Elections Explained

Michael the Great was wondering yesterday what is it with Slovenes that they seem to run politicians from power for no apparent reason, case in point being Sunday’s elections. As there are some fantastically flawed analyses out there, let me try to put things in some kind of perspecitve.

Lojze Peterle and his spokesman Janez Cigler Kralj (photo: Jure Eržen, Delo)

A lot of it has to do with the fact that there are only two milion people living in Slovenia (only 1,6 eligible voters at that) and that there is little or no margin of error when performance of politicians is concerned, as discontent tends to spread fast, especially when the right buttons are pushed. In most cases “the right buttons” have to do with social equality and other welfare state issues.

Furthermore, voting preferences for electing a president are not the same as for parliamentary elections. As I noted some time ago, the role of the president is largely ceremonial, but not completely insignificant as it carries great moral significance. Which of course means that people will choose a president who will in their opinion represent their values best. So, by extension, you can measure this country’s values by looking at the president (Incumbent president Janez Drnovšek being an exception to the rule as his transformaton took place while he was in office). Or – at the very least – you can look at the runner-up to see which values are not shared by the majority.

Also – and this phenomemnon is not limited to Slovenia – people tend to remove politicians that have outlived their usefulness. The most eloquent example of this is good old Winston Churchill who was voted out of office only 78 days after winning WWII.

And lastly: Slovenes seem to be convinced that they have a god-given right to the best political leadership this planet has to offer and that exceptional politicians are thick on the ground in this country (incidentally, most of this country’s politicians think they are a brass-balled godsend). And so Slovenes wouldn’t think twice about trhowing an able (but not exceptional) politician out of office before you can say “electoral commision”.

So, politicially speaking, Slovene voters are ungreatful bunch of spoilt brats.

And so – taking all this into account, adding the fact that the government of Janez Janša has done excpetionally well in fucking up a pretty decent ecenomy (how do you come from a model euro-adopting country to a text-book example of economic and fiscal no-nos in eight months?!?), combined with a what was perceived as a dismantling of the welfare state, and you can see why any candidate even remotely connected to the current government would have a hard time getting anywhere in the vicinity of a narrow defeat. And – just to round everything up – Janeza Janša didn’t really put his back into supporting Peterle, showing that the former Prime Minister was not exactly the incumbent Prime Minister’s first choice, which of course further alienated a significant part of the right wing voters.

This year the political planets were favouring the left, and all they had to do was not to screw it up big time. They didn’t. As for the parliamentary elections, to be held in a year’s time – dr. filomena is right. The game’s afoot.

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34 thoughts on “Elections Explained”

  1. As for Churchill, the redskins had it all figured out long ago. A tribe needs two chiefs. One for times of peace and one for times of war. Churchill was possibly seen as fit for just one of the two positions.

    You betcha we deserve the cream of the crop government! What nation doesn’t?
    As for destroying the economy on short term I don’t really think that is what’s happened.it’s more likely that the emperor’s new clothes are getting thinner.

    I think the second part of your second last paragraph rounds it up nicely. Bajuk and Srot may want to consider that more than a few of JJ’s voters do not really belong to the “left”.

  2. That’s a bunch of nonsense you wrote. This year Slovenia has best economic and social results since independence. Avg. real salary growth is above 2% (incl. inflation) and because of tax cuts avg. neto real salary growth is above 4%. GDP growth was never so high during past 16 years and unemployment never so low (bellow 5% that is).

    It is not the inequality and welfare state and it is definitely not the economy – it is perception management. Check it with yourself. Ask yourself how on earth did you come to fantastic idea of bad economic result from -in reality- best economic results since independence? 🙂

    High inflation? Ah, but this is what I call “perception management”. Yes, indeed, it is high (well, let’s be honest, no goverment in history has ever had lower inflation, but we must judge each Slovenian goverment a bit harsher).

    But … avg. salary grew even faster. It was above inflation. People actually live better then last year.

    You were correct. The right buttones were pressed. But on these buttons the title says “perception of reality”, and not “reality”.

  3. Ah, but reality is what we perceive, no? So the perception of reality is in fact the only reality.

    Your macroeconmic indicators are correct and they paint a rosy picture. Why is is, then, that people get less for their money than they used to?

