Janković Takes The Plunge, Virant Follows Suit

It is decided. Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković will be running in parliamentary elections on 4 December. What is more, he will be doing so by forming his own party. This is the gist of his announcement yesterday. Janković set an ambitious goal of winning enough votes to clinch a nomination for the prime-ministerial position. While yesterday’s move is sure to redraw the electoral map, the actual impact of Jay-Z going national is yet to be seen.


Mayor Janković under media siege (source: The Firm™)

As of yesterday the industrious mayor of Slovenian capital is on a tight schedule. He needs to set up a party, with which – if all goes according to plan – will be catching deadlines to submit candidate lists, which also have yet to be formed. During this time, Janković must also decide whether or not he will indeed run for a parliamentary seat, as well as establish operation on the ground. Also, he should get cracking on an election platform. His record as mayor of Ljubljana will only get him so far.

Enter Gregor Virant

If Jay-Z was practically under 24/7 media surveillance, nobody saw Gregor Virant entering the race of his own accord. The (apparently former) president of Council for the Republic, a right-wing think-tank and Minister of Public Administration during Janez Janša‘s 2004-2008 government was at the outer edge or media interest lately. He did stir the pot a bit after he said that Janša’s goal of winning 50+ percent would be bad for democracy in this country, but everyone assumed that he had received a good dressing-down and he seemed to have toed the line ever since.


Gregor Virant, unnoticed in his outflanking manoeuvre (source: RTVSLO)

Which is why information of his entering the race was a bombshell. Pengovsky was all like 😯 because it seemed until Monday that the only thing that stood between Janez Janša and his complete and utter domination of the dark right side was a good showing on part of Radovan Žerjav and his Slovene People’s Party (SLS) which – wisely – decided to go solo and published their platform on Friday.

24 hrs after the initial shock, when they were able to come up only with “we’re unpleasantly surprised”, the SDS reacted with great vengeance and furious anger. In a formal statement, the party wrote that “Virant was sneakily forming his [candidate] list using SDS know-how and infrastructure, thus acting indecently. We deplore this and state that Slovenia will not solve its social, economic and moral crisis with sneaky actions, no matter how much shiny the rhetoric and non-partisan the appearances“.

They also point out that Virant is cousin of Jankovič’s wife and that Janša confronted Virant as late as end of September with rumours of him going solo, but the latter denied any such innuendo and even participated in a session of SDS Council on preparations for elections. SDS is basically crying treason and saying that the whole Janković-Virant thing is a set-up, possibly concocted by (naturally) Milan Kučan.

I’d be pissed too, if I were in their shoes right now 😀

Is it all just a scam?

With this being SDS and Janez Janša (of whom it was once written that he lives in a Ludlum-like world) one immediately thinks of the possibility of Virant and Janša… well… faking it. Fact of the matter is that SDS is not scoring nearly enough in the public opinion polls if it is to achieve its stated goal of 50, nay, 60+ percent. So, Virant could be just a ploy, to appeal to more moderate voters.

The former minister is appealing to the moderate right and he can fill in the obvious blank Janša is leaving behind. But he will also eat into SDS voters and the amount of venom the SDS spewed in Virant’s general direction suggests that this indeed is the real deal and not some sort of a double play. This is further supported by the anti-family-code astroturf initiative of Aleš Primc, which within hours released a statement denouncing Virant (and Janković) for accepting the compromise solution on gay adoption provided by the code.

The left clapping hands carefully

On the other hand, parties of the political left are cautiously welcoming both Janković and Virant into the game. Like Virant, Janković is also poised to eat into their electorate, but they are obviously counting on increased turnout, mostly by those voters which have voted for either of the three left-wing parties but have been disillusioned one way or another. The party which stands to lose most under this scenario are the (still somehow) ruling Social Democrats of Borut Pahor which are in danger of having to cede the leading position on the left to the newcomer from the Ljubljana City Hall. Their noticeable lack of enthusiasm is therefore understandable.

