Slovenian Elections: The Purge

In what can only be described as a rout, Miro Cerar won Sunday Slovenian elections in a landslide, winning 36 out of 90 seats, with two of those being reserved for Hungarian and Italian minorities. Thus, the law-professor who in August will turn 51, is the new Slovenian PM-presumptive.

Miro Cerar, PM-presumptive (source)

Having said that, the real work begins for Cerar only now. In the election campaign he notoriously avoided taking a position on any specific issue, clearly aiming for (and achieving) a catch-all effect. Even his victory speech on Sunday night was lacklustre, to say the least. It was more of his dalai-lama-meets-law-professor-meets-soft-populist rhetoric, nothing and everything at the same time.

PM-presumptive meets the coalition

On one hand, this is understandable. Cerar won, but if Zoran Janković, winner of the last elections is anything to go by, it is very easy to squander a relative majority by closing too many doors early on. On the other hand, it was Cerar who was given a clear mandate to rule the country so he needs to start taking positions and dictate the tempo. Until now, he was mostly re-active, for example excluding a possible coalition with Janez Janša‘s SDS only after Janša shot first and excluded a possible coalition with SMC.

The main issue for Cerar therefore is to make sure he does not become a hostage to his coalition partner or partners. Most likely plural. Namely, if here were to form a two-party coalition, DeSUS is his only choice. Which means that every time a sticky issue would come up, Karl Erjavec would balk and threaten with leaving the coalition, thus forcing Cerar to give in. And Erjavec can be really persuasive. Just ask Janša, Pahor or Bratušek.

So step number one for the PM-presumptive is to leave DeSUS out. Which already limits his options. Step number two will most likely be to make sure his is more than just a single-vote majority, again, for the above reasons. This means he will have to reach both left and right. With ZL not being a viable option, Cerar’s possible coalition partners include Social Democrats, Alenka Bratušek Alliance and the NSi. And mathematics suggests he will try to form a ruling coalition will all three of them.

Such an approach would be advantageous for many reasons. Fist, it would put him at a comfortable 51 votes. Second, it would adhere to his pre-election “why can’t we all just get along” mantra. And third (and perhaps most important) it would leave enough room for manoeuvre vote-wise for any of the junior coalition partners to depart from the common line every now and then and still not endanger the 46-vote majority.

Thus, for example, the SD could oppose further privatisation plans (and keep what is left of their electorate happy) while the legislation could still be passed, without endangering either the 46-votes majority or the coalition itself.

And last, but not least, this approach would be reminiscent of the way the late Janez Drnovšek put coalitions together and it is always good to be compared to Drnovšek, even though Cerar right now doesn’t even come close to the legendary PM. However, while Cerar is mulling his next move, the exact opposite seems to be going in the SDS, as their shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach backfired badly.

The purge

That the SDS took a beating goes without saying. Sunday saw their worst performance in the last decade and only slighty better than their results in 1996 and 2000 elections. Even worse: when compared to the overall number of eligible voters, support for SDS in 2014 elections boils down to a mere ten percent of adult Slovenians. Granted, this says a lot of other parties as well, but is especially damaging for a party which promotes itself as the only one defending patriotic values and does a lot of flag-waving at every opportunity.

After Janez Janša was admitted to prison due to a confirmed guilty verdict in the Patria Case, the SDS made their glorious leader the focal point of their campaign. SDS MP and one of party vice-presidents Zvonko Černač took centre stage and demanded Janša be released at every opportunity. No longer was their election platform important, they focused solely on Janša, claiming elections are not free and fair without him.

After the results came in, Černač repeated the #freeJJ mantra and added the party will not be taking active part in parliamentary procedure. There were even reports about their elected MPs not actually taking office, but the plan was supposedly dropped as it became clear that in that case new elections would simply be called for vacant seats.

Anyhoo, after the SDS openly threatened to derail parliamentary procedure, media back-lash ensued followed by what was reported as a fierce debate in the party Executive Council. As a result, Černač backtracked on the issue, saying he was “misinterpreted”. Now, let’s take a moment and reflect on this.