    Is is perhaps because two thirds of Slovenes earn less than the average pay (some 830 EUR) and a third of Slovenes earns much more? Social inequality is here and it is getting greater. This government has done fabulously little to counter that.

    Again – perception of reality is reality. That’s why people who are better off tend to support this government, whereas people who are worse off, tendt to oppose it (if we limit ourselves to economic motivations for electoral choice). And – as polls show – people generally think that they are worse off. And in the end it all about what people think, right? At least once every four-to-five years.

  4. But the salary data clearly shows that salaries have gone up for everyone.

    Social inequality? You mean “income inequality” being percieved as social inequality? In Slovenia -according to creators of gini index- it is one of the lowest in the EU.

    But income inequality does not show how the people live. It only shows their income. It says nothing about their accumulated capital.

    For example a young professional who does not own real estate and has higher then average salary is in reality much worse off then a unioned worker with real estate and average salary.

    High progressions commonly hurt young professionals, not capitalists. Most harmed are dependent employees without real estate – a profile of young person trying to make it by working hard.

    But we do not tax capital gains in Slovenia progressively, remember? Only income.

    So “bad economic conditions” are a fiction. A perception. Not reality. Even in democracy the truth is not subject to majority vote.

    Economy understands that “sentiment” does not necessarily related to real value of things. Especially if voters are misinformed (as the numbers I posted here were so far published only in one newspaper with 60.000 readers in the country – the rest of them just publish theories by social sciences majors and messiahs of quality of life)

    Most of us are in reality much better of since 2004, but our spirit is down and we perceive our situation as much worse.

    At the end this is what is important in politics. But don’t mistaken political propaganda of those who control more meaid for the truth about state of economy. Measured objectively -for majority- it has never been better then the period 2004-2007.

  5. In short – I agree with your political theory. But please don’t sell this “bad economy” bullshit. It is a lie. Ridiculous for everyone who has an insight into both – politics and economy.
    About Lojze Peterle – his record shows that the man was the only prime minister in Slovenian history with budget surplus. For two years of his government we were on +1%. After his government fell till today (that’s 15 years) we have structural deficit caused by raising salaries in public sector in 1993.
    Under Lojze Peterle the pension (amer. social security) system was stable. Then the left came and today our pension system is broke (there is a large minus of almost 1 billion euros which we yearly cover with taxes) and we have the highest percent of young retireed people between 55 and 60 in the west.
    Compared to Lojze Peterle as prime minister, leftist governments of Drnovšek & Pahor lead some most disastrous economic policies in history; comparable to devastation to economy caused by socialistm.
    But if you ask common people on the street – they simply don’t know it.

    Because they don’t know it – is it any less the truth and reality?

  6. I was sooooo hoping you’d bring that up! 😀

    Regarding Lojze Peterle’s track record in macro-economy, the explanation is quite simple: Slovenia stopped transferring customs to federal budget in mid-1990. And that was the only reason for Peterle’s government to have a budget surplus. Slovenia kept monies that it was legaly bound to trasfer to Belgrade. Slovenia was stealing. Before we go into debate of right or wrong, let me add that I’ve no problem with how Peterle’s government (where, BTW, the minister for economy was Jože Mencinger, so loathed by hardcore neoliberals) handled the customs issue – just don’t go around saying that we had a super-duper economic policy back then. The surplus was there just because of cash that should’ve gone to Belgrade but didn’t.

    And I don’t see how you can give credit to Peterle for having a stable social security system. He and his government had nothing to do with it and the whole thing basically collapsed due to transition to market economy.

    As for bad economy: A rising budget deficit, a rising inflation and the fact that (I repeat) 2/3 of Slovenes earn less than average wage – what’s good about that? The GDP growth is not sustainable at this level (predicted at 4% and slowing as of next year), which means that the worst is yet to come.

    People do know that. Janša got elected on a platform of a better life but instead he gave us a more expensive life.

    That you say that most of us are better off today than in 2004 is a truism because the GDP has been growing. Noone disputes that. In that respect we were better off in 2002 than we were in 1992 as well. But that’s not the point. The point is that things are not as advertised and that people didn’t get what they voted for. Plain and simple.

    Point is that economy and politics are not a reason unto themselves. They have direct impacts on lives of people and it is by that measure – like it or not – that politicans gain and lose power.

