After yesterday’s ruling by the Constitutional Court on the Pahor-Kosor agreement prime minister Borut Pahor and the coalition as a whole started making noises about bailing out on a pledge to hold the preliminary referendum on the agreement prior to ratification in the parliament. While not entirely unreasonable, the idea has plenty of drawbacks too and could mean trouble later on. But, then again, trouble is not something this government is short on as it is.
PM Borut Pahor after a favourable ruling by the Constitutional Court (source)
As you know results of a preliminary (consultative) referendum in Slovenia are not legally binding. Theoretically this means that even if the government lost the popular vote on the Pahor-Kosor agreement, it could still go through with ratification in the parliament. But it would do so at its own peril, especially since PM Pahor already committed himself to respect results of a referendum, whatever they may be.
But then again, even if the government were to hold and win the preliminary referendum, there is no guarantee that the opposition will not call a consecutive referendum regardless, citing “lack of clarity of previous referendum question” or some weird shit like that. Because this is no longer just about the territory, but about the future of Borut Pahor’s government. If he were to lose a referendum vote, either preliminary or consecutive, PM Pahor – having staked almost every ounce of his political credibility on this agreement – would probably be forced to resign. If he were, however, to see the whole thing through (that is, to ratify the agreement in the parliament, win a referendum vote and get a compromise border solution we can all live with), his stock would soar as he would have achieved what so many before him have failed to.
There is an awful lot riding on this agreement as it is and it would be an uphill battle even without the poisoned political and media climate Slovenia is experiencing in the past few months. But as things stand now, the odds are so heavily against Pahor and his government that it is no wonder that the coalition is entertaining thoughts on skipping the preliminary referendum. Winning one referendum vote will be a daunting task. Winning two would be a near impossibility.
The opposition of course knows this. After all it has done its part in painting the government as inept, corrupt and unable to tackle most immediate problems. True, the government itself did sometimes come across as any possible combination of the three, but the opposition was actively creating a feeling of emergency, either by endless re-runs of Ultra Affair or the canine scandal, by trying to impeach president Danilo Türk, rallying against same-sex adoptions and The Erased and by making it a weekly feature to call on this-or-that minister to “finally resign”. Looking back (and risking seeing a pattern that doesn’t exist), there seems to be a strange correlation between the various affairs which were endlessly debated, used and exploited to no apparent end but to create an air of mistrust, hatred and despair. It may be just a coincidence, but it seems that the opposition is aiming to have these negative feelings released in a referendum vote, preferably in a manner which would topple the government.
Five months ago the polls were somewhat surprisingly showed that majority of the people support the agreement. But today any vote against the agreement would in fact be a vote against the government as such and this is of course something Pahor will want to avoid at all cost. So now failing to deliver on his promise to hold a preliminary referendum is yet another chip off the credibility of PM Pahor, but this change is tactics is probably his only chance of success. Unless of course he strikes and 11th hour deal with opposition leader Janez Janša to secure a two-thirds majority in ratifying the agreement, which would probably make the referendum a political redundancy (technically only a relative majority is needed to ratify the agreement)
But since Janša is not on board (he denounced the government yet again earlier today for going ahead with the agreement), the coalition has to make some tough choices. President Türk, who in the past spoke in favour of preliminary referendum reiterated his position yesterday, putting him at odds with Pahor’s government. And according to various media reports similar sentiment is shared by much of coalition MPs. The latter, however, made it clear that they will support whatever decision the government takes, which makes the possibility of ratifying the treaty first and holding a referendum second even greater.
Timing is also of the essence. This is only one of three “big” referendums which will be a hot topic in the coming months. Referendums on the Law on restitution of The Erased and on the new Family code will likely be called as well in the near future. And again the constitutional court will play a huge role, as it will have to decide whether these referenda would infringe human rights of the Erased, same-sex couples and/or any other group of individuals and rule whether to allow them to take place at all. Both of these issues are terribly important and are clear “agenda cases” of the incumbent left wing government. The question pengovsky asks is whether PM Pahor is contemplating on scheduling either of these referenda before the one on Pahor-Kosor agreement, hoping the voters would vent their anger by rejecting either of the above laws and then give a nod to his pet project. But then again, he could be aiming to win three out of three referendums, in which case the bets he is waging are truly galactic.