Polls Show Brutality of 4% Threshold

Right. With snap elections in Slovenia being eighteen days away, it is high time pengovsky looks at some polls. A number of them were taken since 25 May (EU elections Sunday) and obviously their results differ. This goes both for actual percentage of support detected as well as relative differences between parties’ results. Also, different polls use different samples, ask different questions and in a different sequence which inevitably gives different results.

Average of all polls taken to date. See note at the end of the post.

Point is, from scientific point of view, these are not directly comparable. After all, pengovsky is no Nate Silver. But since this is, strictly speaking, not a scientific blog and since pollsters were quite off the mark in the last couple of elections (although they did marginally better predicting EU election results), let’s give it a whirl. If nothing else, trends will become more apparent as election day nears.

Timeline of polls with numbers as reported

A rather hefty chunk of undecideds and/or no-shows is immediately noticeable from the table below. Which makes it a bit more fun extrapolating numbers based only on decideds, where differences between the two poll leaders and the rest of the gang are much more visible. And the real story right now is in fact Stranka Mira Cerarja (Miro Cerar Party), which apparently had a good three-week run but has now dropped to second place.

Miro Cerar is not an unknown quantity media-wise. He made his name as a top-class constitutional lawyer, serving as a consultant to the parliament for a number of years and obviously enjoying the occasional limelight. He was briefly courted to take over as PM following ousting of Janez Janša in 2012 but rejected the offer (Alenka Bratušek took over as PM in the end). Speculation about his entering the political arena hasn’t abated since and when Cerar finally formed his party on 2 June (just three weeks ago) it put him above Janša in polls. But while Cerar is (almost) a household name, he is still the new boy on the political block and has consequently little to show for but big words and a mix of populism, pseudo-philosophy and legal-speak. So far, this has served him well. After all, new parties are often focal points of voters’ wishes and projections and – provided they play the game well – can actually make their lack of a specific platform work in their favour. This is obviously the case with Miro Cerar who basically runs on thin air in this campaign.

Poll numbers recalculated to indclude only decideds

Now, there are quite a number of problems with various positions Miro Cerar took in this campaign, some of which might even be contradictory. But pengovsky will cover them in one of the future posts. Suffice it to say that Cerar must really wish for election Sunday to come as soon as possible. His centre-to-above-it-all position is being vigorously attacked from both left and right and as days pass, kinks in his shiny armour are ever more visible. Not that anyone else is profiting from it. Not even Janez Janša’s SDS, mind you. The reason they’re back on top is the fact that Ivan is now behind bars which is – as expected – proving to be ultimate activator for his party’s base.

As for the rest, NSi, SD and DeSUS seem to be hanging above the 4% threshold which still takes them to the parliament, while the rest are locked in a bit of a death match. And if not earlier, fatality of the schism in Positive Slovenia is now apparent. The new party of PM Bratušek, Zavezništvo Alenke Bratušek (Alenka Bratušek Alliance, and yes, more personalisation of party names here) and Zoran Janković’s Positive Slovenia are polling roughly neck-and-neck. It is safe to say that were Zoki slightly less egotistical and vengeful, PS would have remained a player with Bratušek at the helm.

Citizen’s List is nowhere to be seen and it is doubtful the new party president Bojan Starman can turn things around. Ditto for Verjamem of Igor Šoltes, who was European Elections’ Miro Cerar but has since seen his support vanish into thin air.

Anyhoo… If all available polls are averaged into a single set of results (admittedly, about as unscientific method as reading tea-leaves), this is what you get. Five parties who make it above 4%.

Average of all polls included

Just a note: graphs in this post were made with Google SpreadSheets and will be updated as new polls come along. Which probably means the content of this post will be thrown out of sync with them graphs fairly soon. If you’re reading this days or weeks after date of posting, please take this into account.

