Luka Mesec as prime minister? People were waking up in cold sweat yesterday upon hearing the news. Even though most of them were already awake, seeing as the story broke after nine o’clock.
Still, news that PM Golob is going to have his hernia operated over the weekend and that he appointed Luka Mesec to keep the lights on for the duration, caused a subset of the good people of Muddy Hollows to panic and start heading for the hills.
Obviously, wishing the PM a speedy recovery, etc… but we should really be asking ourselves one question. What is it with Slovenian PMs and hernia? It is a middle-age thing or does the sheer weight of the responsibility these people are shouldering manifest itself at some point?
This is the second time a PM had his hernia done early in his term. The first one was, of course Janez Janša’s famous 2005 hernia case. Famous, because his PR people fucked up and sent out a press release about “operacija kite” (a schlong operation) instead of “operacija kile” (a hernia operation). 18 years later, Muddy Hollows still giggles collectively.
Looking back, however, Big Bird going into surgery also shows things have improved in at least one area. And no, him being out of the picture over the weekend is not the improvement some people were looking for (see above).
What pengovsky is getting at is the fact that the public were informed of the procedure ahead of time. Which was not the way things were done around here until now. So, points for that, at least.
Working hours record keeping
Which brings us to the fact that minister of labour, family, social affairs and equal opportunities, and former Levica leader Luka Mesec was tapped by the Big Bird to mind the shop while he is in the hospital.
The fact that hard-left Levica is a junior member of the ruling coalition in Muddy Hollows is filling a certain amount of the electorate with dread as it is. Because apparently the mere fact that they are sharing in power is, you know, sOcIaLiSm, or something.
More to the point, however, these days Luka Mesec is at the centre of working hours and overtime legislation rollout that is going seriously sideways.
To be fair, not all criticism aimed at Mesec over this is justified. If nothing else, the legislation was drafted after cases of horrid worker exploitation were revealed. But the government seems to have over-reacted and over-corrected, and instituted ham-fisted blanket rules for everyone.
Exceptions to the ham-fisted rule
Everyone? Not really. With only days remaining before new rules kicked in, it was revealed that several groups of employees are exempt from keeping detailed records of their working hours. Neither reader will be shocked to learn that exemptions included government ministers and senior civil servants.
As a result, small business owners are apoplectic, the media are taking potshots at Mesec and the entire government, and the opposition are having a field day.
None of this has anything to do with Robert Golob’s hernia. But it does set the scene for Big Bird appointing (anointing?) Mesec as his stand-in for the duration of him being on hospital food.
Because, if you listen to the panicky pearl-clutchers, the storming of the Winter Palace is just around the corner.
The not-so-much prime minister
There is only one problem. And no, it’s not the fact that Luka Mesec will not be storming the Winter Palace. Because, let’s be honest, we will never really know, will we?
The problem – or lack thereof – was that Luka Mesec was never going to run the government. Not in a constitutional sense, anyway.
You see, the prime minister as the head of the executive has enormous political power. But all this is subject to a fairly narrow set of formal powers. Other than nominating cabinet members for parliamentary approval and representing the government in motions of (no) confidence, the PM doesn’t get a lot of word-count in the constitution. Call it the Slovenian approach to checks and balances.
More to the point, however, the post of vice-PM is even more nebulous. It is not set out in the constitution. It has no place in order of succession (neither does the PM, for that matter). And has no position within the system of checks and balances.
That said, the post of vice-PM is set out in the Government Act. Kind of.
Article 8, which spells out the government organisation, specifically provides for “one more more vice-PMs who stand in for the PM in representing and administering the government”, but specifically rules out any constitutional role for the vice-PM.
However – and here’s the kicker – Article 15 says the same fucking thing about any other minister, too. The PM can appoint literally any minister to mind the shop while they are gone. Put it all together and a we can easily paraphrase Cactus Jack Garner:
Being vice-PM in Slovenia is not worth a bucket of warm piss.
Which, incidentally, probably also explains why Luka Mesec is still running around playing vice-PM. Traditionally, the post is reserved for leaders of junior coalition parties, as a matter of prestige. To separate them from the great unwashed masses of ordinary ministers, so to speak.