What happens when the alpha-male leaves the pack

For the first time on bob-knows-how-many years, the SDS made a complete and unreserved U-turn in a little more than 24 hours. This is the first example of what pengovsky projected the moment Janša was put behind bars. The alpha-male is out of the game on a daily basis and his replacement does not carry nearly enough clout for decisions and moves to go unquestioned.

And there’s a lot of bad blood in the SDS right now. Some of their key people didn’t get elected even though they were thought of as fixtures of Slovenian politics. Cases in point being the above mentioned Zvonko Černač (which means he has even less clout in the party and his position as Janša’s point-man is in peril) as well as Jožef Jerovšek, who served as SDS MP continuously since 1996. Ditto Andrej Vizjak, who got elected for the first time in 2000 and held many posts ever since, including that of minister of economy (2004) and labour (2011).

Moving away from the SDS, Franc Pukšič, the industrious former mayor of Destrnik, who held an MP seat continuously since 1996. Pukšič started as an SDS member but switched to SLS in 2008. Since the party didn’t make it above the 4% treshold, one of the more distinctive features of the parliament is gone. Just like that. Ditto for Pukšič’s much more mild-mannered party colleague Jakob Presečnik.

Rout of the left

The purge of course wasn’t limited to the right side of the political spectrum. Lucky for them, a lot of more experienced SD members decided to retire and had evaded the voters opening a can of whop-ass on them. But the purge of the SD is going on for quite a while now. In six years they went down from thirty (2008) to mere five MPs (2014).

The purge, however, was complete for what was left of Positive Slovenia. The party of Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković didn’t make it above 4%, reducing Zoki’s aura of invincibility to, well, sundust. Janković is in a lot of trouble right now (both legally and politically) and should start getting concerned with his plans for another term as Ljubljana mayor. His opponents smell and see blood and his tenure in the city hall is all of a sudden much more insecure. The party, however, is more or less dead in the water. It might carry on, but it will remain a mere shadow of its former victorious self.

The caretaker PM Alenka Bratušek, however, fared slightly better. When her fight with Janković split PS down the middle and she and her supporters went to form their own party, her stated goal was to best PS in the polls. Which was kind of weird at the time as the consensus was they should be concerned with making it to the parliament first. But in the end, it turned to be one and the same goal. Bratušek can, in a sense, count herself as coming out victorious. But the price that was paid for her four MP mandates was extortionate. On the bright side, however, she can once again resume comparing herself to Brigitte Nyborg of Borgen 😉

Skipping over the NSi which continues to take its rightful place in the parliamentary political spectrum, even increasing their result by one MP seat, this leaves us with the real surprise of the election Sunday, the United Left (ZL).

The surprise

The party of “democratic ecological socialism” was looking to Greek Syriza for a role model and is questioning the established order of things. In the end they got 5.96 percent which translates into six seats. They sport a three-member presidency, but it was Luka Mesec, the youngest of the trio of leaders, who emerged as the most recognisable face of the party. It was his appearance on a POP TV-held debate on Thursday, three days before the elections which sent the party rocketing from around 2.5 percent way above the parliamentary threshold, in the end nearly tripling their result.

On a personal note, pengovsky got into a bit of hot water with ZL fanbase for saying that Mesec brought in votes of older women on account of him looking good and saying smart things. A rather tedious debate followed where accusations of mysoginistic statements were thrown in my general direction. But while further analysis did indeed show their voters mostly come from below-45 age group, a third of their vote still comes from 45+ age group. A third, meaning two out of six percent of votes won. Which means, 45+ age group was just as instrumental in pushing the ZL above 4% than younger voters.

Additionally, another analysis showed about 50% of ZL voters decided to pick them in the last couple of days, emphasising the importance of Mesec’s appearance and performance in the debate.

Now, anyone with any experience in campaigning will tell you that TV debates are not really about substance but rather about showmanship. You might have the best platform in the world, but if you’re not telegenic enough or if you make too many mistakes, you might as well throw in the towel. So the point pengovsky was trying to make is that while ZL platform is nothing to scoff at, it was Mesec’s TV performance (his telegenics) that made the difference. But, the fan-base insists it was the platform that brought in the entire six percent of the vote.

