EU Elections: Left Man Standing

Two years ago, shortly after clinching the leadership of the Social Democrats, Igor Lukšič observed, administrative core of the party notwithstanding, most of the party’s elected leadership are just gifted amateurs, people who have day jobs and dabble in politics a bit on the side. Today, following a rout at yesterday’s EU elections he was forced to submit his resignation to those very same gifted amateurs, putting an abrupt end to his ambitions of a higher office and maybe even his political career as such.

Outgoing SD leader Igor Lukšič and his politburo-sanctioned replacement Dejan Židan (photo: Denis Sarkić)

But Lukšič was by far not the only victim of yesterday’s rout at the polls. In fact, the entire political left was beaten to a pulp, falling victim to in-fighting, clashes of egos, cross-party divisions, past grudges, lack of a meaningful agenda and an utterly uninspiring campaign. The other two high-profile victims were Gregor Virant, who quit as DL chief on election night and Pavle Gantar who threw in the towel as leader of Zares earlier today. Their parties scored 1.1 and 0.9 percent respectively. Adding to this the meager results of Positive Slovenia (6.6), soon-to-be-ex MEP Jelko Kacin (4.8) and Solidarnost (1.6) it becomes plainly obvious the voters opened a big can of whoop-ass on the political left.

Can of whoop-ass

Sure, not everybody is unhappy. Igor Šoltes has yet to form a party, yet he won himself an MEP spot with his 8-member candidate list. Ivo Vajgl, who switched allegiance from Zares to DeSUS surprised a lot of people by winning another term (especially after he fucked up royally during the last debate, forgetting he was with DeSUS and said he was a Zares candidate). The United Left (think Syriza Light) won an impressive 5.4 percent with their “democratic socialism” platform. Still 2.6 percent below the threshold, but a fair achievement in its own right. And, last but not least, the Social Democrats did win a single seat in the European Parliament. It’s just that it wasn’t leader of the list Lukšič who got elected but rather Tanja Fajon, who thus gets another go at the MEP job, courtesy of preferential votes, where she scored better than Lukšič.

Now, although Virant and Gantar quitting more or less means their parties are now clinically dead which in turn means the political centre is in ever worse shape than it was a year ago, the real story are, obviously, Social Democrats. They entered this election round with two MEPs and looked to repeating the result (at the very least). They tried to sell Slovenia as a swing-state in the pan-EU battle between conservative EPP and socialist PES, leaning heavily on Martin Schultz as PES candidate for President of the European Commission and trying to rally the troops with the cry of “Europe will either be red or disintegrate”. Little good it did for them.

From Slovenia with love

Although EPP and PES results are fairly close, Slovenia was in nowhere near becoming the “kingmaker country”. And although there was a lot of love for Schultz on SD part, the feeling apparently wasn’t all that mutual. Not only that. Lukšič seemed to have angered a lot of people within the party by muscling his way on top of the candidate list. Moreover, the run-up to elections which coincided with disintegration of the Bratušek administration and emergence of new parties, saw Lukšič playing hardball politically and turning to cynicism in media-wise. Neither won him any friends, neither with his (potential) political allies nor with the electorate.

Which is why Dejan Židan, the person groomed to replace Lukšič sooner or later as head of the SD, was slowly being pushed from the edge of the frame more towards the centre, finally taking over today, after he spent most of Sunday night denying he had any ambition whatsoever to lead the party. And since one is not to believe anything until it has been denied at least twice, it took Židan a bit longer to become the party regent, so to speak. It was all done in a manner of a good old-fashioned “politburo putsch” where the senior party figures conspire against their president and have him unceremoniously replaced. Predictably, Židan said he “realizes the daunting task ahead of him” and “recognizes the future of the left lies in cooperation”. Translation: “I fucking made it!”.

Offtopic: it is possible there will be more to this story than just a change at the helm. Apparently, schemes are aplenty within the SD as a lot of people are looking to replace a lot of other people, both on political as well as administrative party positions.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Anyways, the fun starts now. SD is about to perform an about-face vis-a-vis left-wing cooperation. Which is about a day late and a dollar short. Had they done so while the public opinion polls had them neck-and-neck with the SDS, they might have even been able to dictate terms. But as things stand now, either Igor Šoltes or PM Alenka Bratušek are best positioned to try to create some sort of momentum. With all the caveats, of course. But before that happens, the left has some serious thinking to do, mostly on what it actually stands for.

In the last couple of years we’ve witnessed a long series of knee-jerk reactions, ad-hoc political platforms which were either a patchwork of often mutually exclusive ideas, too far out progressive to register with the voters or the usual buzz-word-heavy crap. Often all of the above at the same time. And if snap elections are indeed to be held in July, time to think just ran out.

