Hurricane Season

Global warming? No, just Slovene politics (photoshop by yours truly)

As predicted the Liberal Democrats (LDS) chose to remain a part of the ruling coalition. Having been sulking for the better part of last week and then threatening to walk out lest Primer Minister Borut Pahor fulfilled a set of demands, they were forced to look in the face of reality last weekend and realize that they had much more to lose by leaving the coalition than by staying a part of it. While PM Pahor did declassify the transcript of a meeting between himself, Prosecutor General Barbara Brezigar, justice minister Aleš Zalar and prosecutor Branka Zobec Hrastar, the transcript failed to deliver the smoking gun, evidence with which Zalar aimed to fire Brezigar. Truth be told, a page of the transcript remains classified as it pertains to an ongoing criminal investigation and Zalar claims that this is precisely it,that evidence against Brezigar is hidden in that one still-classified page. Circumstantial evidence, however, suggests otherwise. Namely, that both Zalar and Brezigar were bending over backwards to prove their point while dismissing errors on their part as trivial.

But be that as it may, it turned out that Zalar’s party chief and ministerial colleague Katarina Kresal had other reasons to play hardball. She is up for her second vote on interpelation (the first serving minister in Slovene history to be subject to a confidence vote twice in the same term) and her horoscope ain’t too bright. It seems that Karl Erjavec of DeSUS came to collect. You will remember that Erjavec resigned after a protracted and rather embarrassing little charade of who-wants-to-butt-fuck-who, when LDS leader took the moral high-ground and started running Erjavec out of the government after he was a) indicted for dereliction of duty while serving as defence minister under Janša’s government, and b) named by the court of Audit as the person responsible for Slovenia not to have implemented a nation-wide waste-separation system and proposed to be replaced.

Erjavec got his revenge sooner than expected, but he didn’t miss a beat: he said that although bound by the coalition agreement, DeSUS will not support Kresal unequivocally, but will rather release their MPs from any obligation and allow them to vote as they please. In other words: it is possible – although not probable – that Katarina Kresal loses the vote of confidence. But it was apparently enough to make her edgy and nervous.

At any rate, Kresal and Zalar had proven themselves not to be all they could have been, at least from the standpoint of pure politics. Neither had covered their backs before attempting some sort of political bravado and they have no one but themselves to blame for their bruised egos. In all honesty, were their votes not critical to PM Pahor for securing an absolute majoriy in the parliament (withouht LDS he is a vote short), they could have found themselves at the wrong end of a very long and hard political stick administered by PM personally. It would appear, however, that hurricane season had begun in Slovene politics. Dodging one criris, he is headed straight onto the second one, much more real and much more severe than incessant foot-stomping of a petite party.

As the government is entering the final stages of a debate on pension reforms, labour unions finally realised that they have a purpose in their lives and started opposing reforms which set the minimum retirement age at 65, meaning that we would will have to work longer for less. Unions went apeshit and in a joint statement threatened to take to the street and topple the government if need be. Well, truth be told, they threatened to hold a referendum first and only then topple the government, but there you go 🙂

Pengovsky will take the time one of these days to write up the social and labour reforms which will include a piece on “malo delo” (or student work), much desired by Camille. But suffice it to say that there is a certain paradox in the fact that the most sweeping reform this country has ever experienced will have to be passed by the most left-wing government this country has ever experienced. Although, for the record, some would argue that reforms are nowhere near as sweeping as advertised, nor is the government as left-wing as advertised.

Be that as it may, no-one missed the fact that the unions took after opposition leader Janez Janša who – as you will remember – also threatened with mass protests, the only difference being that Janša said that he would do it to protect the democracy (democracy as he sees it, naturally), while the unions claim to have a rather more prosaic goal of protecting worker’s right. Obviously this does not mean that unions and the oppositoin find themselves on the same team, after all those same unions four years ago forced then-PM Janša to back off from his (admittedly stupid) plan to introduce flat tax rate. But it is an interesting fact nevertheless.