Shifting the discourse

Be that as it may, the ZL is in and is bound to shift the political discourse to the left. Which in itself is not a bad thing. Too many things in this society are taken for granted and thought of as set in stone, which is one of the reasons this country moves at a sluggish pace at best.

But theirs is a hard task. They will inherently be branded as far-left, even though one could make the argument they are the only “true-left”, platform wise. Secondly, their set of ideas is only one of many competing sets in the parliament, all of which are perfectly legitimate, some more appealing to one part of the society, some to another. Thirdly, they are newcomers. Pushing your agenda has to do a lot with knowing your way around rules and procedures of the parliament. Fourth, they will need to hold their nerve and not lash out against more experience MPs patronizing them or even setting procedural traps for them, supposedly to “put them in their place”. The parliament is a tough neighbourhood and while everyone is smiling and wears a tie, backstabbing is often the norm. And lastly, the ZL need to be careful not to get smug too soon.

A lot of people invested a lot of hope into them and while the some expectations are unreasonable by default, the ZL MPs were not elected to the parliament to be like other MPs but to be better than them. And that’s a benchmark others before them failed to achieve.

A Fistful of Votes*

The election campaign entered its final week but there’s still plenty of time to fuck up. Not that there haven’t been a few notable fuck-up already. But first, ze numbers!

Polls normalised to 100 percent. Check below for up to date interactive chart.

As you can see, Miro Cerar Party (SMC) maintains a strong lead over SDS which in turn maintaining an equally strong lead over everyone else. True, the last poll shows a bounce for Janša’s SDS, but it should be noted that we’re dealing with a Večer poll here, which as a rule feature a significant phase-shift to the right. And while forecasting exact numbers is a tricky business, it is more or less that barring a meltdown of epic proportions, Miro Cerar Party will come out as the relative victor on Sunday. It is also more or less a given that the SDS will come in second with DeSUS of Karl Erjavec and Social Democrats of Dejan Židan competing for third position, while NSi looks poised to take the fifth spot and be the last party that can reasonably expect making it above the 4-percent treshold.

5k votes between heaven and hell

Then there are a few toss-ups. SLS, PS and Alenka Bratušek Alliance (ZAAB) could make it above 4% given helpful voter turnout, vote dispersion and correct alignment of planets. Which is why PM Bratušek switched to full-attack mode in the last couple of days, reversing her government’s privatisation policies and crying foul all the way to the Vatican about Slovene Roman Catholic Church meddling with Slovene judiciary over prison sentence for SDS leader Janez Janša.

Bratušek’s party polled between 2.21 and 5.22 percent, depending on the pollster and date of the poll. On average (and due to voting system peculiarities, this is only a broad estimate) this puts her at 3.77 percent, less than three tenths of a percent or about 5000 votes below the threshold, which is not an unachieavable goal. And this is why she is willing to do just about anything to win them, including throw away whatever credibility she had won with the international markets and commit a diplomatic faux-pas with the Holy See.

While her letter to the Vatican is much more embarrassing, it was her decision to “freeze” further privatisation plans (in effect kicking them down the road for the new government to pick up) that sent a bit of a shock-wave internationally. Understandably so. It once again painted Slovenia as a less-than-credible country with unpredictable government policies and little-to-no guarantees of pledges being honoured. And while governments are expected to change policies which prove themselves to have negative impact, it is unacceptable for PM Bratušek to run around financial capitals of the world professing her commitment to privatisation only to (supposedly) announce a U-turn two months later.

But on the upside, since the privatisation plan was passed by the parliament in a form of a law, any meaningful changes to it must be made as a novelation of this law and not by a government directive. But apparently, the move has had at least some effect, with highest bidders for Slovenian Telekom reportedly withdrawing their bids (which, in turn, apparently again puts Deutsche Telekom back in the game, which is probably one of the reasons Brussels-am-Berlin is still mum on the issue, election campaign notwithstanding).

Similarly, her outrage over statements of Bishop Andrej Glavan on Patria case aftermath is, objectively speaking, more of a cause for embarrassment than cause for admiration. I mean, yes, the stuff the caretaker of Ljubljana Diocese said are unacceptable. Comparing the trial of Janez Janša to communist show-trials is obscene, especially after all the leniency Janša enjoyed during the corruption trial as well as in serving his two-year prison sentence. But the Slovenian Church is stil reeling from the financial scandal of, well, biblical proportions which is why pope Francis beheaded the leadership of Slovenian Church and has yet to name a new one. And pressing the issue of a caretaker bishop stepping out of line is surely not going to impress the Vatican in any way, shape or form.

