A Pow-Wow Turned Photo-Op

Earlier today Duša Trobec Bučan was confirmed as new minister for local self-government and regional development, thus succeeding Henrik Gjerkeš who resigned from position after he was caught driving under the influence. With this ends yet another episode of inter-coalition tug-of-war which some hoped would bring down the government of Borut Pahor but instead – as usual – fizzled out into a quick photo-op.


Coalition leaders. A family photo from happier times (source)

Namely, the last few days Slovene political scene was abuzz with a top-level coalition huddle which took place yesterday and was supposedly called to close ranks and plug some holes in a government which just scored a new low with only 23 percent approval rating. However, amid “a flurry of expectations”, which just journo-speak for hoping that a general fist-fight will break out, the only thing the yawning press core got was yet another statement about “a firm decision that this government will within next-year-and-a-half “do everything in its power to ensure economic and social recovery”.

So, what happened? I mean, noises were made and the scene was set for at least a mid-season political cliffhanger. To an untrained eye, it may seem as if the stars of the feud are DeSUS of Karl Erjavec and Zares of Gregor Golobič. Indeed, the pensioner party is becoming ever more obnoxious, especially after they broke the 10-percent mark in public opinion polls, besting even the ruling Social Democrats. On the other hand, Zares seems to be opting for some hard-ball politics, seemingly going after DeSUS for not supporting the pension reform and the Budget Act, both of which are key documents. Thus Zares’ second-in-command and president of the parliament Pavle Gantar said in no unclear terms that a party which does not support key documents has no place in the coalition (note that the statement did not come from party leader Golobič). On the other hand, Erjavec struck back saying that it was Zares’ MPs who voted against the government on multiple occasions, so would Zares please shut up, thank you very much.

But this is not the real feud. Despite ego-inflating poll results and his loud-mouthing about how he’s already thinking about 2012 elections, Karl Erjavec’s interests are primarily short-term. He is on trial for dereliction of duty in the Patria case and at the moment his party’s high ratings serve no other purpose than strengthening his position within the party, half of which would replace him given half a chance (exactly which half of the party that is depends on the situation at hand). What we are witnessing is Zares actually pushing Social Democrats into a bit of a tight spot, cashing in favours and support and thus carving out more manoeuvring room for it self. The party is currently near rock bottom poll-wise and has lately done a bit of bag-carrying for PM Pahor personally, notably with going all-out against building of a new Šoštanj coal power plant (siding with PM against local SD strongmen, although there are more angles to the story) and sacrificing the new law on RTV Slovenia on the referendum (provided that was the plan as detailed in this post).

So, rather than this being a Slovene version of Faces of Stupid contest between Zares and DeSUS, it looks more as if the former is trying to reposition itself vis-a-vis Social Democrats, which – the story goes – have often supported Zares’ legislative initiatives only after claiming them as their own. And it looks as if Zares is in for a fight. The grapevine has it that Gregor Golobič will soon come under heavy fire for his initiative of research and innovation centres. Golobič negotiated some serious money to be pumped into ten-or-so combinations of hi-tech companies and research facilities which have the highest potential to generate added value through innovation and subsequent production, but apparently allegations (probably in the form of “anonymous tip-offs”) are expected to arise that tenders were won only by people close to Golobič. That’s the word on the street, anyway.

But for the moment, Zares and Gregor Golobič seem to have gotten their way at least partly. Today their MPs abstained from the vote on Duša Trobec Bučan. Thus a message was sent that they too can leave the coalition should PM Pahor forget to take their interest into account as well. And while DeSUS’ possible au revoir to the coalition would be bad considering the five seats it would take with it (down from seven, by the way), it would not be catastrophic. However, should Zares and Gregor Golobič bid farewell and take their nine MPs with them, that would probably be the end of Prime Minister Pahor as well.

But the immediate disagreements seem to have been settled before yesterday’s big pow-pow. DeSUS got away with it yet again, Zares made a big show of saying they will not be pushed around (and took a swipe at DeSUS as well), while PM Pahor got his new minister appointed and is closing ranks yet again. And the media got yet another photo-op. Until next time.

