Ljubljana Elections of 2010 (Part Three: The Polls)

For the benefit of the reading public, pengovsky brings you the third instalment of yet another awesome guide. For parts One and Two click here and here respectively.

With local elections exactly a week away, some pretty important polls were ran in the last couple of days. As you will remember, Slovenia still sports this silly little legal provision prohibiting publishing – but not performing – public opinion polls a week before elections. The provision is being challenged before the Constitutional Court by Dnevnik newspaper and pengovsky hears that the court will probably strike the provision down. But be that as it may, some media are making a point of violating the law on this issue. Mladina weekly did it during the Arbitration Referendum hiatus and Dnevnik did it repeatedly, not in the least because it was the only way to actually submit a constitutional challenge (active legitimation is required to do that), but also because it makes for good copy. As in: whoops, we did something really naughty. What has the world come to, if publishing polls less than a week before elections is naughty. 🙂 It must be said, however, that some polls indeed are naugthy. Or, rather: the analysis of certain polling data is naughty and whoever did it, should be spanked.

Ljubljana. The electoral prize. (photo by pengovsky)

There were two interesting polls about Ljubljana elections this weekend, published by Žurnal24 and Delo dailies. Interesting, because they both came up with more or less the same data. The methodology seems to be a bit different, as Žurnal24 provides percentage of support at the time of the poll, whereas Delo also performs some statistical black art and provides both polling results as well as projection of the final result. Allowing for this, both polls come up with rather similar results especially in the race for the city council. However, both interpretations of polls leave – to put it mildly – a lot to be desired.

The Data

As noted, Delo’s poll provides both actual polling data as well as a projection of the final results. According to this poll incumbent mayor Zoran Janković is projected to pick up 66,5 percent of the vote, beating the shit out of, perhaps surprisingly, Mojca Kucler Dolinar of NSi with 11 percent of the vote. Third place would go to SDS’ very own Zofija Mazej Kukovič who is projected to pick up 8,1 percent, thus beating Miha Jazbinšek in the fourth place by a single percentage point. Not at all a promising prospect. Things get more funky on the City Council front. There the List of Zoran Janković is projected to pick up 33 percent of the vote, while Janez Janša‘s SDS is looking to pick up some 17 percent. They’re followed by Social Democrats (10,2 %), DeSUS (9,5%), LDS (8,3%), NSi (4,3%), Zares (3%), The Greens (2,7%), List for Clean Drinking Water (2,3%) and SLS (2%)

Žurnal24’s poll doesn’t do projections and it also deals with a lesser number of candidates, but – published a day before Delo’s poll – the results are similar. In this poll mayor Janković registers “only” 54 percent of support. He is followed by Zofija Mazej Kukovič with 15 percent of support. Third place goes to Mojca Kucler Dolinar with 9 percent and Miha Jazbinšek with 6 percent. Results for the City Council are a bit more in line with Delo’s poll. According to Žurnal24 the List of Zoran Janković enjoys a 31 percent support, followed by SDS with 15 percent and Social democrats with 6 percent.

Knowing jack shit and getting away with it

While the polling data seems to cross-corroborate, analyses in both newspapers show that people who wrote the respective articles know jack shit about the issue at hand. The author of Žurnal24 article thus writes about the possibility of a second round in Ljubljana mayoral race.

Pardon? Zoran Janković scores an ass-whooping 54 percent support, leaving his main rival in the dust with 15 percent and the paper writes about the possibility of a second round? WTF?!? I know that the guy has to pick up 50%+1 vote to win in the first round, but do your homework, goddamit! There’s a 16 percent gap in published results, which (presumably) is divided between the rest of the candidates and the “undecideds”. That’s a lot. Neglecting the fact that the paper didn’t publish the percentage of undecideds, those 16 percent should increase by one quarter (for another four percent) in order for Janković to be forced in the second round. It ain’t happening. But if Žurnal24 thinks their poll could be off by 4% in a race where one candidate has light-years of advantage, they might want to consider changing their pollster.

Speaking of polls being off, Delo doesn’t have the best of track records in Ljubljana either. Four years ago, when Janković’s List won 45% of the vote and thus won an absolute majority in the City Council, Delo’s last poll recorded a meagre 6,5 percent of support for the List of Zoran Janković, while the man himself was just short of the 40 percent mark. Now, presumably Delo’s pollsters got better in the last four years (that’s right, Delo doesn’t outsource public opinion polls, one of the few pluses this paper hasn’t wasted in the past few years) but their analysis still sucks. To their credit, Delo doesn’t have a problem with projecting Janković’s victory in the first round, but their analysis of the City Council vote is about as stupid as they come. Namely, the paper writes that it can very well happen that Janković’s list will have a hard time forming a coalition and may even end up in the opposition.