Now, if Bratušek really sought to express her outrage over Glavan’s comments to the Vatican, she’d have done so using back-channels. This is the sort of thing serious diplomacies appreciate. No shouting matches, no pressing against the wall. Just a gentle reminder about an unfortunate event that normally would not even bear mentioning, but since both sides care about rule of law and corruption charges…. But just as with privatisation issue, Bratušek here doesn’t really care about Bishop Glavan or what the Vatican thinks of him. But she does care about the fistful of votes this might bring her and hopefully push her above the four percent threshold. Consequences will be dealt with later on. Quite possibly by someone else.

Someone else in this case looks more and more to take the form of Miro Cerar, the constitutional legal expert who formed a party named after himself (SMC) and stormed to the very top of the polls. In this he seems to have tapped the sweetspot, where he is to his voters what they want him to be. He achieved this by reducing his political platform to a set of slogans that are difficult not to agree with but at the same time being careful not to make any serious policy commitments.

Looking the other way, trying not to insult anyone

Case in point being their refusal to sign a document pushed by the LGBT community which states signatory parties agree LGBT people are entitled to full scope of rights enjoyed by their heterosexual compatriots. SMC evaded the issue for days on end, finally stating “they refuse to support human rights of only specific groups” and added that everyone is entitled to basic human rights (link in Slovenian).

Cerar, a constitutional expert, is willing to overlook the most basic of human-rights principles, one which is enshrined in the EU basic principles as well: namely, that different personal circumstances require different approaches and that one-shoe-fits-all approach is far from appropriate especially with regard to human rights. Yes, everyone is entitled to them, but personal circumstances, be they of religious, social, sexual or whatever nature, put different people in different positions with regard to “universality” of human rights. Basics. Cerar knows that. But he chose to look the other way.

It is painfully obvious the SMC is desperately trying to offend no-one. At the very least no-one who is likely to vote for them. And polling at 40 percent of decideds, that’s a lot of people to potentially insult. Luckily for Cerar, the LGBT issue didn’t get enough traction for left-wing or progressive parties to exploit against him, but is was a good reminder of just how non-existent his political platform is. And even more lucky for him, the campaign ends in five four days and if there is an attempt at an “October Surprise“, it most definitely won’t be policy-oriented but more likely a smear-attack. Especially, since Cerar’s (potential) electorate is said to be of fickle nature.

Supreme truth

Either that or the Supreme Court will rule in the Patria case before Sunday, which will additionally mobilise the SDS faithful, already in a frenzy over their glorious leader and holder of the supreme truth being behind bars. Note that the nature of the decision is irrelevant. If the Supreme Court orders a retrial, SDS will double down its efforts before election Sunday, just as it will if sentence against Janša is confirmed for the second time. That it takes the Supreme Court two weeks (gasp!) to deliber on the issue is driving them crazy.


Hat-tip re post title: @Svarun_K

Polls Show Brutality of 4% Threshold

Right. With snap elections in Slovenia being eighteen days away, it is high time pengovsky looks at some polls. A number of them were taken since 25 May (EU elections Sunday) and obviously their results differ. This goes both for actual percentage of support detected as well as relative differences between parties’ results. Also, different polls use different samples, ask different questions and in a different sequence which inevitably gives different results.

Average of all polls taken to date. See note at the end of the post.

Point is, from scientific point of view, these are not directly comparable. After all, pengovsky is no Nate Silver. But since this is, strictly speaking, not a scientific blog and since pollsters were quite off the mark in the last couple of elections (although they did marginally better predicting EU election results), let’s give it a whirl. If nothing else, trends will become more apparent as election day nears.

Timeline of polls with numbers as reported

A rather hefty chunk of undecideds and/or no-shows is immediately noticeable from the table below. Which makes it a bit more fun extrapolating numbers based only on decideds, where differences between the two poll leaders and the rest of the gang are much more visible. And the real story right now is in fact Stranka Mira Cerarja (Miro Cerar Party), which apparently had a good three-week run but has now dropped to second place.