It all goes to show that the government of Borut Pahor is increasingly fighting on several fronts at the same time. So far the results are mixed and the feeling of disorganisation is only heightened by a number of competing visions of what “post-crisis” Slovenia should look like and – more importantly – what areas the government should focus on immediately. It will come as no surprise to you that all visions (reform packages, proposals, whathaveyou) seek a bright future for this country. They just go about it in their own peculiar ways. The latest proposal, Vision 20+20 was put together by former minister of development Žiga Turk and his colleagues (full text here, Slovene only)

Add to that the fact that the parliament will vote on the arbitrage agreement next week, that MPs are seriously debating only half-serious proposals by Mladina weekly to dismantle the army, that final votes on the Family Code and The Erased will follow soon and that the whole thing will reach its peak with autumn municuipal elections (with primary focus being on Ljubljana and its mayor Zoran Janković) and you could say that Slovene politics is entering its own hurricane season

LDS. Liberal Democrats Sulking.

Liberal democrats are sulking. Last week justice minister Aleš Zalar lost a prolonged spat with Prosecutor General Barbara Brezigar whom PM Borut Pahor for some reason saw fit to protect and shield from what was admittedly a rather feeble attempt by Zalar to have Brezigar removed from office. As a result, LDS went into sulking mode and held a marathon session yesterday, whereupon it stated three four conditions PM Pahor has to meet until Monday otherwise they will walk out of the coalition without further a-do.

Katarina Kresal and Aleš Zalar went into sulking mode (source)

But first you’re entitled to some background as pengovsky didn’t have the time to write this particular piece of political cock-wrangling up. As you know, Barbara Brezigar is widely perceived to be one of key supporters of opposition leader Janez Janša. Her affinity for JJ and his band of merry men showed way back in the 90’s when she – then as a district attorney – closed the case on Depala vas and arms dealing, effectively letting Janša off the hook and contributing to the fact that these items are either interpreted as an attempted coup d’etat and profiteering (a version yours truly more or less subscribes to) or as a ploy by communist mafia to thwart fledgling forces of democracy. At any rate, Brezigar, who also ran for president on SDS ticket in 2002, was widely tipped to be dismissed when current coalition ascended to power.

However. In what is a much recurring theme PM Pahor apparently decided to support Brezigar and protect her from imminent sacking envisaged by Zalar. This is where it gets interesting.

Namely, minister Zalar picked an altogether poor spot for a showdown with Prosecutor General. He wanted her sacked for violating some obscure but supposedly highly important stipulation of State Prosecution’s Rules and Procedures, where apparently Brezigar refused to counter-sign several opinions by her co-workers. Zalar claimed that refusal to countersign was illegal. Which may or may not have been the case, but Zalar’s argument went along the lines of Brezigar not doing her job and he tried to build his case on a rather trivial legal fact which few people outside justice system knew existed. And when Brezigar for her part claimed that everything was in order, both minister and prosecutor were summoned by the PM, not unlike unruly schoolchildren are summoned to the principle’s office. Pahor basically told them to get their acts together and that he isn’t sacking anyone for the moment.

Reasons for Pahor’s (non)decision are probably numerous.
One: if the government were to sack Brezigar (the power to remove Prosecutor General lies with the government as a whole), then he would probably have to sack a good number of other top-tier civil servants who probably cut corners in similar vein.
Two: Janez Janša probably meant it when he repeated the threat of mass protests, should Brezigar be dismissed.
Three: Sacking Barbara Brezigar would probably launch a vicious political battle which would be fought until last man standing, because with the State Prosecutor out of the picture Janša is more or less out in the open regarding a multitude of issues, including but not limited to the Patria Affair.
Four: considering the above, Pahor would do wisely to hold a stronger card than just a technical violation of Rules and Procedures by the Prosecutor General.
Five: Going after Brezigar means going after Janša. And Pahor probably felt that this fight is being forced upon him, so he dodged it.

There is a time and a place to fight Janez Janša. This fight will have to be fought sooner or later if Pahor wants to remain in power. But right now is neither the time nor the place. There is too much at stake and too many issues are being dealt with to waste energy on a fight with an unpredictable result. Health and pension reforms are picking up pace, while the new Family Code is rapidly nearing adoption (possibly in May). Ditto for the law on The Erased. All of these are issues LDS campaigned on heavily. It seems ludicrous not to follow them through. And yet, this is precisely what LDS threatened to do yesterday.

