A Day Late And A Dollar Short

Hollywood is laden with epic “I quit” scenes, with pengovsky’s favourite still being the one in The American Beauty. But the cesspool that is the Slovenian political landscape can occasionally offer a gem or two regarding the style in which someone tells someone else to “take this job and… fill it!”, to put in the words of Abe Simpson

Gregor Golobič and Zares exit the coalition (original image here)

A moment like this occurred yesterday when Zares of Gregor Golobič officially quit the ruling coalition, leaving PM Borut Pahor to his own devices, with LDS leader Katarina Kresal by his side (for the moment, at least). Ever since Zares issued what for all intents and purposes was an ultimatum for a radical cabinet reshuffle, lest the party quits the coalition toute-de-suite, the PM either did not understand the message or thought Golobič was bluffing and did nothing which lead the three remaining minsiters of Zares to quit their posts. Thus Darja Radić, Majda Širca and Irma Pavlinič Krebs followed the example of Gregor Golobič who resigned his ministerial post on the eve of the super-referendum Sunday.

The Letter

To top it off – and probably to make sure that there is no doubt about who if the dumper and who the dumpee in this case – Golobič sent a rather longish letter to Pahor and Kresal, outlining the reasons for Zares taking the plunge. He puts the blame squarely on the PM, accusing him of being unable to rein in special interests and bad practices which this government promised to uproot but failed to do so, thus (says Golobič) affirming and continuing misdeeds of the government of Janez Janša. He specifically cites cases of Patria APCs (Janša in scheduled to stand trial over allegations of bribery and abuse of power over that one) where the government failed to take decisive action. Ditto for the case of Šoštanj coal power plant where the stand-off between Zares and Social Democrats was further complicated by a conflict between local and national interests and which caused a lot of bad blood within Zares as well, provoking open confrontation between Golobič on one side and Matej Lahovnik (former minister of economy) and Cveta Zalokar Oražem (former MP for the party) on the other. Neither Lahovnik nor Zalokar Oražem are party members any longer. And although he doesn’t mention it specifically, the list could be expanded to include the LDS-led fiasco with Draško Veselinovič as the CEO of Nova Ljubljanska Banka, where Katarina Kresal imposed Veselinovič as her man at the helm of Slovenia’s biggest (and state-owned bank) only to see him forced to quit over extending the credit line to Boško Šrot in his failed attempt to take over Laško Brewery (Šrot is standing trial for that one as well).

In other words, the list of grievances is long and distinguished. What is not explicitly mentioned (but is sort of a public secret around here) is the fact that Social Democrats often hijacked Zares’ initiatives, saying that they will gain support in the parliament only if SD is the one who officially introduces them and (by extension) takes the credit. But the real bomb-shell comes in the second part of the letter (Slovene only):

Instead of elementary decisiveness and responsiblity in taking the decisions necessary to ensure the well-being of the country and its citizens and looking for actual not just PR effects, we are increasingly faced with a hyper-production of senseless buzzwords about radars, trains, convoys, ships, throwing in towels and so on, all of which only goes to prove that this particular line of politics has emptied itself and is completely void of ideas.

Golobič then goes on to add

Rejection of our call to reshuffle the cabinet by the PM and leader of the Social Democrats was in our view a short-sighted move, one which opens the door wide open for ascent of the transition right wing with all its properties and effects. We will take no part in this. We do recognise our share of responsibility for the duration of our time in the government. However in the case of scenario which is (knowingly or not) unfolding, we will do no such thing.

In other words, Golobič is saying that Pahor fucked up royally, squandered the chance to make a difference and gave us PR fluff instead, thus rehabilitating the ways of Janez Janša who is already considered the new PM-apparent. Truth be told, Golobič on some other occasions gave credit where credit was due, especially in the case of the Arbitration Agreement and subsequent revolutionary thawing of relations with Croatia, but in terms of internal politics, the letter was about as strong a condemnation as they come.

