The Prez Has Ideas As Golobič Eyes Resignation. Plus A Few Fun Facts About Early Elections.

The saga continues. After Karl Erjavec and his DeSUS quit the coalition and the government of Borut Pahor, the ball kept rolling yesterday and today. With the notable exception of Pahor’s Social Democrats, LDS of Katarina Kresal and Zmago Jelinčič‘s nationalists, every major political force in the country called for early elections to be held as soon as possible. Even President of the Republic Danilo Türk spoke to that effect this morning and – what was most shocking to the uninitiated – Gregor Golobič of Zares said that he will resign his post as minister of higher education, science and technology and return to the parliament. And SDS of Janez Janša still maintains that all it takes to hold early elections is a deal between SDS and SD. So, let’s take it one thing at the time.

The Prez with his two cents (source: Office of the President)

The Prez held a press conference where he “commented on recent developments in the country”, which is polit-speak of saying that he chipped in his two cents. His bottom line was that a) the coalition must throw everything is still has behind the pension reform and that b) he’d be quick to call early elections had he the power to do so.

A slap on the wrist for The Prez

As most of you know, The Prez has very limited powers and even him saying what would be the best course of action while we still have a fully empowered government means pushing the envelope of acceptable. Toying with the (admittedly hypothetical) scenario of dissolving the parliament and calling snap elections, knowing full well (and saying as much) that he can not do that, is bordering on exceeding his powers. I know things look bad, but apart from the fact that a junior coalition party left the government and that reforms are not popular, there is not a whole lot that is wrong at the moment. Yes, we can see the contours of a political crisis shaping but we’re no there yet. And until we get to that point the day-to-day politics should be left to the coalition and the opposition. The Prez went out on a limb needlessly.

Secondly, the idea of calling snap (or early) elections is floating around for some time now. Indeed, until DeSUS quit the government, a sort of political paralysis seemed to have crept into Slovene politics as no one wanted to make the first move. But now the ball has dropped, the paralysis is gone and suddenly things are moving ahead with lightning speed. But getting to early elections is mighty difficult. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. The Prez can not call them and even saying what he would do (or contemplate doing) had he broader powers means walking on thin constitutional ice.

A slap in the face for Zares MP

While it may be constitutionally dubious for the president to call for early elections, it is perfectly OK for leader of the coalition party to do so. Which is what Gregor Golobič of Zares is apparently attempting to achieve. He said in no unclear terms that the main goal right now should be the referendum on the pension reform (which will be held together with referendums on black market labour and access to secret archives on 5 June) and that a new government should be appointed sans leaders of the coalition. Since neither PM Pahor nor Katarina Kresal were amused by the idea, Golobič decided to go for broke and announced that he will tender his resignation as minister some time between now and 5 June and that elections could be held as soon as September this year.

Despite the fact that it looks suspiciously similar to president Türk’s idea, Golobič’s move is actually a small political masterpiece which a) keeps the momentum of actually forcing early elections (more on that later on) and b) solves a nasty problem in Golobič’s own party, the problem which goes by the name of Cveta Zalokar Oražem. This MP for Zares who only gained her seat after Golobič was appointed minister and who used to be a member first of Social Democrats and then of LDS (and was a long time mayor of Domžale near Ljubljana) has long been critical of her president and stabbed him in the back quite a few times, most notably during the Ultra Affair, where she was careful to get as much media attention as possible criticising Golobič and doubting his leadership abilities.

Well, by announcing his resignation, Golobič made sure himself and Zares continue to be among those who dictate the tempo of the game and will have gotten rid of Zalokar Oražem, who will thus lose her MP status and cease to be a major problem within the party.

A few fun facts before everyone gets carried away

But before everyone goes ga-ga with the possibility of breaking new political and constitutional ground in Slovenia, here are a few facts to consider:

-Slovene political system is so stable it borders on rigid. Which is precisely why everyone is getting so nervous these days. The government, albeit a minority one, is still fully functional. Political crisis is possible, but still some time away. It’s just that we’re not used to these kinds of situations.

-Because of this rigidity of the system, early elections are practically impossible. The only way to have them under present constitution is a) for the government to resign and b) for the parliament to fail to elect a new government in three consecutive votes. The parliament can not simply dissolve itself by a majority vote or something like that.

-To ensure early elections by means of either empowering the president to call them or enabling the parliament to dissolve itself would require a change in constitution. To do that, a special procedure must be initiated, requiring a two-thirds majority twice over, which is extremely unlikely the way things stand now.

