Slovenian Elections: Amateur Night

New polls for your viewing pleasure and boy, are they interesting. To be honest, the most interesting is the last one, published yesterday (this post should have been dated 15 November 2011) which shows Gregor Virant dropping staggering ten percent. Remember how pengovsky wrote that Virant is running on fluff and how he will probably go down once his spell on the media is broken? Well, the honeymoon is over and the polls’ runner-up is tanking, all of it on account of his faux pas regarding his income in 2009.

Politics 101: When you’re in deep trouble, say nothing and try to be cool

What happened was that the media – as per usual – went over tax returns of various party leaders and stumbled over Virant’s earnings in two-oh-nine, the year after Janša’s government was ousted in 2008 elections. As you’ll remember, Virant was Janša’s high-octane minister of public administration and after the change in government he became eligible for the so-called ‘ministerial compensation’, monies more or less equalling his basic ministerial salary but without bonuses. While perfectly legal, this compensation is one of the most controversial perks in the system. Originally envisaged to ease the return of ministers and MPs into their normal lives upon leaving their post (i.e. finding a job) it was and still is widely abused, mostly in the form of ministers and MPs being ‘unable’ to find a job. Miraculously, most of them found a job (or retired) only days after their year-long-perk expired. So did Virant. His problem turned out to be the fact that in addition to 66,000 euro compensation, he earned some 95,000 euro in consulting and lectures.


Media smelled blood and Virant held his ground only a day or so. During Thursday’s debate he maintained that he only took what the law provided for. Additionally, he shot himself in the knee saying that he took the money to make it up to his family. Which was not a very brilliant piece of political improv and it only got worse. Friday and Saturday saw Virant on an ill-conceived damage control operation where he promised to return the difference between taxed paid on his consulting and lectures earnings and the net compensation income (some 36k euro after taxes), the difference amounting to exactly 1285 euro. At which point all hell broke loose with people generally saying that Virant is taking everyone for fools if he thinks he can get away with it by giving back 1,2k. It was not a good weekend for the prospective prime minister.

Note Virant tanking in the last poll

Come Monday, Virant announced on a press conference that he will be returning 18,777 euros, a sum which includes social and health insurance paid for from the compensation income (i.e. by the taxpayers). And this probably finished him off. By returning part of the money, Virant admitted that it was not all right to take the money in the first place (which was his initial position) and if it wasn’t all right, why didn’t he give back the entire 66k? Also, Virant said that he gave the money back (technically this took the form of a donation to the state budget) by taking out a loan at the bank. Again, a fuckup. He decided on the ammount returned no earlier than Sunday. So on Monday morning he just walks into a bank and takes out an 18k loan, at a time when banks are not really in the mood of lending money. And even when they were granting loans left and right, it took at least a day or so to do the paperwork. So, what kind of a collateral did Virant put up to walk out of the bank the very same day with a loan that would buy him a mid-size car?

As you can see it just keeps getting worse and worse and come next Monday, Virant will probably be landing very hard at the lower end of the two-digit score. He would have done better to stick to the original position and take flak over that. He’d come across as a pompous bastard, but he wouldn’t be on the run. Now he’s bleeding support, media and his opponents smell blood and he came across looking like an amateur. Or, as the good doctor put it: when you’re in a hole, stop digging!

While we’re on the subject

Speaking of amateurs, TRS party screwed up in voting unit 3 (West Ljubljana and surrounding areas) because their list of candidates did not have the correct male/female ratio. As a result the entire candidate list in this voting unit got thrown out, while TRS – which among smaller parties fared noticeably well – will not be taking part in the debates on the national television (only parties with candidates in all eight voting units get to do that). And last but certainly not least, LDS of Katarina Kresal was under the spotlight for some minor cockups when filing their list of candidates in voting unit 3. There were some identity issues as to who is seconding the list and who is filing it with the electoral commission, but the problem seems to have been solved by this evening.

In other news…

State television held its first debate this evening and there were quite a few good punches thrown. It seemed that leaders of the smaller parties were especially well prepared and motivated and on general they made good use of the opportunity. We’ll see what new polls will bring in this respect, but for now let me just present you with the average numbers of all the polls to date.

N.B.: Data is compiled from different polls with different sets of questions and different samples, so it is not directly comparable from a scientific point of view. Data still available as .xls file for download.

