In a development that came as a surprise to a grand total of zero people (save possibly to the man himself), president Pahor announced on Monday that he will not be nominating a candidate for the post of prime minister. With this, the first round of attempts to form a government following the election on 3 June came to an end.
Despite the brouhaha that surrounded the event, nothing spectacular had in fact happened. Other than the fact that The Prez has once again talked himself into a corner out of which there was no clean way out which is why he resorted to fear-mongering and his drama-queen act.
Namely, after he spent the last seven weeks maintaining that he will nominate the relative winner of the vote, Borut Pahor was stood up by Janez Janša. The latter, realising that he could not secure the necessary minimum 46 votes in the parliament, told the president that he will not accept the nomination, making the commander-in-chief looking a bit foolish for all his bending over backwards to accommodate the SDS leader.
The above was, of course, all completely predictable. Trying his best to avoid having to make an actual decision, Pahor refused to actively execute arguably the single most important power of the office he holds. As a result, a month after the election Muddy Hollows is only marginally closer to having a new government while the president was reduced to lamenting that same fact on national television, painting a dire picture of an EU divided, a world descending into economic chaos and basically saying that every country will have to fend for itself. Which, if you think about it, is not unlike Donald Trump, only with a better suit.
Needless to say that Pahor only demonstrated once again that despite the string of the senior leadership positions he held in this country is still pretty much clueless as to what is in fact going on in the world around him and is as a result sooner shaped by events rather than being the one shaping them, domestically or otherwise. Be that as it may, the most dramatic thing to have happened was the NSi looking to maximise its leverage and walking out of coalition negotiations with Marjan Šarec of LMŠ.
Trials of Matej Tonin
This was not entirely unexpected. Ever since Matej Tonin took over the party from Ljudmila Novak, he was at pains to prove himself especially given that NSi’s election result fell far short from what he promised to deliver upon ousting his predecessor. Things seemed to go well for Tonin and his party when he was elected Speaker of the parliament. But he either thought that he could get away with a whole lot more or ran into some rank-and-file opposition (or both) and decided to walk away from the table and start negotiating with Janez Janša and his SDS. Which could either be an earned attempt at playing hardball politics (which will likely cost him down the road if and when a coalition is agreed) or just an attempt to mollify the sceptics within the party as the Glorious Leader and the Party are at best ten votes short of a majority since no-one save the NSi and Zmago Jelinčič’s nationalists are willing to touch them with a ten-foot pole.
Apparently, there are some who think that NSi is playing hard-to-get in order to somehow coax LMŠ and/or SMC to break ranks and join a Janša-led coalition. The idea here being that since the ultimate goal of running in an election is to get in power, eventually someone will have to break ranks and join “the other side” and that the NSi is playing the role of the moderating factor in Janša’s attempts to win over one or two centre-left parties. While appealing, there are a number of problems with this theory.
First and foremost, this sort of gameplay would require a level of strategic thinking that simply does not exist within the current political class. True, Janez Janša is normally associated with some really shrewd tactics and strategy but recent history suggests that may have been an overly generous assessment. At the very least, the Glorious Leader and his party no longer control vast resources (financial, technical and human) that would enable them to control the playing field but are instead dependant on foreign aid (see Órban, Viktor) and a dwindling supply of people willing to join the fray.
Second, if Tonin were really to coax LMŠ and SMC into a Janša-led coalition, the NSi would be downgraded to third or even fourth place in the new pecking order. Even worse, as either or both centre left parties would probably put an extortionate price for reneging on their word and going in bed with Janša regardless, Tonin and the NSi would only get leftovers. Hardly a result an up-and-coming politician like Tonin would like to mark the start of his career at the grown-up’s table.
And third, just as a number of party members are opposed to NSi joining a centre-left coalition, there is apparently an equally unimportant number of members who are loath to see their party join a Janša-led coalition. This presumably includes Tonin’s predecessor Ljudmila Novak who was instrumental in NSi re-emerging from SDS’s shadow and – somewhat unexpectedly – growing something resembling a spine, after spending a decade being considered nothing but an SDS satellite party.