    Economic theory is wonderful – but it is just that – a theory. The same goes for political theory. Once you look outside the scope of sheer numbers, you suddenly realise that the combination to electoral victory lays in combining a) the need of people to get as much as they can for (say) 20 EUR and b) the need to have a stable and prosperous economic enviroment.

    We certainly don’t have a) and some parts of economy certailny don’t feel b) either. What we do have, is artificially induced GDP growth, which looks nice on paper but which this country will have to pay for by (among other things) covering bad debts of DARS.

    And to answer your last question – sadly (and I stress: sadly), that is the case. In politics (especially in this day and age) it is all about how you communicate things. Had Janša chosen some other spokesperson for his attempted reforms and left the controversial Mičo Mrkaić locked up in some laboratory, I’m sure there would be half as much clamour as there was.

  7. You are badly misinformed. The deficit in our budget was caused in may 1992 by new left wing Drnovšek government.

    They (knowing it would cause deficit, but trying to buy votes with it) raised salaries of public employees across the board for 39%. Go figure.

    I’m sorry to say that but it seems obvious someone has been feeding you fairy tales, buddy.

  8. Here’s the graph of our budget through the years.


    The big V in the middle is the left wing government period.

    As you see the deficit is not increasing but decreasing after 2004. I have no clue where your data comes from, but it seems it comes from “street perception” that I am talking about. 🙂

    Once again, good political theory. It is true what the people think. But don’t mistake public opinion for reality.

  9. As for reforms, forgive me for using common sense and attributing their fall to…
    …those who were against the reforms.

    I realize you might not like Dr. Mrkaić but he wrote articles to newspaper with tens of thousands of readers, while the enemies controlled most of the media and aired propaganda to millions. Common Slovenian does not even know that the Finance newspaper exists. They knew Delo, RTV and other leftist media which published one attack after another on reforms and liberalism, bringing up everything from starving people on the streets to Adolph Hitler.

    There were no majore media excesses by reformists. That’s another one of those perceptions.

    Responsible for not reforming are pinkies from SD, LDS derivates and the bizzare smaller parties (the retired people party, etc.), unions and the Janša government for kneeling in front of them. But most definitely not those who were for the reforms.

    I find it funny how they try to find reasons for their agressive campaign on the other side; but I understand it politicaly. Reforms are a must. And they will have to do it. So I assume their parlance will now switch to “we were not really against the reforms – its the reformists fault” or something even more bizzare.

  10. Buget deficit increased in 2007 (or do I read the graph wrong?). Fiscal year 2008 is only a projection thusfar, so let’s leave it at that. Granted, deficit decreased in 2004-06, but it also decreased from 2002 onwards (by 1,4 percent in a single year), so by your standards we should all be hailing Tone Rop and Dušan Mramor, who managed to decrease the deficit substantially. We should also by your standards hail Jože Mencinger and Marko Kranjec (ministers of economy and finance) under Peterle’s tenure.

    Please explain how these people, loathed as relicts of socialism by rabid neolibs in this country can be responcible for some of the best economic results budget-wise this country has ever witnessed.

    Reforms failed because they were badly communicated to the people. I don’t want to judge Mičo Mrkaić’s abilities as an economist, although several of his ideas do still make me wonder if all of his dogs are barking. But be that as it may – he should have never been made the chief spokesperson for reforms. Never. That’s why I said that he should have been locked up in a laboratory. Let him crunch numbers and economic theory, but don’t let him speak, for heaven’s sake!

    I wouldn’t let him represent a juvenile correction facility, let alone promote the most radical economic reform package sice Maria Theresa abolished feudalism!

    Noone is ever responcible for faliure of a particular policy but the politicinas who did (or didn’t) do things properly.

    As for budgetary surplus up to 1992, I can assure you that I’m pretty well informed. Non-payment of federal customs was the only reason for a surplus in a hostile economic enviromet.

    Because if it wasn’t, then – what the hell are we waiting for! Re-nationalise all the companies, reinstate all the pension, health and other benefits to pre-1992 level and we’ll be back in the good old days! (please, note the irony of this paragraph. You and I both know that the end result would be disastrous if that were to happen)

    I’ve no problem with sound economic policy. I’ve even no problem with most of the reform package (save flat-tax, but let’s leave that for another time). But once a critical mass of public is up in arms, politics is fucked.

