With six, nay, five weeks until the first round of the presidential election in Muddy Hollows, the field is getting slightly more crowded and the race somewhat more interesting than initially imagined.
As expected the main political parties (i.e. those with deputies in the parliament) were struggling to find people willing to challenge incumbent president Borut Pahor. After all if recent polls are anything to go by, the guy is more popular than Donald Trump at a white-supremacist rally. But since one has to keep up appearances, these parties had (or still have) to field candidates, lest they be perceived as not giving a flying fuck about the office of the president. Which for the most part they don’t, but that is widely considered to be a bad approach to an election.
But first, the story so far: Since pengovsky last wrote up this year’s presidential elections a number of things have happened, most notably the final award in the border dispute with Croatia (which helps Pahor’s re-election bid) and his TEŠ6 testimony (which does not). More importantly however, of the six main parties (seven if you’re being nice about it since Alenka Bratušek’s Alliance technically still is a parliamentary party), only two (three if you really insist on being nice) have not yet had at least a semi-known person throw their hat into the ring. And, lo behold! most of them are women. And that’s not counting president Pahor who goes under the nickname Barbie on account of his modelling career back in the day (that is, if you suddenly think that being nice is not really your thing).
It was Ljudmila Novak of NSi who got the ball rolling in the beginning of August. The leader of the ChristDem party used the political lull of the summer sizzle to announce she will not be waiting indefinitely for a common right-wing candidate but will step into the fray herself, leaving it to the Janez Janša‘s SDS to either support her or not. The move was significant on a number of levels. It re-asserted Ljudmila as the undisputed leader of her own party after it seemed for a while that the young ‘uns were about to perform a coup. She will most likely expand on the well-received conservative economic platform which has more than just a whiff of German influence in it. As a result, she will most likely be compared to Angela Merkel, a comparison she will gladly entertain as the NSi have been going positively ga-ga over Mutti for a while now. And lastly, she continues to show that the NSi has indeed grown a spine and wasn’t simply taking advantage of Janša being down if not out during the Patria Affair.
You see, until now the two parties have taken turns in one nominating a presidential candidate while the other immediately supported him or her. The last time around it was Milan Zver of the SDS who was on the ballot with NSi providing backup, five years before that it was Lojze Peterle of NSi and he even made it to the second round with SDS providing support. Five years before that it was Barbara Brezigar of SDS with NSi support who made it to the second round as well.
This year, however, it is every woman for her self. Namely, a few days ago, the SDS nominated Romana Tomc MEP as the party’s presidential candidate, sinking what little hope there was left for a unified right-wing front against Pahor. At least in the first round since the largest opposition party (that be SDS) supported Pahor in the second round five years ago. We’ll see how that goes down this time around.
Romana Tomc, the sane one
Tomc is not exactly an unknown quantity in Muddy Hollows. Her name was circulated as a possible replacement for Janša as PM during the 2012/2013 Winter of Discontent (which ultimately saw another woman come out on top, as it were) or replacing The Glorious Leader at the helm of the party while he was doing time for the Patria Affair. In the end, nothing came of it but Tomc who belongs to the moderate wing of the party wisely did not overplay her hand and was elected to the European Parliament on an SDS/EPP ticket. There she busied herself with issues concerning youth employment, business environment and such. And once Milan Zver (the party’s presidential nominee in 2012) started tweeting all kinds of crazy and schilling for Viktor Orban, Tomc became the go-to Slovenian MEP when a right-wing position was sought. She has managed to present herself as a steady conservative voice but steered clear of the numerous pissing contents her male party colleagues were and still are prone to enter.
The main thing going against Romana Tomc right now is the fact that the Party took as long as it did to come up with her name. I mean, five weeks until elections and ten days before the campaign officially commences, that’s an awfully short notice. Sure, the party network will deliver, the few rallies she will hold will be well attended and the applause level will be solid. But that might not be enough to fire up the base and have them go the extra mile for their candidate. Especially since she will have to mount a challenge against a popular president who spent five years branding himself “mostly harmless” (although he is anything but) as well as prevent her challengers on the right from stealing too much of her vote.
Case in point being Angelca Likovič of GOD party (yes, I know) who spent her latter years as Aleš Primc’s
wing-man wing-woman in exorcising gays and lesbians and anything that corrupts the deluded image of a heterosexual, ethnically pure and religiously devout Slovenia.
Likovič is… Well, she’s strange. Born in 1944, she came out of nowhere in 2000 during the short-lived right-wing government of the late Andrej Bajuk where Janša pulled most of the strings. Back then she was appointed second-in-command of the education ministry. And while she did serve as headmaster of one of the more prestigious elementary schools in Ljubljana her real claim to power (and as fate would have it, fame) was the fact that she was Janez Janša’s elementary school teacher in the Glorious Leader’s hometown of Grosuplje.