Pengovsky believes that Golobič might be slightly off as far as ushering in Janša is concerned, but Pahor can take zero credit for that one. The leader of the SDS has crediblity problems of his own, including but not limited to Patria case, fake-grass-roots initiatives to call early election and – curiously enough – strange use of his Twitter account (where pengovsky even played an small and insignificant role).

Barely functioning government

Anyways: as a result, the ruling coalition barely deserves its adjective. The government has only thirty-three votes in a ninety-seat parliament, which makes it practically impossible to govern as the balance of power is now almost completely shifted towards the parliament. There is a gap twelve votes wide and bridging even once would be a political and logistical nightmare. Doing it on a per-vote basis is practically impossible. The government is bleeding as it is and pulling off a stunt like this (and doing it repeatedly) would require inhumane quantities of strength, politicking, horse-dealing and manhandling. It simply can not be done.

Even more so. With four ministers gone, the government is on the verge of being legally defunct. Namely, the Law on government specifies (Article 11) that the government is considered fully empowered if at least two thirds of ministers are appointed (ministers without portfolio notwithstanding). Since there are fifteen full-blooded ministries in this government, Pahor’s government is only two ministers short of being found operationally incapacitated. True, he can temporarily overcome this by assigning a sitting minister to take over another portfolio for a period of no more than six months, but this provision was meant to speed up the formation of the government, not extend the life of a nearly defunct one.

A day late and a dollar short

To put it graphically: when Golobič quit his post of science and higher education minister, PM Pahor entrusted the minister of (primary and secondary) education and sports Igor Lukšič (SD) to take over. He is reportedly poised to take over the ministry of culture as well, while minister of development and European affairs Mitja Gaspari (SD) is rumoured to stand in for Darja Radić in the economy portfolio. By that same token Aleš Zalar (LDS) is rumoured to take over Public Administration ran by Pavlinič Krebs. Given that minister without portfolio tasked with relations with diaspora Boštjan Žekš is already standing in for Henrik Gjerkeš, who was minister without portfolio tasked with local self-government until he quit for driving under the influence, you can see, that this is not even funny any more. Instead it’s bordering on ludicrous. That the government is mulling a reorganisation of the ministries, reducing them in number is just another case of PR spin and alleviating the symptoms rather then administering the cure.

In what is a glimmer of hope, reality seems finally to have caught up with PM Pahor as well, although he came a day late and a dollar short. Word on the street has it that he realised the gravity of the situation just prior to the official celebration of the Statehood Day Friday last and nearly had a melt-down. Whether that is true or not is basically beside the point but it is telling that it was Katarina Kresal who gave the initial reaction to Zares walking out yesterday and that the PM was seen only later in the evening at another official function where he gave a relatively impassioned speech. He is, however, expected to make an announcement regarding the new political reality in the next day or so.

What is this? Afghanistan?!

However, that the leader of the remaining junior coalition party said yesterday was also a relatively ill-conceived attempt at calming an explosive situation. Namely, Katarina Kresal more or less said that what is left of the government will first pick up the pieces, try to pass the remainder of planned legislation and then (this is the important part) work for an orderly transition to early elections, adding that they can’t just drop everything and walk out thus implicitly accusing Zares of doing precisely that. All fine and dandy, it sure as hell ain’t nice being dumped when you’re down and out although – mind you – it is entirely unclear what this will do to Zares’ ratings which leave a lot to be desired as it is.

But the bit about “orderly transition towards early elections” is just plain nonsense (and I’m being kind here, because I kind of like KK). What is this? Iraq? Lybia? Af-fucking-ghanistan?!? Slovenia has no need for “orderly transition” of any kind because save political hard-headedness of the current PM there is nothing that is out of order. Even more so: the constitution clearly provides for exactly these kinds of situation so there is no need to “work towards” anything. The scenario is very simple. If the government falls one way or the other, the sitting ministers and the PM continue in a caretaker role until a new cabinet is appointed. This applies even if the entire cabinet resigns tomorrow. Implying that the world will end if they all just let go is misleading at best. Doubly so since the government is barely functioning as it is.