    Dob Prison Blues

    Among many of his accomplishments, Janez Janša can now claim to be one of the few people on this planet to have attended their own wake. This at least was the impression given last Friday, when Janša started serving his two-year prison sentence passed on him in the Patria Affair. Namely, hundreds (thousands, by some accounts) of his followers descended on Dob prison facility and staged “a spontaneous” gathering with loudspeakers and all. The event, protracted as it was, culminated with Janša arriving and addressing the faithful one last time.

    Janša’s prison summons. (source)

    But what was no doubt meant to be the mother of all speeches turned out to be a lackluster campaign rally with Janša giving the impression of a man who finally realised the gravity of his situation. Namely, only the previous evening the SDS leader took part in an election debate and admittedly did a fair job, quite unlike a man who will not be picking up soap from the floor again until 2016. Perhaps he thought the Supreme Court would come to his rescue at the eleventh hour and suspend his serving of the sentence or even rescind the sentence altogether. No such luck. With the Constitutional Court nixing Janša earlier in the week with a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court just added insult to injury. From Janša’s point of view this was just another proof that the entire judiciary (save the three constitutional judges with their dissenting opinions) was out to get him. Under orders of a secret communist kabal headed by Milan Kučan, of course. The alternative interpretation, although admittedly boring, is that Janša simply fired his last shot and is out of legal and political ammo. Next stop: prison cell.

    The brouhaha this created was (and to an extent still is) of epic proportion. After all, it is not every day a former PM is put behind bars. Some (Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung (paywall) among them, apparently) questioned the timing, saying that putting a man in the brig three weeks before elections is fishy. Others hold that the decent thing would be a presidential pardon, since this is what self-respecting countries apparently do. Deputy chief of government’s legal service Janez Pogorelec wrote as much in the last issue of Pravna Praksa, a magazine on legal issues. And even Matevž Krivic, former judge of the constitutional court, now a tireless campaigner for the rights of the Erased says the legitimacy of the upcoming elections is compromised with Janša in prison. And last, but certainly not least, the SDS maintains the elections will neither be free nor fair.

    Now, let’s take these arguments apart, one by one. First of all, the legitimacy of these elections has nothing to do with a political being put in jail. Janša was convicted some time before elections were called. He knew this was coming. And even if he honestly expected his appeal to be upheld, he could have at least planned for a contingency. Afterall, the SDS list of candidates was announced six days after JJ got summoned to prison. It’s not as if someone issued a Nach-und-Nebel order on him and dragged him out of his flat in the middle of the night on unspecified charges (although the SDS faithful will have you believe something along those lines happened). Quite to the contrary, in fact: the SDS leader is taking part in these elections and will most likely get elected to the parliament. And while there is a legal provision terminating MPs serving more than six months’ prison sentence, no such clause exists for members of the government. Meaning that if the SDS somehow secures an absolute majority, then can actually appoint Janša Prime Minister. The scenario is highly unlikely (even the Party doesn’t have the audacity to pull a stunt like that) but possible.

    Janša in prison, therefore, does absolutely nothing for legitimacy of these elections. Yes, his incarceration will affect the outcome, but so would his remaining on the outside (especially if elections were cited as a reason). Everything we do affects the elections one way or another. Sure, Janša will not be able to attend election debates. But that is neither his right not prerogative. There can be debates without him. His two rights (to vote and run for office), however, are in no way infringed.

    Legitimacy of elections is also questioned in the sub-text of FAZ’s reporting. But it needn’t be. Would the situation be any different if Janša were to start serving a sentence six months before elections? Wouldn’t the definition of “just prior to elections” be simply adjusted for time scope? What if the court had waited (as Krivic suggested) and summoned him to prison after he had won the elections? Just how ugly would that look? No, summoning him before elections was the only sensible thing to do. Even more so since Slovenia held at least one election per year in past seven of eight years. We tend to cast our votes around quite a lot in this country. And if we waited for a “clear stretch of non-voting” to put corrupt politicos behind bars, we might find to be in for a long wait.

