WWZJD (What Will Zoran Janković Do)

One of the perennial questions of Slovene election cycles as of late is WWJZD. What will Zoran Janković do. For some reason the mayor of Ljubljana is still considered a force to be reckoned with in national politics and his shadow seems to loom large over for many on the right wing (and some on the left as well), often-times plunging them in a psychosis-like mental state where they being seeing everything that is happening as interventions by the Deep State/Udbomafia/Uncles-in-the-shadows/Lizard people [in a Slavoj Žižek voice] and so on and so on…. And this latest bout paranioia was not helped by Janković’s press conference earlier today where he said he will be somehow getting involved in the national elections


Zoran Janković (source)

You’d be forgiven for forgetting, but the mayor of Ljubljana still moonlights as president of Positive Slovenia (PS), a party which by virtue of himself as a charismatic leader, some very clever PR and a fair dose of tactical voting, narrowly won the 2011 elections, relegating Janez Janša and his SDS to a runner-up position. In what was a textbook episode of political foolhardiness, Janković however failed to win the prime-ministership for himself, paving the way for Janša 2.0 government. From there on, things only went downhill for Positive Slovenia which has ceased to be a forced to be reckoned with just as fast as it became one.

Continue reading WWZJD (What Will Zoran Janković Do)

PM Bratušek Resigns, Looks To *Early* Early Elections

Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek resigned from office earlier today. This was the end result of a coalition pow-wow on Saturday where apparently cooler heads prevailed in the post-PS-congress fuck-up and realised it don’t matter a pair of dingo’s kidneys if the government holds on for a few more months and agreed to hold early elections ASAP.

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AB’s letter of resignation (source)

While president of the parliament Janko Veber said in a statement about an hour ago that 22 June is not feasible as election date, other summer dates are being looked at. The “problem” is that school recess starts that weekend as well which might pose a problem from a constitutional point of view (a bit more on this later on).

It all went tits-up

That the ruling coalition went tits-up became apparent a week ago, when Jay-Z ousted Bratušek as PS chief. Disintegration of the party followed, with the PM quitting PS and taking half of the parliamentary group with her, while Zoran Janković was left to pick up the pieces.

Thus a curious situation ensued, where the PM is fact a political apatrid (EDIT: although she is apparently in the process of forming her own party), while president of one of the coalition parties apparently wasn’t even invited to partake in the huddle. Namely, Zoran Janković was reportedly overlooked when invites for the meet were sent out which technically makes even more of a mess of the whole thing. Which gives enough of a glimpse of the clusterfuck we’d have experienced if Bratušek administration were to try and continue in the current setup.

The word “fugly” would not even begin to describe it. Just to give you an idea: Although Bratušek left the PS, Janković insisted the congress gave her full support to stay on as Prime Minister, while voting him in as chief of the party. How he came to this conclusion remains a mystery, as congress didn’t vote on the issue. Bratušek on the other hand fulfilled her promise to quit the party and the premiership if she loses the congress vote, putting Slovenia in the classic “what happens if an unstoppable force meets an immovable object” conundrum. Luckly, that particular scenario was avoided. Temporarily, at least.

That it not to say that Jay-Z will not have a say in the way things unfold. Even though the PS parliamentary group split down the middle and the party under Janković is left with 13-or-so MPs (out of 29 they began the term with), it will take a nod from Janković as well to try and cut a short-cut to early early elections.

The procedure

Namely, the procedure that is triggered by resignation/fall of the government calls for at least three rounds of attempts to find a new majority in the parliament, with ten MPs having unlimited options to put forward their candidate. Thus, theoretically both PS and the SDS as well as any other group that could muster ten MPs (say, the SLS-NSi combo with its newfound happiness) could delay elections for a considerable time.

This, however, will not be the case, apparently. While the SDS remains suspect (pun very much intended;) ), there seems to be a consensus, albeit grudging one, that no parliamentary party will seek to put forward their PM nominee. For his part, president Borut Pahor already said he will not be putting forward a nominee as well, which basically covers all the bases and open the theoretical possibility of elections as early as summer.

