After six years of running the Social Democrats, Dejan Židan announced on Thursday that he is getting the fuck out of Dodge, leaving the party in the hands of its senior MEP Tanja Fajon.
Obviously, Židan is not leaving the party itself as he has no reason to. He is, however, reducing himself to a lowly MP. Which he should, as his six years at the helm of the direct descendant of the Slovenian Communist party were, for all intents and purposes, a series of missed opportunities. It also provides a much-needed respite from bad pop-rock puns in post titles on this blog but that is another matter.
Židan took over the party after Igor Lukšič quit the post, following a bruising defeat in the 2014 EU elections and continuously failed to make real headway. That is not to say that he didn’t try, but even his very best was not nearly good enough, given the circumstances.
One of Židan’s biggest strategic fuck-ups was to try and expand the SD’s appeal outside urban centres and beyond its increasingly ageing base, which he took for granted.
But long time SD voters, consisting of a sizeable chunk of the working class as well as a significant portion of the middle-class voters were none too happy with the state the party was in after Borut Pahor ran it into the ground and nearly managed to get it kicked out of the parliament in 2011.
The discontent continued when it became obvious that Igor Lukšič had a grand vision for the party (which basically consisted of “get into power”) but no operational idea on how to implement it.
The base wanted these questions debated and the air cleared up. Židan chose to ignore and/or obfuscate the issue. Instead, the three-term minister of agriculture (in Pahor, Bratušek and Cerar administrations) and National Assembly Speaker during the Šarec coalition, tried to reach out to agricultural/small business part of the population, hoping they would bring the breakthrough the party needed and see him installed as prime minister.
While it holds true for every party leader that when they look in the mirror they see a future prime minister, Židan’s ambitions were particularly reality-challenged.
Not just because the demographic Židan tried to bring into the fold, and spent considerable resources in doing so, is historically conservative, but also because at the same time, Židan ignored a challenge from the left by Levica which has, since its inception, successfully eaten into SD’s urban, middle class part of the base.
Whether Social Democrats’ fortunes will improve under Tanja Fajon, remains to be seen. As things stand now, she is billed as an interim leader, until the party can have a proper congress some time in spring.
This suggests that Fajon is probably the anointed successor to Židan but needs time to establish herself as a face in the political cesspool that is Muddy Hollows. As an MEP she is somewhat removed from the mudpit, both symbolically as well as politically.
On the other hand, the interim period also gives time for any potential challengers to her ascendancy to the throne to organise and mount a counter-bid.
One such challenge might well come from the camp of Matjaž Nemec, an SD MP who began his political career as an assistant to Borut Pahor and then sought to portray himself, not without success, as a younger version of the dashing, self-absorbed and occasionally shallow president.
When thought about from this angle, Nemec’s outburst during a late-night parliamentary committee session on latest anti-coronavirus legislative package might have had just as much to do with I-can-take-them-on political posturing aimed at SD membership as it had with procedural violations of committee chairman Jože Tanko of SDS.
Odds are, then, that Fajon is not exactly a shoo-in for full-time party leadership come Autumn, although she is without a doubt the best possible pick for the party right now.
Even though she was parachuted into the MEP position from outside, at the behest of then-party leader Borut Pahor, she has clocked in enough mileage to warrant the billing of a full-blooded SD member. She is also highly active in the European parliament and in the S&D/Progressives circles to have direct and informal access to various decision makers around the EU.
As such, she is a welcome pro-EU change from Židan who wasn’t beyond indulging in some causal euroscepticism when things didn’t go exactly as planned (see the curious case of teran wine).
Additionally, the mere sight of her apparently makes the blood of incels and others right-wing trolls boil, which is an asset in the social-media-dominated news cycle. A simple Twitter search query is proof of that.
On top of that, she consistently scores high in popularity polls. While those particular numbers are a fleeting bird and problably tied to the fact that she is physically removed from the flaming dumpster of Slovenian politics, they do give her an edge over the competition.
But then again, she is a woman. And even though the SD bills itself a progressive party and takes pride in upholding women’s rights even back when they were still called communists, they have seen their share of sexism within the party and have yet to elect a full-time female leader.
Unlike, say, the NSi years ago, when Ljudmila Novak took over this christian-democratic party.
Thus, there is a certain glass ceiling Fajon is attempting to break, even if many in the party will not admit it.
At any rate, Židan stepping down is only the first step in the long-overdue reinvention of Social Democrats in Muddy Hollows. But if six years ago they could possibly still pick and choose where exactly they’d like to end up with, today they can only embark on the process and hope it doesn’t kill them.
And if you’re interested in more drivel on this topic, we spent the first third of this week’s LDGD podcast talking about Dejan Židan and the SD.