Gregor Virant signed a decree yesterday scheduling presidential elections on 11 November. The fact that the first of expected two rounds of presidential elections will be held on St. Martin’s Sunday, when Slovenes, well, celebrate turning of must into wine – by drinking even more copious amounts of alcohol than usual – caused many a smirk around the country (“so, which of the two ballots do I fill out?”), but will in all honesty have only modest impact.


Gregor Virant doing the deed (photo by yours truly)

In fact, it is unclear at this stage exactly what will have an impact on the presidential campaign. If the trend of the ever more vicious campaigns is to continue, we’ll surely witness many below-the-belt punches, mudslinging and manipulations.

Officially, the campaign starts around 11 October and no candidate has yet formally filed his candidacy. Some weeks ago Zmago Jelinčič, leader of the nationalist party (now ousted from the parliament) withdrew his presidential bid, saying he refuses to be a part of the system which will be this country’s undoing. Again, this drew some cynical laughter, as Jelinčič himself was a member of the parliament for twenty-one nineteen years, from 1992 to 2011 and was very much an integral part of that very same system, knowing full well how to exploit it for his own personal and political gain.

But with Jelinčič out of the picture (although pengovsky would not be surprised if he were to re-enter the game at 11th hour), we are now left with five candidates: incumbent Danilo Türk, Milan Zver MEP, who runs on an SDS ticker and erstwhile PM Borut Pahor who runs on an SD ticket. Additionally, there are two no-name candidates, Marko Kožar and Monika Malešič. The latter made a couple of headlines earlier today claiming that she’s receiving death threats. This, we can more or less safely file under “attention whoring”, since both of them will probably poll between 0,1 and 0,4 percent. Cumulative.

As a side note, Gregor Virant and his Citizens’ List indulged in yet another case of political vanity. Some weeks ago Virant hinted that his party might consider supporting Pahor, which to an extent further alienated Pahor from the left side of political spectrum (where Social Democrats nominally reside). Then, days ago Virant said that they might produce their own candidate with the caveat that this person has not yet given his/her consent and, finally, yesterday he somewhat reluctantly said that they will not put forward their own candidate but will support one of the already running ones. Which basically leaves them with either Pahor or Zver. The thing is that Virant’s party is scoring somewhere between terrible and disastrous right now which is why the whole thing came off as a really bad bluff. Fact of the matter is that – politically speaking – the Citizens’ List has precious little weight left to throw around outside the parliamentary chamber. Practically none.

This leaves the three main contenders for the top political job in the country. According to the latest poll, President Türk is firmly in the lead with 45 percent of the vote, with Borut Pahor trailing at 30 percent and Milan Zver way back with 17 percent. Pahor made some gains recently, but that can mostly be put down to his increased media presence while both Türk and Zver are criss crossing the country, campaigning on the ground.

Ever since Borut Pahor entered the race it seems a given that a second round will be necessary to elect a president. Additionally, it seems safe to assume that President Türk will make it into the second round comfortably (provided there are no serious gaffes), which means the race for second place between Borut Pahor and Milan Zver will be much more interesting. Which makes for ample speculation room as to whom exactly the current PM Janez Janša actually supports.

While not exactly necessary, all three candidates will run with popular support, basically as independents with support of various political parties, collecting signatures and thus avoiding running on a strictly party ticket. Which makes one curious as to why the PM did not put down his signature in support of Milan Zver. True, Janša’s SDS (in cahoots with NSi) supports Zver on, well, corporate level, but given that a lot of high-profile SDS and NSi members put their individual names down supporting Zver makes Janša’s absence from the list all the more curious.

The eleventh of November is still quite a distance away, but it could very well be that it will be the one to remember.

 

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