Having said that, things will probably not go smoothly. Aside from the fact that summer early elections clearly favour only current parliamentary parties as their alternatives outside the parliament (such as once-parliamentary Zares now led by Pavle Gantar or the up-and-coming Verjamem of Igor Šoltes, Solidarnost or the United Left) need more to get their operations running, there is also the possibility that time will simply run out.

Due date

Elections are normally not held during the summer break (last week of June to mid-August) nor are they called in a manner which would mean the campaign would be held during the break, although the latter is more of an accepted convention than anything else. And since elections can be held forty days from the act of calling them at the earliest, this means that if anything is to happen, it has to happen by next Tuesday. Failing that, we’re most likely up for elections in late September.

Additionally, there is the factor of a possible constitutional contention of the election date, especially since the Constitutional Court seems to have acquired a taste to meddle in policy questions, case in point being the real-estate tax and the archive referendum, where they nixed May 4th as voting date on a marginal but politically prominent question of UDBa archives, courtesy of the SDS.

But even though we can reasonably expect the party of Janez Janša to stall things a bit (well, quite a lot in fact, since they’re again talking about impeachment of Alenka Bratušek), they’ve apparently started to prepare for a period without Janez Janša as their point-man. Following the upheld conviction of the SDS leader who is to serve two years in prison for corruption, SDS MP Romana Tomc resigned as vice-president of the parliament. Officially it was done in protest over “politically motivated conviction against Janša”, but it is quite possible she is designated to replace Janša at least temporarily.

Romana Tomc, SDS’ Alenka Bratušek?

Tomc was rumoured to have been considered a replacement for Janša during the 2012-2013 winter uprisings which called for his resignation as PM. Nothing came of it as a new coalition was formed under Alenka Bratušek, but Tomc has been near the limelight ever since. With no immediately apparent political baggage she just might be the person SDS is looking for to fill the void Janša’s (temporary) removal from inner circle of politics will bring.

Since SDS is in a good position to win the parliamentary elections as things stand, an apparently moderate interim leader, not unlike Alenka Bratušek (both gender- and rhetoric-wise) might just give that extra boost the party needs to climb all the way to the top, which has eluded Janez Janša but once for the last quarter of the century.

Anyways, as of today, Slovenia is in election mode, level 999 and will remain so until mid-autumn when local elections are held. Between today and then, however, we are to cast our votes in EU elections (25 May), archive referendum (rescheduled for 8 June) and early parliamentary elections. God forbid the President were to resign.

On second thought… :mrgreen:

House of Cards: Janković Splits Party, Janša Guilty As Charged

Janez Janša is guilty as charged. This, apparently is the ruling of the Higher Court in the Patria case. The verdict of the district court was thus confirmed as was the two-year prison sentence against Janša.

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Together with Janša, Tone Krkovič and Ivan Črnkovič saw their prison sentences (twenty-two months each) confirmed as well. Walter Wolf fled Slovenia presumably to Canada with an APB issued against him while Jože Zagožen passed away before trial concluded.

Janša maintains the whole thing was a show-trial and a political set-up (he would, wouldn’t he?), but fact of the matter is that at this stage Janša has to serve his sentence even if he files an appeal with the Supreme Court.

It’s a conspiracy (again)!

Granted, for sentences under three years, prison can be commuted for community work or “weekend-prison” where the convict spends only weekends in prison while going about his daily life during the week, but the point is the leader of the opposition is guilty as charged. At least as far as regular courts are concerned.

This of course puts an entirely different perspective on the prospect of early elections which as little as two days ago Janša welcomed warmly and teased the ruling (ex-)coalition that it wouldn’t dare call them. Now, with him being charged, tried and convicted, things don’t look all that well. In fact, the prospect of him called to serve the sentence while campaigning is, well, undesirable.

