The Top Spot Should Decide the Coalition

It’s been a while since pengovsky posted on public opinion polls and we’ve had two od those in the last 14 days, one by Delo (on 3 August) and one by RTV Slovenija on 16 August. Please note that I consider RTV SLO and it’s pollster Interstat a problematic duo, but I include their polls nevertheless – for the moment I give them the benefit of the doubt.

The story so far:


You will notice Social Democrats’ ratings going up and down like a cork in the water. This is obviously a result of RTVSLO moving up the pace of its polls, and since leaders of the left bloc Borut Pahor, Gregor Golobič and Katarina Kresal (of Social Democrats, Zares and Liberal Democrats respectively) went on the record that a coalition with PM Janša’s SDS is out of the question, a whole new dynamic in pre-election rhetoric emerged.

It seems to have dawned on SDS what pengovsky has been saying for quite some time: that although SDS and SD are neck-and-neck in the polls the three left wing parties (SD, Zares and LDS) enjoy a small-but-comfortable lead over the three right wing parties (SDS, SLS, NSi), even if you take RTVSLO’s polls into account:


Specifically, Janez Janša is starting to make nervous noises about the possibility of his party taking the top spot and not getting the mandate for forming the government. To coutner that, said Janša, SDS must win big and not by just the slightest of margins. As we know this might prove a tad difficult, as SDS seems to have canibalised all the votes it could off of SLS and NSi, while making little progress in enlarging the voting base of the right wing option as a whole.

So Janša and his party are afraid that President Danilo Türk (himself supported by SD, Zares and later on by LDS in the presidential elections) might give the mandate to form the government to the party which will clearly be capable of forming a ruling coalition and not (as per convention) to the relative winner of the elections.

The trick is, that – given the projected distribution of votes – whoever gets the mandate will very likely form a ruling coalition one way or another. So it goes without saying that the thought of circumventing this unwritten rule of forming the governement has crossed many minds on the left side od the political spectrum, and Janša apparently got the wind of it.

Personally, however, I think that ignoring convention would be a very bad idea and I hope that President Türk will not succumb to the lure of cutting a shortcut to Janša’s removal from power. Namely, if SDS were to come out on top but the mandate would go to SD, SDS would scream treason, defamation of voters’ decision and what-have-you. And they would have a point. Furthermore, if the left wing parties can’t get a clear mandate to run the country, than perhaprs they’re better off not doing it, since theirs would be a very weak mandate, with SDS, SLS and NSi constantly questioning its legitimacy. And so on, and so on…

So if SDS does come on top eventually (as many people believe it will), then it is only right that PM Janša gets another shot at forming the government. The task just might prove to be a bit more difficult than it sounds and even if he suceeds, he would be presiding over a politicaly very diverse government, in constant danger of falling appart.

Pengovsky’s projection: Regardless of the actual perctentage, SD and SDS will continue to battle it out until the last day of election campaing, knowing very well that whoever gets the top spot will most likely form the government. I really think that any sort of shennanigans with giving the mandate to the party which would come in second would be an extremely bad idea.

Data is available as an MS Excel file.

Election 2008 badge is updated to reflect the last available poll (RTV SLO), although I stress again that its results are problematic at best.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

5 thoughts on “The Top Spot Should Decide the Coalition”

  1. Hmmm, Pengovsky, I have to disagree on this point. A convention? Well, to my understanding it’s clear how our system works and SDS might as well be screaming “treason”, but I would scream back “democracy”! No single party gets the mandate to rule the country, it’s always the coalition which has a MAJORITY. And whoever puts this coalition together should run it. If for instance left wing parties put together a coalition with 55%, it’s a bit difficult to claim it goes against people’s will, since obviously 55% of the people voted for those parties and only 19% or so, voted for SDS for example. I really don’t see the problem and it goes for every party.

  2. Well, it is convention. Technically, a mandate to form the government is given before a ruling coalition is formed, therefore – if you want to play it by the numbers – the Prez should give the mandate to the party which got the most votes.

    What you say is true, no single party gets to run the country, but one of them will have beed deemed by the people as more capable to lead than the others. Therefore it should be – in theory at least – more capable of forming the government that the others.

    Oh, and one more thing. You say “if for instance left wing parties put together a coalition of 55%“. You base your premise on the fact that all three party leaders have repeatedly stated that they will not go in bed with Janša and his SDS. However, what if Janša makes an offer one of them can’t refuse?

    The Prez cannot rule out any possible outcome and must allow for all outcomes when giving a mandate to form a government. Therefore, he should give the mandate to the leader of whichever party comes out on top.

  3. Actually I was trying to make a general argument, not argue about SD or SDS in particular. However, you say: “Technically, a mandate to form the government is given before a ruling coalition is formed.” Well, I think the president at that point meets with potential candidates, and whoever comes up with the possibility of forming a coalition governement, to him the mandate goes. And besides, this convention, although it’s been broken in many other countries countless of times, is not so “conventional” even in our young country. Please remind me again, in our first independent elections, which party got the most votes and who got to form the coalition?

  4. Nice try :mrgreen: however – the Prez can not, should not, presume the outcome of a parliamentary vote. And even there are parties which make their coalition preferences clear (to keep in line with the generality of your argument), this does not preclude the possibility of the largest party somehow making it.

    If this party won the relative majority, this my default means that a relaitve majority of voters think that this party is more capable to lead the country than any other party. Even though the President in this case acts as a sovereign, independently executing his authority, he cannot just ignore electoral results and allow what might be called “political bullying”.

    Point is, that – in absence of a clear pre-election coalition – a single party gets the mandate for forming the government. This means that the relative winner of elections should get the first shot at it and it also answers the final part of your comment.

    Yes, in 1990 it was the reformed communist party (SDP, now SD) which got the relative majoriy on a party-by-party basis. However, that was the only case of Slovenia having a clear pre-election coalition, which acted as a unified bloc, and it was the deal within the coalition that the mandate should go to the party which will get the relative majority of votes within the coalition.

    Secondly, that was a period of political transition, when changes at political helm were expected one way or the other, and I think (but don’t quote me on this) that at the time SDP publicly stated tjat it will remain in opposition.

    And thirdly – what is perhaps less known – is the fact that the first democratic goverment. led by Lojze Peterle was not just a classic coalition governemnt, but had elements of a “government of national unity”, because SDP (despite being in opposition) got the rather powerful portfolio of ministry of family and social affairs.

    So I think that when judging the dos and donts of forming a government, we should limit ourselves to the period after 1992, when a new constitution was passed and institutions as we know them today were formed.

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