After Bajuk’s government lost the 2000 election however, she became the unlikely star of various reality shows, passing “advice” on relationships, morals and generally being quite judgemental and at the same time doing her best impression of a Teutonic BDSM mistress with plenty of mileage. This went on for quite some time and she became a staple of the local celebrity circus. Enter the Primc Of Darkness and she reinvents herself (or rather, goes back to the roots) as a high priestess of all things Christian and conservative and pure, even to the point of publicly calling for Janša to give up the leadership of the right wing and make room for someone else.
The Dominatrix now consorts with the renegade element of the SDS. She is openly supported by Islamophobes, conspiracy theory nuts and gay bashing types as well as an odd self-styled liberal of the SDS persuasion who still didn’t get the memo on the new party line. But then again, Likovič supports many of the positions we’ve come to associate with the SDS. She is also accustomed to bomb throwing and generally doing stuff that keeps her a part of the media cycle and will happy tread over every social norm and political convention to make that happen.
With this she is more adept at firing up the base than many of her male and female counterparts and should not be waved off as an afterthought. Think Donald Trump. If you want a tell-tale sign of her and Aleš Primc making the SDS leadership nervous, the parliamentary elections are at least seven months away but the SDS has already adopted a number of GOD’s platform positions on family and child policies. They know they’ve a fight of their lives coming up and it is Primc and Likovič who are throwing red meat to the base while the SDS is back to yet again re-hashing stale and tiresome conspiracy theories about a satanic cabal of communist lizards secretly running the country.
Which brings us to the fourth (and counting) female candidate. Like the opposition SDS, the ruling SMC was in a bit of a bind as well, albeit for slightly different reasons. Not only were they lacking a candidate of sufficient clout ready to take one for the team but PM Miro Cerar had a huge falling out with the guy who might be willing to give it a go. And while Parliament chief Milan Brglez and PM Cerar did eventually bury the hatchet there is apparently still enough bad blood between the two that neither is willing to carry any more water for the other one.
This basically left the three high profile women of the SMC to be considered for the job with various levels of seriousness. But neither education Minister Maja Makovec Brenčič nor head of the SMC parliamentary group Simona Kustec Lipicer nor – according to some speculations – head of the government staff Lucija Kozlovič were really keen on taking on the job yet were aware that a good (not necessarily victorious) result would reinforce their position within the party. Thus a combination of reluctance and jostling for positions constributed to the fact that the SMC went basically down to the wire in the selection process, again depriving the candidate of valuable pre-campaign airtime and media attention.
In the end they nominated minister of education Maja Makovec Brenčič who- interestingly enough – immediately drew fire from President Pahor’s surrogates. Case in point MMB’s predecessor Jernej Pikalo of SD who sent out a high-brow tweet that he was too busy with running the portfolio to consider other projects. Like running for president, to give an example at random.
V preveliko čast mi je bilo služiti državljanom, da bi med mandatom ministra kandidiral za druge funkcije. Dela mi nikoli ni zmanjkalo.
— Jernej Pikalo (@JernejPikalo) September 11, 2017
At any rate, Makovec Brenčič faces an uphill battle since she will inevitably come to represent everything that people may resent PM Cerar and his government for and may be up for a humbling defeat despite her best efforts. Not to mention the fact that supporters of president Pahor will pull no punches especially with candidates who might be eating into his base. Or the fact that PM Cerar pretty much fucked up her launch saying that not only does she have the looks but also has the content and a heart.
— Stranka SMC (@StrankaSMC) September 7, 2017
Which is sure to go down great with the women’s rights crowd. I mean, going for looks as a primary feature is not exactly a full-throated endorsement. And while one might accept that the PM is simply socially inept, the sentence does lay bare a fundamental paradox of this year’s presidential race.
The Pahor Paradox
The general agreement of the pundit class is that this election is Borut Pahor’s to lose. He has devoted the entirety of his first term to his re-election. In fact, the old adage that the campaign starts on the morning after the election was more or less literally followed by Team Pahor (and you thought The Donald was breaking new ground, huh?). He has consistently led in the likeability polls and made sure he was in the news more or less constantly.
So the question was, who was brave or stupid enough to challenge him. Some time ago pengovsky suggested that only Janez Janša of SDS and Karl Erjavec of DeSUS posses enough mojo to unseat Pahor but neither showed any interest in entering the fray. Which meant that the usually assertive male cohort of lesser politicians ran for cover hoping no one will pin them to a wall and demand they put their name on the ballot. Which – as is usually the case – left the women to pick up the baton and carry it to whatever end awaits them.
Regardless of whether you like them or not, it is a matter of fact that Novak, Tomc, Likovič and Makovec Brenčič were nominated primarily because no party member of male persuasion and significant stature was willing to, well, put his balls up onto the chopping block. Fucking pussy ass wimps.