Janša, obviously, puts it all down to conspiracy, saying Milan Kučan is behind all of it, including the drive to early elections…

…although he himself favourited elections and a change of the voting system as late as Friday night when results of Bratušek/Janković fight came in

On that note, since Berufsverbot was not part of the sentence, there is no law to prevent Janša from running in the next parliamentary elections, get elected and see his mandate confirmed. Which means that even if he is denied a commuted sentence, we are liable to see him roll around in the media for the forseeable future. The law only kicks in after his (hypothetical) election when a provision kicks in, stripping elected officials of their office if they’re convicted to more than six-months prison sentence.

But hey, you can always count on president Borut Pahor to do what’s best for Janša. Namely, only hours before news of the verdict broke, Pahor said, responding to situation in Positive Slovenia going tits-up that “things were still salvageable”. While Pahor probably didn’t play this one to please Janša, the move reeks of his inability to face the reality in 2011 when his own government was crumbling at lightning speed while he maintained everything was going to be OK. We all know how that ended.

Positive schism

Because early elections are virtually a given as of Friday when Zoran Janković ousted Alenka Bratušek as chief of Positive Slovenia. Jay-Z’s return to the helm caused a deep rift within the party and prompted a string of high-profile walk-outs, more or less splitting the party in half.

Specifically, this now means that the party as such is pitted against its parliamentary group, majority of which support Bratušek. Speculation is rife about what the PM is about to do, but it seems inevitable that she will tender her resignation in a day or so. This means she would continue as PM in a caretaker role until a new government is sworn in and since there is plenty to be taken care of, little would change in the short-term. But since yields on Slovenian bonds are already shooting up courtesy of political volatility, elections should be called as soon as possible.

Because the other scenario, of Alenka Bratušek forming a new party and having most of PS MPs cross over thus forming a new, albeit weaker majority with existing coalition parties is simply ludicrous. Not only would this mean she would be ruling with a single-vote majority or even a minority government, but would also make her look as if she’s attempting a Pahor-like hold on to power and make lose what little credibility she accumulated over the last year or so.

As for Zoran Janković, he will undoubtedly start to reaffirm his grip on the party with lightning speed and deal with those who turned their backs on him one way or another. However, Janković paid a steep price for his victory on Friday. Among people who supported Bratušek are at least two of his city councilmen/women, namely Maša Kociper and Jani Möderndorfer. While there is no automatism, since PS was formed after Janković and his “Zoran Janković List” won a second term in Ljubljana, the soured (severed?) relations might very well mean that Janković is down to a single-vote majority in the city council.

If more people quit, mayor Janković might suddenly find himself looking for a (temporary) coalition to pass city ordnances. Six, nay, five months before local elections the price-tag for this one might be substantial.

Suddenly, it all comes crashing down

Within a matter of days, things in Slovenia went from fairly predictable to complete flux. Alenka Bratušek and Zoran Janković are meeting with MPs and the party executive council respectively, on what to do next, while Janša is scheduled to address the media on the verdict tomorrow. Also tomorrow Bratušek is scheduled to meet with president Pahor and resign as prime minister.

Francis Underwood once said that nothing is permanent. Houses of cards eventually do come down.

Red Wedding

The clusterfuck is complete. There will be a bloodbath.

(Jaša L. Zlobec, 1993)

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One wonders how the late Jaša L. Zlobec would have commented the current political situation. But the above quote, 20 years old and said in a different context by the ever-lucid and much-too-soon-departed former MP for LDS is more than just a fitting description for the imminent congress of Positive Slovenia.

Game of Thrones

It is now clear that barring a U-turn at the 11th hour, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković and PM Alenka Bratušek will go head-to-head for party leadership and few people expect punches to be pulled. Only one of them will come out of the congress hall alive (politically, that is) and the result will have profound effects, both short- and long-term. But even though there can be only one president of the party, Friday’s setup is starting more and more to look like Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding. In the end, everyone dies.

Namely, the PS presidential struggle is actively entering the WTF section. First and foremost, it appears that every single junior coalition party is trying to have a say in it. Which is weird, but not completely unexpected. The weird part is that suddenly their opinions appear to count, media-wise. Karl Erjavec, Igor Lukšič and Gregor Virant seem to comment more on the situation in PS than they do on their own affairs. As if meddling in PS’s business somehow keeps the limelight off their own problems. Which it does. But they will die, too. Politically, I mean.