So, the only viable option to call early elections remains resignation of PM Borut Pahor and it seems Gregor Golobič is trying to force him to do exactly that. The PM does not enthuse over that, but things might change come June 5 and the triple referendum.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pahor’s Coalition Crumbles As Erjavec Flips Him The Bird

Following Monday’s resignation of minister for local self-government Duša Trobec Bučan DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec once again threatened to quit the coalition. Only this time he meant it as the party’s executive council yesterday voted in favour of the move which – this must be said – only formally confirmed what was a “new reality on the ground” for some time now: that DeSUS was no longer a member of the ruling coalition.

Karl Erjavec doing the Top Gun thing (photo by Anže Petkovšek/Žurnal24)

As a direct result of today’s events minister of environment Roko Žarnić said he will tender his resignation, while the third minister of DeSUS “quota” Ivan Svetlik (labour portfolio) remains in his position, since Erjavec “disowned” him because it was Svetlik and his team who came up with the pension reform which DeSUS vigorously opposes and which will be put up for a referendum vote.

Minority government

Technically, this leaves the coalition of Social Democrats, Zares and LDS with 42 out of 46 needed votes to secure a majority in the parliament and in effect makes it a minority government. The government secure additional votes by wooing the three independent MPs, Franci Žnidaršič and Vili Rezman (both formerly of DeSUS) and Andrej Magajna (formerly of SD) although the latter is unlikely to cooperate since he went independent over the new law on RTV Slovenia (the law was later defeated on a referendum) and was a subject of a criminal investigation soon thereafter on suspicion of child pornography (no charges were pressed). Additionally, MPs for Hungarian and Italian minorities traditionally vote with the government, so unless new ground is broken, PM Borut Pahor can still secure a single-vote majority in the parliament. But for all intents and purposes, this is a minority government.

A minority government is not something one wishes for, especially during times of economic, social and what is shaping up to be a political crisis. Calls for early elections are therefore getting increasingly loud today. Leader of SDS Janez Janša already called on PM Pahor for the two parties to work together and vote for the dissolution of the parliament thus forcing new elections. On the other hand, leader of Zares Gregor Golobič proposed for leaders of all three coalition parties to step down from their positions in the government (which is effectively equal to resignation of the entire government) and elect a new government with a sole aim of attempting to win the referendum on pension reform. Obviously, both Janša and Golobič are playing an angle here but pengovsky suspects their true goals are exactly the opposite of their stated goals. To put it bluntly, I think it is Golobič who is trying to force early elections and Janša who is desperate to avoid them.

Pieces have fallen into place

Consider the timing. DeSUS has threatened to quit the coalition on so many occasions that nobody was taking it seriously anymore. But then it decided to walk out only a week after the National Assembly was back to the full complement of 90 deputies as the convicted Srečko Prijatelj of opposition SNS was replaced by Sara Viler. With this and DeSUS’ bailing out of the coalition it suddenly became possible for Janez Jansa to form a right-wing government, And if he were to convince all three independent MPs to support him, he wouldn’t even need minority MPs. Therefore, it all points to a conclusion that Erjavec’s move was coordinated with Janša and that what we saw on Monday was fully premeditated course of action.

Obviously, there are caveats to this logic, first and foremost being that Janša looks poised to win the next elections, be they a week or a year from now. However, at this moment he lacks one crucial element – an election platform. In fact, he and his party only began to initiate procedure which would eventually lead to forming a proper platform, but as thing stand now they’re not even close. Thus if elections were to be held any time soon, all Janša would have to run on would be his anti-government/anti-reform stance, which would make it very hard for him to explain how he intends to bring the country from the brink of an economic collapse.

On the other hand, Golobič and indeed the entire coalition (what’s left of it, anyway) would benefit from early elections for those very same reasons. While they would probably be up for some serious ass-whooping, but quite probably much less than they would be a year and a half from now. While this may sound stupid at first glance, the coalition has virtually zero problems platform-wise. Their problem lies in the unprecedented unpopularity of the government. Which is one of the reasons Golobič made his move yesterday.

But to have early elections it’s not enough for the parliament to simply dissolve itself as Janša would have us believe. For the dissolution to take place, several constitutional conditions must be met, chief among them being the inability of the parliament to elect a new government. Pengovsky covered the issue in this post, but just a re-cap: Once the PM resigns (or a new one is elected via a no-confidence vote), the parliament has three attempts to appoint a new government nominated by the PM-elect. In the first two attempts 46 votes are needed, while in the third attempt only a relative majority is needed. Given that Janša can muster 46 votes at any time, it is highly unlikely that a new left-wing government will be elected.