  11. Once again, Peng demonstrates that he has terrific “soft skills”, but is severely lacking in the “hard skills” department.

    What you might conclude from the data at hand is this:

    -the actual numbers show that the economy is in good shape
    -this is not really the work of the current gov’t, because they didn’t really do anything. Neither is inflation, which is now controlled by the European Central Bank
    Question: Why is the perception then that the times are worse and that it’s the govt’s fault?

    Answer: Good job, PR people in the opposition and the media!

  12. Dude, you have no qualifications to judge Mrkaic as an economist. He was judged by the best in the field, among others he had a Nobel prize winner in his PhD committee. His credentials as an economist are impeccable, so please don’t go there.

  13. “Please explain how these people, loathed as relicts of socialism by rabid neolibs in this country can be responcible for some of the best economic results budget-wise this country has ever witnessed.”

    You asked a stupid and provocative question which you don’t really mean so I will reply with stupid and provocative answer which I don’t really mean –

    “They were led by Lojze Peterle.”

    Ok, now to the serious part. Front face for wide spread reform propaganda was polite Joze Pavlic Damijan; not Mico Mrkaic. You are simply wrong there. There was abolutely no bad moment that any of these two would have on national television or on mainstream media and what people don’t see paople don’t judge.

    I agree with crni. It was PR that killed them. Or as I put it before perception management. And you’re sort of proof that it was successful. 🙂

  14. @crni: Very good on Q and A, except for the small matter of prices actually rising substantialy. That’s not a PR spin. A trip down Mercator will tell you that. Even government analysts admit that, although they were rather reluctant to at first.

    What the opposition is doing is taking advantage of the situation. As for the media – about effing time 🙂

    All I said is that this government fucked up a rather good economic outlook. Inflation started in 2007. That’s the third year of this government’s tenure. You seriously can’t blame the previous government for it.

    As for inflation being controlled by the ECB – surely you meant counter-inflationary measures. To an extent yes – but that’s just in monetary departement. Public spending (still a major inflationary factor in this country) is increasing, not in the least by government vouching for DARS which took out a shitload of loans – this of course means that the gov’t must set aside money to cover for that.

    Neither of these things is deadly by itself, of course. But piece by piece, people became disulussioned with this government pretty fast. And so this election was a massive warning signal for JJ.

  15. @crni: I have no inclination to judge Mrkaić as an economist. I have my opinion of him, but its just that – an opinion. I’m sure he’s a very good economist. Maybe even excellent. But was terrible at selling reforms to people. If it were up to me to run PR on refrorms, I would have just taken Mrkaić off the front pages toot-suite and put someone less controversial as a spokesperson, that’s all.

    @Tomaž Štih: YES! Bad PR killed reforms! About two weeks ago, crni taught me a lesson that ideas are basically two-a-dime and I gather there are also a couple of good ideas floating around. But you have to communicate them. And it is entirely government’s fault for failing to do so.

    Generaly speaking media in Slovenia is incompetent. And someone (possibly all of them: Janša, Mrkaić, JPD) were either too arrogant or to anal to properly communicate reforms through media that the government controlled at the time!

    Case in point Damijan’s stunt with table-fussbal (stolni fudbal), which he had installed in his office for brainstorming sessions. It looked nice on TV, but when ordinary people saw that, they said: “A-a! Not for my money!”

    In the end – it is the perception that counts. And if all were fine and dandy, these issues would soon burn out of fuel. But they just keep dragging on and on.

  16. I would not even go intu leftist fairy tales about the government controling the media. At no time did government have any control over the media. In fact the media was full of anti-reform propaganda from the beginning and it is not what reformist did that matter but what they couldn’t do because they were denied access to media.

    I would just say that people responsible for undermining the reforms were those who were against the reforms. Unions, the left. I understand that you now see that you were wrong and you would like to adjust your position and perceive those for the reforms as being responsible for not having reforms but that is pretty bizzare, isn’t it? If you were for the reforms and we were for the reforms – we would have reforms.

    The reason we did not have them is because you were against them.