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Electoral Post-Mortem

Time for some election result analysis in Ljubljana. With 99,57 percent of the votes  counted, Zoran Janković won with a few percentage less than exit polls suggested. In the race for mayor the incumbent mayor won with 65 percent, leaving his nearest challenger, Zofija Mazej Kukovič of SDS in the dust with 13,5 percent. His List of Zoran Jankovič, however, got a significantly lower percentage (48 % as opposed to 54% suggested by the exit polls), but even with that result he still strengthened his hold on the majority in the city council (25 seats out of 45, an increase of two seats). The divison of city council seats is now as follows: List of Zoran Janković – 25, Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) – 9, Social Democrats – 4, DeSUS (pensioners’ party) 2, Nova Slovenija (NSi) – 2, The Green Party -2 and Liberal democrats (LDS) – 1.


The outgoing Ljubljana City Council

The above is not exactly what pengovsky predicted, so let’s see what lessons can we derive from this electoral post-mortem for Ljubljana

1) Things don’t happen by themselves

Pengovsky already wrote that this was a lacklustre campaign. Most parties were sort of resigned to the fact that Janković will get another term and only made more or less token efforts in the race for mayor, hoping to see the mayor’s power curbed by preventing his List to retain absolute majority in the city council. However, they made only half-hearted efforts in that area as well. As if they convinced themselves that there is no way for Jankovič’s List to repeat the result. Well, guess what: parties that had most vested interest in this issue (SDS on the right and SD on the left) gave sub-par perfomances, both in terms of style as well as content and the List of Zoran Janković now enjoys an even bigger majority.

2) Never, ever, run without your candidate for mayor

LDS took a big hit, as they’re down from five seats to just one. They probably wouldn’t have repeated their result anyway, but we can probably put their feeble result down to the fact that they did not run their candidate for mayor. Not only does this confuse the voters (vote Janković for mayor, but don’t vote for his list!), it also diminishes their media exposure, as most if not all debates are held for mayoral races. The fact that there weren’t that many debates in the first place only reiterates the point.

3) If you put forward your candidate for mayor, even for the sole point of collecting votes for your council candidates, make sure he/she stands out.

Case in point being Zares of Gregor Golobič, which failed to win a seat in the council. Granted, we can apply this formula to virtually all candidates and parties, but Zares had a lot going for them: they had a likeable, educated and eloquent candidate for mayor, who had no real experience in politics which is an asset in this day and age when “politics” is a dirty word. Unfortunately Milan Hosta discovered too late that being different grabs attention. In the last few days he did start to talk about the need the change the system, either from within or from without and he coined some highly quotable soundbites (pengovsky’s favourite being about how Ljubljana should switch from donation urbanism to donation socialism) but it was too little too late. Most of the time he just tried to imitate the big boys and girls, not knowing that they were just as much at a loss as to what to do as he was.

The other side of this coin are Mojca Kulcer Dolinar of NSi and especially Miha “Jazby” Jazbinšek of the Green party. The latter put virtually all of his eggs in one basket: the referendum bid to overturn the new spatial planning act. And (to quote Andrew Carnegie) Jazbinšek then watched the basket. As the referendum bid, in fact initiated by him but executed by an association of citizens’ groups, started crumbling, he wisely put a daylight between him and the proponents of the referendum, coming across as the only guy in city politics who knows how things really should be done. And he won two council seats in the process.

4) If you want to make a decent result, don’t go after the leading candidate

What we saw in this campaign was most of the candidates going after mayor Janković, attacking both the style and the content of his running the city. While this is a perfectly legitimate tactic it can backfire big time (as it did in case of Ljubljana elections). But the added effect was that by subscribing to this approach candidates which went after Janković were all addressing the same pool of disillusioned voters and – by extension – blurring differences between themselves. Thus there was no intelligible difference between (for example) Metka Tekavčič of Social democrats and Meta Vesel Valentinčič of DeSUS. The fact that both some from the left side of political spectrum only adds to the effect.