That, however, does not necessarily mean we’re up for elections any time soon. Also, Janez Janša might be tempted to take over as PM sans elections via a no-confidence vote. Not only would he thus avoid awkwardness of explaining why exactly did he oppose the government on social reforms, he would also be slightly better equipped to handle the Patria Affair, where he is (let us not forget) about to stand trial for aiding and abetting in corruption.

Wisdom and historical precedents dictate, that Janša skips the opportunity to take over the government, especially after the fiasco in 2000, when shortly before elections when Janša masterminded toppling of the government of Janez Drnovšek and a right-wing government was formed with Andrej Bajuk, only to lose spectacularely in elections six months later. But Janša is not known for learning from his political mistakes, so this will be fun to watch.

Slightly OT: Regardless of the way Janša becomes PM yet again, it would be oodles of fun watching how an indicted person gets elected to a top political office. Only in Slovenia, people! 🙂

Defending status quo long after quo had lost its status

PM Pahor is not keen on stepping down of his own accord, as this would imply that a) he had run out of options and b) he admits to making bad calls in the past. The same goes for his party, which found itself between a rock and a hard place: it has an utterly unpopular leader and no one of note to replace him. But sitting this one out is not an option, so sooner rather than later things will begin moving in that department as well. They might be tempted to try and wait until the referendum on pension reform. But that’s a good two months away and a lot can happen between now and then so that is probably the worst course of action they can take at this moment. As things stand, status quo can simply not be defended.

And this is a lesson which Karl Erjavec will apparently learn the hard way. He quit the coalition over pension reform. Again, there is plenty of historical precedent on quitting a coalition and history teaches that every (and I mean every) party which went down that road was later punished for it on election night. Slovenes simply don’t like rats. Period.

How will it play out?

In the final analysis it turns out that – as is often the case in politics – black is white and white is black. Given the fact that we’re up for three more referendums between now and the summer – pension reform, black market labour and possibly access to top secret archives – there will be plenty of opportunity for the parties to take it out on one another and thus show what exactly is their position (or lack thereof) on various issues.

Early elections are an option, but a remote one. An interim government is far more likely, but who will form it remains an open question at this stage. As things stand now, pengovsky would place a wager on Janša at least attempting to form what he would probably call a national unity government. But that can change, so watch this space…

Enhanced by Zemanta



Borut Pahor Remixed

Pengovsky did his share of music parodies, most notable of them being this one. But this one by David Bizjak takes the cake so far. Slovene Twittersphere was abuzz yesterday with Borut Pahor (Barbra Streisand), which combines the recent hit by Duck Sauce with some of our dear prime minister’s better rhetorical bravuras 🙂


Borut Pahor (Barbra Streisand) by davidbizjak


Enhanced by Zemanta

On Second Thought, Maybe PM Pahor *Should* Resign

The aftershocks of the defeat in the referendum on menial work are reverberating throughout the cesspool that is Slovene political environment. Not only did the result embolden the labour unions and their brothers in arms who are now gearing up to bring down the pension reform as well. But the political fallout is also considerable. Obviously, the opposition rushed to take advantage of the situation despite the fact that for once it had preciously little to do with this referendum (as it will have with the next one). This of course did not stop it from demanding the government step down, specifically, senior SDS MP Zvonko Černač using a football analogy saying that the government was shown a red card.

Prime Minister Pahor contemplating defeat (photo: Uroš Hočevar/Delo)

However, if anyone really seized the moment it was the freshly-acquitted leader of DeSUS Karl Erjavec. DeSUS opposed the pension reform from the start, one of the sticking being system of pensions adjustment for inflation. Erjavec’s loyalty to this coalition government was questioned even back then, most vocally by Zares of Gregor Golobič and LDS of Katarina Kresal. But on Monday, Erjavec stuck it up to PM Borut Pahor, calling for the PM to call a confidence vote prior to the pension reform referendum which is to take place on 5 June.

The Quartet became The Trio

Despite the fact that Erjavec often invoked the opt-out clause in this coalition (not that one exists, but it was understood that some leeway in loyalty to coalition is acceptable) but then always fell back in line, this particular move can not be interpreted as yet another stunt by Teflon Karl. Not only did he call on the PM to go check if he still enjoys the support of the parliament, he also “disowned” minister of Labour Ivan Svetlik who, although not a party member, was considered to be a DeSUS ministe. When constructing the cabinet, Pahor wanted Svetlik in particular and Erjavec wanted for DeSUS that portfolio in particular. Thus Erjavec politically “adopted” Svetlik and everbody went home happy. Until now.

