The Line Of Succession, Just A Heartbeat Away

Gregor Virant officially resigned as President of the National Assembly (the parliament) yesterday and took his Citizens’ List (DL) across the aisle (in a manner of speaking) and joined the opposition. For the time being, at least, until a new coalition is formed, a part of which the DL will surely be. That or snap elections. Or both. Anyhoo. Fact of the matter is that the National Assembly is now sans sans president which opened a nice little constitutional problem. Namely, the line of succession.

Jakob Presečnik, the Veep. Sort of. (original images here and here)

Technically, it goes like this: The President of the republic is the head of state. Should the president be incapacitated or otherwise unable to perform his or her duties, the president of the parliament takes over. This includes signing bills into laws, appointing ambassadors and commanding the armed forces. Now, until yesterday, pengovsky was convinced the line of succession was taken care of and that the president of the Constitutional Court was next in line.

Well, guess what. He isn’t. In fact, it is not at all clear, who – if anyone – takes over presidential duties if both President of the Republic and President of the Parliament are absent. Now, Article 20 of parliamentary Rules and Procedures does stipulate that “if the President ceases to hold office, he is substituted for by the oldest Vice-President.“.

In accordance with this, Jakob Presečnik of SLS was appointed Vice-President-in-Charge yesterday. But Article 106 of the constitution stipulates that only President of the National Assembly can take over for President of the Republic. Which seems to rule out Presečnik. He himself said as much yesterday on state television.

OK, Slovenia is not the United States and the “presidency being just a heartbeat away” doesn’t have the same ring to it. But this is not the first time this has happened and one could argue that parliamentary Vice-President-in-Charge could extend his/her duties to stand in for President of the Republic as well. But this is far from certain. And lines of succession need a large degree of certainty. Therefore, you can be sure a legal conundrum will ensue if – Bob forbid – anything goes wrong at the presidential palace.

Bottom line: we’re only an ear infection away from a constitutional chain-of-command crisis.



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Janša Taking Country Hostage As Virant Quits The Coalition

Yesterday Gregor Virant put his money where his mouth is and quit the ruling coalition, taking ministers Senko Pličanič (justice and public administration) and Janez Šušteršič (finance) with him. Virant himself also resigned as president of the parliament, effective Monday. Thus his party Citizens’ List entered the opposition and left Janez Janša with 43 votes in a 90 seat parliament, making his a minority government.

(Image via @fraticesevalter)

With this a turning point has been reached, especially since DeSUS of Karl Erjavec is apparently going to follow suit fairly soon and SLS of Radovan Žerjav is also making noises about jumping ship (albeit at a later date). This leaves Janša with unequivocal support only ChristDem NSi led by Ljudmila Novak and nowhere near at least theoretically operative government. In fact it is safe to say that Janez Janša’s downfall is a matter of weeks rather than months.

Fighting tooth-and-nail

Things will of course not go smoothly. Breaking his silence for the first time since the anti-graft report which set in motion this chain of events was published, Janša today unleashed hell and accused Virant of partaking in a long-planned conspiracy to remove Janša from power. He also added he will not be resigning of his own accord and dared Virant and anyone who would follow in his steps to form a new majority and move for a no-confidence vote. Translation: Janša will fight tooth-and-nail to remain in power, if only in the form of a caretaker government.

And this is the crux of the matter. Janša accuses everyone and his brother, from the anti-graft commission onwards of destabilising the country. In fact, it is he who is the major source of instability. Coalitions crumble, reports get published, politicians resign. Sure, it’s time- and strength-consuming, but hardly uncommon in a democracy. What is uncommon is the notion that established tools of a (parliamentary) democracy should be sidelined in the name of “stability of the country”. Not surprisingly, this is very similar to what the Constitutional Court used as an excuse to ban referenda on bad bank and state sovereign holding, when it said that functioning of the country takes precedence over the right of the people decide these issues in a popular vote. It also shows Janša does not understand or – probably closer to the truth – doesn’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about what the protest movement wants. But then again, neither do Virant, Erjavec or Žerjav. Let alone Igor Lukšič of SD or Alenka Bratušek, acting president of Zoran Janković‘s PS

