Zoran Janković is to be sworn as mayor tomorrow and I still owe you a run-down on his victory on mayoral by-elections on 25 March, so here it goes: While the result was a virtual no-brainer, the whole episode is slightly more interesting than it may seem at first glance. As you very well now, the sole reason for these by-elections was the fact that Janković was elected MP on 4 December parliamentary elections and had to relinquish his position as the Big Kahuna of the coty. After being outmanoeuvred by Janez Janša and had the premiership snatched from under the nose, Janković was faced with quite a dilemma: whether he should continue as MP and a nominal leader of the opposition, or whether he should leave the parliament and try to – as schizophrenic as this may sound – succeed himself as the mayor of Ljubljana.
Just to make sure everybody’s on the same page, pengovsky would like to remind both readers again that these were mayoral by-elections which had no effect on the composition of the city council itself with Zoran Janković List having an absolute majority of 25 out of 45 councilmen, so there was a theoretical possibility of a cohabitation. But in all honesty, the result was never in doubt. Ljubljana is Zoki’s turf and with the political right being continuously unable to mount a serious challenge to win since 1994 municipal administration reform which established Ljubljana as a single entity, the question du jour was not if Jay-Z will win, but by rather by how much. In the end the metre stopped at 61%, which is a) a repetition of his election results in 2006 and 2010 and b) still pretty awesome.
Having said that, additional and equally important issues were raised by these elections: a) why can’t the political right put up a decent fight in the capital and why it tried in vain to do so, b) what’s with the left side of the spectrum and c) what will Janković’s move from National Assembly to the City Hall mean for him and for the parliamentary opposition.
As you know, right wing parties put forward two challengers to Zoran Janković. Mojca Kucler Dolinar, a joint SDS/NSi candidate and Matjaž Glavan, who stood for SLS. While Glavan scored a neglible 1% which is in line with that SLS got in municipal elections in 2010, Kucler Dolinar scored marginally better than she and Zofija Mazej Kuković did year and a half ago when they ran solo for NSi and SDS respectively.
But the real question is why did Kucler Dolinar run for mayor the second time knowing she’d lose. Pengovsky tried to answer this in his post running up to the elections (hoping for a reward down the road), but there are other factors to consider as well. Most of all the fact that for all intents and purposes Mojca Kucler Dolinar is now a spent force. She lost to Janković twice in a row and although one could claim that she did pretty well, she came nowhere near forcing Janković into a second round, let alone endangering him directly. This does not exactly do wonders for her political career as she has little to show for in terms of achievements. Also, word has it the joint SDS/NSi ticket was her idea but that the SDS had to formally extend the invitation since Kucler Dolinar’s NSi was strongly opposed to what they probably saw as a lost cause.
Bottom line: whatever political ambitions Kucler Dolinar might have had before 25 March are now probably up in smoke. She was probably hoping to re-enter national politics (she served as a higher education minister in the first Janša administration) but given lack of success on her part and the minute role NSi is playing the current Janša set-up, her chances are virtually nil. Ditto for any master plan she might have had to take over the party.
SDS came out of this mess virtually unhurt. From their point of view it doesn’t really matter who made the initial offer, fact of the matter is that by having Kucler Dolinar as a joint candidate they made at least a pro-forma challenge to Janković while not throwing away a name and a face they’ll have to send into battle in two-and-a-half-year’s time.
But even then they will still be faced with the same dilemma: Why can’t they win in Ljubljana? Well, the marginally younger, more urban and slightly more left-wing orientation of the population helps, but the reality is that the political right has been re-active. In other words, they always campaigned on »not doing stuff like the previous administration did it«. And had Zoki not burst on the scene in 2006, that might have just been enough. But he did and it wasn’t. As a result, they (as well as most of the other political parties) are hopelessly aping his platform which is broad enough to have encompassed most of the challenges this city will be facing in the next decade or so, as well as trying to beat him at his own game of setting goals and achieving them (or at least coming close enough). And when that doesn’t work, they fall back again to »promising not to do it like the previous guys did it«. It’s a vicious circle, which will only be broken if and when Janković (again) decides to quit the mayorship. Be it to return to the national lever, be it for good.
On the other hand, things are not exactly dull on the left, either. The suprise of the day was a relatively strong showing by Vito Rožej of Zares, who scored slightly above four percent of the vote, which was quite a feat for a party which barely registered with voters across the country only months ago in parliamentary elections and did only marginally better in 2010 local elections.
But before people start opening bottles of Dom Perignon ’58, we should make a few things clear. To an extent Rožej did get his four percent on account of being a relatively fresh but recognisable face on the scene (he did serve as councilman in city of Kranj and as MP in the previous parliament). Then again he was also active in the campaign for the Family Code, which must have helped. But most importantly, he had the good luck of SD, DeSUS and LDS opting not to enter the race with their respective candidates, so it is safe so say that Rožej got a fair amount of their votes as well. Just so we’re clear on that. No champagne yet, I’m afraid.
And while we’re on it: some of those votes must have gone to the lone ranger on Ljubljana politics Miha Jazbinšek, who scored a record 6 percent of the vote.
The return of the Jay-Z
So, the one last thing that remains to be answered is what will the return of the Jay-Z mean for the situation on the parliament? In the short term, nothing good, really. Sure, Janković didn’t exactly loiter in the parliament and his people had to do without him on occasion. But the fact that he will be physically gone will have its repercussions. If one is to judge by the situation in his city council group upon his leaving, Janković will have to make damn sure that MPs for Positive Slovenia don’t lose focus, motivation and go for each other’s throats. Because once the Big Kahuna is gone, a lot of small and mid-sized Kahunas will try to impose themselves unto their colleagues, despite the fact that the parliamentary group is headed by Janković’s former vicemayor and still-serving Ljubljana councilman Jani Möderndorfer. He will have his work cut out for him once Zoki is gone.
As for the left wing in general, things will become much more interesting. It is no secret that litlle love is lost between Janković and leader of SD Borut Pahor. That much became plainly obvious after the SD gave a cold shoulder to Zoki when he tried to rally all left wing parties some days ago and everyone save the Social Democrats and SMS-Green Party attended. The SD implicitly accused the re-minted mayor of trying to take over the left and impose himself unto others and they might have even been correct to an extent. But fact of the matter is that the SD finally started settling in-party scores and is locked in a bitter power struggle between Borut Pahor and Igor Lukšič, with the latter pulling no punches (and having no reason to, sice Pahor sidelined him early in his premiership for no apparent reason).
If Janković really wanted to unite the left under a common banner, he should have waited a couple of weeks, two months at best, for the shit to hit the fan witihn SD and for the defeat on the Family Code referendum to really sink in and he’d have almost all of the left eating out of his hand. But as things stand, he jumped the gun again (just as he did immediately after his election victory) and came out more or less empty handed.
But be that as it may, with Zoki in the City Hall as of tomorrow, a new centre of political power on national level is starting to emerge and it could very well be that the end result will be a situation not unlike in Austria, where nothing happens on the political left unless the all-powerful Vienna mayor Michael Häupl OKs it. And – funnily enough – Janković always said how he considers Häupl to be his role model. I guess he meant it…