The three parties virtually manhandled Janković off the party helm in March February last year (in the wake of the damning anti-graft report), demanding PS get rid of Zoki lest they pass on a PS-led left-wing government. Their influence on the continuing of the Bratušek-led government has been pretty obvious ever since. But this time around, they’ve cornered themselves in: having entered the coalition on the sole proviso of Janković removing himself from the top of the party, it is widely expected of them to quit the coalition if Zoki wins on Friday. OK, so Janković doesn’t see why they would do something like that, but we’ll cover that particular disconnect with reality a bit later on.

They all die in the end

The thing with junior coalition parties is that with a possible Janković victory, they die either way. If they do indeed quit the coalition (as they should) and force early elections, the electorate will probably take it out on them, most notably Gregor Virant’s DL which just went south of 2% in public opinion polls. The coalition as a whole would fare poorly in such elections, too, and that would mean the SDS-led right-wing swoops back into power, Patria case be damned. On the other hand, if the coalition parties choose to maintain the coalition despite Janković emerging victorious, they would have only postponed the inevitable for a year or so and see themselves beaten to the pulp in 2015 elections. No wonder SD, DeSUS and DL have plenty to say these days on PS leadership.

But if PM Bratušek wins the party struggle, she will probably make them pay for making her job all that more difficult. Namely, every syllable Gregor Virant utters on the issue is making Zoran Janković more determined to challenge Bratušek. Because this is the one thing no-one seems to understand. With Jay-Z every action forces equal and opposite reaction and the more they want him out of the picture the more he wants back in. In this respect it is not unreasonable to say that the junior coalition parties have in no small part themselves to blame for the fix they’re in.

But that’s just the sideshow. The main event, the headliner, if you will, is scheduled for Friday afternoon. The build-up we’ve witnesses in the past few days and weeks suggests both Janković and Bratušek believe they’ve got things under control. Logic dictates at least one of them is terribly wrong.

Sun Tzu

The speed at which Bratušek and the PS Executive Council called the congress (technically, they rescheduled the event originally planned for October last year) suggests they wanted to give Janković as little time as possible to stage a comeback. And since there was no definite date for congress to be held, it would appear Bratušek and her people think they’ve secured a majority in the congress and want to get the leadership issue over and done with while the majority lasts. Like Sun Tzu said: battles are won and lost before they’re even started.

On the other hand, Janković believes in his ability to sway the crowds and the fact that he almost single-handedly built PS from the bottom up, winning the 2011 elections and almost reducing Janez Janša to tears. In a manner of speaking. Thus Janković believes he is a) entitled to the party leadership and b) is confident that majority of party members prefer his victor’s charisma over the occasionally stumbling style of Alenka Bratušek.

But this is where we enter the disconnect-with-reality territory. Ever since winning the elections, Janković was on the losing side of national politics. At first, he failed to form a government. Then he was forced to quit party leadership. After that, his October bid to stage a come-back was thwarted by postponing the congress. And now he seems to be the underdog.

The underdog

He said he will not be campaigning in the field, thus implicitly admitting time is not on his side. Instead he opted for a letter-to-the-members approach, but was beaten to the punch by Bratušek who sent her letter to party members first, thus setting the tempo and the tone of the game. Janković seems to be increasingly left to his own devices, re-launching his personal webpage, reactivating his Twitter account and using media access he has as mayor of Ljubljana. According to media reports he is also organising free transportation for his supporters to the congress. This is apparently within party rules, but media reports suggest this is not being done using PS assets.

Janković maintains this is not a fight of him against Bratušek, but rather a fight to return to the party platform from which the PM and her government deviated too much. In short, this is a fight between PS hard-line and soft-line. And yet, since both Jay-Z and AB came to personify their respective fractions, this is precisely a fight between the two protagonists. Sure, this is business, but in politics, business has long ago become personal. Especially since both of them said publicly they will quit the party if the other side wins.