In fact, it seems that right now the entire political master-class are hedging their bets. They’re playing an angle and they all have a lot to lose. First and foremost is Janša. His 30-odd minute rant followed by a brief Q&A on live television today showed just that. He was playing hard-ball which included trying to put a wedge between ministers Pličanič and Šušteršič on one side and Virant on the other. Indeed it would be quite a feat if both ministers switched sides. At the moment it seems unlikely but not impossible, especially since neither of them was elected to the parliament in the first place and is thus about to quit front-line politics. Also, Janša chided Virant for having the audacity to tell Janša what to do and said that it is unbecoming of a small parliamentary group to make demands on a large parliamentary group. In other words, everyone should know their station. Having said that, however, Janša did bring up the question of electoral system which – in addition to Virant – is supposedly the source of Slovenian troubles.

Talking sense into Janša

This shows that Janša is seriously considering the possibility of a snap poll and is trying to hi-jack the issue, again proposing a two-round majoritarian electoral system (which would actually spell disaster for Slovenia, but we’ll leave that for another time). But it would seem that someone talked some sense into Janša, since he did allow for other possibilities to be considered as well. And on a larger scale of things, the electoral system is a problem. It will not solve the current situation per se, but changing the voting system could address one of the basic complaints of the protest movement: the illegitimacy of the political system (note: not illegality, illegitimacy). Even more, this passage in Janša’s rant was the only thing which had any sort of a meaning, which means that he was trying to send a signal of some sort. However, what he conveniently forgot is that not only do (former) coalition partners demand he resign, the people want that too. And for a plethora of reasons, not just the anti-graft report.

Virant, Erjavec and Žerjav are also hedging their bets. A snap poll is not exactly what they want because they run the risk of being thrown out of the parliament. OK, so Virant won a couple of brownie points for having found his spine, but would be spent in an electoral campaign sooner than you can say “confidence vote”. Which is why he’d much rather see a new PM elected in the parliament than elections being held. Ditto for Karl Erjavec, who is locked in a intra-party leadership struggle which means that DeSUS walking out on Janša is as much a political move against Janša as it is a PR-manoeuvre to rally people in the party support within the party. Žerjav on the other hand is probably looking to sort out his succession (he’s quitting as party chief in March) and doesn’t want the party to campaign without a leader.

Predictably, Igor Lukšič wants early elections ASAP since public opinion polls put his party at the top while today Alenka Bratušek floated the idea of forming an interim government with a mandate to tackle specific projects including changes to the voting system and then hold elections in about a year’s time. Needless to say that PS is not doing particularly well in the polls right now.

But coming back to Janša: the only way he’s apparently ready to negotiate is with him continuing as PM. Should that not be possible, he already announced SDS will be returning to the opposition. And you can be sure that he will pull no punches when trying to shoot down anything and everything a potential new government would try to pass through the parliament. The problem is that neither the (former) coalition partners nor the protest movement see Janša as a legitimate player any more. But then again, as far as protest movement is concerned, every other political leader is struggling with its legitimacy as it his. Which is why also part of the reason they’ve ganged up on Janša.


Exactly a week ago, pengovsky wrote of four possible scenarios on how all of this can play out. As of today this boiled down to scenarios one and four. But despite everything he said today about other people being responsible for the situation, the primary responsibility lies with Janša. If he chooses to prolong the situation by clinging to his job (as he is likely to do) he will be indeed holding the entire country hostage to his political survival.

Which is why it is no surprise that the government today upped the ante in relations with Croatia which is to join the EU on 1 July. Janša’s Cabinet did not approve basic points of Slovenian brief to the ad-hoc court on Slovenian-Croatian border. Some say that happened because Janša wants to lay claim all the way to the Croatian town if Savudrija. Which would basically send the entire Arbitration Agreement negotiated under Pahor’s government down the drain.

Funny, how this reminds pengovsky of former Croatian PM Ivo Sanader who was looking to pick a fight with Slovenia but then surprised everyone by resigning only 14 days later and is now rotting jail. But that’s jus me being evil.