  17. How could the unions, the left, prevent the government from carying out the reforms? Janša has the majority in the parliament. So what happened? Did the opposition put a gun to his head and say: Drop the reforms or else…
    He got scared, coz he didn’t really have a clear vision. Should I do what has to be done, and then they won’t like me? Should I do something that will please ppl and so I’ll get re-elected? What about a bit of both? It’s obvious he found out only to soon how easy it is to critisize, but difficult to carry out things, and now he’s starting to cry, I don’t want to play anymore, they’re all against me.
    I suggest he maries Urška before she changes her mind and moves to Australia and leaves the job for real politicians

  18. @TS: You give me (us?) waaaay too much credit 😀

    Nobody disputed the fact that reforms were (are) necesary… It was, however, this particular reform package, its content (part of it, anyway) and proposed implementation which sent shivers down the spine of the unions and united them (for the first time in a decade). But fact of the matter is that Janša missed the train to implement reforms even before JPD came onboard as minister for development.

    Namely: the last date for passing the reform package was January 1st 2006. But JPD was only made minister a couple of weeks before that. Reform legislastion should have been prepared by then for it to have any potential positive economic (and, by extention, political) effect.

    Janša, however, set about subjugating RTVSLO and Delo instead of kicking some asses in his own team and getting people cook up some real legislation.

    Because: Had the reform package been passed by early 2006 (and let’s assume that the end result would have been positive accros the board), it’s effect would have been felt by early 2007 (deadline for tax returns for the previous year). As assets would get redistributed, a lot of people and parts of economy would feel that as an unwelcome shock. But…. Perhaps – and that was the political math behind it – just perhaps positive sides of reforms would be felt in 2008 (an election year) and that would leave Janša poised to get elected for another term.

    As things stand now, he’s liable to get reelected anyhow, but he’ll have to compromise a lot more.

    So basically, it was the government’s fault. Instead of kicking their balls around for most of 2005 they should have been prepairing legislation, but all they could some up with was a Resolution on development of Slovenia of which noone talks much anymore.

    Look: I freely confirm that I was against the proposed reform package. But Janša got elected on it. That – by definition – means that he should have enough popular support for it. But as he was picking his nose, doing notihng of importance, time passed and he had nothing to show for it. It is exatcly the same with legislation on regions. He’s been promising it for a year now, but still nothing happens. His cabinet is incompetent, and when an entire team is underperforming, usually the coach is the first to go.

    So Janša not only disappointed those who don’t support him. They (we?) never expected anything better of him. His problem is that he disappointed his electorate. And they should and will take it up with him. Not the opposition and certainly not the media.

    JJ was put in charge and he failed to deliver. And noone ever said that it’s a nice job running the country. But he wanted it and he got a fair shot at it. It’s up to him if he’ll live up to people’s expectations.

  19. Aja: Exactly.

    What I want to know is, when will the precipice between the perception of reality that Peng has explained to us is so important in politics, and the actual reality become so big to be unbearable. That will be the moment of truth. And it will hurt, just like it hurt after 50 years of “labor victories of brotherhood and unity”.

  20. I think we’re now off topic. I originally discussed economic position – the lowest unemployment in history, the highest GDP growth in history, yearly growth of avg. salary by 4.7%. My point was and still is that the left has done Slovenia bad by undermining reforms and that it is not very adult to now not be prepared to take responsibility for it. It is very nice to see how reforms could be paseed in spite of your opposition but they would also be passed without your opposition, wouldn’t they?
    The fact is that for me as a classical liberal the right goverment is responsible for not passing the reforms because of the opposition but the left is responsible for opposing them and killing them. From my perspective as someone who voted for Margaret Thatcher and supported independents Mrkaić and Pavlić I am glad that guys on the left have changed your mind and you realize now that reforms are necessary.
    It provides me with pleasure of being right.
    However that does not relieve you from responsibility for this country losing four years of development. You may say that the government could’ve passed them and I agree. But you were against them and you too are responsible that there were no reforms.

  21. That’s so funny.
    Mary decided she’ll climb Mt. Everest. Johnny was against it. They quarrelled.
    Mary went anyway. She never made it, coz, honestly, between you and me, she was not fit for it.
    The moral of the story: Johnny is washing the dishes and that’s really a mild punishment if we consider that it was his fault that poor Mary didn’t climb Mt. Everest.