Calls for early elections are mounting although few of them are genuine. It is a failure by the PM not to be able to tell those which were fake from those which weren’t. The one made by Zares was – well – meant for real.


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Constitutional Court Shows Cojones

As Slovenia watches in awe the incredible amount of stupid that is being produced live during the third and final reading of the Family Code and with the more open minded part of the population hoping for a ground-breaking vote finally recognising that everyone deserves a family, pengovsky brings to your attention yet another ground-breaking vote which was taken on Thursday last and made public on Monday. In what was probably the gutsiest in-your-face move in recent years, the Constitutional Court defeated the informal across-the-aisle agreement that was struck in the parliament and established a new municipality of Ankaran.

Ankaran (photo by Darinka Mladenović)

A little bit of background, if you will: Ankaran is a town that was until Monday a part of the Municipality of Koper where the industrious (and I mean that in the broadest sense of the word) Boris Popović is the mayor. For some time now townsfolk of Ankaran felt neglected by Koper administration. Whether or not that indeed was the case is more or less irrelevant, fact of the matter is that they felt that way. Moreover, there was a long-running dispute over how monies paid by the Port of Koper for degradation of environment were distributed between Koper proper and Ankaran. It all ammounted to a definitive “yes” vote when a referendum on Ankaran becoming an independent municipality was held. At the same time in another part of the country, a referendum was held on whether the town of Mirna (until then part of Municipality of Trebnje) should also become a municipality unto itself. This was to prove to be crucial to the fate of Ankaran.

Now, there are several conditions an area must meet in order to be eligible for municipality status in Slovenia. These are not very strict conditions which is probably the reason this country now boasts as much as 212 municipalities with as many mayors and municipal administrations, thousands of council members and so on. One of the conditions is, of course, the will of the people. Both Mirna and Ankaran fulfilled all the necessary conditions and the parliamentary act of establishing both municipalities was thought to be a mere formality. Wrong. While a vote on establishing the municipality of Mirna was a no brainer, MPs flat out rejected establishment of Ankaran. And did it several times. It became apparent that enough people both on local and state level were interested in Ankaran remaining within municipality of Koper, that they denied the people of Ankaran what was due according to the law.

Enter the Constitutional Court. In fact, the court was engaged even before, because it suspended 2010 local elections in Trebnje and Koper pending results of local referendums. But when Ankaran was denied, the Court was petitioned and ruled that Ankaran should have been granted municipality status. It also instructed the parliament to make this happen toute-de-suite. This, however, did not happen. Or rather, it almost did. The parliament passed the law which was then vetoed by the National Council (the ill-conceived second-chamber-wannabe) and then all of a sudden the parliament did not approve the law in the second vote. If things were fishy in the first place (the first attempt to create Ankaran municipality was defeated in the committee stage of the process), by now they outright stunk, especially since MPs opposing Ankaran came from both sides of the aisle. And when those same MPs proposed a special law allowing local elections in Koper municipality with Ankaran still included, it was plainly obvious that there was a tacit agreement (pengovsky won’t use the word conspiracy but feel free to think it) to keep Koper intact.

Petitioners from Ankaran again filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court which then took an almost unprecedented step of allowing the elections in Koper to go ahead, but in an area excluding the town of Ankaran, thus en passant creating the municipality. Mayor Popović and MPs which kept Ankaran a part of Koper went apeshit. In particular, Luka Juri of ruling Social Democrats (who, incidentally, is also a Koper city councilman) almost had a fit and started babbling about how the court abused its powers and how a constitutional amendment should be passed to circumvent the court’s decision.

Truth be told, the court did push an envelope a little. It’s decisions are usually limited to recognising possible unconstitutional provisions and/or to instruct the parliament on how the legislation should look like. Rarely did the court take it upon itself to pro-actively decree a new reality on the ground. But in this case the court was faced with a situation where a) it’s own instructions to the parliament on the issue at hand were blatantly ignored (separation of powers); b) the parliament ignored that Ankaran fulfilled any and all legal criteria for becoming a municipality (legality of decisions) and c) the parliament, when faced with exactly the same situation vis-a-vis Mirna municipality, voted to establish the latter without as much as blinking an eye (equality before the law). Bottom line, the Constitutional Court found that the Parliament acted unconstitutionally regarding the court’s own decisions and did the only thing possible to amend this: it acted pro-actively and created the municipality of Ankaran, with first local elections to be held there in 2014. Much to the delight of some and anger of others.