Janković apparently thinks a lot of that is pure bluff. At least in terms of Gregor Virant, Igor Lukšič and Karl Erjavec threatening to walk out if he wins. Zoki may have a point, to an extent. There are noises about coalition parties not being serious with their threats. In fact, if Gregor Virant’s DL walks out, they might as well file to be erased (pun very much intended) from political party register because they will never again see the inside of the parliament. Igor Lukšič, for his part, said publicly the SD will not be the first to quit the coalition ranks, leaving Karl Erjavec (again!) in the role of the king-(queen-)maker. And Erjavec, as we know from previous experience, can be bought persuaded to go one way or another.

House of cards

But pengovsky’s bet is that all three parties will soon realise staying in the coalition will hurt them even more than leaving it as they would lose what little credibility they have left. If this is the bet Janković is making, he needs a reality check, pronto. Not in the least because Alenka Bratušek will most likely resign as PM if Zoki wins, taking the government and coalition with her. It’s all a house of cards, really.

The PM, for her part, has done fairly little campaigning, too. But then again, she has the party assets at her disposal as well as the support of a large majority of the PS executive council, most member of which presumably do her bidding. Also, being a PM and all she enjoys a broad media access as well with the added bonus of her appearing all statesmanlike (stateswomanlike, that is).

Additionally, Bratušek is winning over people who supported Janković’s 2011 bid. Pengovsky already wrote about how Milan Kučan‘s tete-a-tete with her was a message to Janković, but other people followed in Kučan’s footsteps, including Rajko Kenda, Spomenka Hribar, Svetlana Makarovič and – most notably – Miran Goslar, the very person who brought Janković in as CEO of Mercator and a man Janković often said has the highest regard for. Despite this Janković dismissed their calls to withdraw from the race “for the greater good”.

Ride of the Valkyries

“The greater good” in this case is not preventing Janez Janša returning to power. The leader of the SDS in this case really only serves as the bogeyman PS membership knows and is thought to fear instinctively. The true “greater good” is the fact that despite the Troika is no longer around the corner, Slovenia is still held virtually at gunpoint by foreign lenders as well as Brussels-am-Berlin. One wrong move and the yields on Slovenian bonds which have been falling slowly but steadily will shoot back up out of fear of already-sluggish reforms halting to a complete stop.

Granted, Slovenia secured its financing for a while, even returning to the euro market, but the accumulated debt gives precious little room for manoeuvre and unless the yields continue to drop (and the GDP somehow bounces back in the black) there is no way we can get out of this mess of our own accord. Analysts know this and they project early elections in case Janković wins. This, apparently would again draw a negative outlook for Slovenian bonds.

And you know what that means.

    The Gunfight At PS Corral

    There are many angles to the aftermath of the real-estate-tax debacle and the ruling coalition sought to close the fiscal one last weekend when they plugged a 200-million gaping hole in the budget. The deal, a combo of public-sector cuts and excise-hikes is not yet entirely done and is already drawing criticism from both labour unions and the Chamber of Commerce. But the dash to find two hundred big ones was soon eclipsed by what for all intents and purposes is turning out to be a showdown between PM Alenka Bratušek and Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković.

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    Namely, only a few days after the Constitutional Court struck down the real estate tax (with one of the judges resorting to Hayek as he did so), the interpelation of interior minister and leader of DL Gregor Virant was on the books.

    Now, Virant is in his own set of omnishambles, apparently getting the soft treatment by the anti-graft commission over cheap(ish) airline tickets he was buying at Adria Airways. While the price of the tickets, which was the main sticking issue, apparently is not all that problematic, he first claimed he didn’t have anything to do with it, saying his wife handled the tickets, only to see emails emerge (via Dnevnik newspaper) that he did in fact handle at least some tickets himself. Which basically boils down to whether he lied or not.

    Virant and Janković playing hardball

    Be that as it may, his position as the kingmaker was becoming ever more fluid as a result. Which in turn caused a low-level rift between pro-Bratušek and pro-Janković factions inside the Positive Slovenia to explode suddenly. Namely, the way Virant played hardball with regard to government policies (derailing VAT hike as a way to mitigate the real-estate fallout, to pick an example at random) built up quite a lot of resentment within the PS. Which was a signal Zoran Janković was waiting for to make his move and reclaim some political ground he is consistently losing since the party threw him under the bus in March last year, not in the least because Virant made that a precondition to ditch Janez Janša and join a PS-led government.