Bottom line, while Matej Tonin currently does seem to play the role of the king-maker, he will not be able do so forever. But as he is likely to face severe blowback no matter whom he finally gives the nod, he is probably quite happy with the current situation where no clear majority is in sight. The problem is, however, that it is him who holds most of the keys to either left- or right-wing coalition and once people start losing patience with him, he may start to see his newfound clout crumble to sundust.
After NSi walked away, Marjan Šarec turned to the Left and started some sort of negotiations with them. Since the leftmost party in the parliament holds nine seats, they theoretically hold one set of key to a Šarec-led coalition as well.
However, it would be a bit of a surprise if the erstwhile mayor of Kamnik would be able to strike a balance between the vastly divergent priorities of his existing would-be coalition partners and the more ideologically
dogmatic principled The Left. If nothing else, there is this cluster of outsize egos in close and delicate orbits around one another and if Šarec were to add additional sources of gravity in the mix it is likely everything would end in a Big Bang. Or, to be more precise in a Gnab Gib. Which, as per Zaphod Beebleborx is nothing to be excited about anyway.
So, how does this all play out?
To cut a long story short, with a minority government, appointed some time in August. That’s the way things seem like today, anyhow.
Political parties have one more week to come up with a deal that would ensure 46 votes for either Šarec or Janša. The dynamics of the past week were similar to that of the last month and there is no indication things are about to change soon.
Quite the opposite, in fact. There are indications that party leaders are seeing the writing on the wall and are covering their backs for the inevitable third round when a minority government becomes a real possibility. Case in point leader of SD Dejan Židan who tweeted that he still believes an agreement is possible given sufficient will on all sides of the table.
Tako je bilo včeraj. Jutri pa nadaljevanje koalicijskih pogovorov. Še vedno verjamem, da je pametne dogovore, če je prisotna volja, možno hitro doseči. @strankaSD @StrankaLMS @StrankaSMC @strankalevica @StrankaSAB @strankaDeSUS @JernejPikalo @JernejStromajer @DejanLevanic pic.twitter.com/s6J89CjWrv
— Dejan Židan (@ZidanDejan) July 28, 2018
The obvious observation is that had there indeed been sufficient will on all sides of the table such a tweet would be unnecessary as the deal would have been made long ago. In the likely case of no deal, however, nobody would really want to be responsible for the breakdown of talks. Hence tweeting along Židan’s lines.
Additionally, the somewhat odd situation of the caretaker government of Miro Cerar running the country while the new parliament was already sworn in and is fully functional doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone too much.
Make no mistake, if there was only a slight chance of either of the top two contenders making it past the 46-vote threshold, they would already be raising a stink over every minute detail Cerar’s government would attempt to do. But as things stand, the SMC leader (tipped to continue as foreign minister if Šarec were to become PM) gets to handle the sale of the NLB bank, the conundrum regarding the arbitration of the border with Croatia and pretty much everything else he deems necessary to be, well taken care of. Curiously enough, this does not entail reopening negotiations with labour unions which were put on hold just before the elections, because “this is a matter for the new government”.
Anyhow, at the moment everyone seems to have somewhat settled into the interregnum where the outgoing government consults the new parliament, some sort of agreement is reached and the executive branch executes the decision. Which, amazingly, is how things are supposed to work in a parliamentary democracy. Go figure.
And this, it seems, will remain the modus operandi even with the new government. The possibility of an 11th hour majority deal notwithstanding, a minority government will be appointed which will have to seek support for its policies among the remaining political parties. And while some are less likely to support such a government than others it seems logical it would seek the necessary votes on a per-basis approach, especially if major policy overhauls such as health reform were attempted.
One thing that looks less likely, however is a repeat vote. Not only because the MPs are now really starting to settle into their jobs and those hefty paychecks are starting to come in but also because, as pengovsky noted in a recent interview for the Slovenian Press Agency, voters would probably not look kindly on the inability of the political class as a whole to come up with a solution to a relatively easy and completely predictable task.
And let us not forget that most bills for the last campaign have yet to be paid.