2018 Parliamentary Election: Five Takeaways Of Week One

The 2018 parliamentary election campaign in Muddy Hollows is in full swing and while pengovsky was going to write up a couple of post on the matter, adutling is hard af, requiring him to play catch-up. On the other hand, as a general rule, the less political parties can offer in terms of a platform, the more they tend to try and entice emotional responses, engage in divisive rhetoric and generally muddy the waters. Which is why one has to occasionally look back and separate the important from the fluffy.


Latest polling numbers and trends by Volilna napoved poll aggregator site (source)

So, without further ado, here are a few takeaways from Week One of the utter shit-show the 2018 Slovenian parliamentary election is shaping up to be.

Continue reading 2018 Parliamentary Election: Five Takeaways Of Week One

Open Mouth Insert Fence

Earlier today Prime Minister Miro Cerar announced Slovenia will “undertake additional technical measures” on its border with Croatia. Yesterday, the government voted to “step up measures to control migrant influx including necessary measures on the Schengen border” which the media widely translated as intention to put up a fence on the Slovenian-Croatian border which doubles as the Southern Schengen border. Combined with last week’s reports that elements of a fence were already in the country, that the government has already selected a contractor to erect it and that lately government officials avoided questions on the issue saying it has been labeled confidential (probably in the interest of the national security and all that jazz) it does seem that PM Cerar is up for some open-mouth-insert-foot time.

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Now, the whole fence issue has been on the table even since Hungarian leader Orban started putting up his own fence on his borders with Serbia and Croatia. At that time Cerar and his government rejected the notion of a fence as a viable tool in tackling the humanitarian catastrophe that is the refugee crisis. In doing that, Cerar earned praise from many quarters (pengovsky included), not in the least because after the initial stumbles the government branches most equipped for disaster relief have taken over control of the situation.

Ever since, however, there was slow-but-constant backtracking on the soft-handed approach as the influx of refugees stretched the country’s resources which – at least in part – was exabberated by neighbouring Croatia transporting those poor sods near the border in no particular order or schedule and then letting them loose to make their way across the border as best as they could – even across treacherous terrain or fast-flowing rivers.

But for the most part, the backtracking was generated by the attempt of the politically inexperienced top brass to respond to challenges from the opposition, the neighbouring countries and the EU, all at the same time. The inevitable result, however, was the self-induced sense of panic because those three challenges were conflicting each other. The opposition wanted to declare martial law (or something to that effect), the neighbouring countries wanted Slovenia to either take all the refugees dumped on her (Croatia) or put up a fence of their own (Hungary) of something in between (Austria) while the EU demanded the country behave like a member state should and take over the refugees in an orderly and effective manner.

Trying to accommodate all three obviously created a cacophony of messages, making the government appear as if it is losing the grip on the situation. And once *that* message got through, suddenly the idea of policing powers for the army didn’t seem all that bad. And once that line was crossed, the fence seemed like an issue not necessary to sit on anymore. And here we are. The only problem being that they got it all wrong.

Yesterday in Brussels, interior minister Györkös-Žnidar said that the decision was “political”. Well, politically, this is a disaster of magnificent proportions. Not only has the nominally centre-to-centre-left government alienated a large part of its (potential) base, it has failed to warm up to the right-wing, too. Despite the fact that it was clamouring for just such a fence. Because the challenges by the right-wing parties were never about the refugees. The SDS and the NSi don’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about that or – to be more precise – they care just as much and in such a direction as Mutti Angela says they should. Thus, if PM Cerar is trying to show to the right-wing parties and their voters that he can manage the situation via erecting a fence, he’s in for a surprise. Because no sooner than he can say “migrant influx” someone from right-wing top echelon will be on the telly saying this was too little too late, asking when exactly does he intend to activate the army with its newfound powers, too.

Speaking of the army, the amendment to the Defence Act empowering the army with authority over civilians under special circumstances (for that is what it essentially is) is on hold pending a referendum challenge, with the plaintiffs now petitioning the constitutional court to allow the referendum since the parliament voted to prevent it, citing national security issues. Now, pengovsky has no doubts that the court will disallow a referendum on army powers just as it allowed one on same-sex marriage (more on both issues soonish).

But as it were, PM Cerar and the government have just declared the Balkan Mini Summit (called a few weeks ago by Jean-Claude Juncker and Angela Merkel) null and void and are now involuntarily sliding into the same bracket as Hungary, with a strikingly similar explanation. The government seems to be sensing this and is bending over backwards to explain to everyone who is willing to listen that these are “temporary technical measures” and not really a fence. And yet they seem to be the only ones buying that particular spin.

Needless to say that the pandering to both sides continues. During the press conference detailing those “temporary technical measures” PM Cerar at the same time said that while the fence will be put up it will not impede the ability to accept and process the refugees. Which begs the question why exactly are the new measures necessary. And, only minutes later, the PM explained at length that the sole purpose of the “technical measures” is to prevent dispersal of refugees, only to blurt out a while later that dispersal is in fact an unlikely scenario. So, which is it?