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Protip: When You’re In A Hole, Stop Digging

The deadline Gregor Virant gave Janez Janša to quit the PM post or else… expires tonight at 2400hrs. Apparently a last-ditch effort was made this afternoon by Ljudmila Novak of the NSi to break up the staring contest but to no avail. Although he has yet to officially break the silence over the issue, Janša did throw around enough hints to make it plain he has absolutely no intention of resigning. This puts Virant in a tight spot, because he will have to make good on the “or else…” part of threat or lose what little credibility he has left. Or, rather, had gained during the fallout of the anti-graft report.


It remains to be seen whether Virant will back off at the very last minute. Pengovsky wouldn’t put it past him to “extend the deadline” a bit, since apparently the political partied had nominated members of the State Sovereign Holding (SSH) supervisory board. And if pengovsky is correct and if this was really (mostly) a power-play of galactic proportions for the mother of all companies, the tension should start to dissipate.

You’re in a hole. Stop digging. Nao.

However, it could be, that despite everything Gregor Virant indeed dug himself too deep. Which is yet another example of Slovenian politics not being able to stop digging when in a hole. Virant is increasingly running out of options. If he quits the coalition and forces early elections, he’ll be made the fall guy for everything. Shit will be dug up on him, he will be dragged through the mud and all the bonus points he scored piggybacking on the anti-graft report will be just a fond memory. Indeed, even today some public opinion polls put him below the parliamentary threshold. Janša knows this, which is why he’s playing hard-ball. That and the fact that it’s his ass on the line as well. If he quits, he’s history. So, he dug himself in pretty deep as well.

On a tangential front Lovro Šturm, former judge at the constitutional court and president of the Council for the Republic (a pro-Janša think tank/astroturf society) started a pissing contest with anti-graft commission president Goran Klemenčič, claiming that the latter misinterpreted the law and that the report is therefore not worth a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys. Klemenčič responded by saying Šturm quoted an outdated version of the law, which sent Šturm ballistic, denouncing Klemenčič altogether and demanding an apology. After several days, Klemenčič responded saying that he will not be having this discussion, especially not in such a manner and that he expected more from former president of the constitutional court with whom he even collaborated on several project. Again, Šturm just couldn’t stop digging and published an open letter of his own (Slovene only), again denouncing Klemenčič and even accusing him of (academic) incompetence.

Letters are written, shouldn’t have been meaning to send

With Klemenčič (for better or for worse) being one of the most popular public officials, Šturm dug a pretty deep hole for himself. And as if that wasn’t enough, days ago the Council for the republic published yet another in a series of letters in English, completing the collection of right-wing bat-shit crazy which was put on display for the international public. Completing? Not really. Slovenian NSi and SDS members of the European Parliament sent a joint letter to President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy (the very same which Janša tried to screw over) defending Janša at all costs.

Van Rompuy, however, responded to a letter by Ivo Vajgl, MEP for Zares who basically asked, wtf was all the that hubbub about Herman supporting Janša. Van Rompuy’s office wrote that at no time was Slovenian internal politics discussed. With this the right wing basically got owned. Again, people. Stop digging, ferfucksake. At the very least, think twice before sending any more letters. I know. E-mail is a bitch. But still.

General strike

And just to round it off nicely, most of the public sector unions (and a strong private sector trade union) called a general strike tomorrow, disrupting mostly schools, some medical and other public services. It all has to do with what the union sees as one-sided move by the government by cutting public sector pay-checks after having already cut down availability of these services. Case in point being the education system, where the government was hard at work increasing funding for private schools at the expense of their public counterparts and is now going for the double whammy of cutting teachers pay-checks as well. No points for guessing where good paying teaching jobs will be.

Apparently, this was another case of the government being hell-bent on seeing its policies through, that it wasn’t really prepared to negotiate on anything. What it did, though, was to simply drop some plans for reorganising kindergarten level of schooling but was until today unwilling to address the issue of salaries. And when it did, the negotiating minister Senko Pličanič discovered that he really doesn’t have a mandate to do anything about it. So, tomorrow at noon Slovenia will see its first general strike since the wave of protests gripped the country.

Should be fun, so watch this space….