The question now is whether the court will have the same kind of cojones when it will be asked by the government to deny the referendum on the new Family Code, which will most certainly be called if the code survives the vote later today.

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Early Elections Just Got Canceled

As of yesterday, there’s no doubt what so ever that Slovene Democratic Party of Janez Janša has absolutely no interest to actually call early elections, despite making a lot of hoopla about it.

The Constitution (source)

Amid an atmosphere of growing popular discontent with this nation’s elected representatives, a dog-eat-dog climate and a government which increasingly has to deal with its own problems, calls for early elections are getting ever louder. In fact, the only party which is directly opposing the early elections are (how predictable) Zmago Jelinčič‘s nationalists for whom the elections are always a gamble, although Jelinčič made the cut every time. True, if one were to disregard party affiliation one would quite possibly find that few MPs are keen on cutting their term, but since most of them adhere to party discipline, they seem to be supporting early elections. On surface, at least. Truth be told, next to Jelinčič, the ruling Social Democrats still have to make up their mind, but as long as Borut Pahor stubbornly continues as prime minister, they can more or less successfully dodge the question.

However, even if the SD were to make up their mind and take the plunge, it would amount to very little. You see, under current constitution, early elections are next to impossible. Not completely impossible, but close. To call early elections now, PM Borut Pahor would have to resign, the President would have to nominate a new PM and then a majority of MPs would have to be disciplined enough to vote down this person who would have to be willing to take a dive on an open parliamentary stage. The whole procedure would take a month and a half or so which means that extraordinary discipline of an absolute majority of MPs would have to be maintained for six weeks, not to mention that what was just described is in fact an abuse of democratic procedure.

To circumvent that, ideas were floated to change the constitution and make it easier for the parliament to be dissolved and thus bring about early elections. Pengovsky already wrote about President Danilo Türk threading on thin ice on this issue. There’s also Zares of Gregor Golobič, which floated ideas about amending this part of the constitution as early as January this year and expanded on them later on. Not that theirs is a perfect solution. If pengovsky understood correctly, Zares wants the president – upon resignation of a sitting MP – to be able to either appoint a new candidate for MP or dissolve the parliament and call early elections. This idea has one major problem: if the PM and his government atr elected by the parliament (which is the case now), they can only tender their resignations to the parliament. If Zares really wanted to bring the President into the picture, they would have to revamp the entire system of separation of powers. Which is probably a good idea, but would probably require much more careful consideration. Taking powers on one end and putting them on another end of the systems checks-and-balances can have unpredictably massive effects.

But if Zares’ proposal is something to consider and work on because it may yield beneficial results, the proposal which the SDS of Janez Janša submitted to the parliament today on Monday is a piece of bullshit deluxe. What SDS did was propose an amendment to Article 81 of the Constitution, basically saying that an absolute majority of MPs (46, to be exact) can vote to dissolve the parliament and thus hold elections within two-months-time.

What sounds lovely at first glance, is in reality a huge piece of political crap. If a majority of MPs were able to dissolve the parliament, they’d be doing it all the time, Every time the government would consider that its ratings allow, it would be able to call early elections with little or no warning whatsoever, get re-elected and win another four year term, long before the first one would end. It would also equip the ruling party with an unfair advantage as it would be able to control the election schedule rather than the situation which we have now, when everything is more or less clear in advance. Furthermore, empowering 46 MPs with a power do dissolve the institution which represents the sovereign of this country (the people), goes against every political and legal theory. If election laws need 2/3 majority to be confirmed and if the government constitution needs a double 2/3 majority to be changed, it is simply not logical for such a strong and far reaching instrument to be invoked by only an absolute majority.