With the benefit of hindsight pengovsky thinks that it would be much better if candidates from the left went after Zofija Mazej Kukovič (SDS) and Mojca Kucler Dolinar (NSi), thus a) better profiling their differences and b) galvanizing a different pool of voters. This especially applies if their goal is not really to win the race for mayor but to create enough hubbub to make the cut for the city council.

Again, cases in point being Milan Hosta of Zares and Miha Jazbinšek. The former decided too late that he can be a colourful candidate with both a good platform and an attitude to match, whereas Jazby picked a single issue (spatial planning act) and campaigned hard on it.

5) Don’t import candidates

This goes mostly for SDS. Just as they did four years ago, this time around they picked a candidate who originally resided outside of Ljubljana. Technically this is solved easily – the candidate just has to change his/her address of permanent residence, just as Zofija Mazej Kukovič did. But since all politics is local, this can and usually is a factor. Perhaps not for die-hard voters (of any party), who will vote for their party’s candidate regardless of everything, but if such a candidate wants to appeal to a broader base of voters, he or she will find the recently-changed address a rather huge drawback.

There, this about covers it 🙂

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Ljubljana Elections of 2010 (Part Three: The Polls)

For the benefit of the reading public, pengovsky brings you the third instalment of yet another awesome guide. For parts One and Two click here and here respectively.

With local elections exactly a week away, some pretty important polls were ran in the last couple of days. As you will remember, Slovenia still sports this silly little legal provision prohibiting publishing – but not performing – public opinion polls a week before elections. The provision is being challenged before the Constitutional Court by Dnevnik newspaper and pengovsky hears that the court will probably strike the provision down. But be that as it may, some media are making a point of violating the law on this issue. Mladina weekly did it during the Arbitration Referendum hiatus and Dnevnik did it repeatedly, not in the least because it was the only way to actually submit a constitutional challenge (active legitimation is required to do that), but also because it makes for good copy. As in: whoops, we did something really naughty. What has the world come to, if publishing polls less than a week before elections is naughty. 🙂 It must be said, however, that some polls indeed are naugthy. Or, rather: the analysis of certain polling data is naughty and whoever did it, should be spanked.


Ljubljana. The electoral prize. (photo by pengovsky)

There were two interesting polls about Ljubljana elections this weekend, published by Žurnal24 and Delo dailies. Interesting, because they both came up with more or less the same data. The methodology seems to be a bit different, as Žurnal24 provides percentage of support at the time of the poll, whereas Delo also performs some statistical black art and provides both polling results as well as projection of the final result. Allowing for this, both polls come up with rather similar results especially in the race for the city council. However, both interpretations of polls leave – to put it mildly – a lot to be desired.

The Data

As noted, Delo’s poll provides both actual polling data as well as a projection of the final results. According to this poll incumbent mayor Zoran Janković is projected to pick up 66,5 percent of the vote, beating the shit out of, perhaps surprisingly, Mojca Kucler Dolinar of NSi with 11 percent of the vote. Third place would go to SDS’ very own Zofija Mazej Kukovič who is projected to pick up 8,1 percent, thus beating Miha Jazbinšek in the fourth place by a single percentage point. Not at all a promising prospect. Things get more funky on the City Council front. There the List of Zoran Janković is projected to pick up 33 percent of the vote, while Janez Janša‘s SDS is looking to pick up some 17 percent. They’re followed by Social Democrats (10,2 %), DeSUS (9,5%), LDS (8,3%), NSi (4,3%), Zares (3%), The Greens (2,7%), List for Clean Drinking Water (2,3%) and SLS (2%)

Žurnal24’s poll doesn’t do projections and it also deals with a lesser number of candidates, but – published a day before Delo’s poll – the results are similar. In this poll mayor Janković registers “only” 54 percent of support. He is followed by Zofija Mazej Kukovič with 15 percent of support. Third place goes to Mojca Kucler Dolinar with 9 percent and Miha Jazbinšek with 6 percent. Results for the City Council are a bit more in line with Delo’s poll. According to Žurnal24 the List of Zoran Janković enjoys a 31 percent support, followed by SDS with 15 percent and Social democrats with 6 percent.

