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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Not Everybody Gets To Be An Astronaut When They Grow Up (A Few Notes on Borut Pahor)

On Saturday before last former PM Borut Pahor was ousted as president of opposition Social democrats. In what was nominally a four-way race, his only battle-worthy adversary was Igor Lukšič, unofficial party ideologue and until Pahor’s 2008 electoral victory one of his closest allies who eventually prevailed in the second round of the vote, winning by the thinnest of margins. While Pahor won a 180 votes, Lukšič got ten more, ending Pahor’s fifteen years at the party helm. Pengovsky had again things to see and people to do and apologises profoundly to both readers for lack of posting and will try to make amends in the near future. So let’s start with what the near future has in store for Igor Lukšič, Borut Pahor and the Social Democrats.


Igor Lukšič and sour-faced Borut Pahor (Photo: Borut Peterlin/Mladina)

Pahor didn’t try very hard to hide his presidential ambitions. And so he tried to steal the show in Kočevje by announcing his presidential bid right there and then. The trick was that this was not followed by a withdrawal from the race for party president but – it seems – was meant as an ace up his sleeve to secure victory. It almost worked. At the very least, it put the party and its newly minted president into a rather tight spot as Pahor made it no secret that he fully expects the party to back his bid. Sure enough, almost immediately noises were made to that effect both by various local branches as well as Lukšič himself, although the later was careful to acknowledge Pahor’s ambitions but as yet stopped short of backing him. This, apparently, is a matter to be decided upon later this month by the new party leadership.

Igor Lukšič is caught between a rock and a hard place. He ran on a somewhat radical(ish) platform which promised a Hollandesque anti-austerity shift to the left for Social Democrats (where they supposedly belong anyhow) but seems to have taken to heart the tight margin by which he won the contest and interprets it as a call for moderation of his own views which apparently includes backing Pahor lest he risks a party-wide schism. However, supporting Pahor quite probably is just about the only thing he should not be doing. Pengovsky wrote on this a couple of days ago in a different setting and it stirred a little debate on whether it is the right thing to do and whether the SD (which is not in the greatest of shapes, to put it mildly) could actually benefit from Pahor’s bid and possiby even victory in presidential elections. However…

First of all, the notion that the party is somehow indebted to Pahor is utterly misleading. Yes, Pahor did lead it to power, securing the best result ever in 2008 elections. But he also led the party into the single largest routing at the polls, where the voters opened this huge can of whoop-ass on him, cutting the SD down to size from some 30% to a mere 10%. In other words, under Borut Pahor and in the three years that it was in power, the SD lost two thirds of its voters. Not even SLS was hit that hard in 2000 when they went down from 19 to 9 percent. Incidentally, when Pahor took over as party leader fifteen years ago, the SD (then still under the acronym of ZLSD) held about 9 percent in the parliament, meaning that it apparently made a full circle under Pahor and that is was time for him to say goodbye.

Secondly. The notion that Pahor can do wonders for ratings, both of SD in general and of Lukšic specifically, is utterly misleading. One of the few political convetions this country has is that the President, although nominally not prevented from being an active member of a political party (or even its leader), is expected to limit, suspend or completely stop with his party affiliation. With Borut Pahor you can bet your ass that this is the very thing he would have dome were he to become president. He wouldn’t lift a finger to help the SD and not just because the position of the Head of State would require him to do so. The trick is that Pahor’s accross-the-aisle attempts often went above and beyond the call of duty. It’s his trade mark. He did it while he was president of the Parliament, he did it as PM and there’s no reason to believe that he wouldn’t do it as President of the Republic.

Which brings us to the third issue: When Borut Pahor ascended the throne of the PM one of his first moves was to cleanse his inner-party structure, notably kicking out Igor Lukšič, his long-time confidante and party ideologue. In fact, Pahor didn’t even blink. Why on Earth should Lukšič do it any differently? In fact, pengovsky submits that not only should the SD not support Pahor’s bid, it should also try to isolate him in the parliament and remove him from the media spotlight. Namely, if Igor Lukšič fails to do so, he will constantly be second-guessed by SD voters and the general public. What would Borut Pahor do? Oh, there he is, let’s ask him….

Fourth: If Pahor is to remain a permanent fixture in Slovenian politics, there will be no end to second-guessing Igor Lukšič who will have to deal more with the long shadow of Borut Pahor rather than issues that really concern the party. The silhouette of Borut Pahor will haunt him and could very well turn him into a straw-man president with former party president still effectively running the show.