Miro Cerar is not an unknown quantity media-wise. He made his name as a top-class constitutional lawyer, serving as a consultant to the parliament for a number of years and obviously enjoying the occasional limelight. He was briefly courted to take over as PM following ousting of Janez Janša in 2012 but rejected the offer (Alenka Bratušek took over as PM in the end). Speculation about his entering the political arena hasn’t abated since and when Cerar finally formed his party on 2 June (just three weeks ago) it put him above Janša in polls. But while Cerar is (almost) a household name, he is still the new boy on the political block and has consequently little to show for but big words and a mix of populism, pseudo-philosophy and legal-speak. So far, this has served him well. After all, new parties are often focal points of voters’ wishes and projections and – provided they play the game well – can actually make their lack of a specific platform work in their favour. This is obviously the case with Miro Cerar who basically runs on thin air in this campaign.

Poll numbers recalculated to indclude only decideds

Now, there are quite a number of problems with various positions Miro Cerar took in this campaign, some of which might even be contradictory. But pengovsky will cover them in one of the future posts. Suffice it to say that Cerar must really wish for election Sunday to come as soon as possible. His centre-to-above-it-all position is being vigorously attacked from both left and right and as days pass, kinks in his shiny armour are ever more visible. Not that anyone else is profiting from it. Not even Janez Janša’s SDS, mind you. The reason they’re back on top is the fact that Ivan is now behind bars which is – as expected – proving to be ultimate activator for his party’s base.

As for the rest, NSi, SD and DeSUS seem to be hanging above the 4% threshold which still takes them to the parliament, while the rest are locked in a bit of a death match. And if not earlier, fatality of the schism in Positive Slovenia is now apparent. The new party of PM Bratušek, Zavezništvo Alenke Bratušek (Alenka Bratušek Alliance, and yes, more personalisation of party names here) and Zoran Janković’s Positive Slovenia are polling roughly neck-and-neck. It is safe to say that were Zoki slightly less egotistical and vengeful, PS would have remained a player with Bratušek at the helm.

Citizen’s List is nowhere to be seen and it is doubtful the new party president Bojan Starman can turn things around. Ditto for Verjamem of Igor Šoltes, who was European Elections’ Miro Cerar but has since seen his support vanish into thin air.

Anyhoo… If all available polls are averaged into a single set of results (admittedly, about as unscientific method as reading tea-leaves), this is what you get. Five parties who make it above 4%.

Average of all polls included

Just a note: graphs in this post were made with Google SpreadSheets and will be updated as new polls come along. Which probably means the content of this post will be thrown out of sync with them graphs fairly soon. If you’re reading this days or weeks after date of posting, please take this into account.

    Dob Prison Blues

    Among many of his accomplishments, Janez Janša can now claim to be one of the few people on this planet to have attended their own wake. This at least was the impression given last Friday, when Janša started serving his two-year prison sentence passed on him in the Patria Affair. Namely, hundreds (thousands, by some accounts) of his followers descended on Dob prison facility and staged “a spontaneous” gathering with loudspeakers and all. The event, protracted as it was, culminated with Janša arriving and addressing the faithful one last time.

    Janša’s prison summons. (source)

    But what was no doubt meant to be the mother of all speeches turned out to be a lackluster campaign rally with Janša giving the impression of a man who finally realised the gravity of his situation. Namely, only the previous evening the SDS leader took part in an election debate and admittedly did a fair job, quite unlike a man who will not be picking up soap from the floor again until 2016. Perhaps he thought the Supreme Court would come to his rescue at the eleventh hour and suspend his serving of the sentence or even rescind the sentence altogether. No such luck. With the Constitutional Court nixing Janša earlier in the week with a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court just added insult to injury. From Janša’s point of view this was just another proof that the entire judiciary (save the three constitutional judges with their dissenting opinions) was out to get him. Under orders of a secret communist kabal headed by Milan Kučan, of course. The alternative interpretation, although admittedly boring, is that Janša simply fired his last shot and is out of legal and political ammo. Next stop: prison cell.