  22. What an ignorance. You mobilize practically all journalists in 2 million size country to publicly destroy reforms and then you pretend you didn’t do. That unions weren’t street divisions of political left; that 571 journalists didn’t lobby for complete left hegemony in the media and most of all -and that’s funny- you call the government that has lowest unemployment and highest growth in history of our country incompetent (from the position of the one who devastated the pension fund and lead country to structural deficit).
    And then you come with a child story which lacks crucial factors – that Johnny broke Mary’s leg before climbing Everest just in case she had a chance to made it…
    Seriously, my friends, you can’t win this battle; you are just too much out of touch with reality.
    You can have the media under your control. That’s okay. You also have a right to your own opinion; regardless of its fictional nature.
    But no man has a right to his own reality.

  23. I don’t think you understood the “you can’t win this battle” part, but you’ll learn. Latest when your weapons of lies and deceptions turn on you. These are not tools of durable politics. If people are today taught by you to be unsatisfied with great results; then how will you tomorrow satisfy them with lower ones?

  24. Hey, don’t blame me for the fact that this government is underperforming! 😆

    Lies and deceptions you talk about do (I take it) come in form of higher prices (think inflation), lack of consistent policies (think reforms, regional legistation), reprieiving a particular city of a huge chunk of money because it elected the “wrong” mayor (think Ljubljana), selling state-owned shares of sucessful companies waaay below market-price /(think Mercator), attempting (and partially suceeding) to control the media (think Radio and TV SLO, Primorske Novice, Delo until recently)…. The list is long and distinguished…

    I understand that we may differ on macroeconomics. And I may well be wrong (time will tell). But (and I see that now) your liberal stance is only a cover for your bias in favour of this particular government.

    But to answer your last question (and I hope by that we can put an end to the “us/them” debate): if the next government (whichever it may be) uderperforms, it will be voted out of office. It is that simple.

  25. “if the next government (whichever it may be) uderperforms, it will be voted out of office. It is that simple.”

    It is never that simple. New government might be voted out of office if it performs well by the same circles of power that they created to get rid of this one. Durable politics is in my opinion about expectation management; that you as an alternative can meet.

    My positive bias towards this government? I am calling for them to resign while the opposition wants them to stay. My only worry is that I see no alternative on the other side. Opposition is currently program-less and they are held together by their love of power and hate towards this government. When this government goes, what do you expect of them?

    Lower taxes like this government gave?

    Privatization of schools which they want to undermine?

    Better environment for business while calling for more power to the unions?

    More competition while being against more powers for the regions which could bring tax competition and similar means to compete?

    Privatization after being against selling state run companies?

    Lower prices of real estate and condos after this government issued avg. 60% more permits to build then the old one?

  26. So now it the circles of power that appoint governments? You’re getting more and more desperate…

    Let me remind you that for now all we have is a new president and a massive warning signal to the government.

    And your calling for the government to resign is bullshit (pardon my French). There is no reason for it to do so. This government still has a majority in the parliament and the coalition is stable. Quitting now (less then a year before parliamentary elections) would be an act of irresponsibility on behalf of the government which cannot take criticism.

    It is the same story all over again. Janša either has it entirely his way or he quits. His unwillingness to compromise is his undoing.

    As for my expectations of the next government (which will be headed by JJ in my opinion):

    I expect them to – primarily – curb inflation.

    As for the rest:
    Lower taxes like this government gave?
    Only if this means that a bigger net wage. I – however remain convinced that lowering taxes would result in lower gross wage, whereas net wage will remain the same

    Privatization of schools which they want to undermine?
    Whatever made you believe that I support privatisation of schools?

    Better environment for business while calling for more power to the unions?
    Believe it or not that goes hand in hand.

    More competition while being against more powers for the regions which could bring tax competition and similar means to compete?
    WHAT??? Tax competition between regions? In Slovenia? Please, wake up and smell reality!

    Privatization after being against selling state run companies?
    Correction: against non-transparent selling of state companies. And there are companies that we should never sell.

    Lower prices of real estate and condos after this government issued avg. 60% more permits to build then the old one?
    WHAT lower prices of real estate?

    And you say that the opposition is sans platform… Be a sport, help them write one!

  27. I was against the proposed package of reforms. Please don’t read selectively and/or out of context.

    The way Janša went about this business was just wrong.

    Besides… Why do we need reforms, since GDP growth is up, deficit is (as you say) smaller, etc…

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