Psychodelictual Sausage Fest (Local Elections)

You might not realise it, but this coming Sunday local (municipal) elections are to be held in all of 212 municipalities in Slovenia. If you’re asking how in the holy fuck did Muddy Hollows end up with two hundred and twelve municipalities, pengovsky can only say: don’t ask.

Destrnik hopeful Franc Pukšič sending mixed messages (source)

But if you insist and want to have your mind blown, suffice it to say it has to do with some half-baked decentralisation back in the 1990s, when the old commune system was dissolved and municipalities formed on the principle of “natural gravitation”, i.e. defining local societal centres and setting up a fairly flexible set of criteria for forming municipalities. This link provides a nice path down the rabbit hole that are Slovenian municipalities.

Needless to say it all went tits-up pretty quickly as local “gravitational centres” were soon challenged by local-er gravitational centres, age-old feuds resurfaced and communities which have no business being a separate entity chose to split away and form their own municipality and soon everyone realised that a having a separate municipality was a pretty good gig for a subset of aspiring local politicians and a nice way to get a fair amount of money from the state.

Lead baloon

As a result only a handful of municipalities, by some count as few as four, are actually able to independently execute powers devolved to them while everyone else needs money from state budget to continue to play in the sandpit of local politics.

Which is why the obvious solution would be to establish regions and devolve some more state powers to them as well as transfer some municipal powers to regional level thus enabling municipalities to pool resources as well as easing the grip local politics has on the national level. Obviously, this idea goes down like a lead balloon every time someone brings it up.

Consequently, local election in Muddy Hollows are a spectacular shitshow of ineptitude, arrogance and the Dunning-Kruger effect, all wrapped up in out-takes from the Deliverance.

Psychedelic Ptuj

As per this STA report, there are a number of people who are attempting a return to their glory days. Cases in point being Marjan Poljšak a former nationalist-leftist MP and a former mayor of Ajdovščina who is mounting a (probably futile) comeback bid but still trying to look like the man parents tell their kids will come and take them away if they don’t behave.

The 90s revival seems to be a thing, though. Štefan Čelan, one-time local heavyweight in Ptuj and a longtime mayor of the oldest Slovenian town is mounting a comeback, even if it includes some dubious Facebook comments, telling people to go do drugs. And yes, that does indeed say “psychodelictual drugs” for those of you not fully versed in Slovenian.

Speaking of drugs, one could legitimately ask just what exactly is Franc Pukšič on. Once a fixture in the parliament and a man known for being particularly adept at pork barrel politics, the long-time former mayor of Destrnik is trying to return to former (local) glory. If you can’t make him out or don’t recognise him, he’s the guy sticking out of the rainbow-coloured Fiat 600 (known as Fičko in this particular neck of the woods).

The picture is weird enough. A sausage-fest of considerable girth posing with an LGBT-painted automotive icon. It looks as if they’re setting off on a road-trip to the Berlin Pride Parade. But when you account for the fact that Pukšič is running as a candidate of the United Right, a socially regressive, anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant party, the messaging gets a tad confused. Or maybe not. If you catch my drift.

Messy Maribor

While we’re looking at the United Right and dapper gents, we simply cannot overlook former Maribor Mayor Franc Kangler (below, second from right, source). The man who lit the spark of the Winter of Discontent and was literally run of the office. But seeing as the former police detective was also cleared of (almost?) all of corruption charges against him, he is attempting a re-election bid as a United Right candidate and an older version of Joe Pesci.

Not that Kangler is the only brawler in that particular campaign for mayor. It emerged that Saša Arsenovič, an SMC candidate and a man most likely to face Kangler off in the second round, took part in a bar fight twenty years ago where he allegedly bit a man. He claims that the biting part is untrue and that everyone involved later squared their differences. It is in fact possible that the allegation actually helped burnish Arsenovič’s credentials with a subset of Maribor voters who appreciate the can-do bare-knuckles approach rather than hurt him overall.

When talking of Maribor, where an all-time high of eighteen candidates are running for mayor, we cannot ignore the incumbent Andrej Fištravec. The man who got to run the city after the anti-Kangler revolution proved to be uniquely inept at moving things forward all the while promising some huge foreign investment that will help the town by the river Drava pull itself up by the bootstraps. Not that Maribor is in *that* bad a shape, but it has been hurting a lot during the economic crisis and all the while not having fully recovered from the collapse of the socialist labour intensive industrial economy.

Fištra, as he is known, failed to bring in anything of note while indulging in some of the same dubious practices that forced Kangler to ask for police escort as he was leaving the City Hall for the final time in December 2012. And then there’s Lidija Divjak Mirnik (above, right), a former teacher and a LMŠ candidate who saw her car tyres slashed when she announced she will be entering the race, who spent most of the debate on POP TV telling the three male candidates they’d all get an F in her class and who closed her final pitch to voters by making this weird comparison between the ballot number for her city council list (which happens to be number 10) and the Ten Commandments.

Koper Kerfuffle

But if the Maribor race is shambolic to say the least, the competition in Koper was looking a lot like a psychotherapy session gone bad. Sans psychodelictual drugs. At least judging from the debate on POP TV the other day where the incumbent mayor Boris Popovič sparred with Gašpar Gašpar Mišič, former state secretary, former CEO of Port of Port of Koper and a long-time resident of Popovič’s rectum.

Mišič appeared on the verge of tears as he kept admonishing Popovič to become a better man (whatever the fuck that means) while Popovič kept telling of all the favours he did for Mišič and his family, implying that he bent the rules more than once for his former BFF. All of that on live TV. If the Commission for Prevention of Corruption weren’t degraded to a laughing stock its officials would have gathered enough material to keep them busy until Christmas. 2021.