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Cultural Learnings of Azerbaijan for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Slovenia

The fallout from the report of the anti-graft commission is huge. On Friday the protest movement got a new impetus, putting Janez Janša and Zoran Janković side by side, along with the rest of the gang. Some 10.000 people attended the second edition of the “National Uprising” and the centre of Ljubljana was again packed, but it was in fact just a prelude to what turned out to be a bit of a cliffhanger Saturday.

(photo by Smetnjak)

Namely, after calling, nay, shouting at both the Prime Minster and the mayor of Ljubljana to resign, Gregor Virant‘s Citizens’ List held a powwow on Saturday where they were they… waited. They were waiting for Zoran Janković and his Positive Slovenia to wrap up their own party congress, where they (finally) adopted their party platform which – to chagrin of many – puts fight against corruption high on their priority list. I mean, it is slightly silly to adopt an anti-corruption platform while your party chief is being slammed on the head by the anti-graft commission. OK, so Janković is screaming bloody murder over it and professes his innocence (as does Janša, mind you), but still. On the other hand, Janković being Janković, this is exactly the type of thing he would have done in any similar case. A tongue-in-cheek move, to piss everyone off and try to prove his point. Which is why it came as a bit of a surprise that at the end of the congress he announced he’s “freezing” his party leadership (cue penguin jokes).

Power play of galactic proportions

Hearing of it, pengovsky went oh-no-you-didn’t. This was the worst possible move for Jay-Z to make. He maintains he made the move to open the doors to a shake-up of the political landscape by removing himself from the picture and encouraging junior coalition partners to kick Janša and his SDS loose and possibly form an interim technocratic government until early elections are held. He maintains that he will have no part in any potential negotiations and will not contend for the PM job. Fair enough. But since at the moment the anti-graft report is the only game in town, his “freezing” the presidency (effectively resigning) by definition makes it look as if that was the prime reason and not the alleged political crisis. Also, the move fuelled calls for his resignation as Ljubljana mayor as well. After all the report dealt with his actions as a mayor. Also he could have simply said that he will not claim the PM position nor will he negotiate in any way, shape of form, empowering others in the party to do that, and achieve the same effect sans resignation. Alternatively, he could have resigned (or at the very least, “frozen”) as mayor as well and really send a powerful message. Either, or. He chose to sit on the fence and nothing good ever came from that.

Especially since the odds are, that the whole thing is just a power-play of galactic proportion over the Slovenian State Holding, the newly established mother-of-all-state-owned companies. Courtesy of the Constitutional Court and its “act on protection of the state” it became operational at the beginning of the year and has a nine-member supervisory board which is to be appointed by the parliament. Case in point being the fact that Virant called a “consultation meeting” on the issue only days after first calling on JJ and Jay-Z to pack their bags. Also, SLS of Radovan Žerjav extended their deadline for Janša to go from “immediately” to 8 March, i.e. after the board will be appointed.

Wet dreams of a Communist conspiracy. Also: Azerbaijan, douze points

Word on the street, however, has it that Virant is dead-serious with his threat to walk out of the coalition if JJ continues to cling to his job. That may be, but Virant is known for his being dead-serious over a lot of things but then backing off at the last second. On the other hand, he could have bluffed his way into a tight spot and now can’t get out of it.

Namely, the SDS (now lovingly known as The Party) is no longer pulling any punches and went all out against anyone who is doubting Janša’s fitness to do his job. This primarily includes the protest movement, which they’ve tweeted was “full of communist zombies”, pushing crack-pot theories about “left-wing fascism” originated by Slavoj Žižek (piggy-backing on a blog in The Telegraph) and generally claiming that the government of Janez Janša is the only thing standing between Slovenia and the Apocalypse.

Ironically, their main political targets are not Zoran Janković and his PS (after all, he and Janša are in the same fix) but rather Gregor Virant and his Citizens’ List. For there seems to be a pro-Janša fraction in the party some elements of which have taken it upon themselves to debunk the anti-graft report in minute detail. At the same time the SDS parliamentary group said that Janša resigning “are wet wishes of some people”.