While we’re on the issue, pengovsky wouldn’t be surprised if the parliamentary parties which got their asses kicked on Sunday were suddenly to find a July election date “incovenient and not in the voters’ best interests”.

But despite the left-wing rout, in pengovsky’s opinion, too little had changed. Of eight Slovenian MEPs, half got re-elected. Alongside old hands Fajon and Vajgl and newcomer Šoltes, Milan Zver of SDS and Lojze Peterle of NSi+SLS get to see the inside of the European Parliament for another five years. Joining them are leader of the SLS Franc Bogovič (for NSi+SLS) with Romana Tomc and Patricija Šulin for the SDS. And while EP veterans are expected to stay put, at least three out of four newcomers are suspected to return to national politics as soon as possible. Šoltes and Bogovič will most likely run in the parliamentary elections as well, while Romana Tomc looks ever more like she is tapped to replace Janša after he starts serving his prison sentence and become the SDS nominee for PM if the party wins that vote (as everyone expects it to).

Thus the pace of political change, which right now needs to border on revolutionary (in terms of speed, not necessarily in terms of content), will probably be sluggish at best.

Third-lowest turnout

Which is probably one of the reasons only 24 percent of the voters bothered to shop up and vote. Only a handful of candidates appeared to have their hearts really in it. Others saw these elections as a trial run before the real (parliamentary) thing. And even those candidates and parties who did take the whole thing seriously, managed to make a lukewarm mess of it. Which is why the turnout more or less matched your average referendum turnout in Slovenia. More or less only political diehards voted. People who’d have cast their vote even in a referendum on the height of grass on the Stožice football pitch. Like yours truly. The other big reason for the third-lowest turnout in all of EU being the general disgust with politics, of course

Votes not cast vs. votes cast for specific parties (via FB)

Anyhoo, the right-wing won this one fair and square. As for the left, it will be the last man (or woman) standing who gets to pick up the pieces and try to start from scratch. But before we get there, more heads will roll.

    When Jean-Claude Met Janez (It’s The Company You Keep)

    Pengovsky didn’t quite start covering EU elections yet, especially due to the early election tug-of-war in this sorry little excuse for a country. But a curious thing happened on the “European front” last night. Namely, during an EPP huddle in Bratislava, Slovakia, leader of the SDS Janez Janša tweeted a selfie with himself and Jean-Claude Juncker, EPP candidate for president of European Commission.

    BFF (source)

    Now, this particular campaign seems infested with selfies and yours truly vowed to unfollow anyone trying to do Ellen on Oscars. Needless to say, victims are aplenty. But selfies aside, Ivan’s tweet raises a whole different set of questions.

    First and foremost, the very fact that the EPP candidate for the top European job apparently hangs out with a convict. As both readers of this blog know, Janša was sentenced to two years in prison for his role in the Patria Affair. His appeal was overruled last week which means that barring a deal to commute the sentence, the leader of the opposition will soon see the inside of a prison cell. Granted, in the photo Jean-Claude doesn’t seem exactly exuberant, but hey, it’s the company you keep, right? Doubly so if you want to land the EU boss gig.

    Moreover, this photo begs the question, what exactly does Monsieur Juncker think of Slovenian justice system. Does he have nothing but contempt for it, not unlike Janša? Does the EPP candidate for president of European Commission stand by the resolution of the EPP Political Assembly adopted last November which deals with Janša specifically and basically puts him above the law, while reducing Slovenia to a banana-republic? And last, but certainly not least, what is the position of both Jean-Claude Juncker and the political group he represents on the outcome of the trial of Janez Janša?

    But since answers to these questions will a) probably never be given and b) if given, can be guessed at quite easily, the real question is, just what exactly does Mr. Juncker (if elected) plan to do about corruption which apparently is not uncommon even at the very top of political elite of EU member states.

    OK, so maybe president of the Commission can’t do anything about it on the national level. But the problem is, we can’t really ask Janša about it either. The only steps he’s taking are apparently steps delaying being formally served with the verdict.

    But perhaps I’m being unfair. Maybe Jean-Claude and Ivan only shared experience on how to politically survive a spy-scandal. Bob knows Janša’s got a lot of mileage in that department.

    PM Bratušek Resigns, Looks To *Early* Early Elections

    Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek resigned from office earlier today. This was the end result of a coalition pow-wow on Saturday where apparently cooler heads prevailed in the post-PS-congress fuck-up and realised it don’t matter a pair of dingo’s kidneys if the government holds on for a few more months and agreed to hold early elections ASAP.

    AB’s letter of resignation (source)

    While president of the parliament Janko Veber said in a statement about an hour ago that 22 June is not feasible as election date, other summer dates are being looked at. The “problem” is that school recess starts that weekend as well which might pose a problem from a constitutional point of view (a bit more on this later on).