That there will be no simple and clean solution to the refugee crisis was clear from its onset. But it is becoming increasingly hard to watch this government talking itself into one political trap after another. As things stand now, the only ones profiting from his flip-flopping on how to tackle the crisis are his political adversaries. And he has just given them yet another stick to beat him with it.

 

The Army Is A Broad Sword, Not A Scalpel

Following a surge in influx of refugees which apparently stretched Slovenian personnel and housing resources to their limits, the government of Miro Cerar came up with amendments to Defence Act granting the Slovenian army policing powers and rushed them through the parliament in a rarely used emergency legislative procedure. The move, backed by both the coalition and most of the opposition is aimed to provide relief to the overstretched police and Civil defence force. But in reality it opens a Pandora’s box of the military spilling over into the civilian sphere.

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“The army will perform its duty.” Bruce Willis/William Deveraux in The Siege (source)

Admittedly, the numbers Slovenian authorities were dealing with are staggering in terms of the country’s size and its resources. More than 20.000 refugees came to the Slovenian border via the “West Balkan route” through Croatia in the last couple of days. Quite a substantial number of them, as per Slovenian government, without any notification from their Croatian counterparts who reportedly transported the refugees somewhere in the vicinity of theborder rather than to the actual border crossings and then cut them loose, leaving them to make their way across the river, fields and marshes into Slovenia.

And since Slovenia, trying to be European to a fault, insists on an orderly processing and transfer of refugees from Croatia through its several refugee centres onwards to Austria, things got tricky at the Slovenia/Croatia border, prompting the government in Ljubljana to employ the army as a policing force.

Which is a big fucking mistake.

The problem is, of course, many-fold. First, the mere fact that with this, the firewall between the civilian and the military sphere is being, albeit slightly and temporarily, torn down. Giving the army powers over the civilian population is a big no-no. Unless a state of emergency was declared and last time pengovsky checked, that wasn’t the case. Although some people act as if it were. And this is the problem number two.

A lot of what we were seeing these past few days were knee-jerk reactions to events that were and are apparently getting the better of people at the top of the food chain whose primary role is to keep things strategically in check. As if deploying the military was the only alternative to using police forces.

There’s the old adage that if a hammer is all you know how to use, everything looks like a nail. But this is not a case of trigger-happy politicos jumping the gun (literally) and launching a scenario not unlike in The Siege. No, a more proper parallel would be that of a first-time plane passengers on a very bumpy ride, already reaching for their life jackets while the flight crew is still serving drinks.

A number of those alternatives came to light as the parliament was debating the amendments to the Law on Defence. These include aid by the European frontier agency Frontex as well as bilateral help from other EU states’ police forces, most notably Austria and Germany. These options are now being considered and reportedly about to be enacted.

Problemo numero tres is the actual scope of powers granted to the military. While members of the Slovenian army apparently have some crowd control training, there is serious concern as to whether Slovenian soldiers have the (legal) knowledge and experience to execute these powers with necessary restraint and respect for human rights. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Slovenian Army are prone to human rights violations. What I’m saying is that the army – any army – was not designed with this in mind. Simple as that. And by the time enough military units are trained in the nuances of policing civilians and equipped to do that effectively, this crisis will have long passed.

Which brings us to the fourth and the biggest problem. This, too, shall pass. And after it does, we’ll be left with army units with a shitload of equipment they won’t need anymore and training that does not correspond to their basic mission. A waste of resources, if I ever saw one. But not only that. The most worrisome leftover will be the legislation itself.

Because if you think that the provision granting policing powers to the army is going to go away after this is over, you’re sorely mistaken. It is here to stay, for ever and ever. Just like increased political meddling with the public television or the fiscal rule.

And even if the government plans to repeal the provision after the crisis abates, someone should tell them they will fail to secure the necessary two-thirds majority. Because the right-wing parties which supported the provision practically without dissent (customary political bickering, gloating and we-told-you-so’s not withstanding) and who find Victor Orban a rather appealing character, were long clamouring for something like this. And now they got it, they’re not going to let go of it that easily.

There will be other governments and there will be other crises. And bringing in the army has suddenly become much easier. All that is needed now is a technical request by the government to the parliament and – poof! – the army suddenly has policing powers again.

Luckily, yesterday cooler heads prevailed and the bar for approving special powers was raised to a two-thirds rather than just a simple majority as originally proposed by the government. Also, the amended law provides a sunset clause for these powers which expire after three months if not revoked sooner. They can, however, be extended, too, pending a re-vote. Meaning that this is not really a strong safeguard against abuse.

Fear of abuse was present in the subtext of the presentation by the Chief of the General Staff, Maj. Gen. Andrej Osterman, when he addressed the parliament yesterday. Namely, among other things, Osterman said Slovenian army neither wants nor has asked for policing powers, but will perform the duty as instructed.

It was Bruce Willis in the role of General William Deveraux in The Siege who said that the army is a broad sword, not a scalpel.

And yet, here we are. What could possibly go wrong?