Fifth: Until now Borut Pahor held two of the three highest offices in this country: President of the Parliament and the President of the Government. Becoming the President of the Republic would round it off nicely, no? But the thing is that in both cases Pahor ran on a social democratic platform and as a party leader. Also, in both positions he was overly indulgent to the opposition, drawing much criticism from the party ranks. What in Bob’s name does automatically qualify him to expect support from the political left? Especially since he is actively wooing the right-wing vote (appearing on Catholic radio for an hour long programme, no less).

Six: In the previous presidential elections, the SD supported the incumbent president Danilo Türk. After losing the grip on power and political reality, Borut Pahor started flirting openly with ideas that used to be called Merkozy but now rightly go simply the last name of the German Chancellor. If Pahor were to become the official SD presidential candidate, the party would (again) implicitly subscribe to his views and policies although it had rejected them only ten days ago.

And finally, numero seven: In all honesty, it is somewhat debatable if Pahor would be such a proponent of austerity programmes if the situation were a wee bit different and he didn’t run out of ideas and people who were willing to talk sense into him. And despite his relatively illustrious political carrer, this crisis-handling thing was a gross political miscalculation on his part. It might be just proof enough that Borut Pahor reached the limit of his political prowess and that he is no longer concerned with the public good but rather with keeping his political legacy more or less intact.

Which is why the new SD leadership should think long and hard on whether to support Pahor or not. Pengovsky thinks it’s better for everyone that the support does not materialise. Thus Igor Lukšič would not be haunted by Pahor’s political ghost, the SD would cease being a catering service for Pahor’s political needs and wants while the political left could rally around the incumbent president (who has problems of his own, but that’ll wait for another time).

In short: Bourt Pahor should be made to realise that losing an election and wooing the other side are not the stuff the presidents are made of. It may be hard on him and he may take it badly. But hey, not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up…

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Slovenia Elections: Up, Up and Away

So, more polls, and a lot of people are probably none too happy about it. Dnevnik published a Ninamedia poll which showed the leading three parties going up, up and away, while the rest of the gang are basically eating their dust, with notable exceptions being SD and DeSUS, both of which are sort of hanging in there.


Poll results over time

But don’t take the champagne out of the fridge just yet. Rather than calling the race which has not yet begun, there are a few points that must be made lest they be lost in the general chatter of the election fever.

Media Exposure

Again, you can see how Zoran Jankovič’s and Gregor Virant‘s polls are all over the place. Leaders of the three leading parties have recently appeared on Pogledi Slovenije, a high-octane TV programme which gets its ratings from the conflict it aims to produce among the participants. And lo-behold! they immediately gain plenty of ground. This supports the notion pengovsky expressed some time ago, namely that especially Janković’s and Virant’s polls are media-exposure-dependant. This might look like a truism (since everyone’s polls are to an extent dependant on the media), but comparing the three top contenders, we can see that Janša and his SDS have a fall-back line at about 18 or 19 percent, which consists of their hardcore voters and the recently launched platform, whereas Jay-Z and Virant have only their media exposure. Take that away and they’re toast. At the very least Janković gets a fair amount of press-time by the virtue of being mayor of the capital, whereas Virant has abso-fucking-lutely no plan B whatsoever.

But saying that the numbers are inflated because of the media hubbub only gets you so far. The number are there and unless the competition does something about it, they will stay there. OK, so media tricks get real old real fast, but both Jay Z and Virant are smart enough to time their media ploys correctly and gain maximum output. Ditto for Janša. Which means that unless someone hijacks the debate and does it soon, things could go on like this until elections and by that time it won’t matter how the top dogs got there.

Projection

Apart from the top three parties only SD and DeSUS are hitting above the 4% threshold, with SLS hovering around three percent. But in the longtail, interesting things are happening. SLS, Zares, LDS and TRS are out in the field, operating almost below radar and putting their network to good use. Town-hall meetings, round tables and topical discussions are being held all around the country. As you can see below, the effect is still to be seen, but effort is being made.


Average percentage in polls

A lot of things can happen, but the more time passes, the more things tend to get fixed in the public opinion. So the parties below the threshold will have to be quick on their feet to produce a tangible result. Also, they will have to decide whether they will try to chip off votes from the (currently) big three parties or will they fight their immediate competition (most likely SD and DeSUS) and try to win over their electorate. There are pros and cons to either tactic and both can backfire at any time.

Note: Data is compiled from different polls with different sets of questions and different samples, so it is not directly comparable from a scientific point of view. Data available as .xls file

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