    It all went tits-up

    That the ruling coalition went tits-up became apparent a week ago, when Jay-Z ousted Bratušek as PS chief. Disintegration of the party followed, with the PM quitting PS and taking half of the parliamentary group with her, while Zoran Janković was left to pick up the pieces.

    Thus a curious situation ensued, where the PM is fact a political apatrid (EDIT: although she is apparently in the process of forming her own party), while president of one of the coalition parties apparently wasn’t even invited to partake in the huddle. Namely, Zoran Janković was reportedly overlooked when invites for the meet were sent out which technically makes even more of a mess of the whole thing. Which gives enough of a glimpse of the clusterfuck we’d have experienced if Bratušek administration were to try and continue in the current setup.

    The word “fugly” would not even begin to describe it. Just to give you an idea: Although Bratušek left the PS, Janković insisted the congress gave her full support to stay on as Prime Minister, while voting him in as chief of the party. How he came to this conclusion remains a mystery, as congress didn’t vote on the issue. Bratušek on the other hand fulfilled her promise to quit the party and the premiership if she loses the congress vote, putting Slovenia in the classic “what happens if an unstoppable force meets an immovable object” conundrum. Luckly, that particular scenario was avoided. Temporarily, at least.

    That it not to say that Jay-Z will not have a say in the way things unfold. Even though the PS parliamentary group split down the middle and the party under Janković is left with 13-or-so MPs (out of 29 they began the term with), it will take a nod from Janković as well to try and cut a short-cut to early early elections.

    The procedure

    Namely, the procedure that is triggered by resignation/fall of the government calls for at least three rounds of attempts to find a new majority in the parliament, with ten MPs having unlimited options to put forward their candidate. Thus, theoretically both PS and the SDS as well as any other group that could muster ten MPs (say, the SLS-NSi combo with its newfound happiness) could delay elections for a considerable time.

    This, however, will not be the case, apparently. While the SDS remains suspect (pun very much intended;) ), there seems to be a consensus, albeit grudging one, that no parliamentary party will seek to put forward their PM nominee. For his part, president Borut Pahor already said he will not be putting forward a nominee as well, which basically covers all the bases and open the theoretical possibility of elections as early as summer.

    Having said that, things will probably not go smoothly. Aside from the fact that summer early elections clearly favour only current parliamentary parties as their alternatives outside the parliament (such as once-parliamentary Zares now led by Pavle Gantar or the up-and-coming Verjamem of Igor Šoltes, Solidarnost or the United Left) need more to get their operations running, there is also the possibility that time will simply run out.

    Due date

    Elections are normally not held during the summer break (last week of June to mid-August) nor are they called in a manner which would mean the campaign would be held during the break, although the latter is more of an accepted convention than anything else. And since elections can be held forty days from the act of calling them at the earliest, this means that if anything is to happen, it has to happen by next Tuesday. Failing that, we’re most likely up for elections in late September.

    Additionally, there is the factor of a possible constitutional contention of the election date, especially since the Constitutional Court seems to have acquired a taste to meddle in policy questions, case in point being the real-estate tax and the archive referendum, where they nixed May 4th as voting date on a marginal but politically prominent question of UDBa archives, courtesy of the SDS.

    But even though we can reasonably expect the party of Janez Janša to stall things a bit (well, quite a lot in fact, since they’re again talking about impeachment of Alenka Bratušek), they’ve apparently started to prepare for a period without Janez Janša as their point-man. Following the upheld conviction of the SDS leader who is to serve two years in prison for corruption, SDS MP Romana Tomc resigned as vice-president of the parliament. Officially it was done in protest over “politically motivated conviction against Janša”, but it is quite possible she is designated to replace Janša at least temporarily.

    Romana Tomc, SDS’ Alenka Bratušek?

    Tomc was rumoured to have been considered a replacement for Janša during the 2012-2013 winter uprisings which called for his resignation as PM. Nothing came of it as a new coalition was formed under Alenka Bratušek, but Tomc has been near the limelight ever since. With no immediately apparent political baggage she just might be the person SDS is looking for to fill the void Janša’s (temporary) removal from inner circle of politics will bring.

    Since SDS is in a good position to win the parliamentary elections as things stand, an apparently moderate interim leader, not unlike Alenka Bratušek (both gender- and rhetoric-wise) might just give that extra boost the party needs to climb all the way to the top, which has eluded Janez Janša but once for the last quarter of the century.

    Anyways, as of today, Slovenia is in election mode, level 999 and will remain so until mid-autumn when local elections are held. Between today and then, however, we are to cast our votes in EU elections (25 May), archive referendum (rescheduled for 8 June) and early parliamentary elections. God forbid the President were to resign.

    On second thought… :mrgreen: