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.