SDS of course know all of the above. They did the math and they know that they have neither legal grounds nor political support to pull off a stunt like that. However, being masters of procedure that they are, they’ve effectively hijacked the procedure for changing the constitution and have in effect blocked any attempts to indeed change it. Namely: their motion takes precedence and it means that the procedure constitutional will have to go full circle, probably all the way from debate in the constitutional committee to the plenum vote. Given that we are just about to enter the summer break, the SDS have thus ensured that this procedure will last well into the autumn, possibly winter. By then regular elections would be practically around the corner, Zares’ motion (even if it entered the parliamentary procedure) doesn’t stand a chance of even being debated on, much less surviving a vote.

Thus the largest opposition party made sure that nothing will change and that early elections will definitely not be held. Which is precisely what they wanted. Despite the fact that prominent SDS members are running rather naive sounding on-line petitions, early elections are bad for the party, since it has no election platform and seems to be convinced that the more beating PM Pahor receives, the easier SDS and Janez Janša will reach their goal of 50+ (percent of votes in the new parliament).

The proposed amendments to the constitution by the SDS are therefore nothing but a stalling manoeuvre aimed at prolonging the life of this parliament for as long as politically possible.

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Lame Duck Government

The government of Borut Pahor is as good as dead. After having their respective pow-wows, the remaining junior coalition parties, Zares of Gregor Golobič and LDS of Katarina Kresal demanded that either a comprehensive cabinet re-shuffle takes place (Zares) or a new government formed under the existing coalition (LDS). In both cases this includes the change at the top spot, effectively meaning that both parties want PM Pahor to step down.

Prime Minister Pahor during today’s press conference (source)

Of the two, the call by Zares is more radical as they want to see a result within fourteen days lest they quit the coalition. LDS on the other hand made a more hard-line call but they didn’t provide a time-frame, meaning that theirs was more a show of force rather than an actual commitment. On the other hand, Zares presented Pahor with an offer he can’t really afford to accept. Namely, if Pahor accepts Golobič’s offer and returns his mandate, he admits he has little or no control over the situation. On the other hand, if he doesn’t take the deal, Zares walks out of the coalition and Pahor’s coalition is down to 34 votes.

However, the PM decided to play hard-ball and challenged Zares to make good on its threats. As hinted yesterday by Igor Lukšič, minister of education and senior SD member, Pahor flat-out rejected Golobič and basically told him to go stick his head in a bucket (not in as many words, of course). Even more, the PM said that should he lose a confidence vote, his party will not put forward another candidate for the top spot but will rather work towards calling early elections. Translation: Pahor will blame Zares if the government falls.

However, behind the thick veil of bluff Pahor served today, he is only buying time and still considering his next move. He is not clear on whether the government will propose an emergency law or a rebalanced budget in order to save the 300 million needed and whether he will tie a confidence vote to either of the acts. He also entertained journalists’ questions on whether he will consider a thinly veiled offer Janez Janša made yesterday to form a grand SD-SDS coalition, but then found a plethora of reasons (all of them valid) why that would be an extremely bad idea. In other words, he can not decide on just how high a wager he is prepared to place in this particular game of political poker.

So, how will this play out? Despite Pahor’s insistence that he expects Zares to “extend the deadline”, the party of Gregor Golobič will most likely quit the coalition in two weeks. That this will happen on Statehood Day (June 25) is likely a coincidence, but a very symbolic one: 20th anniversary of Slovenian independence will be celebrated amid political turmoil. How very fitting 🙂

But little will change after that date. Zares, not being a part of the coalition , will have the luxury of picking which projects it will support, but one can hardly expect the party to go over to the opposition side. So, what we will have, will be a lame duck government, surviving on a daily basis unless of course Prime Minister Pahor finally makes up his mind and either seeks a new coalition (unlikely) or steps down and allows for early elections. Odd are that the current shaky coalition would find them more beneficial than the opposition which remains ill prepared platform-wise.