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Slovenian Elections: The Great (TV) Debate

Touchy subject. Tomorrow will see the first two debates since the election campaign officially began last Friday. In fact, a small ratings war is about to ensue between RTVSLO (state television) and privately-owned POP TV. The former is to broadcast its flagship high-octane conflict-prone programme Pogledi Slovenije at 2000hrs (until 2130 approx.) while POP TV is to start the first debate at 2055hrs and lasting well into the night. But there’s a catch…

Pogledi Slovenije: No seats at this table for Zares, LDS, NSi and SNS (source)

Although the law on RTVSLO specifies that it has to treat all parliamentary parties equally (and – to accommodate the Christian Democratic NSi – the definition of “parliamentary” has been stretched to include parties in the European Parliament), authors of Pogledi Slovenije decided not to invite leaders of Zares, LDS, NSi and SNS, Gregor Golobič, Katarina Kresal, Ljudmila Novak and Zmago Jelinčič. Obviously, the choice of guests in the studio is ultimately editorial one. Journalists hate to be told what to do. However, this is state/public television we’re talking about. The taxpayers are paying 12 euro per month per household in order to finance it and at least during election campaign they should be entitled to a larger and less editorialised scope of relevant information.

Producers of the show claim that tomorrow’s programme is not an election campaign debate and that they’ve selected guests according to their poll ratings, where the four parties that were left out indeed score only a couple of percent each. Now, technically, Campaign Rules of RTVSLO state that campaign-related programming will start on 14 November. The programme is on tomorrow, on the 10th, so everything should be OK. Really? No. The law on RTVSLO states that all parliamentary parties should be represented during the election campaign – and that started Friday last. So, on one hand we have RTVSLO’s campaign rules, on the other the law under which it operates. Guess which takes precedence. What’s more, even though producers and the info desk (under whose jurisdiction falls the Pogledi Slovenije programme) claim this is not an election debate, it is being marketed as such.

So, whether one likes it or not, not inviting Kresal, Golobič, Novak and Jelinčič is unfair and possibly not legal. Ljudmila Novak and her NSi (for which RTVSLO usually bent over backwards to find it a programming slot) seem to be aware of that as they threatened legal action to gain equal access to programming. Should they succeed (although it is hard to see how a court would decide on this in only a few days), Zares, LDS and SNS would probably applaud wildly, especially since the latter three parties co-signed a letter demanding the very same thing from RTVSLO. However, no dice.

Slightly off-topic. A funny if somewhat bizarre debate ensued on Twitter when it emerged that LDS and Zares went into cahoots with the nationalists over air time. Some people were appalled that the two progressive and libertarian parties would join forces with a nationalistic party whose leadership is often bigoted, insulting and even retarded and promotes values which are anything but civilised. Some say that any level of cooperation with the nationalists is unacceptable and that LDS and Zares are losing credibility for it.

Pengovsky begs to differ. Politics makes for strange bedfellows and it should not be at all surprising that liberals and nationalists find themselves on the same side. This is one issue, where the parties’ immediate interests are more or less the same, albeit with different motivations. They are not running bag for anyone, nor are they signalling long-term cooperation. Winston Churchill once famously said that if Hitler invaded Hell, he would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons. While nowhere near the same order of magnitude, the mechanics are more or less the same. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of picking your allies. Sometimes you’re just happy there’s someone else fighting on your side.

Interestingly enough, the privately owned POP TV has no problem hosting leaders of all parliamentary parties plus the two heavywight newcomers that very same evening.

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Slovenia Elections: Deathmatch

The campaign for December 4 parliamentary elections officially began on Friday and everyone more or less hit the ground running. Polls were again being published by the truckload and they further strengthen the notion that rarely in the history of democratic Slovenia has so much been at stake. In fact, the polls combined with some early below-the-belt punches create the notion that what we will be seeing in the next 28 days will not be just yet another election campaign, but rather a deathmatch.

Janković closes the gap a bit by virtue of losing less than Janša and Virant


Let’s do a bit of number-crunching first: Citizens’ List of Gregor Virant and SDS of Janez Janša are interchanging at the top spot, while Pozitivna Slovenija of Zoran Janković is sticking to spot number three. DeSUS of Karl Erjavec and Social Democrats of PM Borut Pahor are hovering around the 4% threshold, while everyone else, including Zares, LDS and SNS are (still) below water, while only SLS occasionally makes ot above the surface. The irony is that no-one can really be happy with the situation. Parties of Gregor Golobič, Katarina Kresal, Radovan Žerjav, Ljudmila Novak and Zmago Jelinčič (Zares, LDS, SLS, NSi and SNS respectively) are fighting for survival and although they all proclaim they’ve no doubt about making it into the parliament, some will face the reality in a manner akin to hitting a brick wall.