On the other hand the LDS of Katarina Kresal and Zares of Gregor Golobič tried a more cheerful approach, with the latter being especially perky when stating that what we are seeing today is a continuation of a trend of political innovation which was started and maintained only by Zares. While he may have stretched it a bit, he does have a point, especially when one considers their election platform which is a marked departure from the neoliberal rhetoric prevalent in Slovenia. Katarina Kresal, on the other hand went along the usual “more options are good for democracy” tune. Cliché, to be sure, but good enough.

Throwing the game wide open

What we saw in the past few days in Slovenia was a major shift in the political arena. Gregor Golobič is right in saying that the situation we have today was unthinkable months, even weeks ago. But just how fundamental a redrawing of the political map has indeed happened remains to be seen. Virtually all the public opinion polls that were published in the last couple of weeks can be thrown right out the window. Including the one published today and conducted by the Faculty for Applicative Social Studies which is thought to be closer to the right (not to be confused with the generally left-leaning Faculty for Social Sciences) and which – surprisingly – puts Janez Janša’s SDS at a mere 16,5 percent approval ratings.

One thing is certain, though. The 4 December elections were just thrown wide open. Anything can happen between now and then and as things stand now SDS were the only ones caught wrong-footed. They’ll probably bounce back, but after spending most of the three years undermining anything and everything the left did and preparing the terrain for a takeover of power, Janša’s SDS just got the rug pulled from under their feet.

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Jay-Z And 99 Problems

For the umpteenth time, Slovene media is rife with speculation whether Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković will enter the electoral race and run against Janez Janša for the position of Prime Minister. More than one media outlet quoted “reliable sources” saying that mayor Janković is being pressed by behind-the-scenes power brokers to go head-to-head against Janša in what is being described as a last-ditch attempt to prevent the victory of SDS and its leader. Those same outlets go on to report that Janković is still considering his move and is having pollsters survey the terrain before making a final call on the issue. The general interpretation is that if Janković were to run for PM, he’d unite the parties of the political left just enough to present a viable alternative to Janša who at this time looks poised to win the elections and that – the argument goes – is the political left’s last, best chance of survival. There’s only one problem – it’s all bollocks.


Zoran Janković thinking long and hard (source: The Firm™)

Well, not the fact that Janković is being coaxed into announcing the PM bid – that is more or less true. What is ultimately flawed is the logic behind it. At the moment, the political left in Slovenia is in tatters, more or less. The general and specific animosity that has built up between leaders on the left as well as between rank-and-file party members of leftist parties all but precludes any sort of meaningful cooperation between them. There’s simply too much bad blood. If Zoran Janković were to enter the race, he’d have to mend the fences on the left first. One of the many cases in point being the Facebook status of SD‘s secretary general (and by extent the party’s top operative) Uroš Jauševec which said “The dice has been cast… Jay-Z [Janković] is entering the race… to destroy the left”. The digital Slovenia of course went ape-shit within minutes and all of a sudden it seemed as if the industrious mayor of Ljubljana did indeed make the call. Only, he didn’t.

Jay-Z

Janković is, of course, under media siege these days. Journos are following him around, looking for subtle hints and indirect signs that would point one way or the other. Or, to be more precise, they’re operating under the assumption he will enter the race and are hoping to break the story first. But Janković doesn’t do subtle. He readily admits that he is considering running for PM but that he hasn’t come to a decision yet. Even more, he said time and again that he will let all media outlets know at the same time. Which means a press conference (if he chooses to run) or a statement to the press (if he chooses not to). It’s no use chasing the man around town and trying to pick up hints.

In all honesty, the case for Janković entering the parliamentary election race is flimsy at best. OK, so perhaps Janković is the last, best hope to prevent the end of the world which – as those who urge Janković to run – would ensue if Janez Janša came to power once again. Janša’s economic policies left a lot to be desired when he was in power and those which are described in his party’s draft programme are no better (in a nutshell: lowering taxes, curbing public spending and increasing productivity at the same time. It doesn’t compute). If his track record is anything to go by, Janša in power again means a lot of meddling with the media and generally implementing pre-modern concepts of the Homeland. But does that warrant throwing everything the left has… eeer… left into the battle (and that’s not much to being with)? No.

(Ninety-)Nine problems

Janković’s political position is more than cosy. He enjoys an undisputed majority in the Ljubjana City Council and more often than not does what ever the fuck he pleases. This also enables him to pick his own team, something he would most likely want to do if he were to win national elections. Problem is, there’s no such luxury on the national level. If Jay-Z were to run, however, he’d have a plethora of problems to solve. Maybe not exactly ninety-nine problems that the well-known rapper sang about, but still.

First of all, he’d have to have leaders of the left kiss and make up. With seven weeks and counting till elections, the prospect SD, LDS and Zares playing in concert is minute. Furthermore, he has almost no organisational network on the ground. With elections this close, there is no way Janković can mount an effective operation without the support of left-wing parties which – as shown above – are more or less at each other’s throats.

Two, SD, LDS and Zares actually have to want Janković to enter the race. As things stand now, this is not the case. While positions of LDS and Zares are not entirely known (both parties seem on the fence on the issue, with LDS being in marginally better relations with the industrious mayor), SD is going positively bananas over the prospect of Janković going national. Apart from Jauševec’s Facebook status, there are attempts to implicate Janković’s sons into some shady business dealings and by extension smear Janković himself. It seems a no brainer that the leak came from the parliamentary committee investigating real-estate business in Ljubljana (but mostly targeting mayor Janković). But although this is an SDS-run comittee, chaired by Alenka Jeraj MP, the leak most likely came from the left side. The political right would have probably sat on that info until Janković entered the game for real and slammed him with it then. This brings us to problem number…

Three. It is in Janez Janša’s interest that Janković enter the race. The presumptive PM said as much in a recent interview for the Christian radio Ognjišče. And he’s right. Mayor Janković is a pain in the ass for any government. Being ridiculously popular in Ljubljana, he seems practically invincible and is making virtually every political party in the city look like fools (SD and SDS chief among them). If, however, he were to enter the national arena and lose to Janša (which in this case means scoring an unimpressive result that would put him on a par with or even below every other party), his aura of awesome would be very much shaken, possibly to the point of him losing some cool in Ljubljana as well. Which is why the PM presumptive would love nothing more than to beat the shit out of the biggest political problem he had during his 2004-2008 term.

Four, the polls. Public opinion polls do in fact put Janković on the map, but he is way behind Janez Janša, while his (presumptive) candidate list gets between one and nine precent (yes, it’s a huge margin, but remember, it’s still early in the game). But to have any kind of fighting chance of winning the nomination, Jay-Z and his candidate list would have to be scoring at least in the low 20s. They’re nowhere near that number which means that there’s a shitload of work to be done. And even if all of the above is achieved (uniting the left, establishing the network and closing the gap in the polls), Janković would still only be where Janez Janša and his SDS already are today.

Five. The electoral system is a major factor in the final result of the national elections. Eight voting units, each with eleven voting precincts and a combination of Hare quota and Droop quota can really take it out on a man. Unlike local elections, where (especially in Ljubljana) every party runs with one candidate list and then wins a proportional number of seats in the local council, national elections require a party to submit a different list for every voting unit and have candidates from the list run in different precincts. In fact it is even a bit more complicated than that, but the bottom line is that Zoran Janković can not head every list in every unit. And finally, the distribution of votes is almost as important as the actual result and while generally fair, the system can play a role, especially if there is no clear-cut victor.

