Lessons of Maribor

While ministers-in-waiting were undergoing parliamentary hearings and while pope Francis was being installed with President Pahor rushing to be there when it happened, a short lull descended upon Slovenian politics which can and should be used to analyse Maribor mayoral elections which took place Sunday last. Pengovsky delivers.

(source: vecer.com

Maribor, as you know, was the original flashpoint of the Slovenian uprising. Provoked by speed-traps installed around the city as a public-private partnership between the city and a privately owned company, it uncovered deep resentment, anger and rejection of political elite and politics in general by general population and quickly spread throughout the country. As a direct result of (occasionally violent) protests, Maribor mayor Franc Kangler stepped down, prompting mayoral elections held last Sunday where independent Andrej Fištravec won by a landslide in the first round, leaving other candidates, most of them running on party tickets, in the dust. There’s only one problem: the turnout was only 31 percent, criminally low even by Maribor standards where historically fewest people ever bothered to partake in a popular vote. Rok Kajzer (@73cesar) has a good piece on the aftermath of the Sunday vote (Slovenian only), but there are other implications as well.

Namely, the low turnout shows that resignation of a despised politician (in this case mayor Kangler) does not solve the basic problem, the disillusionment of the people with the political process and the waning legitimacy thereof. Even more: Maribor may have gotten a new mayor on Sunday, but the city council remains largely intact, although the protesters demanded councilmen resign as well. Only a few did, not enough to have the council dissolved. Meaning that while a new mayor will soon be in the office, the coalition in the city council more or less remains the same one which supported mayor Kangler. Which spells bad news for the new mayor as he will have precious few people to cover his back. It is as if the people sensed that the basic problems of this society can not be solved by early elections only.

Which brings us to lessons learned: firstly, that the entire political process is so tainted in the eyes of the people, that simply putting up new faces up for elections will get you nowhere. Sure, you may win the elections (as Fištravec did) but the actual problems remain the same. Or worse. And secondly, that early elections alone can not offer anything new if force(s) stemming from the protest movement are not able to properly form and present a viable alternative to the existing ruling elite.

Had other parties (most notably the SD) gotten their way and forced early elections as soon as this summer, chances are the turnout would be spectacularly low since only established political parties have the resources to mount a campaign in snap elections. Like Maribor. And had snap elections be called in Slovenia today, the turnout would possibly be equally horrid.

The notion that early elections alone can be harbingers of changes is ultimately flawed under present Slovenian circumstances, even though this is one of the core demands of the protest movement. The only way early elections can change something is by altering the political arena first. And that takes time. Plenty of it. Otherwise the established elite can also brush newcomers off as incompetent.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

One thought on “Lessons of Maribor”

  1. While there is a lot of pissing and moaning in Belgium about the mandatory voting system, there is something to be said for it. Namely, it would require everyone of the legal age to vote, whether they like to or not. This, in turn, could – emphasis on ‘could’ – force the politicians and their parent parties to heed the words and worries of their electorate more, and work harder to find real solutions to real problems, because the electorate can always sway their favour towards the opposition in larger numbers.

    Of course, there is a downside to that as well. Once a political party has established their loyal voting base, an inherent laxness would overcome them, once again resulting in the same political horse trading over the heads of the electorate.

    In the end, neither system is airtight. However, if binding referenda can be introduced, or keep on existing like it does in Slovenija, subject to an extensive information campaign leading up to the referendum du jour, so people actually understand what they are voicing their opinions about, the mandatory voting system has a bit more merit than the opt out voting system.

    Unfortunately, many politicians (our EU president having said so expressly when he was still just a Belgian national politician) believe that their electorate is inherently unable to wield its democratic rights. Hence, they say, representatives need to be chosen to, eh, represent them and make decisions for them, because only those representatives know what’s right for the people. This form of government is at least as old as the Roman Republic, and we still adhere to it as if society hasn’t advanced since then. The more our politicians keep treating us like little children who should be led by the hand, instead of being taught to exercise their democratic rights and actively participate in governing their nation through those referenda. But then, I’m probably quite naive, aren’t I…

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