Stop clutching those pearls
But it has been six weeks since Asta Vrečko took over as chairwoman of Levica politburo and she still hasn’t added vice-PM to her e-mail signature. Maybe she figures it is simply too much hassle. If so, she is wrong, but for this specific case I’m sure she’s happy to let Mesec take the flak.
All of this goes to show just how little the good people of Muddy Hollows understand about how division of power works in this sorry little excuse for a country. And that goes for a lot of media grunts, too.
Because after all is said and done, Luka Mesec will absolutely, positively, without a shadow of a doubt, not be the prime minister. He will not even be acting prime minister. Or a caretaker prime minister. He will only be Luka Mesec, minister for labour, etc…, standing in for the PM for the duration.
Which will probably just over the weekend, anyhow.
So, the hand wringers should stand down and go back to their usual levels of worrying about Muddy Hollows becoming a socialist dystopia, or something.
Continuity of government
However, every time a PM goes under the knife, a funny little problem appears. Namely, that there is no clear path for government continuity, should the unthinkable occur.
Under present rules, the existence of a government is subject to the PM being in office. Should they resign, be incapacitated or otherwise unable to execute their powers, the government as a whole is no more.
Now, if the PM resigns, they and the entire government immediately transition into a caretaker role until a new government is sworn in. This may, or may not, include early elections being held in the mean time.
However, if the PM is incapacitated, things get a bit dicey. Without its head, the government is obviously toppled. But in this case there is also no-one to lead it in a caretaker role. Especially, if the check-out was abrupt and the PM did not designate a vice-PM or anyone else to stand in for them.
Now, Muddy Hollows is not a super-power and there is no nuclear briefcase to keep an eye on at all times. And even if there were, it would probably be in the office of the president. Seeing as she is the overall commander in chief and what not.
Still, the government calls most of the shots around here, and having a non-functioning one is not optimal. (Although many people are going well, maybe… right now.). So, what to do?
Pengovsky talked to people who know way more about this than he does, both on Twitter and off that hellsite, and the consensus seems to be that if you draw on all the various provisions and principles, a continuation of government can reasonably be cobbled together . But it would require everyone playing ball.
So the worst-case scenario is that it’s unexpected curtains for the PM, without an appointed stand-in. In this case, the ministers of the now-defunct cabinet would probably have to pick someone to run the administrative side of things from amongst themselves. This would effectively be no different than if the PM did it. Which makes sense, since the government is a collective body and the PM is only the first among equals.
Within the context of the government, of course. In terms of balance of power, the legislative branch would take over immediately. The MPs would initiate the constitutionally mandated proceedings of appointing a new PM and then swearing is a new government.
Under normal conditions, the entire procedure can last up to a month or even longer. But even if it is cut to the bone, it would still take at least a week to have a new executive up and running. And that is assuming the ruling coalition would agree to a replacement PM immediately, that the composition of the government would not change substantially and the opposition would cooperate by making the ministers’ hearings as short as humanly possible.
Take out any of part of that and the whole things suddenly gets much longer and the interim pretend-government becomes much more problematic.
Who speaks for the country if the PM checks out
Somewhat amazingly, none of this applies to the country’s foreign affairs. If, for instance, there was an urgent meeting of the EU Council, or the UN General Assembly, Muddy Hollows could and would be represented in full capacity by either the president or the foreign minister.
One or the other have the full and general authority, even if only in a caretaker role, to represent the country in foreign affairs and enter into international agreements (pending approval of the parliament).
On home territory, however, things can get trickier. It basically boils down to a definition of “caretaker government”. Theoretically, it can mean anything everyone agrees on. That is to say, a caretaker government can function as a fully-empowered government, as long as a majority in the parliament doesn’t have a problem with that.
On the other hand, if a consensus formed in the parliament that caretaker government can do jack shit, that is exactly what they would do. Nothing. Other than the fact that portfolio ministers would still be answerable to the parliament as they were appointed by the peoples’ representatives.
But Luka Mesec very likely won’t have to worry about any of that. He will just have to keep his phone closer than usual over the weekend.