Knowing jack shit and getting away with it

While the polling data seems to cross-corroborate, analyses in both newspapers show that people who wrote the respective articles know jack shit about the issue at hand. The author of Žurnal24 article thus writes about the possibility of a second round in Ljubljana mayoral race.

Pardon? Zoran Janković scores an ass-whooping 54 percent support, leaving his main rival in the dust with 15 percent and the paper writes about the possibility of a second round? WTF?!? I know that the guy has to pick up 50%+1 vote to win in the first round, but do your homework, goddamit! There’s a 16 percent gap in published results, which (presumably) is divided between the rest of the candidates and the “undecideds”. That’s a lot. Neglecting the fact that the paper didn’t publish the percentage of undecideds, those 16 percent should increase by one quarter (for another four percent) in order for Janković to be forced in the second round. It ain’t happening. But if Žurnal24 thinks their poll could be off by 4% in a race where one candidate has light-years of advantage, they might want to consider changing their pollster.

Speaking of polls being off, Delo doesn’t have the best of track records in Ljubljana either. Four years ago, when Janković’s List won 45% of the vote and thus won an absolute majority in the City Council, Delo’s last poll recorded a meagre 6,5 percent of support for the List of Zoran Janković, while the man himself was just short of the 40 percent mark. Now, presumably Delo’s pollsters got better in the last four years (that’s right, Delo doesn’t outsource public opinion polls, one of the few pluses this paper hasn’t wasted in the past few years) but their analysis still sucks. To their credit, Delo doesn’t have a problem with projecting Janković’s victory in the first round, but their analysis of the City Council vote is about as stupid as they come. Namely, the paper writes that it can very well happen that Janković’s list will have a hard time forming a coalition and may even end up in the opposition.

Exquiz me? Baking powder? You project one group to win a third of the vote and then you say virtually all the other groups in the council, both left and right, will refuse to cooperate and will gang up on the winner? What are you on, ferfucksake. One: do you really see SD, Zares, LDS, the Green party, DeSUS, SDS and SLS joining forces to shut out Janković’s list? And keeping the deal for the next four years? Two: what purpose would that serve? The mayor is not elected (nor can he/she be replaced) by the City Council but directly by the people. He represents the executive branch of the city and will therefore hold office regardless of the balance of power in the council. And three: Even if such a broad front were to be established, it would have no real meaning, as the mayor is not driven out of office for losing a vote, nor are most decisions in front of the council ideological or of a nature that would otherwise demand a vote along position/opposition lines.

Interpretation

Let me state for the record that pengovsky has no problem either with Janković having to go to the second round or with his list being “in the opposition”. If it happens, it happens. However, it my firm belief, based based both in my knowledge as well as experience that both of these projections are false. For the incumbent mayor to go to the second round, all the other candidates would have to receive among them at least 50% of the vote. With the runner up registering only mid-teen numbers, that is about as likely as getting wood while your bladder is still full of cheap beer. Ain’t gonna happen. Ditto for the city council.

However, results for the City Council are a bit tricky. 33 percent is a lot. But it still is some way from the 45% treshold which gave Janković an absolute majority. 12 percent ain’t peanuts and if we for the moment consider the polls as more or less accurate it will be mighty difficult for Janković’s list to make up for the difference in the five days remaining. But… (there always a butt involved)… Pengovsky noted time and again that voter turnout and vote dispersal will be crucial in the final tally.

Electoral mathematics

Out of some 270,000 Ljubljanchans, about 224,000 are eligible to vote. With an estimated voter turnout of 62 percent (as per Žurnal24 article), the number of votes against which the final results are calculated drops down to 139,000. Furthermore, the percentage needed to win one seat in the City Council historically revolves around 2 percent. Anything below that are votes counted, but lost. And this is where the fun starts. If we accept Žurnal24’s predicition of voter turnout, Delo’s prediction of election results and historical threshold data, we can conclude following:

Of 139,000 votes cast, some eight percent or 10,800 votes will get lost to lists ranking below 2 percent threshold (2 percent equalling approximately 2700 votes). This will in turn increase the number of seats won by more successful lists and parties. With the data at hand this puts the List of Zoran Janković closer to their stated goal of again winning and absolute majority, but it doesn’t take them all the way. By that same pattern we should see some gains by SDS and SD, possibly even DeSUS and LDS. The further down the list we go, the less effect this quirk in the proportional voting system has.