With Svetlik “officially” not being a part of DeSUS’ quota anymore, Erjavec says that a) PM should dismiss the incumbent minister and b) he gets to pick the next one. And although the party leadership today voted against DeSUS exiting the coalition, this is exactly what in effect happened. For all intents and purposes, DeSUS (at least for as long as Erjavec is at its helm) is no longer a member of the ruling coalition. The Quartet is once again The Trio

If you’re going through hell, keep going

The perfect storm of political screw-ups and disinformaton that ultimately led to Sunday defeat was well analysed by drfilomena in this post (Slovene only). The way it looks now this was not a one-off event. Well, truth be told, this government also lost the referendum on the new law on RTV Slovenia, but it does not end there. Next up is the referendum on the law against black market labour, then we have the referendum on pension reform and then quite possibly, referendum on law on access to classified material, which was in part caused by the SDS fiasco on Velikovec bombing documents and is bound to reignite it again.

The highpoint, the climax, if you will, will of course be the pension reform. This will probably be where Pahor’s government will make the last stand to implement what remained of the reform legislation, thus at least patching things up for the time being and then seeing what, if anything, can be done. Given the rhetoric and against the backdrop of Sunday’s result it seems conceivable that the government will lose the referendum on preventing black market labour. And even though anticipated, the defeat will not be any less hurtful. If nothing else, it will give additional impetus to what pengovsky calls an “unholy alliance” of unions, student organisations and the opposition and on the other hand making the majority of the population even more tired of constant referendums, thus ensuring that only die-hard voters (mostly those against reforms) will cast their vote.

In that respect, one can sympathise with PM Pahor who yesterday, during a visit to UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that “I’m going through hell with my ministers.“. A most aptly chosen sentence given the situation and the PM, who often likes to quote the greatest of British Prime Ministers, Winston Churchill, might want to remember that the old bastard (and I mean that in the most loving way possible) said that “if you’re going through hell, keep going”.

Bad PR and caring for the common man

And some hell this government is in. Much of it is its own doing, mostly through its disastrous PR. Most of the scandals which rocked the coalition hard spiralled out of control because the initial response was wrong, lacking, or both. The same goes for achievements of the government. Sure, it easy to be smart about it, but in pengovsky’s mind the fact that PM Pahor and his team basically solved the border dispute with Croatia (or at least took it of the agenda) should be written in the history books with golden letters. Instead, everybody treats it as if it is a minor event, not even worthy of page seventeen of Monday’s paper.

On the other hand, we have a leader of the opposition who is under criminal investigation, but still somehow manages to dictate the debate on variety of issues and those he doesn’t hijack, others do it for him. Were the government PR doing its job, the situation would probably not be half as bad. The good doctor wrote about it in her post, while Centrifuzija expanded on it considerably. This hijackings of debate are done under a common umbrella of “caring for the common man”. The reality of course is that no-one gives a shit about the mythical “common man” because he/she is just a statistical approximation. What is actually happening is every interest group trying to forward its agenda on account of everyone else, not taking no for an answer and threatening or even resorting to civil disobedience, no matter how irrational or out of proportion their interests are in relation to the world around them. The same goes for the opposition which at the moment operates on a very simple premise: so much worse for the government, so much better for us.

It is no wonder then, that populism and obvious impossibilities are being used daily. The last in line being a statement by Janez Janša who said that – watch this – “pension reform may not even be necessary, if only Slovenia cut public spending radically“. So, keeping the pension fund solvent by reducing public expenditure? WTF? But it sure sounds nice.

Legitimacy problems

Point being that the opposition, once it regains power (and even Pahor is now talking about Janša as the next probable PM) will have to implement those very same reforms it is derailing today only that they will probably be even more austere or just plain brutal. But hey, if it helps them grab the power, the country can probably take a little more abuse.

Or can it? If anyone had done a sober analysis of the Sunday vote, alarm bells would be ringing wildly. The turnout was 34% with 80% of those voting “no”. This means that labour unions and the student organisation, two of the strongest civil society groups together with the opposition generated a puny 27% overall vote against the government. Let me repeat that: a little more than a quarter of all voters could be bothered enough to vote against the government which is scoring historic lows (only 20 percent or so) in public opinion polls. It seems as if everybody is so busy trying to “get the government” that they can not see that they have a huge legitimacy problem themselves.

What to do?