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The President’s Two Cents As Zares And LDS Drop The Other Shoe

President Danilo Türk saw it fit yesterday to share his thoughts on the current Slovenian clusterfuck which was only deepened following Sunday’s ass whooping the government of Borut Pahor got by losing the triple referendum. But instead of clearing things up The Prez only stirred the pot some more. In fact, what the president had done (again) was dangerously close to exceeding his authority.

The Prez being overy presidential (source)

In a nutshell, president Türk repeated his statement of some weeks ago that had he the authority, he would have dissolved the parliament and called early elections. He also said that the government lost a large portion of its credibility and that a general re-shuffle of the cabinet would be in order, including the prime minister himself (“there should be no taboos when re-shuffle is debated“). Additionally, he conceded that political parties themselves are a part of the problem (“just a change of the ruling party is not a solution“) and was promptly blasted by Janez Janša‘s SDS for it.

Testing the outer envelope of constitution

The thing is that the president’s powers are strictly limited vis-a-vis the parliament and the government. He can call elections when constitutional conditions are met, he can nominate a candidate for Prime Minister, appoint ambassadors and is the nominal Commander in chief of the army. And that’s about it. OK, he does have a wider scope of powers in wartime, but that’s another matter. As things stand now, the president can neither order a cabinet re-shuffle nor can he call early elections. Even more, the president makes a show of offering himself as a mediator in what is essentially a coalition feud but at the same time saying that the parties must solve this amongst themselves. Saying what he’d like to do (but can’t) only complicates the situation further and one could argue that he is pushing the envelope on what the president is allowed and/or expected to do. So, if The Prez deserved a slap on the wrist the last time he day-dreamed about an increased scope of powers, this time around he should be told off quite sternly. The fact that he more or less openly sided with one of Zares‘ ideas about how to amend the voting system only reiterates this notion. Don’t get me wrong, the idea itself is rather good (more influence of votes over who actually gets elected to parliament) but I don’t think it is becoming of a president to simply co-opt a certain party’s idea, no matter how good.

But Türk’s forays into the uncharted presidential territory pale in comparison to the acid reaction of SDS to his statement. The largest opposition party went on the offensive and labeled Türk as “part of the problem” and again repeated the lie about Türk’s alleged involvement in the Velikovec bombing, where SDS forged documents to “prove” the claim. So on one hand we have a president who would repeatedly test the outer limits of his powers and on the other hand we have a rabid opposition which repeats a blatant lie about a president without as much as blinking an eye. Overly confident president versus a nit-wit party. Yay! :/

Minus one

It must be said, however, that Türk’s tete-a-tete with journos came awkwardly close to today’s session of Zares’ leadership where Gregor Golobič and top party brass issued a sort of ultimatum to PM Pahor and senior coalition party, the Social Democrats. The junior coalition party said that it wants a cabinet re-shuffle (including the PM) within a fortnight otherwise it will quit the coalition. The Liberal Democrats of Katarina Kresal went even further and outright demanded a new government, although they did not specify a time-frame. And when you consider the President’s position, that there can be no taboos in a cabinet re-shuffle, these things start sounding very much familiar.

Now, for all intents and purposes, all three options amount to the same thing. Resignation of Borut Pahor as Prime Minister. If the PM quits, the whole government goes with him. This is basically what Gregor Golobič proposed weeks ago, when he suggested that all thee party leaders quit their posts and return to the parliament where the existing coalition would appoint a new PM with a new government. Back then neither Pahor nor Kresal enthused. Well, the latter seems to have had a change of heart, which leaves Pahor somewhat alone in an increasingly hostile political environment. Today, the Social Democrats already gave a “semi-official” reaction in the form of education minister Igor Lukšič (formerly a close Pahor aide) blasted the idea as undemocratic and indecent.

So, unless something dramatic happens, Prime Minister Borut Pahor might very well continue on this course, minus yet another coalition party (the LDS seems to have decided to stay a coalition member regardless) and run an increasingly minority government, counting on Zares to support him regardless, because they’ve no place else to go, politically speaking. But more on that in the coming days, so stay tuned! 🙂

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