Yes. Wet wishes. Not wet dreams. Wishes. Geez, you’d think these people were never teenagers, playing the one-string violin or something. Yes, I know it’s a terrible mental image, but still. Also, today the SDS released a letter in English (!) explaining their take on things, which can basically be summed up in one sentence: IT’S ALL A COMMUNIST CONSPIRACY.

No, really. Here’s an excerpt:

The last President of the Communist Party of Slovenia and later on the first president of the Republic of Slovenia, Milan Kučan, who despite his retirement still figures as the most influential political persona of the hard-core Slovenian Left, has in his public appearances as well as via the background networks, activated members of the former secret political police, communist veterans, network of leftist organizations and some trade unions, and is also personally actively engaged in efforts to replace the government.

Read the letter in full. It’s a lovingly compiled scrapbook of their collective delusions, bad grammar included.

This, of course happened while Janša was in Azerbaijan, the winner of 2012 Eurovision song contest and apparently a new strategic market for Slovenia. In what has become a bit of a tradition, important things in this country happen while the man himself is out of the country. You know, alibis and stuff. The only problem is he was visiting the world’s Most Corrupt Leader of 2012. What were they doing? Exchanging notes? 😀

Letters Galore

Truth be told, the SDS only wrote the letter after first denouncing a similar letter (of opposite content, naturally) by KOKS, an association of people of creative and/or cultural milieu. Signed by thousands, the letter states among other things that

The government has also responded to the protests by closing down the centre of the capital city of Ljubljana, by using riot police, horses, armoured vehicles, water cannons, antiriot fences and helicopters in what can only be characterized as a gross overreaction to the largely peaceful gatherings of Slovenian citizens. Top members of
Janez Janša’s party (SDS) have described the protesters as “ultra left extremists,” “zombies,” and characterized them as radical “neo-socialists,” in an effort to balance out the actual presence of neoNazis during the first Ljubljana protest (possibly organised by the ruling government itself in an effort to discredit the protests at the beginning of the movement)

Read full letter here. At least the grammar is much better 🙂

Also the newly minted President of the Republic got a letter. His initial response to the anti-graft report was muted at best (he was “worried”). He added a week later that he supports the commission but that it was up to Janša whether to resign or not and that he will not enter party politics. And today, when pressed in a letter by Janez Stanovnik (last socialst president of Slovenia and head of WWII veterans’ organisation), Pahor wrote a letter of his own, clarifying that he supports the anti-graft commission in its drive to clarify its competences but that as a matter of principle he will not call upon any elected official to resign.

Note how Pahor is bending over backwards to avoid saying anything on the position the PM of this country found himself in. Also, it is extremely telling that the president did not support the anti-graft findings, but rather said that he is in favour of clearly defining the commission’s competences. Which is exactly the one of the point both Janša and Janković dispute the commission. Bottom line: Borut Pahor is paying dearly for Janša’s support in the presidential race. He even has to cover Janković’s back, even though Zoki was in the other camp.

What does Auntie Angela have to say?

At any rate, Janša is back in the country which means this particular game of high-stakes poker can continue. Will Janša resign and pick a successor from within SDS, as DL, SLS and DeSUS demand? Odds are he will not. The stakes are simply too high for him. Some, however, say that he will be forced to. Not by his coalition partners, but rather by Berlin and Washington. Sure enough, the outgoing US Ambassador to Slovenia Joseph Musomelli has recently met with National Assembly vice-president Romana Tomc whose name was already floated as a possible interim-PM until early elections are called.

Now, this is a highly unlikely scenario in pengovsky’s opinion. Janša does not breed successors, he breeds followers. But the anti-graft fiasco was noted in Europe as well and it is quite possible JJ will find himself sidelined by Angela Merkel and the rest of the EPP pretty soon. Especially after the fiasco with alleged support by EU Council President Herman van Rompuy which turned out to be a gross misinterpretation of the facts Or as we call it – lying.

How does this play out?