The Prime Minister, indeed the entire government, would do well to regain control of the public debate(s). Given that the atmosphere is poisonous-bordering-on-radioactive there is little wiggle-room left. Special interest groups know neither fear nor mercy promoting their agendas and the opposition is enjoying the view of the government drowning in the quick-sand of political impossibilities. What PM Pahor should do, is resign immediately. But not, as some have suggested to make way for a new leader on the left, but to do what no PM has done before – actually force early elections.

Pengovsky often wrote on how early elections are practically impossible in Slovenia. You almost can not call them, especially since the parliament will most likely not dissolve itself. But that does not mean it is impossible, provided the discipline in the coalition is strong enough. Technically, the scenario would go something like this: Pahor resigns in beginning of May. This is followed by a 30-day period of trying to find a new PM, while the existing government assumes a care-taker role (which it will assume anyway if the reforms are nixed on referendums). The coalition refuses to support anyone for the post of PM three times over at which point the President dissolves the parliament and calls elections which must be held within the next two months. All in all, taking the summer vacations into account, we could have next elections by autumn this year.

By this Borut Pahor and his coalition would force the opposition’s hand. Janez Janša announced that he and his party intend to win absolute majority of votes in the next elections and that they are also writing a new constitution from scratch, no doubt rearranging the balance of power to suit their needs. But to complete the process, they will need time as they are nowhere near finished. Indeed, the latest polls even noted a continuing downward popularity trend for Janša and his party which, ironically, is also calling for early elections. But for Janša this is only another way to keep the pressure on Pahor, because early elections would catch him utterly unprepared and without a conceivable political platform other than “complete annihilation of anything Pahor’s government does”.

Gamble of galactic proportions

So, in order to have a chance at political survival, PM Pahor should resign ASAP. This does not necessarily mean that he will again be elected PM, but if he does nothing, he almost certainly will not be. Unless, of course, his main rival is found guilty in the Patria case. Either way, it’s a gamble of galactic proportions.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Slovenes Reject Menial Work, Pollsters Miss By A Mile

In what appears to be an overwhelming defeat for the government of Borut Pahor, Slovenians today rejected the law on menial work by an 80/20 vote against. The turnout percentage was in the very low thirties, which makes it one of the more attended referendums in recent history (save the Arbitration Agreement referendum). That is in itself a sad fact, but there you go.

Lost. Ministers Katarina Kresal, Aleš Zalar, Ivan Svetlik and PM Borut Pahor (source: RTVSLO)

Politically, this is a slap-in-the-face for PM Pahor and his government that will hurt more than they will be willing to admit. True, the upcoming referendum on the pension reform is much more important and – if rejected – could even cause the government to step down. However, the law on menial work was a key part of labour market reform which will now still see plenty of tax evasion and companies which exploit students full time without guaranteeing them any social security whatsoever.

PM Pahor and labour minister Ivan Svetlik played down the result saying that people apparently are not yet aware of importance of reforms. On the other hands, there are calls for the PM to step down (even over at the wonderful Drugi dom blog, which generally gravitates to the left). Predictably the opposition, spearheaded by SDS of Janez Janša are interpreting the result as a no-confidence vote for the government, even though this time around the opposition just tagged along in what pengovsky still maintains was an unholy alliance of special interest. Anyways, there’s no reason for the government to resign. Elections are a year and a half away and even if the government resigned today, elections could not be held sooner than in autumn this year, not to mention that we’d probably have to go through a period of extended political crisis, since the MPs are about as likely to recall the parliament as they are likely to, say, ratify Slovenia becoming part of Croatia. Point being, that resignation of the government would most likely cause more problems than it would solve. Especially, since the other guys are not even close to being ready to take over. In fact, despite their vocal calls for Pahor to back his bags, the current situation suits them just fine, because they have yet to substantiate their claims of 50+ result in 2012 elections.

This is also yet another defeat for pollsters. Public opinion polls did in fact forecast victory for the no-vote, but no single poll detected a 80/20 distribution. Not one. Sure, it was a beautiful day today and with low turnout the margin of error increases substantially, but how the fuck don’t you detect an electoral freight-train coming in your direction? But perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps they did detect it but no-one published it, since the law forbade it. Days ago, the Constitutional Court ruled that this particular provision is unconstitutional and in the future we can look forward to last-minute polls on Friday nights :).

The way things stand now, people with ideas don’t have the authority, and people with authority don’t have the ideas. Expect turbulence ahead. We’re in for a bumpy ride…

Enhanced by Zemanta