Pulling the rug
On the other hand, however, this creates an interesting situation with potentially long term effects. Despite their obvious distaste for gender equality, non-traditional social order and such things, the entire right wing, without exception nominated female candidates for president, immediately cutting off one the main lines of criticism the left wing likes to employ, namely that misogyny and sexism are ingrained within the right-wing ideology. To be fair, that may still be the case but it will be might hard for the left wing, where almost all candidates are male to effectively brand themselves as progressive supporters of women’s rights when they will be faced with three or more women telling them they’ve got it all wrong.
And when pengovsky says “the entire right wing” he means exactly that. Namely, even the Slovenian People’s Party, now but a mere shadow of it’s former glorious self, nominated Suzana Lara Krause for president. Her bid probably won’t go anywhere as the party’s sole MEP and former president Franc Bogovič is not enough to make anything of substance happen, but the point is that the political right wing is an all-female cast in this election cycle.
To be sure, this is not the first time the right wing has coalesced behind a female candidate. in 2002, the SDS nominated former Prosecutor General Barbara Brezigar as their candidate and lined up most of the right wing behind her and she even made it to the second round where she was soundly defeated by Janez Drnovšek. But this is the first time all right wing parties are playing solo and all of them are fielding women.
This is a blatant demonstration of how politically and socially inept the left-wing is. For years they’ve branded themselves as defenders of rights and freedoms inherent to any self respecting liberal democracy. And yet. apart from isolated attempts at actually passing legislation, they’ve mostly only paid lip service to these freedoms. And now the right wing threatens to pull the rug from under them, not unlike UK Conservatives did when David Cameron decided it was time to legalise same-sex marriage an thus deprived Labour or a major talking point.
The only candidate on the progressive side (and I use the term loosely because Pahor and because SMC) who doesn’t have this problem is SMC’s Makovec Brenčič but she will probably be the conduit for all the anger aimed at Cerar’s government (see above) and will suffer greatly because of that.
Simply the rest
There are only a few question marks remaining. The biggest ones are what The Left (formerly United Left) and DeSUS are going to do. The pensioner’s party is making a habit of sitting the presidential races out with Karl Erjavec openly stating that they’ll support whomever has the best chances of winning. Which is akin to placing a bet on a football match 88 minutes into the game, but, yeah. That’s Karl, alright.
(UPDATE: five minutes after publishing this post DeSUS leadership announced they will back Borut Pahor)
The Left, on the other hand, is facing a conundrum. They cannot afford not to nominate a candidate lest they come across as either irresponsible or arrogant or both. But given their recent fracas it may well be that egos are still hurting and grudges are still being held and that various factions will simply not be able to come up with a compromise candidate. With that in mind, they might start looking to support an outside candidate, one who has enough street-cred to pass the anti-establishment test but at the same time actually have at least some sort of name recognition.
Which points to the possibility of The Left ultimately supporting Andrej Rozman – Roza, a playwright, actor and an acclaimed author. This is pure speculation at this point, but Roza does check a lot boxes The Left would be looking at when picking their candidate. Most older people know him from legendary lottery commercials while younger people either know him though his literary or theatre work and occasional activism. Roza is running a shoestring campaign mostly to prove a point and deliver a message (his core platform plank is to cut all taxes on books) but with support of a major political party he might even collect the necessary signatures and appear in the debates. The Left would thus have a fitting candidate while Roza would be provided with a soap-box beyond his wildest dreams.
And, while were at the “also-ran” section, the once almighty LDS finally saw the light and decided, contrary to their previous statements, to nominate a candidate. They picked (or rather, managed to persuade) Luj Šprohar to stand as their man. Šprohar, a published author, used to be a semi-important figure in the public arena as he was heading the office of disabled care for a number of years. Should he manage to collect the 3000 signatures necessary, this will be the first time a blind candidate will run for the highest office in the country. But with LDS being in the state they’re in, 3k signatures might turn out to be a bridge too far for them.
Crunch time. The names (most of them, anyway) are in and the clock is ticking. While most candidates are still collecting signatures of support, four are already presumed confirmed. Being straight up party candidates, Makovec Brenčič, Tomc and Novak only have to file the necessary paperwork with the electoral commission. But mayor of Kamnik Marjan Šarec, too, already collected the necessary signatures and cleared the first hurdle. President Pahor, however, only started collecting them.
And while this does not indicate any sort of significant change in the public opinion, it is worth noting that a recent poll (before all candidates were known) clocked Pahor below the 50% needed to win the race in the first round. And should there be a second round forced, all bets are off.
Slovenia, Episcenter poll:
Pahor (SD-S&D): 46%
Šarec (*-*): 28%
Novak (NSi-EPP): 13%
Jazbec (*-*): 4%
— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) September 3, 2017