    The brouhaha this created was (and to an extent still is) of epic proportion. After all, it is not every day a former PM is put behind bars. Some (Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung (paywall) among them, apparently) questioned the timing, saying that putting a man in the brig three weeks before elections is fishy. Others hold that the decent thing would be a presidential pardon, since this is what self-respecting countries apparently do. Deputy chief of government’s legal service Janez Pogorelec wrote as much in the last issue of Pravna Praksa, a magazine on legal issues. And even Matevž Krivic, former judge of the constitutional court, now a tireless campaigner for the rights of the Erased says the legitimacy of the upcoming elections is compromised with Janša in prison. And last, but certainly not least, the SDS maintains the elections will neither be free nor fair.

    Now, let’s take these arguments apart, one by one. First of all, the legitimacy of these elections has nothing to do with a political being put in jail. Janša was convicted some time before elections were called. He knew this was coming. And even if he honestly expected his appeal to be upheld, he could have at least planned for a contingency. Afterall, the SDS list of candidates was announced six days after JJ got summoned to prison. It’s not as if someone issued a Nach-und-Nebel order on him and dragged him out of his flat in the middle of the night on unspecified charges (although the SDS faithful will have you believe something along those lines happened). Quite to the contrary, in fact: the SDS leader is taking part in these elections and will most likely get elected to the parliament. And while there is a legal provision terminating MPs serving more than six months’ prison sentence, no such clause exists for members of the government. Meaning that if the SDS somehow secures an absolute majority, then can actually appoint Janša Prime Minister. The scenario is highly unlikely (even the Party doesn’t have the audacity to pull a stunt like that) but possible.

    Janša in prison, therefore, does absolutely nothing for legitimacy of these elections. Yes, his incarceration will affect the outcome, but so would his remaining on the outside (especially if elections were cited as a reason). Everything we do affects the elections one way or another. Sure, Janša will not be able to attend election debates. But that is neither his right not prerogative. There can be debates without him. His two rights (to vote and run for office), however, are in no way infringed.

    Legitimacy of elections is also questioned in the sub-text of FAZ’s reporting. But it needn’t be. Would the situation be any different if Janša were to start serving a sentence six months before elections? Wouldn’t the definition of “just prior to elections” be simply adjusted for time scope? What if the court had waited (as Krivic suggested) and summoned him to prison after he had won the elections? Just how ugly would that look? No, summoning him before elections was the only sensible thing to do. Even more so since Slovenia held at least one election per year in past seven of eight years. We tend to cast our votes around quite a lot in this country. And if we waited for a “clear stretch of non-voting” to put corrupt politicos behind bars, we might find to be in for a long wait.

    Lastly, rule of law is paramount in any half-decent democracy. Granted, this sorry little excuse for a country is occasionally lacking in this respect, but this is no reason to go actively ruining what’s left of the concept. The important thing here is that a high-profile person who committed a felony is behind bars. Countries where the law applies to both rich & famous as well as the common man are more likely to have their political system seen as legitimate. This goes for the idea of presidential pardon as well. Pogorelec maintains that a presidential pardon would be a face-saving operation for Janša and the country, allowing the illustrious fighter for Slovenian independence to retire gracefully from public life.

    Which is about as naive a notion as there ever was. Just what in Bob’s name forces Janša to quit public life if president Pahor issues a pardon? A gentleman’s agreement? Between Janša and Pahor? Yes, thought so… Also, a pardon would send a message that despite all the rage that was directed against the political class a year and a half ago, there are still perks which come free of charge if you play the game long enough. A presidential pardon of a high-profile politician would mean sweeping things under the rug. In fact, only if president Pahor stays true to form and does not pardon Janša (formal request to do so had not yet been made), will the people perhaps start believing that we are indeed all equal before the law.

