To say that today’s resignation of prime minister Marjan Šarec and his call to early election took everyone by surprise would be a gross understatement. It is, in fact, more akin to yelling “fire!” in a crowded theatre, lobbing a canister of mace in the crowd and letting an alligator loose.
Šarec clearly demonstrated that he gives a grand total of zero fucks about how all of this plays out. Such lack of political self-preservation instinct is a rarity in Muddy Hollows nowadays. That said, however, one must consider the immortal words of Francis Underwood: If you don’t like the way the table is set, turn over the table.
Resignation of Marjan Šarec comes at the moment when the drive for healthcare reform basically split the coalition and Šarec’s own party down the middle. The convoluted and technical debate put two LMŠ ministers, Andrej Bertoncelj (finance) and Aleš Šabeder (health) on opposite sides of the debate, with the latter advocating that the budget pick up the tab if the reform blows a hole in the public health insurance scheme, while the former said “I ain’t got that kind of money” and resigned.
Moments later, Šarec upped the ante with his own resignation, more or less taking Bertoncelj’s side and saying that it is for the people to decide how to go forward, because his government obviously can’t and that the country should head to the polls.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but on the most immediate level, Šarec kicked some very unpleasant cans down the road.
Avoiding confirmation minefields
The issue of healthcare reform is now ostensibly deferred until the next government, be it formed after early election or with an alternative majority in the parliament (more on that below).
The PM, who will be relegated to a caretaker role once the parliament formally receives his letter of resignation, also avoided the unenviable task of securing a parliamentary majority for two senior ministers. He was going to have to find a replacement for Karl Erjavec who announced his resignation following his ouster as DeSUS leader, and was now faced with a two-fer after Bertoncelj announced his resignation from the finance portfolio.
As the government will be in caretaker mode for the time being, state-secretaries can presumably be temporarily elevated to ministerial positions without political overtones. So that’s a bullet avoided.
But while Šarec is bending over backwards to show that he is fresh out of fucks to give, his is definitely a calculated move.
Kick them while they’re down
Not just avoiding the pitfalls and possible humiliation in the parliament with two new ministerial nominations, Šarec has picked the best possible moment to pull a stunt like this.
DeSUS just got rid of Karl Erjavec and the new president Aleksandra Pivec hasn’t settled in properly. And yet she’s already faced with having to make tough political choices. So far, she’s equivocating as much as possible, but in the final analysis it would be hard for her not to support early elections.
The NSi and its leader Matej Tonin are not in a good place right now, still deeply involved in the spat between SOVA (intelligence service) and KNOVS (parliamentary intelligence oversight committee). And despite Tonin’s actions probably being within his purview, he is not looking any better for it.
Then there’s the fact that, for all their bluster, the SDS is probably not ready for yet another election. Janez Janša has been going on about how this government is shit, since the moment Šarec & Co. were sworn in, constantly calling for a fresh vote. But he made these noises not because he thought he’d fare better in the polls but because his base has to be fed red meat constantly.
Janša will no doubt try to spin the latest events in a way that will make him look prophetic and deeply analytical. However, even a broken clock is right twice a day, so there’s that.
So Šarec really was in a good position to light a fire under everyone’s asses. His poll numbers look good (although he claims he doesn’t care), the economy is still humming along, the problematic people in the coalition exited the stage and he even announced a partnership with SMC and – more broadly – anyone who’s willing to sign up to his agenda, locally or nationally.
But the move may still backfire spectacularly.
Things that make you go hmmmmmmm…
Namely, any time an early election (and by extension, a dissolution of the parliament) is in play, a Pandora’s box of previously unfathomable options opens.
First in line was, curiously, SMC’s Zdravko Počivalšek, who – despite Šarec’s announcement of LMŠ/SMC partnership – said that he doesn’t see early elections as a necessary result of Šarec’s resignation and that he’s willing to talk to anyone.
Importantly, Počivalšek says that he’ll talk to anyone and everyone to see if there’s an alternative majority, provided there’s mutual respect given and that talks are held on equal terms.
Crucially, there is no alternative majority without SDS and SMC. Moreover, in practical terms, this also means cooperation of NSi and one of the smaller parties, most likely SNS, who recently supported Šarec’s government in an unofficial confidence-and-supply agreement.
Even more crucially, any such alternative majority would probably mean Janez Janša would have to renounce his claim on the premiership. But seeing as this is the whole fucking point of this exercise and quite possibly his last hurrah, the alternative majority will likely not come to pass.
And even if Janša somehow finds the strength to relegate himself to, say, the position of defense minister and have someone else take over as PM, he will be haunted by the ghost of the summer of the year 2000, where a similar scenario played out and the LDS, which was momentarily ousted from power by a government led by Andrej Bajuk and a coalition of SDS, SLS and NSi, came back six months later and won a landslide victory.
That said, there are other things that could go wrong for Šarec.
The above-mentioned self-preservation reflex could kick in and the parliament could somehow cobble together some sort of a weird coalition, not to enact any sort of agenda, but simply to stave off the election which will, inevitably, result in many-an-MP never seeing the inside of the parliament again.
Then there’s the fact that the law on parliamentary elections was found to be partly unconstitutional and that a two-year time frame was given by the constitutional court for the parliament to fix the issue.
Parliamentary parties were on the verge of coming to a compromise solution that requires a two-thirds majority, but we’ll see where this goes.
The two-year time frame has not yet expired and even if it did, the legality of the election would not be in doubt. However, a lot of parties (*cough-SDS-cough*) will claim that the legitimacy of election will be in doubt. And, to be completely honest, such a claim would not be completely without merit.
And finally, Šarec and LMŠ could still flop in the polls, badly.
Taking the let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may approach has one distinct disadvantage: the chips can land precisely where you don’t want them to land.
As of today it’s “every party for itself”. The coalition, as interest-based as it was, is no longer functioning, the government is in caretaker mode and the parties will use what leverage they have to strengthen their positions ahead of the vote (or formation of a new government). If this means going against their erstwhile coalition partners, so be it.
In this respect, the dynamics of the political landscape in Muddy Hollows has changed, literally in the course of a Monday morning.
Whether or not Marjan Šarec will come out on top, is way too early to say. But the fact that he took a proactive role and didn’t try to hold on to the position at any price (see Pahor, Borut) gives him the advantage.
There were two instances of something like this being pulled off in recent Slovenian history.
There was the Andrej Bajuk episode in 2000 (described above), where Janez Drnovšek let himself be voted out of office after his coalition partner SLS switched sides, only to storm back into the PM post six months later, on the coattails of the largest majority ever won until then.
And then there was the surprise resignation of PM Miro Cerar nearly two years ago, where he also basically said “fuck this shit”, but in the process managed to stave off the extermination of the SMC at the ballot box, seeing the party bounce back from below-the-parliamentary-threshold numbers to winning 10 seats in the parliament.
So, if one wants to see the resignation of Marjan Šarec as a shrewd political move, there’s a case to be made for that.
Question is, will Marjan Šarec be able to make a case for himself.