There are three, nay four, ways this whole thing can go:

One: Janša doesn’t resign and roughs it out. Possible, but will leave him crippled for the rest of the term. Also, this probably only postpones the inevitable.
Two: Janša resigns immediately, no replacement PM is found and early elections are called in Spring. In the current climate of popular uprising, this would probably mean a very low turnout and a result which would only prolong the existing status quo (the PS would lose to SocDems, but overall picture would change little).
Three: a new coalition with a left-wing PM who is not Zoran Janković. This is unlikely in the extreme.
And four: Janša resigns, SDS goes into the opposition, while all other parties form a sort-of-national-unity coalition with a technocratic government which edges the country towards early elections some time in autumn, while it enacts the basic demands of the protest movement, including but not limited to changes in the voting system, anti-graft legislation and curbing austerity policies.


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Mexican Stand-off

Yes, jaKa was right in comments yesterday. You need at least three people for a proper Mexican stand-off. Which we do. Following the report of the anti-graft commission DL leader and president of the parliament Gregor Virant pulled the gun (so to speak) on both Janez Janša and Zoran Janković and demanded they both resign or else…

Mexican stand-off in Slovenian politics (original picture here)

Whenever a party threatens to walk out of the ruling coalition, a set of Pavlovian reflexes grip Slovenian media and political landscape. Frequency of politicos on the tube increases (and it ain’t low to begin with), everyone and his brother are playing the political puzzle, seeing if an alternative majority is possible and sitting MPs (most of them, anyway) being clamouring about how early elections are a really bad idea. Case in point being the last few days when Virant said either Janša goes or he goes.

Now, Virant often forgets to put his money where his mouth is and pengovsky will not be at all surprised if that would be the case in this particular instance as well. Three words to explain: Slovenian. Holding. Company. (SDH) The mother of all (state-owned) companies which was established without a hitch courtesy of the constitutional court needs to be populated with an 9-member supervisory board. Four members are to be appointed by the government, four by the parliament and one by the parliamentary committee on public finances. And lo-behold! Virant today called a meeting of parliamentary parties to discuss possible candidates for SDH supervisory board. So, in fact, Virant doesn’t really care a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about whether Janša and Janković resign, but is simply trying to cash in on their current bad fix.

And the fix they’re in is pretty bad. Especially Janša, since he is the PM of a EU member state and this probably doesn’t look real good-looking from the outside in. Which is why a lot of eyebrows were raised when Janša’s office released a statement saying that the PM spoke to EU Council president Herman van Rompuy who gave Janša his support. Or, as Slovenian Press Agency (STA) tweeted:

Naturally, all hell broke loose and pretty soon van Rompuy’s office said that a phone conversation has indeed taken place but that interpretation of the convo is up to those who supplies it. In other words, it did not confirm what Janša’s office said had been said. Van Rompuy phone call was probably meant to be a bitch-slap to Zoran Janković, whose Positive Slovenia is to hold a platform congress on Saturday and where Hannes Swoboda the leader of socialist parliamentary group in the European Parliament was scheduled to speak but has apparently cancelled his appearance in the face of anti-graft report on Zoki. Janša thought he’d win an easy one over Janković (after all he needs all the health-points he can get) but got busted, only deepening his troubles.

But with Virant pulling the gun, other coalition parties started drawing as well. Ljudmila Novak of NSi was quick to stand by her man, while Radovan Žerjav of SLS started temporizing. Karl Erjavec of DeSUS said that he’s cool with whatever happens which is why Janša started calling their and Virant’s bluffs saying they have until Monday to figure out whether they’re in or out of the coalition. He proceeded to add that his party will not support a technocratic government but will rather work towards early elections. Which no party really wants. Which is why nothing will come out of this one in terms of toppling the government. And although there is no reason whatsoever for anyone to heed to Janša’s deadline, junior coalition partners are apparently losing their cool and are starting to play Janša’s game. Thus, what might happen is that Janša will somehow manage to topple Virant as head of DL and have a more “cooperative” person installed as party leader. Someone like finance minister Janez Šušteršič, for example.

In a Mexican stand-off no shooter has the incentive to shoot first, since whoever does that will probably get killed as well by the third shooter in the stand-off. It seems Virant already fired his shot. Which would mean he’s the next one to go.

P.S.: President Borut Pahor still hasn’t said a word of anything substantial on the issue. Instead, he met with the new Slovenian football coach Srečko Katanec. Yay.

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