    And as for SDS claim about elections not being free nor fair? Well, this…

    But far more intriguing than yet another attempt to pre-emptively undermine elections are the people who are coming out making the case in Janša’s favour. A plethora or people and organisations who have been trying for years to present themselves as independent, who were obviously astroturf but still shamelessly functioned as sort of think-thanks (or, at least, PR tanks), now rush to Janša’s rescue, each denouncing the judiciary from their own angle but all of them doing so without mercy or intellectual distance. Case in point being Matej Avbelj, the young dean of one of faculties founded during Janša government 1.0. More importantly, this included former Ljubljana archbishop and now Vatican cardinal Franc Rode, giving credence to the theory that the former leadership of Slovenian Catholic Church (since beheaded by pope Francis) was in cahoots with Janša, often at the expense of the more natural political ally of the Church, the ChristDem Nova Slovenija. Whether these are spontaneous cases of trying to please the master or a concerted effort ran from party HQ to shoot down the Patria verdict (after-all, the Supreme Court still has to rule on the issue), it doesn’t really matter.

    Although his prison sentence is relatively mild (Igor Bavčar, for example, got seven), Janša out of the picture does mean great things are afoot. While the left remains in ruins and will probably be ruined some more on 13 July, the real development will be ob the right. Whoever takes over as interim leader of the SDS, will be forced to make decisions in an environment that is rapidly changing on account of Janša not being there. The SLS and NSi are growing a spine, the new party of Miro Cerar seems to be the electorate’s darling at the moment and the voters who tolerated Janša’s escapades will probably be much less keen on a person imitating Janša’s style of leadership. Doubly so if the SDS were to win the elections and appoint the PN (pengovsky still sees Romana Tomc as being earmarked for the job).

    Janez Janša got transferred to a minimum security facility today. This means that he can again use modern means of communications, probably trying to run the Party from within prison. This will probably not work. Not on the operational level, at least. Sure, he might install someone he trusts to simply stick to his agenda and not have any ideas. But the last guy to try something like that in Slovenia saw his party split down the middle.

    EU Elections: Left Man Standing

    Two years ago, shortly after clinching the leadership of the Social Democrats, Igor Lukšič observed, administrative core of the party notwithstanding, most of the party’s elected leadership are just gifted amateurs, people who have day jobs and dabble in politics a bit on the side. Today, following a rout at yesterday’s EU elections he was forced to submit his resignation to those very same gifted amateurs, putting an abrupt end to his ambitions of a higher office and maybe even his political career as such.

    Outgoing SD leader Igor Lukšič and his politburo-sanctioned replacement Dejan Židan (photo: Denis Sarkić)

    But Lukšič was by far not the only victim of yesterday’s rout at the polls. In fact, the entire political left was beaten to a pulp, falling victim to in-fighting, clashes of egos, cross-party divisions, past grudges, lack of a meaningful agenda and an utterly uninspiring campaign. The other two high-profile victims were Gregor Virant, who quit as DL chief on election night and Pavle Gantar who threw in the towel as leader of Zares earlier today. Their parties scored 1.1 and 0.9 percent respectively. Adding to this the meager results of Positive Slovenia (6.6), soon-to-be-ex MEP Jelko Kacin (4.8) and Solidarnost (1.6) it becomes plainly obvious the voters opened a big can of whoop-ass on the political left.

    Can of whoop-ass

    Sure, not everybody is unhappy. Igor Šoltes has yet to form a party, yet he won himself an MEP spot with his 8-member candidate list. Ivo Vajgl, who switched allegiance from Zares to DeSUS surprised a lot of people by winning another term (especially after he fucked up royally during the last debate, forgetting he was with DeSUS and said he was a Zares candidate). The United Left (think Syriza Light) won an impressive 5.4 percent with their “democratic socialism” platform. Still 2.6 percent below the threshold, but a fair achievement in its own right. And, last but not least, the Social Democrats did win a single seat in the European Parliament. It’s just that it wasn’t leader of the list Lukšič who got elected but rather Tanja Fajon, who thus gets another go at the MEP job, courtesy of preferential votes, where she scored better than Lukšič.

    Now, although Virant and Gantar quitting more or less means their parties are now clinically dead which in turn means the political centre is in ever worse shape than it was a year ago, the real story are, obviously, Social Democrats. They entered this election round with two MEPs and looked to repeating the result (at the very least). They tried to sell Slovenia as a swing-state in the pan-EU battle between conservative EPP and socialist PES, leaning heavily on Martin Schultz as PES candidate for President of the European Commission and trying to rally the troops with the cry of “Europe will either be red or disintegrate”. Little good it did for them.

