All Politics Is Local (Elections)

On Sunday, the good people of Muddy Hollows will again head to the polls. This time around, they will be choosing their mayors and municipal representatives in local elections. Given that local self-administration in this country is a hot mess, there is often no rhyme nor reason for things being what they are.

Exploded map of 212 municipalities in Slovenia where local elections will be held this Sunday.
The 212 municipalities of Muddy Hollows (source)

Slovenia has 212 municipalities, twelve thirteen of which have city status (thanks, Krško!). This means several thousand people will run for some elected office on Sunday. It will be a fucking mess. On the other hand, this is precisely the reason why everyone will claim victory of one sort or another.

As a rule, local politics in Muddy Hollows does not feature the best and the brightest the political class has to offer. In fact, it continues to be filled with dickweeds, asswipes and corrupt cunts of varying degrees. But it can also provide a good staging ground for careers in national politics. A prospective politician can cut their teeth on various zoning acts, budgetary lobbying, or securing EU funding for a project dear to their constituents. This way, they gain invaluable experience and contacts.

Sandpit for the functionally semi-literate

After all, PM Robert Golob was an influential city councilor in Nova Gorica. Former PM and current defence minister Marjan Šarec was a two-term mayor of Kamnik. SDS parliamentary group boss Danijel Krivec MP, used to be mayor of Bovec in north-west Slovenia. And Kočevje mayor Vladimir Prebilič threw a bit of a stick into the wheels of the presidential race a month ago.

That said, local politics is also a sandpit for the functionally semi-literate and socially inept shitbags who can barely fill out a form let alone write a coherent sentence or do grass-roots organisation.

Case in point being several political parties in Ljubljana who had trouble spelling out names of their own candidates right. And in at least one case, a party put down the wrong EMŠO number (personal ID) for two out of its ten candidates. I mean, how hard can it be, for fuck’s sake? Yes, I’m looking at you, Pirate Party.

Like clowns running across the minefield

Still, these are minor issues faced by minor parties who are in it for fame, glory and experience. Much like unpaid interns. The real clowns running across the minefield are the big parties struggling to project some sort of confidence and authority at the local level.

This proved especially hard for the left/liberal parties this time around, as they were all focused on the April parliamentary vote and weren’t really planning for local elections. Robert Golob’s Gibanje Svoboda is the most striking example.

Having not even existed this time last year, the party had to come up with a credible platform and candidates for the national level. They did this spectacularly well (though it needs to be said again that the bar was damn low in 2022).

But the national success for Gibanje Svoboda came at a price. There was virtually no local organisation to speak of. Even in urban areas which are by definition more amenable to liberal candidates. To his credit, Robert Golob recognised the reality of it and decided to choose his battles rather than to bluff his way into an unnecessary electoral defeat (though, see below).

Robert <3 Zoran, kind of

The biggest question was whether the largest national party would field its own candidate for mayor of the capital city.

Zoran Janković is the undisputed Big Kahuna of Ljubljana and just in case Robert Golob had other ideas, he made sure to show up at key Gibanje Svoboda events prior to parliamentary vote. There, Janković voiced his full support for The Big Bird and his flock, expecting full well that expressions of loyalty will be reciprocated when the time comes.

The time came and after some (apparently heated) internal debate, Gibanje Svoboda did not ready its own Player One. That said, the party did not endorse Zoran Janković for his fifth term, either. Apparently, precisely due to that same heated debate.

But the outcome of local elections in Ljubljana cannot really be in any doubt. Janković has eight challengers, of which a grand total of zero candidates stand a chance of even forcing a second round. Let alone ousting Zoki from the City Hall, despite the fact that he continues to be embroiled in a metric fuckton of controversy. Including a dismissed-but-never-fully-explained case of sexual harassment. The guy attracts scandal like Boris Johnson attracts bad interior designers. But you just cannot beat somebody with a nobody.

Which is why most Janković challengers run primarily to advertise their own parties and lists of candidates. With so many different races happening at the same time, it is difficult to get any exposure and the only Ljubljana debate on national TV was between these nine people last Thursday night. And since most mayoral candidates are also at the of of their parties’ city hall representatives lists, this was as good an opportunity as any for voters to put a face to a party logo.

Mari-not-really-bor-ing

That said, party loyalty is much less of a thing locally than it is nationally. The same goes for coalition partnerships. Take a look at Maribor, for example.

In the second-largest Slovenian city, Gibanje Svoboda all but poached Vojko Flis from under the nose of Maribor SD and convinced him to run on their ticket. So much for lasting coalition relationships.

But even beyond that, Maribor is the place to watch this cycle.

As many as fifteen people are running for mayor. And even though incumbent Saša Arsenović is a sort-of Janković-light, the competition smells blood in the water. Not just because of the man’s infamously short temper which at one point caused him to physically lash out at a minor.

Number One, unlike Janković, Arsenović over-promised and under-delivered. And Number Two, unlike his Ljubljana counterpart, Mayor Saša had to run a coalition city government. Which may be a big part of why Number One above is a thing.

Local centres of gravity

However, once we go below a certain population of any given municipality, things like party affiliation and ideology become just dictionary words. At best, they become a fallback position should a local shitstorm gain attract national attention and various party HQs became interested.

Such was, for example, the case of Ilirska Bistrica mayor Emil Rojc. Formerly of SD, this local honcho jumped onto the anti-migrant train in 2015 and kept at it quite successfully. That is, until his ever more prominent Slovenia-first rhetoric became too uncomfortable even for a party that is normally happy to shelter anyone who brings in votes and positions of influence.

But it took SD until 2021 to finally throw him out of the party, and with him any chance of holding the reins of power in the municipality. This year, they are barely visible, fielding mere seven candidates for a 23-member municipal council.

On the other hand, Ilirska Bistrica is a textbook case of political parties having to contend with powerful local centres of gravity. There are four candidates for mayor. But two of these are independents, with a strong local base and no national footprint whatsoever. Thus includes Rojc who easily enlisted a full roster of candidates for municipal council. Obviously, he is also running for another term.

It’s the metrics, stupid

There is a lot of that happening all around Muddy Hollows. Often, local coalitions will be completely divergent from national politics. Grassroots Mayor’s List for Our Municipality (or some version thereof) will easily carry the day against established parties. Sometimes, even parties that are sworn enemies nationally will happily cooperate and support an independent mayor.

Case in point being the town of Sevnica (yes, the Sevnica). There, Andrej Žibert, an independent, won the endorsement of both Gibanje Svoboda and SDS. Go figure.

All this is to say that the dynamics of local elections in Muddy Hollows are very fucktangular. As a result, you can be sure that on Sunday, almost everyone will claim to have come out on top.

Some will invoke overall number of mayorships, no matter how small a municipality. Others will claim number of mayors of city municipalities. Still others will say that is is the total number of seats won that really counts. Or maybe the number of municipalities where they have a presence.

It is all just a matter of metric they will use. And the way in which they will spin the numbers. But surely, one must try really hard to actually lose local elections in this country.


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pengovsky

Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

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