Zoran Janković Re-enters Local Politics And Runs For Mayor (Again)

Earlier today Zoran Janković announced his entry into the mayoral by-election race. Although pushed back until three hours until deadline, the move was widely expected and subject to much speculation ever since the leader of Positive Slovenia failed in his PM bid in mid-January. In terms of the race itself, with Jay-Z in the picture, the end result is – barring a catastrophic turn of events – almost a given, especially since some initial polling data shows he’d win as much as 70 percent of the vote. But still, there are slightly more than three weeks to election Sunday, and things can happen. The rest of the candidates will surely put up at least a decent fight and even if Janković looks poised to win from the outset, the mere fact that there are seven candidates in what for all intents and purposes is a tedious formality, shows that the Slovene politics is as lively as ever, both on the left and on the right.

Namely: the mayor is elected by popular vote and has a vast scope of powers, but being a member of the City Council is not one of them. Actually, the composition of the Ljubljana city council will remain exactly the same, no matter the result on 25 March (by-election day), meaning that Zoran Janković List (LZJ – Zoki’s candidate list, which formed the basis for Positive Slovenia) will retain the absolute majority of 25 out of 45 votes. And you can imagine the slaughterhouse that would ensue if any other candidate but Zoki won. However, this did not prevent six other candidates to join in on the fun.

Ze left

Zares party, formerly of Gregor Golobič, but until recently under new management of Pavle Gantar, put up their candidate, former MP Vito Rožej. While he has practically zero chance of winning the race, his bid shows that Zares refuses to die (to the utmost irritation of many) and that the party will try to rally whatever resources it has left on the local level to attempt re-entry into the parliament in 2013 2015 or even sooner. Some say that their tactic is suicidal and that they’d be better off skipping this one. But the truth is that Zares needs all the attention it can get, both to promote their political platform which is just enough off the prevalent neo-liberal spectre to be ignored more often than not, as well as to make their rank-and-file (what’s left of it) feel worth their while. Also, one needs to keep fighting, even if it means landing only a few soft punches at first.

Things are even more interesting with the Social Democrats. They opted not to put forward their candidate and also refused to support Janković or any other candidate. In fact, they’re sitting this one out. Which is all fine and dandy, except for the fact that they were the principal recipients of a general political whoop-ass in the parliamentary elections, being reduced to only 10 MPs (down from 29) in what was one of the biggest electoral routs this country has ever seen. And yet, they still apparently feel that all would a-ok had Jay-Z chosen not to dabble in national politics. Thus, they’re refusing to back Janković, mostly courtesy of party president and former PM Borut Pahor, although it needs to be said that precious little love is lost between Zoki and Ljubljana SD president Metka Tekavčič.

LDS is nowhere to be seen, but even so it is clear that the left if in a state of flux and one should not forget that virtually anything can happen.

Ze right

On the other hand (literally) things are much more “heh heh”. SDS of Janez Janša were their usual secretive self about their plans for these by-elections, but in the end they chose to not to lose yet again. Or, at the very least, not to do it on their own. Which is why they supported Mojca Kucler Dolinar of Christian Democratic Nova Slovenija (NSi) who ran against Janković in the 2010 local elections as well. Funny thing is, however, that the initial nudge for Kucler Dolinar to hop on the bandwagon apparently did not come from her own NSi, but rather from the SDS. Which is a bit weird and suggest at least some level of horse-trading. It could be (and this is pure speculation) that Kucler Dolinar agreed to take one for the team with a reward waiting down the road. After all, this is a right-wing government we have here and NSi is a coalition member.

On the other hand, the SLS of Radovan Žerjav went solo with their candidate Matjaž Glavan. Funnily enough, when asked about the reasons for solo venture, Glavan said that “SLS is a moderate centrist party”, thus implying that NSi and SDS are neither moderate not centrist. Apparently, there’s also some level of resentment, as Ljubljana SLS leadership apparently was not consulted on Kucler Dolinar bid and was – it seems – taken for granted to have been on board with NSi and SDS. Rather arrognat of them, n’est-ce pas?

Ze rest

Three other candidates remaining candidates are from the “Usual Suspects” category. While Miha Jazbinšek of the Green party is a veteran of Slovene politics, he too is in it mostly for the exposure, while Jože Drnovšek and Jožef Jarh can safely be put under “wtf”. For example, Drnovšek got an incredible 212 votes in the last local elections.