    Thus Janković had a little chat with several PS MPs and lit a fire under the anti-Virant sentiment, inciting a bit of a revolt and persuading several MPs to support the SDS-sponsored bid to remove Virant as minister of interior. This was of course a direct challenge to PM Bratušek who faced a similar scenario last summer and autumn, when Janković attempted a comeback and announced he wants to settle the question of party leadership, considering himself to have only “frozen” his presidency.

    Tables turning

    But back then Bratušek was being bombarded from all sides. Public finances were going south, so was the economy, the Troika was getting ready to deploy its drones against Slovenia, the opposition was rabid over having lost power only months earlier and the government itself wasn’t exactly ship-shape.

    Today, the tables have turned somewhat. The government itself is still struggling somewhat, case in point being ministry of silly walks health where Alenka Trop Skaza lasted less than a month. But the interest on Slovenian debt went down somewhat, we appear to be out of recession (technically, at least, not that anyone noticed) and despite a major setback with the real-estate tax the government pulled its act together and cobbled up a 200-or-so million revenue plan mostly by cutting subsidies and raising excise on alcohol and tobacco. On the whole, in April 2014 PM Bratušek is much more in charge than she was in July 2013.

    On the other hand, Zoran Janković was starting to see the results of various investigations opened against him, with charges being filed in at least two cases pertaining to his activities as mayor of Ljubljana while in a third case, about a deal while he was still CEO of Mercator, he was indicted and will stand trial. Additionally, Janković feels – not wholly unjustified – that he was used by several key PS people, helping them to re-emerge politically, only to find himself being thrown under the bus when push came to a shove.

    But be this a case of bruised ego, an attempt to stay afloat politically at any cost or, as Janković claims, a perfectly normal, if loud, clash of different visions, fact of the matter is that the rift between Bratušek and Janković is apparently complete and – unlike the last time, when it was avoided by postponing the congress – this time around a full-blown gunfight between the prime minister and the mayor is almost inevitable. And unless one of them blinks until 25 April when PS congress is to be held, it’s bound to get real ugly.

    Who will draw faster

    The fact that Alenka Bratušek is preparing for a (political) shoot-out suggests that either she doesn’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about the outcome and whatever happens, happens, or that the outcome of the congress is a foregone conclusion and that Bratušek will win hands-down.

    A number of not-so-subtle signs suggest the latter to be the case. First of all, only a day after this particular political zit exploded Bratušek sent a letter to party members, basically saying that enough is enough. But more importantly, several days before that former president Milan Kučan met with Alenka Bratušek. Supposedly, they were talking about whether or not to raise VAT after the real estate debacle. But subject of the meet is secondary to the fact that it took place. Namely, Kučan was long seen as a key Janković ally and allowing himself to be seen meeting the PM, acknowledging her both as head of the government as well as head of the party, first and foremost sends a message to Jay-Z.

    But Bratušek is sending a message of her own. She announced she will seek a vote of confidence and will not tie it to a specific measure, opting instead for a simple yes-or-no vote (not like the last time around), refusing the rebelious MPs, four or five of them, apparently, all of them from her own party, the luxury of a political cover along the lines of “I voted for the [insert specific measure] and not necesarily for the PM”. This, too, sends a message to Janković that she considers her position much stronger and believes she has a better set of cards in hand than Ljubljana mayor.

    The shootout

    Whether or not he gets the message, remains to be seen. Both he and Bratušek have until Monday to formally confirm their leadership bids and although rumours are aplently that Zoki will withdraw his bid at the eleventh hour, this is highly unlikely. Much more likely that he and Bratušek fight it out on open stage on 25 April.

    But if he wins, Janković will find the coalition going tits-up and see early elections called, most likely bringing SDS and Janez Janša back to power in one form or another. That much is a given.