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.


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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Get Me The President (Of The Parliament)!

It is against the backdrop of Phone-hacking scandal, the impending suicide of America’s public finances and the inherent inability to EU leaders to stop digging themselves into a Greek hole, that the Slovenian political crisis is unfolding in its own peculiar way. The government (or rather, the coalition) is only semi-operational, but is trying to mask this by hyperactivity. The opposition hasn’t got a clue what to do after if will (presumably) take power, but is trying to mask this by churning out amateur-night recovery plans. And the parliament is in shit-how-do-I-get-re-elected-mode, but is masking this by declaring a summer break.

Pavle Gantar, soon to be ex-president of the parliament (source: The Firm™)

After Zares quit the coalition and Gregor Golobič and Majda Širca returned to the parliament to serve as MPs (ousting Cveta Zalokar Oražem and Vito Rožej respectively) a rather unique situation was brought about in which the President of the Parliament was a member of an opposition party. Pavle Gantar of Zares was elected to the post as a result of a coalition agreement and since Zares quit, it is only logical that he should vacate the post toute-de-suite. Really? Not so fast. Initially, there was some level of confusion over this, with Gantar reportedly not committing to resigning while Golobič was already announcing it. Whether or not both top Zares men were of different minds is at this point almost irrelevant as Gantar only a day or so later announced that he is resigning as President of the National Assembly (the parliament), effective 1 September this year.

President of the Parliament (similar in function to Speaker of the House in US Congress and UK Parliament) is nominally the second-most senior elected official in the country. If for some reason the President of the Republic is incapacitated or otherwise unable to perform his duties, the President of the National Assembly steps in to take over in care-taker capacity until a new president is elected. All in all a powerful position, even if we neglect the usual separation of powers blah-blah such as the fact that the President of the National Assembly swears in all judges of the lower courts and so on. In short, being the top dog of the parliament is not exactly peanuts.

Which is why Gantar’s resignation created a lot of hoopla within the coalition (or rather, what was left of it). Whatever hopes Prime Minister Borut Pahor might have harboured about Zares not being entirely serious about quitting the coalition, these have now crumbled into sun dust. Even though both Gantar and Golobič maintain that the move was purely a question of political hygiene, the fact remains that the ruling Social Democrats led by PM Pahor now have another hot political potato in their hand. True, Zares MPs have woved to support whomever SD put forward for this position, but at the very least the parliament is up for yet another super-heated all-encompassing debate in September, one which is bound to raise levels of adrenaline and bad blood in the Slovene ecosystem even further. And there’s no shortage of either to begin with.

It all has to do with the epic #fail of the government on super-referendum Sunday last June. Just prior to the vote on pension reform, PM Pahor was making unmistakeable noises about requesting a confidence vote should the reform be defeated. But after the referendum defeat, these noises became increasingly muted and after it became obvious that Pahor in fact backed down from his political machosim it was a question of political credibility for Zares and Gregor Golobič (who resigned as minister days before that fateful referendum) to complete the cross-over to the opposition. Having done that, both the party and its president, proclaimed all but politically dead by some long ago, seized the initiative and are – for the time being at least – calling the shots in Slovene politics.

This, of course, will not last forever. But a number of things are working in Zares’ favour at the moment, not the least of them being the nonsensical hyperactivity of the government and its president, going about just everything, from health reform to solving the Greek debt crisis and everything in between. It is obvious that most of this is just smokescreen, trying to hide the fact that Pahor’s government is in retreat on all fronts and trying to cut losses. Case in point being the much-hyped law on media, which failed spectacularly at the very first stage of the legislative procedure by means of an orchestrated effort to kill it by (at least) a part of MPs for Social Democrats.