After what was a long and difficult session of top party organs, LDS issued a sort of ultimatum to PM Pahor, saying that
a) he should declassify the transcript of a meeting between Pahor, Zalar, Brezigar and Brezigar’s deputy Branka Zobec Hrastar, who reportedly strongly criticised Brezigar,
b) he should publicly support Zalar’s findings that Brezigar broke Rules and Procedures.
c) That Pahor must support Zalar’s initiative on reforming the State Prosecution and
d) that PM will cooperate with LDS in an honest and fair manner.

Failing to do any of the above will cause LDS to walk out of the coalition. Or so they say.

There is an old Vulcan proverb which says that “when you’re in a hole, stop digging“. The wisdom is lost on LDS whose minister Zalar first went after Brezigar without double-checking whether the PM has his back (he did not) and then continued to pursue the matter even when it was obvious to everyone else but him that he fumbled it. Even then Zalar had plenty of manoeuvring space to drop the issue. The PM said on many occasions that he fully supported the justice minister, but that the two of them see this matter differently. He even went as far as to say that he would not accept Zalar’s resignation. And yet, Liberal Democrats decided to up the ante and threatened to walk out of the coalition.

On the surface this looks like a ballsy thing to do. But in reality it is nothing more than a dick-measuring contest and a bad bluff. Namely: last week, just after he nixed Zalar’s final attempt to sack Brezigar, PM Pahor said in no unclear terms that he will not seek a coalition with Janez Janša’s SDS and that – should by any chance the current coalition fall apart – he will not seek a new majority in the parliament. Meaning either that he will run a minority government or that he will return the mandate. So, what probably happened is that LDS leadership probably read their cards wrong and thought they could play the table on Pahor, since without LDS the prime minister is a vote short of an absolute majority.

While that is correct, leaving the government at this juncture would quite probably endow LDS with a one way ticket to political oblivion as their two ministers Zalar and Kresal would have precious little to show for their time in office save a busted coalition and a string of PR disasters. Careful observers have not missed the fact that the two main (media) proponents of LDS’ sulking are Jelko Kacin and Slavko Ziherl. The former was Katarina Kresal’s predecessor as LDS president and a man “credited” with running the party further into the ground after LDS’s epic defeat in 2002 elections. The latter, however, you will remember as the author of a rather naive letter to PM Pahor a little more than a year ago.

LDS very nearly followed NSi (christian democrats) in dropping off the political map. It practically held on by its fingernails. Nevertheless it made it into the coalition and holds two important portfolios. Katarina Kresal and Aleš Zalar were (and probably still are) in a position to do things that needed to be done long ago, regardless of some exceptionally bad PR they were getting lately (the latest one is about police catching Kresal’s offical car speeding while she was in it). Instead they are sulking, listening to political amateurs and threatening to walk out because of what Gregor Golobič of Zares today (rightly) called a second-tier question. The amount of destruction some people are willing to create just to prove that they are right is astonishing.

Katarina Kresal To Take Over as PM

As reported by The Firm™ earlier today, leader of Liberal democrats (LDS) Katarina Kresal will today take over as Prime Minister. The move is in accordance with Article 4, Section 1 of the Coalition Agreement, where the members of the quartet agreed to divide the time at the helm of the government according to their election result. Thus leader of Social democrats Borut Pahor held the premiership until yesterday, while Kresal will hand it over to leader of Zares Gregor Golobič some time mid-August. He in turn will act as PM until early May 2011, whereupon Karl Erjavec (or whoever will lead DeSUS at the time) will run the government until February 2012, when Pahor will again take over to finish the term.


The move is highly unorthodox and with dubious constitutional grounds, which is why the opposition went apeshit and demanded an extraordinary session of the parliament. It also called on the Constitutional court to decide on the legality of the move. This story is bound to develop durind the day, so watch this space…