    Lastly, rule of law is paramount in any half-decent democracy. Granted, this sorry little excuse for a country is occasionally lacking in this respect, but this is no reason to go actively ruining what’s left of the concept. The important thing here is that a high-profile person who committed a felony is behind bars. Countries where the law applies to both rich & famous as well as the common man are more likely to have their political system seen as legitimate. This goes for the idea of presidential pardon as well. Pogorelec maintains that a presidential pardon would be a face-saving operation for Janša and the country, allowing the illustrious fighter for Slovenian independence to retire gracefully from public life.

    Which is about as naive a notion as there ever was. Just what in Bob’s name forces Janša to quit public life if president Pahor issues a pardon? A gentleman’s agreement? Between Janša and Pahor? Yes, thought so… Also, a pardon would send a message that despite all the rage that was directed against the political class a year and a half ago, there are still perks which come free of charge if you play the game long enough. A presidential pardon of a high-profile politician would mean sweeping things under the rug. In fact, only if president Pahor stays true to form and does not pardon Janša (formal request to do so had not yet been made), will the people perhaps start believing that we are indeed all equal before the law.

    And as for SDS claim about elections not being free nor fair? Well, this…

    But far more intriguing than yet another attempt to pre-emptively undermine elections are the people who are coming out making the case in Janša’s favour. A plethora or people and organisations who have been trying for years to present themselves as independent, who were obviously astroturf but still shamelessly functioned as sort of think-thanks (or, at least, PR tanks), now rush to Janša’s rescue, each denouncing the judiciary from their own angle but all of them doing so without mercy or intellectual distance. Case in point being Matej Avbelj, the young dean of one of faculties founded during Janša government 1.0. More importantly, this included former Ljubljana archbishop and now Vatican cardinal Franc Rode, giving credence to the theory that the former leadership of Slovenian Catholic Church (since beheaded by pope Francis) was in cahoots with Janša, often at the expense of the more natural political ally of the Church, the ChristDem Nova Slovenija. Whether these are spontaneous cases of trying to please the master or a concerted effort ran from party HQ to shoot down the Patria verdict (after-all, the Supreme Court still has to rule on the issue), it doesn’t really matter.

    Although his prison sentence is relatively mild (Igor Bavčar, for example, got seven), Janša out of the picture does mean great things are afoot. While the left remains in ruins and will probably be ruined some more on 13 July, the real development will be ob the right. Whoever takes over as interim leader of the SDS, will be forced to make decisions in an environment that is rapidly changing on account of Janša not being there. The SLS and NSi are growing a spine, the new party of Miro Cerar seems to be the electorate’s darling at the moment and the voters who tolerated Janša’s escapades will probably be much less keen on a person imitating Janša’s style of leadership. Doubly so if the SDS were to win the elections and appoint the PN (pengovsky still sees Romana Tomc as being earmarked for the job).

    Janez Janša got transferred to a minimum security facility today. This means that he can again use modern means of communications, probably trying to run the Party from within prison. This will probably not work. Not on the operational level, at least. Sure, he might install someone he trusts to simply stick to his agenda and not have any ideas. But the last guy to try something like that in Slovenia saw his party split down the middle.

    Archive Referendum Results: Nothing To Be Happy About, Regardless

    A few takeaways on yesterday’s archive referendum results. The turnout was a dismal 11.68 percent, with 67.32% against and 32.68% in favor of the new archive law. Since the quorum of 20% of all eligible voters against the law was not reached, the law stands as passed by the parliament.

    Referendum results (source: dvk-rs.si, graphics via ChartGo)

    Now, the response of the petitioning party (that be Janez Janša‘s SDS) was pathetically predictable: that at least they won “a moral victory“. That the “forces of UDBa are still at work”. That the people don’t appreciate the referendum as they should (clearly a case of pot calling the kettle black).

