So, You Want To Amend The Constitution, Huh?

Lately, talk of amending Slovenian constitution is in vogue, it seems. Janez Janša‘s SDS announced it but failed to give it substance, Gregor Golobič‘s Zares presented their own version and gave it some substance and the government of Borut Pahor as a whole announced it is joining the fun as well. High time for pengovsky to chip as well, so try this on for size:

Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia (source)

Abolish the National Council. I mean, what’s with having special interest parliamentary representation in the first place? Sure, it’s nice to hear the voice of all walks of life when passing policy decisions, but there are ways to do it other than creating a second chamber and then amputating it from the start. Fourty-four representatives, all of them elected indirectly is an utterly failed attempt to mix the U.S. Senate with element of corporatism which serves no real purpose but to give give a group of people without a clear mandate the power to call a referendum and generally spend away taxpayer’s money. Cut the crap and create a true single-chamber parliament. Life will be much easier for everyone. After-all it is not as if people sitting in the National Council don’t have enough power as it is through various unions, industrial and commerce chambers and other pressure groups.

Increase number of MPs to 121. Not just because 121 is 11 squared (a nice number, ain’t it), which would make it possible for eleven MPs to be elected in each of the eleven voting units (an increase of three from the existing eight per voting unit). It would also decrease the number of voters per MP, thus increasing the relative representation of the people and – perhaps most importantly – give us an odd number of MPs, preventing the possibility of a 50/50 stalemate in the parliament. And you know how awkward that can be.

Institute a mayor/MP conflict of interest In fact, institute a conflict of interest between serving as an MP and serving as any other elected official, be it on municipal or regional level. Each and every MP represents the entire population of Slovenia. Not just his immediate voting precinct or unit. Mayors who also serve as MPs tend to a) support decisions which are in favour of their municipality and not necessarily in the interest of the entire country and b) have the possibility to indulge in pork-barrel politics, often at the expense of other parts of the country. This simply can not go on. There are municipalities running out of space for new state-funded infrastructure and highway-exits, while others still have problem stuff as basic as sewage.

And don’t forget, you can achieve this also by simply passing the appropriate law.

Amend election rules. This was done before, so it is nothing new, even though you could (as with previous item) get it done by amending the law and not necessarily the constitution itself. Specifically, what is needed is introducing an absolute preferential vote, whereby voters would vote for a specific candidate and thereby vote for candidate’s political party. Should the candidate not receive enough votes to be elected to the parliament, his votes would be added to the votes other candidates of the same party received within the same voting unit and then divided proportionally among those candidates, starting from the top of the list. Technically, this is called “proportional system with strong elements of majority system” and was actually called for by the Constitutional Court. So despite the fact that it is Gregor Golobič’s Zares which advocates this measure (and the one about conflict of interests), it should not be viewed as a party position but as a long-overdue and fundamentally necessary amendment to the constitution.

Create regions Six of them, with Ljubljana having special status as the capital city. True, you’d be creating yet another level of administration, but the advantages are numerous. You can strip the 210-or-so Slovene municipalities of most of their competences and transfer them to regional level. If you want equal access to things like health and education, you can not have municipalities handling it, because most of them don’t have enough money to provide either, let alone maintain their existing infrastructure (unless of course their mayors serve as MPs). This would also enable you to redistribute personal income tax revenue on a much more efficient level. As things stand now this revenue is directed to municipalities’ coffers, which is one of the main incentives for continuous creation of new municipalities (that and the notion that the state will chip in whatever monies the municipality is short on). This of course leads to a lot of municipalities handling minute amounts of cash. Do this on a regional level, however, and suddenly you can actually do stuff with that money. As a side-effect, less money will from central budget and municipalities will suddenly find that they will be better off if they unite rather than split up.

Oh, and why six regions? Because this is the numbers of dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in Slovenia. People are used to this division. It is also a division which has stood the test of time plus the borders are already drawn. This is probably one of the few good ideas the Catholic Church had in this part of the world, so why not use it?