As things stand now, Janković’s List is poised to win some 19 seats (thus losing four), SDS is to win 9 seats (gaining one), Social Democrats have their sights on five seats (gaining one), DeSUS is looking at five seats as well (a staggering four-seat gain), whereas LDS is set lose a seat and end up with four. The remaining three seats should go to Zares, The Green Party and the List for Clean Drinking Water.

Analysis

Pengovsky thinks this will not stand. The thing that stands out like a sore thumb is a huge four seat gain by DeSUS. There’s no particular reason why this should be so other than the fact that the party is playing harball on the national level, trying to prevent a freeze on pensions. But DeSUS has had good polling results just prior to elections before (notably in 2004 and 2008) but got a bit of a cold shoulder on voting day. Pengovsky thinks this is likely to happen again.

Also, the List for Clean Drinking Water is suspect as well. True, they made their case opposing the construction of a parking lot below the Central market, but there’s a crowd at that particular issue, with SDS, NSi, SLS as well as The Green Party in the form of Miha ‘Jazby’ Jazbinšek canvasing for votes and there’s not enough to go around. SLS is also problematic, as is Jazby himself, but his ability to land on his feet is astounding.

Projection

This Sunday pengovsky projects the List of Zoran Janković the overall winner of the City Council elections, but with 21 seats they will stop just shy of an absolute majority (23 seats of 45). They will be followed by SDS with 10 seats, SD with 5, LDS with 4, DeSUS with 2 and Zares, SLS and the Green party with 1. In the mayoral race, pengovsky projects Zoran Janković winning in the first round with 56 percent of the vote (I placed a wager on this result. A friend says 65 percent).

But still, there are five days of campaign remaining. A lot can happen. A lot will happen. So watch this space. 🙂

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Ljubljana Elections of 2010 (Part Two: The City Council)

For Part One click here

If the mayoral race in Ljubljana seems all but decided (although, as they say on the other side of the pond, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings), the elections for 45 seats in the Ljubljana city council are a different matter. In the landslide of 2006 Zoran “Zoki” Janković not only won 63% of the vote, but his List of Zoran Janković won 45% of the vote which (due to vote losses on account of parties and list which got the votes but didn’t make the cut) translated into an absolute majority of 23 out of 45 votes. This completely rearranged the political landscape in Ljubljana, where the mayor was usually held hostage by the power struggle within the uneasy coalition between liberal democrats (LDS) and Social democrats (SD). In 2006 the voters overwhelmingly send political parties packing and put the reins exclusively into Janković’s hands who used the powers thus vested in him to the fullest of his abilities.


Who’ll be sitting where? Ljubljana City Council (photo: The Firm™)

First he rammed through changes to Council Rules and Procedures, making the work of the city council a bit quicker and (for the most part) also more effective. And then he managed (contrary to pengovsky’s expectations) to keep members oh his list – most of them accomplished individuals, many of whom did not expect to get elected in the first place – to toe the line, be present in sufficient numbers at every vote (there was only one slip in four years) and vote according to mayor’s wishes. Janković basically ran a very tight ship and if things got too slow for his liking he was liable to bend rules of procedures a bit, just to get things going. All of the above made the rest of the political groups in the city council go mad with rage. Well, some more than others, but those who were regularly foaming at the mouth were mostly Borut Pahor‘s SD and Janez Janša‘s SDS, aided by Green Party’s very own Miha “Jazby” Jazbinšek.