Not that this is the entire story. The reason Mišič is running against his former care-giver is that he was reportedly coaxed into it by Tomaž Gantar, former DeSUS MP and former minister of health who is trying to return to the city hall of Piran municipality, neighbouring Koper. Once upon a time, Boris Popovič harboured imperial ambitions by having his close allies from neighbouring municipalities run as his derivatives.

Results were mixed but now the tables have turned and strong candidates from other coastal (Primorska) municipalities are using the same tactics to reign in Popovič by bringing the fight to his doorstep and forcing him to spend time and energy dealing with proxy candidates. Ironically, according to some polls, Mišič might actually force Popovič into the second round.

Lazy Ljubljana

Speaking of polls and second rounds, quite some speculation was made (your truly included) at the outset of this campaign whether Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković will finally be forced into a run-off, after winning four consecutive votes in the first round with room to spare. Lack of serious polling in mid-October fuelled the speculation further. But, as always, what you run on is only a part of the equation. An equally important part is who runs against you. And in the case of Ljubljana, the competition Janković drew is mediocre at best.

The main challenger of the Slovenian capital’s mayor is Anže Logar, MP for Janez Janša’s SDS and the leader of the Ljubljana branch of the Party. Logar, a councilman in the city council (an honorary position) and Janković go way back and the former has even investigated the latter as a part of parliamentary inquiry into bad banking loans. Specifically, Janković was grilled for the way he ran the Stožice Sports Complex project which ultimately went bust at the onset of crisis in 2008, with stadium and sports arena finished but the accompanying shopping mall (the money-making part of the project) no even close to being so. Janković would return the favour and give Logar no quarter during city council sessions. Point being, the two know each other inside out.

Crucially, however, voters in Ljubljana don’t know Logar all that well. He is a known quantity for his work in the parliament but leaves much less of a footprint in the city itself. Which meant that a lot would be riding on the way he ran his campaign. And therein lies the crux.

For better or for worse, Zoran Janković maintains an aura of invincibility on the local level. Much of the magic has rubbed off of him over the years, especially after he badly fumbled his PM bid in early 2012. Still, as far as Ljubljana is concerned, he is the undisputed master. As a result, aspiring politicians are loath to run against him and parties have troubles finding people willing to throw their hats into the ring. Nobody likes a loser.

One tell-tale sign of a party having trouble finding a sacrificial lamb challenger is how late in the game they announce the name of their candidate. The deadline for filing a candidate is about six weeks prior to elections and the closer the deadline the more problems the party has finding a person willing to take one for the team. And if they can’t find anyone then it is customary for the head of the local branch to put his or her name up. If nothing else, simply to fly the party colours and rally the troops to win as many seats in the city council as possible.

Which is ultimately the reason Logar is running at all. He spent his campaign explaining to anyone who would listen to him that the party spent more than a year and a half researching the topics and brainstorming ideas, but in the end they came up with the perennial topic of traffic problems (true, but bereft of new and bold ideas) and long waiting periods for primary access to city healthcare services (a dubious claim at best).

None of this really tells a compelling story and apparently no one from the SDS was willing to tell it anyway, so Logar was forced to put his name forward with only two days until filing deadline. Had he not done so, the largest party in Slovenia would have no candidate in the Ljubljana race at all.

The same goes for SD and SMC, coalition parties where leaders of their Ljubljana organisations (Marko Koprivc and Dragan Matić, respectively) were forced to bite the bullet and step into the ring, knowing full well they are going to be beaten into pulp. This provided for a few comical scenes, where the candidate held an event and party heavyweights would show up (say, a well-known and popular MEP) but the public attendance was so dismal official photos had to be staged not to look too empty.

Alternatively, they were crashing mass public events like the Ljubljana marathon. Although it needs to be said that 1 hour and 41 minutes for 21k is fucking awesome. Restecp, man!

And if a political party did try to find someone other than their point man in the city, they inevitably came short, like The Left which put forward Milan Jakopovič who is known for his humanitarian work but seems hopelessly lost in the political fracas.

Not that there is much of a fight going on in Ljubljana anyway. Public broadcaster RTVSLO held a debate on Thursday evening and of the ten men (and they are invariably all men) in the studio almost half appeared as if they’d rather be some place else while the rest were not unlike the guy in the audience who keeps sticking his hand up, is finally given the microphone and then succumbs to stage-fright.

With challengers that lack in zest and/or charisma, mayor Janković (who usually relishes a good fight) seems to find the whole campaign more of an annoyance than anything else. He says that he respects his opponents and that he takes the race seriously, but the amount of eye-rolls and unfinished sentences seems unusually high for him.

Records galore

If the latest polls are anything to go by, Janković will clear 50 percent of the vote easily and will commence his fifth election and fourth consecutive term as mayor (he quit as mayor in 2011 after he won the parliamentary vote but picked up where he left off four months later in a special election after failing in the PM bid).

Janković, who for years occasionally seems to struggle with motivation to continue as mayor of Ljubljana, has broken all kinds of city records. He has won the most mayoral races, by the widest margins ever recorded and enjoyed the largest majorities in the city council. He has also seen a record number of criminal investigations brought against him out of any Ljubljana mayors and is also the Ljubljana mayor who won a national election.

The only record he hasn’t broken yet is the number of years in office. Janković currently holds the second place scoreboard, having already surpassed the writer/politician Ivan Tavčar by two years and is looking to break the all-time record of 14 years in office set by the legendary mayor Ivan Hribrar some time in 2020.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.