Simplify the procedure for establishing government As things stand now, the President nominates the candidate for prime minister, who must survive the vote in the parliament. He/she then assembles the cabinet, submits candidates for ministers to a parliamentary hearing process (which has no legal effects whatsoever) and then has to survive the vote again in order to have a fully empowered government. This is bullshit. It was fun while Slovenia still had the assembly system (three-chamber parliament, a delegate system without freedom of vote, the works), but in a liberal democracy things just don’t work well that way. First of all, why should the PM go through the same procedure twice in as many weeks? Why should it take two or more weeks to establish a government anyhow? And why shouldn’t the PM be able to fire ministers on the spot? He/she can’t do it under the existing system. Since the parliament appointed the minister it is only the parliament who can dismiss him/her, effectively tying the PM’s hands and possibly putting him in the position of having to work with an uncooperative minister. It has happened, you know.

If there is a clear parliamentary majority (which would always be at hand if we had an odd number of MPs), there really is no need for such a prolonged process. The power to nominate the candidate for PM would still be with the President and after the parliament appointed the prime minister he/she would simply assemble his cabinet and send the list to the president for approval. And if you really need a safeguard, you can empower the Prez do refuse the cabinet list, at which point the PM-in-waiting would have to ask the parliament to vote on his cabinet. The same would apply for dismissal of a particular minister. Or, if you want the really effective version, you can leave the power to appoint and dismiss ministers solely with the PM, once he is appointed by the parliament. In any case, you have a much more effective government and a much stronger leadership role by the PM. And most importantly, the loyalties of individual ministers can no longer be torn between the government in which they serve and the parliament this appointed them.

Don’t mess with referendum. Just because the opposition fucked you with referendum bids a couple of times, this doesn’t mean that you can go about limiting who can call a referendum. OK, so it might be prudent to increase the number of signatures needed to start the referendum bid in the first place, but you don’t have to change a constitution to achieve that. Always remember that the point of the referendum is to check moves and motives of an excessively autocratic government (or parliamentary majority).

The fact that referendum provisions are being abused to block legitimate policies on a daily basis is not a legal question but rather a question of political manners. Because as long as no punches are being pulled as long as playing hard-ball is the norm rather than the exception and as long as any end will justify any means, so long will legislation and rules and procedures continue to be abused to derail policy agendas just for the fun of it. There is no way you can limit the system of checks and balances in a manner that will be both democratic and prevent abuse. You just can’t do it. It simply isn’t possible.

And should you by any chance manage to institute such limitations, trust me, they will come to haunt you faster than you can say “election defeat” (if you catch my meaning).

This, basically, is it. Anything beyond the above will either result in fundamental restructuring of the republic or will simply be yet another abuse of democratic mechanism aimed at paving the way to power without presenting anything close to a viable political platform.

And this is the gist of it, methinks. What this country needs is not some sort of a new social contract or (God forbid) a Second Republic, but rather a common awareness among political players that destructive behaviour will only increase the amount of shit we all will have to deal with. Fact of the matter is that lately nothing is sacred any more. Even the legislative procedure is abused in order to facilitate a desired outcome, case in point being the last events on establishing municipality of Ankaran (more on that some other time). The problems this country is facing are real and institutional changes can only take you so far. Especially if you play around with the constitution, which is suppose to stand the test of time rather than be changed according to daily (political) needs.

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Stand By Your Man

Franci Križanič remains minister of finance in the government of Borut Pahor, the PM said during today’s press conference. He went to great lengths explaining why he went decided to ignore the Court of Audit which called for Križanič to be dismissed from office due to dereliction of duty.

Prime minister Pahor and finance minister Križanič (source)

PM Pahor pointed out that the Court’s call was merely a strong recommendation and that it was within his discretion whether to start the demission process or not. Furthermore he added that Križanič is the most burdened minister in these times of financial crisis and that he has performed well under the circumstances. Keeping the above in mind, continued the PM, combined with Križanič’s dedicated work in the part two years led to the decision to keep the finance minister on-board. Thus spake Borut Pahor.

Now what? Pengovsky believes this is a decision which will come to haunt the PM very soon. Regardless of everything this is a case of double standards. It doesn’t really matter if the coalition parties (and this includes DeSUS and Karl Erjavec, who was dismissed on similar grounds a year ago) claim to “understand Pahor’s motives”. They have the luxury to “understand” as this is a pool of hot water PM alone is in. True, Križanič’s job is probably among the least attractive in the country at the moment, but a year ago, during the protracted removal of Karl Erjavec the PM said that a new standard was set. Today, this standard doesn’t seem to apply.