No need to go into too much detail (maybe some other time) but suffice it to say that a particular media baron wannabe had a particular interest to see the law killed as soon as possible and had apparently struck a deal with (at least par of) Social Democrats, to vote the law down, even though the government had approved the text of the law. The thing is that even though the MPs gave the man what he wanted, most of them will be outside of the parliament looking in some time within the next 16 months. But currying the favour of media owners is one thing (slightly OT: pengovsky predicts the SD will get screwed and that the favour will not be returned). It is quite another thing to sort out your own ranks and this is where PM Pahor is going from strength to strength in failing to do just about anything. The Capital Assets Management Agency is still going rogue, to the point of the PM actually calling in the anti-corruption commission to investigate, the project of Bloc 6 of Šoštanj Coal Power Plant just about got out of hand with costs now exceeding 1.3 billion euros (original estimates put the price tag at around 600 million) and the government still lacks four full-blooded ministers.

Add to this the urgent need to elect a new president of the parliament, possibly a referendum on the family code and you see that the situation is in total flux. Amid this a quiet by rather fast re-positioning is taking place. As said earlier, Zares is making the most of this and Gregor Golobič – having purged the party’s parliamentary group of unwanted element – is suddenly way more visible than he ever was as a minister. On the other hand of the spectrum, the Slovene People’s Party (SLS) distanced publicly flipped the bird to Janez Janša and his SDS, saying they will address voters by themselves and not via some astroturf initiatives.

These moves may seem innocent enough and it remains to be seen how the big parties (SD and SDS) will respond. Will SD get their act together and will SDS be able to stick to the point once for a change and not go on all-out rampage? The September vote on the new parliamentary chief will be a good measure of things. At any rate, the fun and the drama are not ending any time soon.

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Lame Duck Government

The government of Borut Pahor is as good as dead. After having their respective pow-wows, the remaining junior coalition parties, Zares of Gregor Golobič and LDS of Katarina Kresal demanded that either a comprehensive cabinet re-shuffle takes place (Zares) or a new government formed under the existing coalition (LDS). In both cases this includes the change at the top spot, effectively meaning that both parties want PM Pahor to step down.

Prime Minister Pahor during today’s press conference (source)

Of the two, the call by Zares is more radical as they want to see a result within fourteen days lest they quit the coalition. LDS on the other hand made a more hard-line call but they didn’t provide a time-frame, meaning that theirs was more a show of force rather than an actual commitment. On the other hand, Zares presented Pahor with an offer he can’t really afford to accept. Namely, if Pahor accepts Golobič’s offer and returns his mandate, he admits he has little or no control over the situation. On the other hand, if he doesn’t take the deal, Zares walks out of the coalition and Pahor’s coalition is down to 34 votes.

However, the PM decided to play hard-ball and challenged Zares to make good on its threats. As hinted yesterday by Igor Lukšič, minister of education and senior SD member, Pahor flat-out rejected Golobič and basically told him to go stick his head in a bucket (not in as many words, of course). Even more, the PM said that should he lose a confidence vote, his party will not put forward another candidate for the top spot but will rather work towards calling early elections. Translation: Pahor will blame Zares if the government falls.

However, behind the thick veil of bluff Pahor served today, he is only buying time and still considering his next move. He is not clear on whether the government will propose an emergency law or a rebalanced budget in order to save the 300 million needed and whether he will tie a confidence vote to either of the acts. He also entertained journalists’ questions on whether he will consider a thinly veiled offer Janez Janša made yesterday to form a grand SD-SDS coalition, but then found a plethora of reasons (all of them valid) why that would be an extremely bad idea. In other words, he can not decide on just how high a wager he is prepared to place in this particular game of political poker.

So, how will this play out? Despite Pahor’s insistence that he expects Zares to “extend the deadline”, the party of Gregor Golobič will most likely quit the coalition in two weeks. That this will happen on Statehood Day (June 25) is likely a coincidence, but a very symbolic one: 20th anniversary of Slovenian independence will be celebrated amid political turmoil. How very fitting 🙂

But little will change after that date. Zares, not being a part of the coalition , will have the luxury of picking which projects it will support, but one can hardly expect the party to go over to the opposition side. So, what we will have, will be a lame duck government, surviving on a daily basis unless of course Prime Minister Pahor finally makes up his mind and either seeks a new coalition (unlikely) or steps down and allows for early elections. Odd are that the current shaky coalition would find them more beneficial than the opposition which remains ill prepared platform-wise.

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