Arguably, the guy who stands to lose most is Zmago Jelinčič. Leader of the nationalists used to be the resident joker, the political free-loader who won the disgruntled vote and occasionally threw in an actual policy issue or two, is in deep trouble as his voters are among the most fickle ones. They’ll vote for whomever they can relate to best, and in this respect Jelinčič is apparently losing ground to the other funny man of Slovene political arena: Karl Erjavec of DeSUS, who is no stranger to political stuntmanship, only he takes himself much more seriously. Not that moron-factor is any lower for that but still. Sure enough, Erjavec is on the brink as well, but in terms of survivability his odds are much better than Jelinčič’s.

Below the fold, however, LDS and Zares seem to be getting the short end of the stick. Both are increasingly being written of dead meat although it needs to be said that the lower the percentage, the more unreliable polls become (as Davor explained in Slovene in this comment). So it could be – and both Katarina Kresal and Gregor Golobič are counting on this – that their support is in fact much stronger than polls suggest. Only time will tell, but the downside of these polls is that they are being used as points of reference by TV stations when picking candidates and parties who get to have a seat at the debates (more on this in the coming days). Ditto for NSi and only slightly less so for SLS.

Of those who seem poised to make it, SDS and SD have the most stable result. Unless disaster strikes, Janša’s party looks poised to win at least around 18 to 20 percent, whereas Pahor’s party seems to have hit rock-bottom and will probably level out at about 8 to 10 percent. On the other hand, parties of Zoran Janković and Gregor Virant have their ratings all over the map and they need a good election result if they want to call the shots in forming the government.


So, as you can see, a lot of people stand to either gain or lose quite a lot. In fact, if one is to expand the field of political impact beyond the immediate scope of election result, we see that there is not a political leader in Slovenia who doesn’t have to worry about political survival. Gergor Golobič, Katarina Kresal, Zmago Jelinčič, Ljudmila Novak and Radovan Žerjav are struggling to make it to the parliament. Karl Erjavec is close, above the fold, but always five minutes away from an in-party mutiny. Borut Pahor is trying to put on a brave face at the prospect of a disaster of epic proportions which would probably lead to his swift removal from the party helm. Janez Janša is being prosecuted in the Patria case. Gregor Virant is running on fluff and neither he nor his party would ever recover if their spell of mesmerizing media and voters was broken. And finally, Zoran Janković is risking it all by actually running for MP in a safe precinct in Ljubljana, which means that if his party doesn’t get enough votes he might end up stuck in parliament, losing his mayorship (there are slim chances of him getting out of this mess, but more on that some other time).

Average percentage scores computed from all polls


In other words, what we will be seeing for the next 20+ days will be a multi-way political death-match and – to use a quote from Top Gun – there are no points for second place. Well, there are points for anything above 4%, but you get the point. Carnage will be #epic.

N.B.: Data is compiled from different polls with different sets of questions and different samples, so it is not directly comparable from a scientific point of view. Data still available as .xml .xls file for download.

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Slovenia Elections: Up, Up and Away

So, more polls, and a lot of people are probably none too happy about it. Dnevnik published a Ninamedia poll which showed the leading three parties going up, up and away, while the rest of the gang are basically eating their dust, with notable exceptions being SD and DeSUS, both of which are sort of hanging in there.

Poll results over time

But don’t take the champagne out of the fridge just yet. Rather than calling the race which has not yet begun, there are a few points that must be made lest they be lost in the general chatter of the election fever.

Media Exposure

Again, you can see how Zoran Jankovič’s and Gregor Virant‘s polls are all over the place. Leaders of the three leading parties have recently appeared on Pogledi Slovenije, a high-octane TV programme which gets its ratings from the conflict it aims to produce among the participants. And lo-behold! they immediately gain plenty of ground. This supports the notion pengovsky expressed some time ago, namely that especially Janković’s and Virant’s polls are media-exposure-dependant. This might look like a truism (since everyone’s polls are to an extent dependant on the media), but comparing the three top contenders, we can see that Janša and his SDS have a fall-back line at about 18 or 19 percent, which consists of their hardcore voters and the recently launched platform, whereas Jay-Z and Virant have only their media exposure. Take that away and they’re toast. At the very least Janković gets a fair amount of press-time by the virtue of being mayor of the capital, whereas Virant has abso-fucking-lutely no plan B whatsoever.

But saying that the numbers are inflated because of the media hubbub only gets you so far. The number are there and unless the competition does something about it, they will stay there. OK, so media tricks get real old real fast, but both Jay Z and Virant are smart enough to time their media ploys correctly and gain maximum output. Ditto for Janša. Which means that unless someone hijacks the debate and does it soon, things could go on like this until elections and by that time it won’t matter how the top dogs got there.


Apart from the top three parties only SD and DeSUS are hitting above the 4% threshold, with SLS hovering around three percent. But in the longtail, interesting things are happening. SLS, Zares, LDS and TRS are out in the field, operating almost below radar and putting their network to good use. Town-hall meetings, round tables and topical discussions are being held all around the country. As you can see below, the effect is still to be seen, but effort is being made.

Average percentage in polls

A lot of things can happen, but the more time passes, the more things tend to get fixed in the public opinion. So the parties below the threshold will have to be quick on their feet to produce a tangible result. Also, they will have to decide whether they will try to chip off votes from the (currently) big three parties or will they fight their immediate competition (most likely SD and DeSUS) and try to win over their electorate. There are pros and cons to either tactic and both can backfire at any time.

Note: Data is compiled from different polls with different sets of questions and different samples, so it is not directly comparable from a scientific point of view. Data available as .xls file

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Slovenian Elections: Swing Time!

After the initial upset in polls, when Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković shot to the top in public, a series of public opinion polls were conducted which seem to confirm what the initial heat around Jay-Z and Gregor Virant is dissipating and that the hubbub was more due to their overall media exposure than to a permanent shift in voters’ preference.

First, a couple of disclaimers. Although the graph looks like it represents a significant span of time, do check the dates. Delo poll aside all were published (and by extension – conducted) in a very short time span and are therefore of limited value. On the whole, however, a few trends are starting to emerge.

Swing time!

First of all, it is now clear that the main contenders in this election campaign are Positive Slovenia (PS) of Zoran Janković, Citizens’ List (DLGV) of Gregor Virant and Slovene Democratic Party of Janez Janša with the latter two getting the most of the vote at this time. In fact, the pundits are still all over the question of whether Janša/Virant split is legit or are they faking it. However, when one takes a look at the polls it becomes clear that the question is beside the point, because Virant is at the moment in a position of a king-maker. He can choose to support Janša, but given enough encouragement (i.e.: continuous attacks by the SDS) he can opt to support the left and call even more shots.

Secondly, no matter the poll, Janša’s result is more or less stable, hovering around 19 percent. This is far (and I mean far) below his declared intention to win the majority single-handedly but he still is in the top spot. On the other hand Virant’s polls are all over the place, like a cork in the water. This goes for Jay-Z as well, only slightly less so, because he is consistently scoring lower than in the initial poll. This shows that both Virant and Janković are tapping into the swing vote, which – as many a politician will tell you – is a fickle lady. And swing time is here.

Thirdly. The nominally ruling Social Democrats of PM Borut Pahor are in deep shit. With their best showing in the polls available not exceeding 11 percent they are taking a hell of a beating. Ditto for Zares of Gregor Golobič and LDS of Katarina Kresal, which are scoring painfully low, both of them hovering around 1 to 1,5 percent, way below the 4% treshold. DeSUS of Karl Erjavec and Slovene People’s Party (SLS) of Radovan Žerjav are in a slightly better position, dancing just around the 4% mark, with everyone else, Zmago Jelinčič‘s nationalists and Ljudmila Novak‘s Christian democratic Nova Slovenija well below watershed. The same goes for every other kid on the block, including the recently announced Avion party (yes, “avion” as in “airplane”) by mayor of Koper Boris Popović.


Again, these polls are not directly comparable and for two reasons: they each use a different sample and different set of questions. Also, they were conducted too close to each other to give any sort of clear indication of what is going on. But as shown in the above chart and at the risk of oversimplification, the way things stand now, five parties look like they will make the cut: SDS, Citizens’ List, Positive Slovenia, Social Democrats and DeSUS.


Things can still go either way and pengovsky believes it is too soon to write anyone off, especially those established parties which score less than 4%. The logic is realitvely simple. With their network on the ground, in theory they should be able to bring out enough votes to kick them above the threshold. But they’ll have to put their backs into it. Also, other than the initial mud-slinging, we’re still lacking a definite campaign issue. This especially goes in favour of Janković and Virant, who can as a result sell themselves and their trademarks rather than specific policies.

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