    On the other hand, the government hailed “a referendum victory” with minister Uroš Grilc adding that Slovenia finally has a modern archive legislation. Incidentally, the last law to have survived voters’ scrutiny (albeit under the old rules) was 2005 referendum on the law on state radio and television RTVSLO. And that law, too, fell under the purview of Ministry of culture. Just so you know 😉

    Now, while the bit about a modern piece of legislation might very well be true, everything else is pure bullshit-meter-breaking material. This is not a victory for the government. It is, at best, a defeat avoided. The feeling of “victory” is relative only to the ginormous foot the Party had just inserted in its own mouth. Namely, the SDS supported changes to the referendum legislation, instituting the “quorum against” which now worked heavily against them.

    Bonus points in the fuckwit category go for Milan Zver MEP who tweeted that two-thirds of Slovenians slapped the government in the face (this by extension meaning that only people who cast their vote on Sunday are true Slovenians). That the turnout on a referendum they campaigned heavily for is comparable to the 2008 fiasco with referendums on regions only adds insult to injury. As does the fact that back then Janez Janša claimed victory as well.

    But the biggest loser here are the people. Not because the law is now enacted (that, at least, is good) but because the SDS continues, even with the “new and improved” referendum restrictions, to abuse what is left of this crucial institute of direct democracy. This was the pattern for the better part of the past two decades and due to no small fault of the Party the word “referendum” is now tarnished beyond repair.

    Under the new rules it is almost impossible for a group of concerned citizens or an NGO to challenge a piece of legislation unless they have access to a well-developed political party network which (by definition) makes them more of an astroturf group rather than a grass-roots movement. With continued abuse, the “almost impossible” will without a doubt become simply “impossible”, as ignoring referendum votes will become not only acceptable, but indeed desirable. The ultimate goal of making voters indifferent to public matters is thus well within reach. Case in point being the general approval the people met with the new referendum rules.

    Citizens’ oversight is a scarce commodity as it is. Abuse of referendum legislation, such as witnessed Sunday last, only depletes it further. Pretty soon, there will be none left.

    The Red Herring Of The Archive Referendum

    Igor Lukšič, the deposed leader of the Social Democrats, used to begin his political science class semesters by stating that “form is content”. While that may be true to an extent (and it certainly is true in case of President Borut Pahor, in large part a political product of Lukšič’s), there comes a time when form and content are both radically different and equally intriguing. Case in point being the “Archive referendum”, to be held this Sunday.

    A Twitter exchange over archives’ redaction between Boštjan Gorenc Pižama and Ministry of Culture. Summed it up pretty nicely.

    A referendum, I hear you ask? But didn’t we just go to the polls, voting for godknowswhom in godknowwhat capacity? Well, 24 percent of us did. And it was called the EU elections, silly. But this time, the game is a wee bit different. You see, the outgoing administration of Alenka Bratušek passed a new law governing safekeeping and access to state archives. The existing law, passed in 2006 by the Janša 1.0 administration was amended and expanded on by Ministry of culture headed by Uroš Grilc, which caused the SDS to go apeshit and muster 40.000 signatures required to hold a referendum, claiming the new law prevents access to archives of UDBa, Yugoslav communist secret police. Which, as far as The Party is concerned, only goes to show that communists still run this country, that Milan Kučan is behind all of it and that you should vote SDS in the next parliamentary elections, to be held a month from now. But first, the form.

    Quorum against

    The referendum this Sunday will be the first held under the new rules. In the old days a referendum was called when the petitioner first collected 2k signatures to initiate referendum proceedings in the first place. Clearing this hurdle, they needed 40k verified signatures (i.e. your signatures on a special form, verified by a clerk) to force the parliament to call a referendum on the issue. This was, arguably, the biggest obstacle. And when the actual vote came on, a simple majority was needed to either confirm or overturn the law in question. And with referendum turnout percentage traditionally being in the low thirties, this regularly brought about situations where fewer than 20% of the electorate got to decide a publicly relevant issue.