Now what?

So, does this constitute Janković’s retreat from national politics? Yes and no. On one hand there is the high-brow “go back to where you came from” moment, emanated by most of the players in the parliamentary arena, which always saw Janković as somehow inferior to them. However, this may well prove to be his saving grace, as he has long maintained that he doesn’t feel comfortable in legislature. Also, being the nominal leader of the opposition is not as glamorous as it sounds, as one can do very little save bitch about everything. Also, it needs to be said that with Zoki out of Ljubljana, things rapidly began to disintegrate and dissent was spreading fast within the usually rock-solid ranks of Janković’s councilmen. So, coming back could also mean tying a few loose ends. From Janković’s viewpoint this a win-win combination, with the added bonus of him being dislodged from the parliamentary cesspool and being able to wait while Janša breaks his back over handling the crisis and then step back into the ring with an I-told-you-so attitude and – this is the fun part – again coming back to haunt Janez Janša, just as he thought he had gotten rid of Janković once and for all.

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Administrative Reform Packages, pt. 1: On Secret Ballot


Y’all already know all about how the PM nomination of Zoran Janković fell through and how it wasn’t clear until the results came in whether he had the necessary 46 votes. Since both the right- and left-wing parties both nominally hold 44 votes, with the two minorities MPs in between, Zoran Janković had to secure at least two votes from the other side, sparking a frantic search for “rats” in the ranks of right-wing parties. A drastic measure was taken with those MPs being instructed not pick up ballots at all. In the end, some of those MPs (presumably party leaders) picked up their ballots to ensure a quorum, but the move caused much controversy and prompted calls for a change in constitution where the PM nominee would be voted on by a public vote rather than a secret ballot. Which is utter nonsense. Oddly enough, this is also one of the constitutional changes that the SDS of Janez Janša floated yesterday. And even more oddly, DLGV of Gregor Virant did not echo the sentiment, although it was Virant himself floated the idea. Then again, it shouldn’t really be a surprise. It really is a fucking bad idea.

Political Science 101

Broadly speaking, the concept of division of power differentiates between legislative, executive and judicial branches. These are independent from one another and interact via a more or less complex system of checks and balances which is suppose to ensure that no branch prevails against the other two in the long term.

One of the mechanisms to ensure this is the way representatives of these branches are selected. Members of the parliament, that is to say, the legislative branch is selected in a secret ballot. It should be therefore obvious that the executive branch should be selected in a similar manner. And as things stand now, it is. Members of the parliament vote on a candidate for prime minister in a secret ballot. Understandably, this goes for the Constitutional Court (the third factor in this balance of power) as well. Its members are voted on by the parliament in a secret ballot. It’s the way it should be. And there’s a reason for it.

You see, this is not just about coalitions, votes and majorities. It has to do with sovereignty. In Slovenia (as in any other republic), the people are the sovereign. Additionally, the people are also the sole bearer of power. This power is then executed either directly or via elections, where it is transferred to the three branches of power. The parliament is the bearer of this delegated sovereignty, the government is the one to execute the sovereignty, with the constitutional court mostly acting as the arbiter between the two. It is therefore necessary for the three branches of power to be selected by the same (or at least similar) method, i.e. a secret ballot.

Shotgun elections

But why secret? Usually, the MPs votes are public and their voting record speaks volumes on their adherence to party platforms, pre-election promises and special-interest influence. In short: public votes on legislation are a matter of transparency and accountability. But the same thing that works in favour of the democratic process when passing legislation is concerned, works decidedly against it when establishing the branches of power is concerned. When voting for specific candidates running for specific offices, open ballot is subject to control, pressure being brought to bear and all other forms of perversion of decision-making process including implicit and explicit threats and even bribery.

True, many if not all of these can be used in a secret ballot, but in the end no-one really knows how any given person voted, the only thing clear is the end result. Which is why today we still can not say for certain which four MPs did not vote for Janković on that fateful Wednesday even though they were expected to. The only thing we know is that at least four more people should have voted for Jay-Z were he to become the PM, but didn’t. We’ll never know just who exactly went rogue. And that’s the way it should be. That, ladies and gentlemen is the most basic of democratic standards. Take that away and we’re half-way to shot-gun elections.

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Administrative Reform Packages: Intro

Pengovsky always finds it bafflingly puzzling when structural problems of a country/society are being tackled with – or, rather, appear to be tackled with – normative changes. In the old country this was usually called “administrative reform packages”, championed by the legendarily disastrous president of the federal government Branko Mikulić and was nothing more (and nothing less) than a government-wide beating around the bush and doing everything possible to avoid addressing the problems which needed to be addressed and which would inevitably question the basics of the established social and political order.

Constitution in their sights

Back in the 80s this ended in the complete and utter dissolution of socialism and single-party rule with all the goodies in terms of personal and other freedoms that came with it. Today, however, we find ourselves in a similar – albeit not as drastic – situation, where the powers that be are doing everything not to address the elephant in the room, but rather fool around with changes to constitution and basic political procedures as if that’ll help. Sure it will. Just take a look at Hungary.

Power hoarding

SDS, NSi and DLGV today each came up with far-reaching drafts of constitutional changes which – when put together – are nothing short of a dismantling of a system of checks and balances with the ultimate goal of hoarding power with the executive branch, limiting legislative and judicial oversight way below any democratically acceptable level. Some of these constitutional amendments are party-specific, others can be found in all proposals, but the very fact that they were presented on the same day suggest at least some level of coordination between them.

SDS of Janez Janša came up with draft constitutional changes which would overhaul the procedure for electing the government. The senior coalition party aims to make it a one-step process whereupon the PM-designate would appoint ministerial candidates after his or her nomination with the ability to sack up to a third of ministers (anything beyond that and a confidence vote is required). Additionally – and this is the second proposed constitutional amendment – the government should be confirmed by a public vote rather than a secret ballot. The list goes on and includes implementation of a long trial period for all judges, constitutionally enshrined fiscal rule and other changes, some of them being nothing more than sweeteners for the general public, like prevention of media monopolies or the right to internet access.

Also, Christian-democratic Nova Slovenija (NSi) submitted their seven-point plan for constitutional amendments, in some ways echoing and in others expanding on SDS’ proposal in the most peculiar of ways. The party of Ljudmila Novak would thus overhaul presidential elections, enact the so-called Golden rule, abolish the National Council, constitutionally protect families with many children, enact a trial period for judges and raise the bar on calling the referendum.

Not to be outdone, Gregor Virant‘s Citizen List (DLGV) chipped in their two cents, where they would overhaul competences of the Constitutional court, abolish immunity for MPs and overhaul the election legislation. Additionally, they echoed the SDS in the one-step-to-elect-government bid and NSi in abolishing the National Council. Most of these proposals are of the politically-motivated-screw-good-of-the-country-be-damned kind, others actually make sense. For the benefit of this blog’s public pengovsky will sift though these proposals in the coming days, but one thing is already apparent: put together, these proposals are nothing short of throwing the system of checks and balances completely out of alignment with the ultimate goal of hoarding power with the executive branch, making the parliamentary majority even more of a rubber-stamp than it already is, at the same time discouraging judicial control by both limiting the power of the constitutional court and having regular judges up for confirmation after as much as eight years on the bench.

Broad sword

True, Slovenian constitution is somewhat outdated. As a document, it is very much a child of its time, and some solutions that we almost ingenious in the early 90s are downright problematic in this day and age. But changing the constitution should be approached with a surgical precision, whereas the ruling coalition (no doubt SLS and DeSUS will chip in their two cents) went about it by waving a broad sword.

Funny thing is that the basic argument for this across-the-board constitutional reform is that it will help fight the crisis. As pengovsky will show in the coming days (give or take) it will do no such thing, but maybe save a million or so. What they will do, however, will – if passed – make room for badly conceived decisions to be made into policies faster and with much more devastating consequences.

Careful observers will note that the possibility of abuse of power wasn’t even mentioned.

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To Viktor Go The Spoils

Prime Minister Janez Janša submitted his list of ministerial appointments for parliament approval Friday last and the first hearings were held Tuesday, with the second batch following today, with the government expected to be sworn in tomorrow. So let’s look at who these men and woman actually are (in order of appearance):

The J Team

Ljudmila Novak (NSi) – Leader of the Christian democratic party Nova Slovenija and the only woman in Janša’s administration is set to become a minister without portfolio, tasked with keeping relations with Slovenian diaspora. The single remaining “ministry-at-large” caused quite a stir. It was created by the previous Janša administration and was tasked primarily to keep tabs on the Slovenian diaspora, both immediately across the border as well as around the world.

Aleš Hojs (NSi) – Minister of defence. Last seen as member of the board of DARS, the Slovene motorway company and a relatively high-profile party member. No-one has any clue as to why exactly he gets to oversee the Slovenian Army, but since qualified defence ministers were few and far between in this country and the armed forces are one of PM Janša’s pet peeves, it can only be assumed he will take suggestions on how to run the ministry from the very top. The key to understanding of his exact role in the office will be whom he picks or is told to pick as his state secretary (the number two person in the ministry).

Senko Pličanič (DLGV) – Minister of justice and public administration. One of the merged ministries, this will be one hell of a portfolio to run. He will be directly responsible for negotiations with public sector unions and those can be a bitch to deal with, as the outgoing government of Borut Pahor can tell you with some authority. Public administration was Gregor Virant‘s portfolio in the first Janša government and it was thought that Virant himself would take the post, quit the position of the president of the parliament and let Karl Erjavec of DeSUS take it. But apparently Virant grew cozy in that chair very quick and made Erjavec take another prestigious position.

Janez Šušteršič (DLGV) – Minister of finance. Arguably the mother of all portfolios and the most difficult right now. Also a sure-fire way for DLGV to sink even lower in public opinion polls (if that is at all possible, since they are already scoring on the low side of single digits). Šušteršič aims to cut up to 800 million euro of budget expenses in the first year alone. Since that comprises about 9% of the entire budget, shit is bound to hit the fan really soon.

Radovan Žerjav (SLS)Minister of economy. Again, no clue as to why exactly he gets to run this particular portfolio, since he is a chemist by trade and a politician by vocation, while the economy in this country is more or less in deep shit. Even more, he was the principal sponsor of a law which prevents people who held top positions in a company that went out of business to start a new company within ten years. As with every other coalition party leader, this particular nomination seems to be more a matter of prestige than actual competence.

Franci Bogovič (SLS) – Minister of agriculture and environment. Apparently capable and knows his way around both primary fields of work. His problem is that agriculture and environment are usually at odds with each other (which is why they were kept as separate portfolios) and Bogovič might have a problem reconciling both.

Tomaž Gantar (DeSUS) – Minister of health. Former mayor of Izola municipality and former head of Izola hospital should generally be on top of things. Hopefully, he will work to improve the reform of the health system which was drafted by his predecessor Dorijan Marušič and will not go back to square one.

Karl Viktor Erjavec (DeSUS) – Minister of foreign affairs. Ah yes, to Viktor go the spoils. Failing to secure the comfy position of the parliament president, leader of DeSUS went for the next best thing. He will now become the diplomatic face of Slovenia. And just when we thought that Dimitrij Rupel is the worst that can happen to a country’s foreign policy. Karl Erjavec has zero mileage in the field. OK, so he did go to NATO and EU meetings, but seriously… As foreign minister he is expected to be proactive and have a general idea of this country’s positions long before anyone asks us our opinion. The European deck of cards is being reshuffled and it will take a master poker player to bluff a country’s way out of this one. With Viktor as the foreign affairs boss, this looks highly unlikely. But then again, he can crack a joke like no other man can. Surely that must be worth something….

Vinko Gorenak (SDS) – Internal affairs. A commanding officer of a police station way back in socialist times (today that would probably translate into senior member of security forces of a totalitarian regime), he knows his way around police and internal affairs. His problem is the fact that he also gets to exert partial control over state prosecution, which was transferred from justice to internal affairs. With Janez Janša still in court over Patria affair, it’s way too close to comfort to have a senior SDS member be able to, say, launch a special investigation into the prosecutor who is trying to get Janša convicted. If you catch my drift…

Zvonko Černač (SDS) – Minister of infrastructure and spatial planning. Seems to be close to Janša lately and has jumped in as his boss’ chauffeur on occasion. Other than having some mediocre experience in the municipality of Postojna, it is a mystery (wrapped inside a riddle, hidden in an enigma) what exactly makes Černač so special as to be awarded the newly crafted infrastructure ministry which will arguably be crucial in any and all attempts to kick-start the economy (if that is at all possible, mind you). Well, maybe he’ll be just there to make sure the right folks get government contracts. Or maybe he’ll surprise us all and actually do something. He could, for example, go about making plans for upgrading Slovenian railway system.

Žiga Turk (SDS) – Minister for education, science, culture and sport. Well, the Ljubljana city councilman (he will vacate the post tomorrow as he is sworn in as minister) has his hands full. While he was busy going over his slides in a parliamentary hearing, couple of hundred of artists and culture-related people were busy decrying merging of culture portfolio with all the other (these were previously three separate ministries) and even burned a contra-bass as a sign of protest (in case you don’t get it: the message is we rather do it ourselves than let you enjoy it). It is ironic that demotion of cultural portfolio to the level of a state secretary brought together people who would usually rather cross a busy street than meet each other on the pavement. Culture is sacred for many a Slovenian (after all, our cultural identity was formed long before we even thought of calling ourselves a nation) and rather than just being a budget item, a lot of people took this a symbolic gesture of anti-patriotism by a coalition which for all intents and purposes draws heavily on patriotic feelings. It is therefore little wonder that the minister-to-be was awaited by protesters and booed to the point of being called “a stink” by a heckler. Which, for the record, was totally uncalled for, below the belt and utterly undeserved. Protesting and marching is one thing, calling names quite another.

And finally, Andrej Vizjak (SDS) as the new minister for labour, family and social affairs. Minister of economy in the first Janša administration apparently has some background in the field so it is expected that he will not be a complete failure, although it should be ridiculously fun to watch how he tackles unemployment while finance minister Šušteršič is shaving 800 million of the budget most of which goes to Vizjak’s portofolio as it is.

At any rate, these are all the king’s men. Nobody was really impressed by the list and even Janša himself said that this is the best possible team under the circumstances. But the trick is that this “best possible team” will have to produce the “best result ever” regardless of the circumstances, lest it go down in history as “the team that couldn’t”. If Pahor’s government way fighting an up-hill battle especially in economic policy, Janša’s ministers will be forced to climb vertically. Well, all except one. It is clear that – once again – Karl Erjavec already came out on top. Question is, will he stay there or is this just the beginning of a quick and uncontrolled descent…

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How Taylor Caldwell Introduced Marcus Tullius Cicero To Janez Janša

Just prior to becoming the Prime Minister, Janez Janša gave a speech which outlined the basic priorities of his government. These are a no-brainer: pension reform, cuts in public sector, job creation, lowering taxes and growth stimulation. Needless to say that you cannot have all of the above, but preachers of austerity were never concerned with the niceties of “growing-by-non-spending”, despite decades of failed experiments. But be that as it may, what stuck out was not the fact that Janša elaborated on Pahor’s reforms (the very same he helped bomb and which, looking backwards, look downright meek) and announced a package which would make Milton Friedman jump with joy. No, what caught many an ear, was a quote Janša used to justify the neoliberal happy-meal he’s about to serve Slovenia.

(source and source)

The prime minister quoted the great Roman orator Marcus Tulius Cicero, saying that[t]he budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt.

The problem is, Cicero said no such thing.

The quote is an invention of one Taylor Caldwell, an American novelist who made it up in her 1965 novel A Pillar of Iron on the life of the now very much late senator. Thing is, the Cicero quote is much used all around the world, a fact which Janša readily acknowledges in his speech. Why is that? Well, it fits nicely with the Reaganomics of the 80s (notwithstanding the fact that US public debt exploded under Ronald Reagan) and the quote was reportedly used by Gipper himself, who also attributed it to Cicero. And who is Janez Janša to doubt the icon of the Republican party? Especially since the International Republican Institute holds the newly-minted Slovenian prime minister in such high regard

This is not the first time Janša has a problem with sources. Back in 2008 he snatched a portion of Tony Blair’s speech and failed to quote the source. This time around, he did quote the source, but the source is false. Well, sooner or later he’s bound to nail it…

P.S.: hat-tip to the anonymous vigilant birdie who caught the blunder…

P.P.S.: Even thought this post is dated 1 February, it should have been posted on 31 January. Just so you know…

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