Six. While not willing to rule out running for PM, Janković has categorically ruled out serving as Member of Parliament. Now, technically it is not necessary for a PM nominee to be elected as MP first, but this usually is the case, because it is considered as a kind of commitment by a party leader (or a politician in general) to his voters. If he were to run on a ticket, Janković would most likely get elected as MP. But in order to clinch a nomination for Prime Minister, his candidate list would have to win enough seats in the parliament to form a coalition (it is extremely unlikely that he’d win an absolute majority, like he did in Ljubljana elections in 2006 and 2010). Failing that, Janković could become stuck in the parliament, because being elected as MP would mean he’d have to relinquish his mayorship, due to the recently (and finally!) passed law on conflict of interests which prohibits mayors servning as MPs and vice-versa. To circumvent that, Jay-Z could choose not to run for MP and lead his candidate list from the “outside” so to speak, but then the question of commitment would immediately be raised: if he really wants to be the prime minister, why doesn’t he have the balls to face his opponents in an open contest?

Seven. If by some weird coincidence Jay-Z actually beats the odds and wins on 4 December, you can be sure that the furious Janša-led opposition will first cry foul and then work damn hard to blame Janković for just about everything that’s ever been wrong wrong in this country. And trust me, what hasn’t already, will go wrong very soon, because of…

Eight. This country is close to economic collapse. I’m not necessarily talking Greek scenario here, but fact of the matter is that there’s no more money left. The ministry of finance stopped all non-essential spending as early as the end of September, which basically means we’re running on empty. With both the US and the EU entering into the second part of the double-dip recession (via Nouriel Roubini), things don’t look good for the forseeable future. In fact, latest prognoses put recovery as late as 2016. And that’s by those same economists which said that things should be back to normal in late 2009, so you can understand how bad things really are.

Nine. Is it really worth it? With the economic and financial onslaught looming and the prospect of having to pass reform legislation which was once already thwarted, no government is likely to make it to the end of its regular term in the next couple of years. In fact, as the good doctor noted, Janez Janša worked long and hard to derail the reform attempts by the outgoing government and he should be able to reap what he sowed. Angry labour unions, disillusioned supporters, nervous money-men and wailing CEOs should be his to deal with for the next couple of years. Zoran Janković is quick to point out that he is ready to serve his country, but the truth is this country can take a couple of years of Janez Janša as PM. Sure, it will be messy, but the only way out of this mess is if the SDS leader gets a strong serving of what he helped cook in the past four years.

Make the call, dammit!

Janković is on the fence for a couple of weeks now and rumours have it that he will make the call late next week. High time he did, as the deadline for submitting candidate lists is 21 October. How he will decide, however, is still a mystery. Pengovsky believes the above clearly computes into Janković not taking the plunge. Pros are hugely outweighed by the cons. On a rational level, Janković knows most if not all of the above. However, there’s always the possibility of him taking a galactic gamble and having a go at it. If it came to that, however, anything falling short of a full commitment will turn out to be a short-cut to a political disaster of epic proportions.

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Constitutional Court Nixes Tito Street

In a highly anticipated decision, Slovenian Constitutional Court declared null and void a controversial decision by the Ljubljana City Council to name a newly-built avenue running along the Stožice Stadium after Communist leader of former Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito. Plaintiffs, the Christian-democratic party Nova Slovenija, claimed that naming the street after a man led the regime which systematically trampled human rights and conducted post-war massacres goes against human dignity and is thus unconstitutional. The court went along with this argument and repealed Article 2 of the city ordnance in question.


This is no longer Tito Street (source)

Pengovsky said all along that Ljubljana could well do without Tito street, although the historic role of Josip Broz is both positive and negative and that mayor Zoran Janković was needlessly stirring the pot with this issue. While not totally unexpected, the ruling (and the logic behind it) can become extremely important, because it sets a new standard in determining what is allowed and what is not. On one hand we can expect a mass of petitions to have other streets and squares which still bear Tito’s name to be renamed (cases in point being cities of Koper and Velenje), but on the other hand this should open the doors to petitions to rename other streets named after controversial historical figures. The Pope John Paul II Street in Ljubljana comes to mind (to give an example at random).

Furthermore, the Constitutional Court is also expected to rule on whether to allow the referendum on the new Family Code, which will basically be a referendum on allowing same-sex marriage and adoptions (with certain limits). We’ll see if the court will recognise the “constitutional guarantee of respect for human dignity” when it rules on that issue.

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