Truth be told, there were quite a lot of votes where for one reason or another Janković secured more than just the slim majority of the votes. Some measures were passed even without a vote against, a fact Zoki never fails to mention when he is accused of autocratic tendencies. And to an extent he is right. There’s also the fact that his majority was a direct result of a popular vote and for better or for worse you don’t fuck with that. And to be honest, despite all their rage, the rest of the political groups in the city council understood that. They just found it hard to swallow.

Playing hardball

But playing hardball can cost you down the road. And Janković played a lot of hardball. He didn’t compromise because he didn’t have to. He also had a couple of very public fallouts with a couple of prominent city politicos, most notably with Dimitrij Kovačič of SDS (who was removed from front party lines by the new SDS Ljubljana leadership) and with Metka Tekavčič of Ljubljana SD, who now runs against him in the race for mayor (without much success for now). The spat between her and Janković is especially interesting as they had a more or less cordial relationship for the most of the term, but some time around March this year something happened and they were publicly spewing fire and sulphur at each other, to the point of Janković saying weeks ago of Tekavčič that “she would do better to shut up as she’s been in city politics for 15 years and has precious little to show for“. Playing hardball indeed.

Anyways, it seemed that all remaining political groups in the city council just sort of gritted their teeth, hoping that the term would end as soon as possible and were counting on the fact that there is no way Janković can get an absolute majority in the council for the second time, even though he is virtually unbeatable in the race for mayor. Were they right? Yes and no.

Polls and horse-trading

The Ninamedia/POP TV poll pengovsky quoted on Sunday does indeed show that the List of Zoran Janković (his 45 candidates for city council) register some 23% support, which only half as much as they got on election day four years ago. Slightly more surprising is the 19% support Social Democrats sport. It is not exactly clear where this came from. But what’s even more surprising is that all the other parties (including Janez Janša’s SDS) get only single-digit percentages.

So, what does all of this mean for the political future of everyone involved? First and foremost, this is far from over. While it is not uncommon for a party like SD to have a “proper” percentage of support and having its candidate for mayor fare miserably, it is unclear why the voters seem to have singled out Social Democrats as the party of choice. Hopefully, there’ll be another poll soon and we’ll see if this was just a fluke. Percentages scored by Jankovič’s list are much more interesting. Zoki said time and again that he will not engage in any horse-trading after elections even if he has to form a coalition government (a prospect he dreads) and should the voters deny him an absolute majority it will be interesting to see if and how he goes about that. Despite his claims it would be hard to imagine him throwing it all away just because he doesn’t like who SD (or any other coalition partner) would have put forward for a manager of this-or-that city service.

Lest we forget

Virtually all players on the Ljubljana political scene made it plain obvious that their prime goal is not defeating Janković but reining him in by means of making sure he doesn’t win an absolute majority again. Janković recognises this and is pushing the message of “Zoran Janković and his List” more aggressively. Whether or nor he will succeed remains to be seen, but before people start passing judgements, a couple of things should be remembered:

1) 27% of those likely to vote are still undecided. Granted, not all of them will go to the same camp, but they could tip the balance heavily one way or the other.

2) Voter turnout and vote dispersal are crucial. In urban municipalities a straight proportional voting system is used and if the turnout is low or a lot of votes get lost(i.e.: go to candidates who don’t make the cut), then a couple of thousands votes one way or the other can mean a big difference for the bigger players.

3) Right wing parties register unusually low scores. Despite the fact that Janez Janša while prime minister did everything in his power to alienate voters in Ljubljana, SDS, NSi and SLS should under normal circumstances fare much better.

4) On that same token, there’s no apparent reason why (in addition to Janković’s List) it should be only Social Democrats which get a substantial support on the left wing without Zares, LDS and DeSUS joining in on the fun. This too will in all likelihood play out a bit differently.

and 5) Four years ago no poll registered even the remote possibility of Janković’s List grabbing an absolute majority. A couple of polls near the end of the campaign put his list on top, but none predicted the whoopass which was election day on 22 October 2006.

Projections

None, at this time. The way things stand, this could go either way. The campaign to date has been about as lacklustre as a sex-life of a catatonic and is poised to pick up in the ten remaining days. We’ll just have to wait and see how this particular election cookie crumbles

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