Remember pengovsky’s rant on how the culture porfolio is almost always an afterthought during government forming in Muddy Hollows? Well, guess what. Turns out Dejan Prešiček (Team Social Democrats) who runs the culture portfolio is seeing his political career hang by a thread due to allegations that include – does this sound familiar? – misuse of a government vehicle.
In fact, the allegations are far more serious than that and include accusations of workplace harassment, mobbing and abuse of office by both the minister and his state secretary. Which is quite an achievement for someone who has only been in office six, nay, five months.
Several employees at the ministry (some anonymously, others publicly) have gone on record saying Prešiček was prone to mobbing and harassment and allegations were made that his behaviour played a role in a recent suicide of a ministry courier/driver.
It was this latter part that initially got the ball rolling when started circulating the media underbelly and while Prešiček strenuously denied him or his behaviour played any role in this sad event, other allegations have surfaced since (see above) that are likely to put his tenure as minister of culture in past tense.
This much was obvious when leader of Social Democrats Dejan Židan vehemently dismissed allegations about mobbing and any connection to the suicide, but nevertheless basically threw Prešiček under the bus saying that if PM Šarec deems the transgressions neither the party nor the minister himself will oppose his demission.
The fact that Židan put up virtually no resistance was mildly shocking. Usually, the modus operandi in situations like this is to fight for the (wo)man in question tooth-and-nail, with the aim of limiting the fallout or at least squeeze out some sort of a concession from the rest of the coalition.
This time around, however, there were no such suggestions. At least not publicly. And for good reason.
Even assuming that Prešiček is being falsely accused of mobbing and harassment, there is enough of what he admitted to doing or had difficulties explaining, that PM Šarec will seriously consider getting rid of him.
Be it use of government car to shuttle around family members, having the driver drop off his teaching tools at the conservatorium (yes, MPs and minsters in Slovenia can continue with their teaching jobs while in office, albeit in a limited scope; it’s weird, I know), or having an employee rush a procedure at the behest of the Russian ambassador, there seem to be enough transgressions accumulated that PM Šarec shouldn’t really have a problem with pulling the plug on Dejan Prešiček. Especially if he is to maintain the standard he set with Marko Bandelli of SAB
And therein lies the second reason minister of culture is close to going back to teaching full-time.
When the story broke out of the tabloid confines into the mainstream media (admittedly, a thin line these days) Alenka Bratušek of SAB lost no time in noting that she expects Šarec to hold everyone to the same standard. Translation: since she was forced to take care of Bandelli (and pull the trigger herself, so to speak) she expected no less from SD.
Curiously, the SD obliged.
Whether it was the fact that Prešiček is not really a political heavyweight and was easy to sacrifice, or the awkwardness of Dejan Židan indulging in some misuse of government vehicle of his own, or simply the continuing need of SD to stay close to government coffers, the party leadership decided that fighting over Prešiček is simply not worth rocking the coalition boat. Židan even said as much when he stated that whatever Šarec decides to do about Prešiček, the SD will remain a coalition partner.
Some speculate that Židan simply rolling over indicates that the probably-soon-to-be-ex minister of culture is not entirely clean of the more egregious things ascribed to him in this affair, while others say that this could be a carefully laid SD trap for Šarec.
While both are appealing lines of though, they don’t really compute.
Namely, if there was any indication Prešiček was in deeper doo-doo, Židan would not have defended him from mobbing accusations quite so vocally but would look to put as much daylight between the man and the party as possible. Especially since the police are already investigating.
As for the trap: it is hard to see just how could this be one. Prešiček already admitted to having fooled around with the government car park and even if he is fired, the portfolio still remains within SD purview. Admittedly, few people will now want to go anywhere near it (and there wasn’t a whole lot of interest to begin with) but in terms of numbers and influence, SD will have lost little except a little pride and credibility. Not that they had large quantities of either in the first place, but still.
One possibility that does beget thinking, however, is that this is some sort of internal SD strife.
Namely, apart from Židan deflecting the worst of the accusations, ostensibly to defend the party, no-one really rushed to Prešiček’s defence. No-one except Matjaž Han, leader of SD parliamentary group and the man whom the party deploys when shit starts hitting the fan.
Whether Han was out there simply because he likes to play Mr. Wolf to the party’s numerous Vincent Vegas and Jules Winnfields, or because he was protecting his investment (by some accounts he pushed hard for Prešiček’s appointment), remains to be seen.
But the lack of SD heavyweights lining up behind their minister suggests at least some of them will be glad to see him go. Either because of him personally or because his departure will weaken the Velenje-Šoštanj wing of the party (the people primarily responsible for TEŠ6 clusterfuck) of which Han is a prominent member. As is Prešiček’s second-in-command, state secretary Jan Škoberne who reportedly made very few friends at the ministry as well.
PM Marjan Šarec conveniently avoided the issue last week by hobnobbing in Davos, saying that he has yet to read the reports waiting for him at home (as if emails didn’t exist). Nevertheless he is widely expected to pull the plug on the minister early next week.
With this, he will have solidified his image of coalition-tamer and a man not to be messed with. No doubt other coalition partners will now be on the lookout for the slightest of screw-ups by anyone from Šarec’s own flock. Until that happens, however, Marjan Šarec is vastly exceeding expectations in terms of viability and stability of his government.
Case in point being the latest polls which show the government wildly popular, clocking in 56% of support, more than any government in the last decade.
As for Šarec himself, he is now the most popular politician in Muddy Hollows. How long that will last remains to be seen, but the bad-ass attitude in handling his ministers’ escapades no doubt went a long way in making him popular. Though, a rise in public sector wages probably went even further.
We are therefore faced with a rather peculiar situation. The PM is incredibly popular but he seems to do or say fairly little to achieve that. It is the inept power-grab of his coalition partners that does the job for him.
You’ll be excused for drawing parallels with the political style of the late Janez Drnovšek.
UPDATE: As expected, PM Šarec accepted Prešiček’s resignation.