    From Slovenia with love

    Although EPP and PES results are fairly close, Slovenia was in nowhere near becoming the “kingmaker country”. And although there was a lot of love for Schultz on SD part, the feeling apparently wasn’t all that mutual. Not only that. Lukšič seemed to have angered a lot of people within the party by muscling his way on top of the candidate list. Moreover, the run-up to elections which coincided with disintegration of the Bratušek administration and emergence of new parties, saw Lukšič playing hardball politically and turning to cynicism in media-wise. Neither won him any friends, neither with his (potential) political allies nor with the electorate.

    Which is why Dejan Židan, the person groomed to replace Lukšič sooner or later as head of the SD, was slowly being pushed from the edge of the frame more towards the centre, finally taking over today, after he spent most of Sunday night denying he had any ambition whatsoever to lead the party. And since one is not to believe anything until it has been denied at least twice, it took Židan a bit longer to become the party regent, so to speak. It was all done in a manner of a good old-fashioned “politburo putsch” where the senior party figures conspire against their president and have him unceremoniously replaced. Predictably, Židan said he “realizes the daunting task ahead of him” and “recognizes the future of the left lies in cooperation”. Translation: “I fucking made it!”.

    Offtopic: it is possible there will be more to this story than just a change at the helm. Apparently, schemes are aplenty within the SD as a lot of people are looking to replace a lot of other people, both on political as well as administrative party positions.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

    Anyways, the fun starts now. SD is about to perform an about-face vis-a-vis left-wing cooperation. Which is about a day late and a dollar short. Had they done so while the public opinion polls had them neck-and-neck with the SDS, they might have even been able to dictate terms. But as things stand now, either Igor Šoltes or PM Alenka Bratušek are best positioned to try to create some sort of momentum. With all the caveats, of course. But before that happens, the left has some serious thinking to do, mostly on what it actually stands for.

    In the last couple of years we’ve witnessed a long series of knee-jerk reactions, ad-hoc political platforms which were either a patchwork of often mutually exclusive ideas, too far out progressive to register with the voters or the usual buzz-word-heavy crap. Often all of the above at the same time. And if snap elections are indeed to be held in July, time to think just ran out.

    While we’re on the issue, pengovsky wouldn’t be surprised if the parliamentary parties which got their asses kicked on Sunday were suddenly to find a July election date “incovenient and not in the voters’ best interests”.

    But despite the left-wing rout, in pengovsky’s opinion, too little had changed. Of eight Slovenian MEPs, half got re-elected. Alongside old hands Fajon and Vajgl and newcomer Šoltes, Milan Zver of SDS and Lojze Peterle of NSi+SLS get to see the inside of the European Parliament for another five years. Joining them are leader of the SLS Franc Bogovič (for NSi+SLS) with Romana Tomc and Patricija Šulin for the SDS. And while EP veterans are expected to stay put, at least three out of four newcomers are suspected to return to national politics as soon as possible. Šoltes and Bogovič will most likely run in the parliamentary elections as well, while Romana Tomc looks ever more like she is tapped to replace Janša after he starts serving his prison sentence and become the SDS nominee for PM if the party wins that vote (as everyone expects it to).

    Thus the pace of political change, which right now needs to border on revolutionary (in terms of speed, not necessarily in terms of content), will probably be sluggish at best.

    Third-lowest turnout

    Which is probably one of the reasons only 24 percent of the voters bothered to shop up and vote. Only a handful of candidates appeared to have their hearts really in it. Others saw these elections as a trial run before the real (parliamentary) thing. And even those candidates and parties who did take the whole thing seriously, managed to make a lukewarm mess of it. Which is why the turnout more or less matched your average referendum turnout in Slovenia. More or less only political diehards voted. People who’d have cast their vote even in a referendum on the height of grass on the Stožice football pitch. Like yours truly. The other big reason for the third-lowest turnout in all of EU being the general disgust with politics, of course

    Votes not cast vs. votes cast for specific parties (via FB)

    Anyhoo, the right-wing won this one fair and square. As for the left, it will be the last man (or woman) standing who gets to pick up the pieces and try to start from scratch. But before we get there, more heads will roll.