Harold Wilson was very much correct when he observed that a week is a long time in politics. Let alone eight weeks. Two months ago, Robert Golob was riding high in the polls, courtesy of the immediate aftermath of the August floods. This week, he is running around like a clown across a minefield, kicking MPs out from his party and calling people liars. And it’s only Wednesday.
It is difficult to pin down when exactly things started going tits-up for the Big Bird. It seems a safe bet, however, that forced departures of minister Šinko and Brežan definitely accelerated things. In light of this, losing Sanja Ajanović Hovnik suddenly became a big fucking deal. And then, as it is so often the case, events began.
This latest series of Robert Golob’s fuck-ups leads to an inescapable conclusion. Namely, despite all the brouhahaha of a mighty manager swinging in to save the republic, mileage still matters.
Outside of the tent, pissing in
But beyond an untested prime minister, things are even worse. No-one in PM’s immediate vicinity seems to have recognised the inherent dangers of forcing out ministers Šinko and Brežan. That in itself speaks volumes.
To put in the words of Lyndon B. Johnson, it would be much better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside of the tent pissing in.
And yet, no-one told him that. Or the Big Bird didn’t listen. And then (now ex-) minister of agriculture Šinko forced a parliament vote to dismiss her rather than signing a resignation form. Events, you see.
Pengovsky wrote back then that – although there was no doubt as to the result of the dismissal vote – a debate on canning Šinko could prove awkward. And awkward it proved to be. Namely, speaker Urška Klakočar Zupančič (UKZ) and Mojca Pašek Šetinc (MPŠ), another prominent GS MP, abstained from the vote. Which, in the universe of Robert Golob and his posse, amounted to an intolerable act of insubordination. Again, events.
As a result, UKZ was put on notice and made to resign her party VP chair. MPŠ, on the other hand, was straight kicked out of the party. Robert Pavšič, UKZ’s close aide and former MP was also axed from Gibanje Svoboda.
Perhaps it is merely a coincidence that both Pavšič and MPŠ were chairing important parliamentary investigations in their respective terms. Pavšič delved into into misappropriation of funds (mostly) by Janez Janša and the SDS. MPŠ for her part, led an investigation into financing of the SDS media machinery.
To be frank, investigating Janša and his posse is mostly about embezzlement these days. At least since arms deals have fallen out of favour. So yes, it could all be just a coincidence.
But even so, Golob just unceremoniously cashiered two people with the most detailed knowledge of his opponent’s missteps and transgressions. Talk about shooting yourself in the knee. Because pursuant to LBJ’s quip above, both MPŠ and Pavšič are now outside of the Gibanje Svoboda tent, at liberty to unload on the Big Bird and those still inside.
Fuck you, too
And because governing is never as straightforward as Team Golob apparently think it should be, Mojca Šetinc Pašek announced that she has no plans to quit as MP. She then added that she has no plans on leaving Gibanje Svoboda parliamentary group, either. A move (or lack thereof) which is perfectly legal, but will complicate lives of GS leadership to no end.
Careful observers will note a barely disguised “fuck you, too!” in there somewhere. Events, you see.
All of this would have been obvious to someone who has been around the block once or twice already. But it wasn’t because they weren’t. Instead, there is now enough hand-wringing and pearl-clutching in Gibanje Svoboda leadership to make a church congregation blush.
Blushing, but out of schadenfreude rather than embarrassment, is Janez Janša. He has not had a good week either. Unless you count inciting armed rebellion and getting caught with your hand in a cookie jar once again (this time via proxy) as successes. In which case you might want to join the Party anyway.
Janez Bonaparte Janša
Channeling his inner Napoleon, however, the Glorious Leader has more than enough mileage to not interfere with his opponents while they are in the process of destroying themselves.
The outrage over Janša’s call to arms and the bribes-and-kickbacks story were drowned out by the Fowl Farce almost immediately. This does not mean that the SDS and its chieftain are in the clear on either count. But in the short term, the fallout seems to be minimal.
And in an attempt to keep it that way, the SDS opened a barrage of attacks on Robert Golob following Tanja Bobnar’s testimony on how the PM tried to direct her into cleaning out the Janša element from within police ranks.
Tatjana Bobnar, Golob’s first minister of interior is a gift that keeps on giving. It is not that she revealed anything new. It is more that she reminded everyone of Golob’s original sin. Choosing expediency over process, which – in a rules-based society – is often frowned upon.
That, and the fact that interior minister Bobnar was near-adored by the left-liberal voters. Which is saying something as this particular demographic is usually quite wary of the security apparatus.
The Golob/Bobnar kerfuffle is notable because it is goes to the very essence of what governing is.
Of course, there is the high-brow notion of de-politicising the security apparatus. In the case of Muddy Hollows of 2022, this mostly meant removing the parallel SDS network within various security services.
But governing – on national level, at least – is also about conflict prevention. Bobnar and Golob arguably wanted the same thing, a competent non-Janša police force. But they differed radically on how to get there.
Bobnar may have failed to recognise the legitimacy of the political argument for expediency (after all, cleaning of the stables was one of the pillars of Golob’s campaign pitch). But the Big Bird absolutely failed to recognise the danger of an open conflict with his own – and very popular – interior minister.
That, and inserting himself into specific staffing decisions, at least according to Bobnar. Which, again, awkward…
Flip-flopping and stoking conflict
The inescapable conclusion therefore is that not only does Robert Golob suck at conflict prevention, he seems to be actively stoking it. First, within his own party, and – as if that is not enough – he is now ruffling feathers within the coalition as well.
Namely, the PM somehow came to believe the current shituation is the right time to float the idea of a government reshuffle and a reduction of the number of ministries. Which is bound to go down like a bucket of cold sick. Not only down the throats of his coalition partners, but also the voters, who approved the current setup of increased number of ministries on a referendum less than a year ago.
In Robert Golob’s previous business life one could call this agility. But in politics this is called, well, flip-flopping. A major course correction like this always comes at a political price. And there is always fallout and idle-running, as various government departments try to figure out who reports to whom under the new setup.
Streamlined governance, backfiring
Now, this reduction in the number of ministries is not yet a done deal. It could all be just Golob’s tactics to pacify SD and Levica, as a sort of a threat to both junior coalition partners that their positions are not as bulletproof as it may seem.
But if the past few weeks are anything to go by, pengovsky can’t exclude the possibility that Robert Golob is, in fact, capable of opening this particular can of worms. And should he actually go there, then all bets would be off.
Because if there is one thing that should be obvious even to the most pig-headed of politicians is that invoking constitutional clauses to streamline governance is a two-way street and can very much bite the PM in the ass.
And should the PM really rearrange the number of ministries, this would probably mean that his government would have to be sworn in again as a whole. And as recent history teaches us, that sort of tinkering can have nasty side-effects (see Šarec, Marjan; circa 2020).
The bottom line here is that over the past few weeks Robert Golob entered a flat spin that he seems unable to get out of. Piling a bad judgement call upon a bad judgement call, he is getting closer and closer the point where even his most bog-standard moves and statements will be met with suspicion and hostility.
What seemed impossible as little as a month ago is no longer such. Robert Golob can lose friends, alienate people and ultimately talk himself out of power. To be sure, with the way the deck is stacked, this is unlikely in the extreme. But it is no longer impossible.