    But now, the tables have turned. As of recent, petitioners must collect 40k verified signatures to begin with, while the referendum itself is subject to “quorum against”, meaning that to overturn a law passed by the parliament must see a) majority of all votes cast is against the law, provided that b) all votes cast against represent at least twenty percent of all eligible voters. Which, admittedly, sets the bar wee bit higher than before. Assuming a vote split down the middle, around forty percent turnout is needed to give the petitioners against the law a fighting chance. For example, the turnout at the 2012 presidential elections was just north of forty percent.

    Point being, that unlike before, when it was oftentimes enough to merely call a referendum to derail a political process (and if the vote went your way, well, hip, hip, hooray and jolly good!), today the emphasis is much more on bringing out the vote. Which brings us from form to the content.

    The content

    It seems that the crux of the matter are amendments of article 65 of the law which – according to the SDS, the petitioning party – allows for indiscriminate redaction of sensitive material, supposedly creating conditions for the government and the archive personnel (both of which are communist-controlled, obviously) to redact and remove any and all information which could shed light on UDBa and general communist mischief, the apex of which was, is and forever will be Milan Kučan. The ministry of culture, however, says that no such thing will be possible. Quite au contraire, they say, the new law prevents mishandling of the archives, allows for a broader access to more archives and only allows for redaction of personal circumstances, i.e. sexual preferences, religious beliefs, medical conditions and so on.

    The SDS, whose vitriolic anti-communism is the glue that keeps this party together (and is especially strong with members who were ardent Commies right up to the end of Socialism) is of course milking this one for all it is worth and then some. Namely, if they are correct and the government is planning to shut down access to archives, it means no more playing around with the Xerox machine. And if they are wrong and the ministry of culture is correct and the new law means broader access to archives, well, the SDS gets fucked as well, since their fooling around with the archives will be exposed much more easily. Either way they lose.

    My precious!

    It doesn’t help their case that their point men in this case are two gifted amateurs with little or no formal training in relevant scientific fields. Igor Omerza and Roman Leljak have been trawling the archives for some time now and churning out massive amounts of copy most of which was immediately picked up by the SDS. Case in point being disappearance of one Stjepan Crnogorac, a Croatian national who was allegedly kidnapped and killed by Slovenian SDV. The thing is that most of what Omerza (former Ljubljana deputy mayor) and Leljak (former Yugoslav Army intelligence officer who later did time for fraud) come up with is not independently verifiable. And when you find out that the Daring Duo has an unlimited pass to see the un-redacted archive originals and will continue to enjoy this privilege even if and when the law is passed it makes you wonder if what we’re seeing here is not some kind of jealous protection of “the ring”

    Red herring

    But there are other levels at which this law simply doesn’t work for the petitioners and they’ve nothing to do with existing UDBa archives. Namely, the keen eye of the Good Doctor spotted a teeny-tiny little detail called “Article 50a” which – in a nutshell – states that selected archive material of parliamentary political parties is to be treated as a “privately owned archive”. Translation: political party archives fall under the purview of the new law, can not be messed with at will and must be granted access to under certain conditions.

    Now, what if what we’re voting on Sunday is not really about UDBa archives being open or closed but rather a knee-jerk reaction of at least one political party to possibility of other people having a peek at their archives. It would not be the first time a red herring would have been employed in such a manner. Namely, in 2005, Janša 1.0 administration passed a new law on media which – among other things – provided for an extensive “right to reply”. Editors and journalists went apeshit, the left-wing opposition was screaming bloody murder but while half of the country was claiming government interference with the media, another and much more fundamental provision was overlooked: the new law dropped the provision banning ownership concentration of media. But since everyone was up in arms over a principle (one which ultimately didn’t matter a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys as editors often simply ignored claims to right of reply), a massive change or rules took place under the radar.

    Which is what we’re looking at here, in pengovsky’s opinion. The real fight is over the unmentionable. The SDS obviously will never admit it has a problem with granting access to its archives after clamoring for a free-for-all on state archives. The government, on the other hand, will never admit it has any interest in papers of any political party. Although granting access to their archives should be a given since parties are mostly funded by taxpayers’ money.

    Or are they? 👿