Since Križanič is an old Social Democrats‘ hand who reportedly carries plenty of clout within the party, it is obvious that Križanič’s fate was primarily a question of relationship between Borut Pahor and his party. And with so many open fronts it is likely that the prime minister did not want to open one more. In the short term this means pacifying the party but enduring yet another round of mud-slinging in his general direction. Since the latter would most likely ensue regardless of everything, it may even seem prudent to keep Križanič on the team. But it is not.

With this rather important human-resource victory, the party, especially the faction Križanič belongs to, may get the feeling that it can play the table against the PM. And even though the PM is notoriously keen on compromise, he will not let challenges to his power continue indefinitely. Which means that a showdown within the ruling Social Democrats is inevitable and the closer to the 2012 elections this showdown happens, the weaker will SD be entering the election campaign. Next elections will be an uphill battle anyway, but with an internally divided party, success is virtually impossible.

Secondly, since it is likely that the Court of Audit do more of the same in the future (recommend ministers to be dismissed for dereliction of duty) the PM will be in an extremely tough position, especially if the minister in question will be of a different coalition party. What will the PM do then? Will he sack the minister, reiterating the appearance that different rules apply to ministers of his party than to ministers of other coalition partners, or will he waste even more energy and bend over backwards to explain how that (for now hypothetical) case is completely different than the two we’ve seen so far?

And lastly, the PM made it clear that the decision to keep Križanič as minister was his and his alone. This means that any possible fuck-ups Križanič might cook up in the remaining eighteen months will be the PM’s fault as well. And as readers of this blog know, Križanič is somewhat accident-prone. As of today Borut Pahor must keep finance minister Križanič on an extremely short leash. Whether this arrangement will work, is anybody’s guess.

There’s one other possibility, though. It could be that Križanič survived only temporarily and will resign later in the year, without immediate connection to the Court of Audit report. Since the minister is reportedly negotiating with Goldman Sachs to buy a stake in Maribor-based and state-owned bank Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor (NKBM), it might seem prudent to keep the top negotiator on the team for the time being and have him resign after the deal is made. But this is speculation, especially since there was no official word from Goldman Sachs on the matter. We only know what Križanič told the media. The question is, whether the finance minister was again overly optimistic and if so how long can the PM stand by his man.

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Second Republic Revisited

As expected, the big coalition pow-wow turned out to be a non-event with a predictable result. PM Borut Pahor outlined six priorities his government has to tackle in the remaining 18 months which effectively remain until elections, for all his boasting Karl Erjavec of DeSUS was sidelined and his cajoling to re-open the issue of pension reform was apparently ignored by the rest of the coalition partners. LDS and Zares pointed out a couple of issues they intend to stick to outside the immediate six-point priority plan (the new Family Code and the issue of Patria APCs respectively, to pick examples at random), while the Social Democrats have problems of their own, especially regarding the fate of finance minister Franci Križanič for whom the Court of Audit recommended a demission for dereliction of duty. In short: rumours of this coalition’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

Janez Janša during his particular pow-wov Saturday last (source: SDS)

However, that is no to say that Monday’s huddle was all about sipping tea and checking sports results. Waves were created especially by Gregor Golobič who stepped in front of the press late on Friday, just in time to make the evening news and plenty of ink in Saturday’s newspapers. Leader of Zares made plenty of noises about the need to change the constitution to break the impasse this country apparently found itself at. What made Golobič’s proposal intriguing was the fact that only days earlier Janez Janša and his SDS floated their very own idea of constitutional changes, claiming that the time was ripe for a “second republic” which should break the impasse this country apparently found itself at.

Although Golobič said that he had no problem cooperating with anyone, even Janša on constitutional changes and Janša too said that he would work with anyone to bring about the necessary changes, one should no go ga-ga over it. Rather, what we’ve seen is a cheap political bluff on Janša’s side with Goobič calling it as soon as possible.

La deuxième république

SDS leader talked at length about the need to create the “second republic” which would effectively tackle issues of today much like the “first republic” more or less successfully tackled issues of a fledgling democracy Slovenia was twenty years ago (and then some). The thing is that apart from a fancy but possibly embarrassing name, Janša thus far has little to show for this second republic of hid. Truth be told, he said that the new and improved constitution would be outlined until the end of the year by which time SDS would be ready to take power once again.

At this stage it is not entirely known whether this latest constitutional dash by Janša has anything to do with his previous exploits of this nature, the last of which was his ten-point-plan for constitutional changes which he floated in 2009 upon being re-elected to the post of SDS commander-in-chief president. But given the fact that he scheduled the new constitutional draft eleven months from now suggest, that SDS will go back to the old drawing board and start from scratch. Again.

“Second republic” is a bit unfortunate name. Not only did Borut Pahor use it way back in 2000-2004 term when he was serving as president of the parliament during governments of Janez Drnovšek and Tone Rop, but also because both Janša today and Pahor back then were obviously alluding to the French Second Republic, which was of rather ill fate an ended with a coup d’etat by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, from then on known as Napoleon III. Obviously, I’m not saying Janša wants to perform a coup d’etat (we’re past that, methinks), but there could be an echo of the subconscious here 😉


I’m joking, obviously. But Janša apparently is not. He made it perfectly clear that he intends to increase the number of seats in the parliament in 2012 elections and with help of “compatible” parties (namely SLS and NSi) gain not only an absolute, but a two-thirds majority, enabling him to go through with constitutional-changes-to-be. This masterplan was uveiled and a party conference titled 50+ which apparently stood for percentage of support he wants to win in 2012 and was not code for “mid-life crisis”.

Truth be told, Janša might have a point. The government’s ratings are at an all-time low, SDS is comfortably leading public opinion polls and ruling Social Democrats are fighting off competition from Karl Erjavec’s DeSUS to keep second place, while LDS and Zares would barely make the cut, according to the latest public opinion poll. In theory, all Janša has to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

How to tame your Karl

But as noted in the beginning, rumours of the coalition’s demise were grossly exaggerated. Not only did it take the parties in power surprisingly little time to find common ground, the supposedly down-and-out players on the left refused to go on the defensive and instead delivered a few well aimed punches of their own. Case in point being the sudden taming of Karl Erjavec and DeSUS who now suffer all the drawbacks of a single-issue party. Erjavec tried in vain to reopen the debate on pension reform. The move was apparently rejected flat-out which left him without political ammo, even though he was uttering words such as “street”, “protests” and “unrest”. The rest of the coalition was – on the surface at least – left unfazed by this and didn’t go beyond adopting Golobič’s proposal to seek cooperation with three independent MPs. As much as broadening the number of votes the coalition can count on in the parliament sans DeSUS, the move is aimed at taunting Karl Erjavec whose two former MPs are now independents and DeSUS leader made it plain that he is unhappy about being in the same boat with people he threw out of the party.

Then there is Zares’ constitutional bid. While it looks revolutionary on the outside (revamping referendum and election rules, establishing the mayor/MP conflict of interest and so forth), Golobič also said that he is willing to cooperate with Janša on this issue and since Janša said that is willing to cooperate with anybody (after all, this is the constitution we’re talking about), we’re supposedly looking at a Janša-Golobič led constitutional reform. Obviously, hell will freeze over before the above happens.

Taking the edge out

Neither of the constitutional bids are in pengovsky’s opinion what they appear to be. So far, Janša’s bid is only a thinly veiled attempt at gaining momentum to insert himself back at the top spot. The fact that the bid thus far lacks substance only reiterates the fact. Historically, the current leader of the opposition always looked for short-cuts to power. Be it referendums, no-confidence votes, calls for early elections or calls for constitutional reforms, Janša’s general aim in the past fifteen years was to gain power by almost any means possible. Ironically, the only time he didn’t fail in that enterprise was when he waited patiently and won the elections fair and square. But back then he also had substance and the electorate to back it up. Today, he has neither. Sure, he might be leading polls by a large margin, but when push comes to a shove, his own voters seem rather lukewarm and no longer support all of his bids en masse, case in point being the referendum on RTV Slovenia, where turnout was criminally low on both sides of political spectrum.

On the other hand, although carrying slightly more substance, Zares’ constitutional bid was very much tongue-in-cheek. Rather than jump-starting the long and painful constitutional process 18 months before elections, its primary function seems to be to take out the edge of Janša’s bid. Most of what Golobič wants can easily be achieved via normal legislative procedure and does not require a constitutional majority (two-thirds of all MPs in two consecutive votes). Thus the only real effect now is that Janša no longer monopolizes the debate on constitutional reform, which probably means that the issue will die out sooner rather than later.

Who stands to lose the most

Also, one must not forget that both Janša and Erjavec, while apparently giving the coalition a run for its money, have problems of their own especially with regard to Patria Affair, where they are facing their own respective trials, with Janša’s SDS in hot water also over financing its pre-election “free newspapers” Slovenski Tednik and Ekspres.

Point being that everyone, including Janša and Erjavec stand to lose a lot in the next eighteen months, especially given their current standing. Thus – illogical as it may seem- the one who stands to lose the least is the government of Borut Pahor. While pengovsky thinks that there’s more to its achievements than meets the eye, there’s no doubt that the general impression of this government is it being long-derailed, chaotic, inept, scandal-ridden and trying to run in several directions at the time. From this point on things can only go up. Whether or not they will, remains to be seen.

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Killing Križanič Softly (With His Song)

Finance minister Franci Križanič is on the outs, it seems. Yesterday the Court of Audit released a follow-up report on several issues pertaining to ministry of finance, and in several cases found that no improvement was made and declared a grave dereliction of duty by the ministry and as a result recommended to Prime Minister Borut Pahor to start the demission procedure for minister Križanič.

Franci Križanič, once dubbed minister for optimism (source)

This basically a remake of what was happening to Karl Erjavec of DeSUS a year ago almost to the day. Back then PM Pahor said publicly that he has no choice but to heed to the request of the Court of Audit and this should be the standard course of action from now on. Which puts him in a bit of a tight stop this time around, especially since Franci Križanič is not just anybody but a heavyweight of Pahor’s very own Social Democrats. On the other hand, he is also very accident prone and has had Pahor save his ass publicly on a couple of occasions. Without going into too much detail, the gist of the matter is that in the opinion of the Court of Audit the ministry’s accounts are not up to standard. This is not something new and the auditors first raised hell way back under Janša’s government, when finance portfolio was held by all-but-forgotten Andrej Bajuk and it is safe to say that things go even further back. But the point is that the ministry is now run by Križanič and that things still aren’t in order.

Officially, PM Pahor gave Križanič a week to explain himself and the finance-minister-in-peril already said that he has no intention of resigning. However, this is more or less the same song we’ve heard in case of Erjavec. In fact, rather than being between a rock and a hard place, Pahor might be looking for a remake of that particular hit-single. We’ve seen time and again that a vocal support from the prime minister can soon crumble into sun dust, cases in point being several former ministers. Furthermore, Pahor has the ability to play stupid and claim no hidden agenda to the point of everyone else’s huge embarrassment, usually resulting in other people doing his dirty work. And so far all the signs point to Pahor cutting Križanič loose.

So, why would he do that? First of all, Križanič is about as popular a fetid dingo’s kidney. True, finance ministers tend to get that way, especially during times of economic crisis. But apart from objective reasons, Križanič has has more than his share of fuck-ups. He is also apparently heavily at odds with minister for development Mitja Gaspari who (apart from being former governor of the Bank of Slovenia) once held the post of finance minister so he pretty much knows the turf. But the main issue seems to be the immediate fate of Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB) the largest state owned bank, where Križanič supposedly favoured strong state ownership, while Gaspari suppose to be a bit more, well, liberal, in that respect.

And then there’s the inter-party thingie. Križanič is an SD heavyweight, especially powerful within Ljubljana branch of the party. It was some time since Pahor shook up his own party ranks and opposition within the party has built up in the mean time. Križanič represented the more “social” part of Social Democrats and was apparently on good terms with old party hands and also won praise from the party’s youth organisation (not that the latter bears any significance). So what we are witnessing might possibly be described as killing a few stones with one bird, with PM Pahor giving the finger to the opposition within the party as well as getting rid of a minister of mixed fortunes and who just might have outlived his usefulness.

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A Pow-Wow Turned Photo-Op

Earlier today Duša Trobec Bučan was confirmed as new minister for local self-government and regional development, thus succeeding Henrik Gjerkeš who resigned from position after he was caught driving under the influence. With this ends yet another episode of inter-coalition tug-of-war which some hoped would bring down the government of Borut Pahor but instead – as usual – fizzled out into a quick photo-op.

Coalition leaders. A family photo from happier times (source)

Namely, the last few days Slovene political scene was abuzz with a top-level coalition huddle which took place yesterday and was supposedly called to close ranks and plug some holes in a government which just scored a new low with only 23 percent approval rating. However, amid “a flurry of expectations”, which just journo-speak for hoping that a general fist-fight will break out, the only thing the yawning press core got was yet another statement about “a firm decision that this government will within next-year-and-a-half “do everything in its power to ensure economic and social recovery”.

So, what happened? I mean, noises were made and the scene was set for at least a mid-season political cliffhanger. To an untrained eye, it may seem as if the stars of the feud are DeSUS of Karl Erjavec and Zares of Gregor Golobič. Indeed, the pensioner party is becoming ever more obnoxious, especially after they broke the 10-percent mark in public opinion polls, besting even the ruling Social Democrats. On the other hand, Zares seems to be opting for some hard-ball politics, seemingly going after DeSUS for not supporting the pension reform and the Budget Act, both of which are key documents. Thus Zares’ second-in-command and president of the parliament Pavle Gantar said in no unclear terms that a party which does not support key documents has no place in the coalition (note that the statement did not come from party leader Golobič). On the other hand, Erjavec struck back saying that it was Zares’ MPs who voted against the government on multiple occasions, so would Zares please shut up, thank you very much.

But this is not the real feud. Despite ego-inflating poll results and his loud-mouthing about how he’s already thinking about 2012 elections, Karl Erjavec’s interests are primarily short-term. He is on trial for dereliction of duty in the Patria case and at the moment his party’s high ratings serve no other purpose than strengthening his position within the party, half of which would replace him given half a chance (exactly which half of the party that is depends on the situation at hand). What we are witnessing is Zares actually pushing Social Democrats into a bit of a tight spot, cashing in favours and support and thus carving out more manoeuvring room for it self. The party is currently near rock bottom poll-wise and has lately done a bit of bag-carrying for PM Pahor personally, notably with going all-out against building of a new Šoštanj coal power plant (siding with PM against local SD strongmen, although there are more angles to the story) and sacrificing the new law on RTV Slovenia on the referendum (provided that was the plan as detailed in this post).

So, rather than this being a Slovene version of Faces of Stupid contest between Zares and DeSUS, it looks more as if the former is trying to reposition itself vis-a-vis Social Democrats, which – the story goes – have often supported Zares’ legislative initiatives only after claiming them as their own. And it looks as if Zares is in for a fight. The grapevine has it that Gregor Golobič will soon come under heavy fire for his initiative of research and innovation centres. Golobič negotiated some serious money to be pumped into ten-or-so combinations of hi-tech companies and research facilities which have the highest potential to generate added value through innovation and subsequent production, but apparently allegations (probably in the form of “anonymous tip-offs”) are expected to arise that tenders were won only by people close to Golobič. That’s the word on the street, anyway.

But for the moment, Zares and Gregor Golobič seem to have gotten their way at least partly. Today their MPs abstained from the vote on Duša Trobec Bučan. Thus a message was sent that they too can leave the coalition should PM Pahor forget to take their interest into account as well. And while DeSUS’ possible au revoir to the coalition would be bad considering the five seats it would take with it (down from seven, by the way), it would not be catastrophic. However, should Zares and Gregor Golobič bid farewell and take their nine MPs with them, that would probably be the end of Prime Minister Pahor as well.

But the immediate disagreements seem to have been settled before yesterday’s big pow-pow. DeSUS got away with it yet again, Zares made a big show of saying they will not be pushed around (and took a swipe at DeSUS as well), while PM Pahor got his new minister appointed and is closing ranks yet again. And the media got yet another photo-op. Until next time.

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