Exquiz me? Baking powder? You project one group to win a third of the vote and then you say virtually all the other groups in the council, both left and right, will refuse to cooperate and will gang up on the winner? What are you on, ferfucksake. One: do you really see SD, Zares, LDS, the Green party, DeSUS, SDS and SLS joining forces to shut out Janković’s list? And keeping the deal for the next four years? Two: what purpose would that serve? The mayor is not elected (nor can he/she be replaced) by the City Council but directly by the people. He represents the executive branch of the city and will therefore hold office regardless of the balance of power in the council. And three: Even if such a broad front were to be established, it would have no real meaning, as the mayor is not driven out of office for losing a vote, nor are most decisions in front of the council ideological or of a nature that would otherwise demand a vote along position/opposition lines.


Let me state for the record that pengovsky has no problem either with Janković having to go to the second round or with his list being “in the opposition”. If it happens, it happens. However, it my firm belief, based based both in my knowledge as well as experience that both of these projections are false. For the incumbent mayor to go to the second round, all the other candidates would have to receive among them at least 50% of the vote. With the runner up registering only mid-teen numbers, that is about as likely as getting wood while your bladder is still full of cheap beer. Ain’t gonna happen. Ditto for the city council.

However, results for the City Council are a bit tricky. 33 percent is a lot. But it still is some way from the 45% treshold which gave Janković an absolute majority. 12 percent ain’t peanuts and if we for the moment consider the polls as more or less accurate it will be mighty difficult for Janković’s list to make up for the difference in the five days remaining. But… (there always a butt involved)… Pengovsky noted time and again that voter turnout and vote dispersal will be crucial in the final tally.

Electoral mathematics

Out of some 270,000 Ljubljanchans, about 224,000 are eligible to vote. With an estimated voter turnout of 62 percent (as per Žurnal24 article), the number of votes against which the final results are calculated drops down to 139,000. Furthermore, the percentage needed to win one seat in the City Council historically revolves around 2 percent. Anything below that are votes counted, but lost. And this is where the fun starts. If we accept Žurnal24’s predicition of voter turnout, Delo’s prediction of election results and historical threshold data, we can conclude following:

Of 139,000 votes cast, some eight percent or 10,800 votes will get lost to lists ranking below 2 percent threshold (2 percent equalling approximately 2700 votes). This will in turn increase the number of seats won by more successful lists and parties. With the data at hand this puts the List of Zoran Janković closer to their stated goal of again winning and absolute majority, but it doesn’t take them all the way. By that same pattern we should see some gains by SDS and SD, possibly even DeSUS and LDS. The further down the list we go, the less effect this quirk in the proportional voting system has.

As things stand now, Janković’s List is poised to win some 19 seats (thus losing four), SDS is to win 9 seats (gaining one), Social Democrats have their sights on five seats (gaining one), DeSUS is looking at five seats as well (a staggering four-seat gain), whereas LDS is set lose a seat and end up with four. The remaining three seats should go to Zares, The Green Party and the List for Clean Drinking Water.


Pengovsky thinks this will not stand. The thing that stands out like a sore thumb is a huge four seat gain by DeSUS. There’s no particular reason why this should be so other than the fact that the party is playing harball on the national level, trying to prevent a freeze on pensions. But DeSUS has had good polling results just prior to elections before (notably in 2004 and 2008) but got a bit of a cold shoulder on voting day. Pengovsky thinks this is likely to happen again.

Also, the List for Clean Drinking Water is suspect as well. True, they made their case opposing the construction of a parking lot below the Central market, but there’s a crowd at that particular issue, with SDS, NSi, SLS as well as The Green Party in the form of Miha ‘Jazby’ Jazbinšek canvasing for votes and there’s not enough to go around. SLS is also problematic, as is Jazby himself, but his ability to land on his feet is astounding.


This Sunday pengovsky projects the List of Zoran Janković the overall winner of the City Council elections, but with 21 seats they will stop just shy of an absolute majority (23 seats of 45). They will be followed by SDS with 10 seats, SD with 5, LDS with 4, DeSUS with 2 and Zares, SLS and the Green party with 1. In the mayoral race, pengovsky projects Zoran Janković winning in the first round with 56 percent of the vote (I placed a wager on this result. A friend says 65 percent).

But still, there are five days of campaign remaining. A lot can happen. A lot will happen. So watch this space. 🙂

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With Patria to Prison. Possibly.

The Patria Affair got an impetus in the last days of August when Branka Zobec Hrastar, Supreme Higher State Prosecutor in charge of Slovenian end of investigation which took place in Finland, Austria, Slovenia and even Croatia, indicted five individuals including former prime minister and head of opposition Slovene democratic party Janez Janša. Obviously, this is huge. Not only because it is the first time a high ranking politician was indicted, but also because this is the first time an arms-deal investigation will reach a courtroom finale.

The five stand accused of various forms of corruption and bribery or aiding and abetting corruption. Since Janez Janša is at the focal point of interest regarding this story, it should be said out front that the prosecution (according to reports by Mladina) possesses only circumstantial evidence against Janša which probably means that the former prime minister will skate clean, even if he did stick his hand in the pot and lined his and his party’s coffers. And I’m not saying he did (yes, I am covering my ass here :)).

It’s all a conspiracy!

However, it would seem that Janša’s cage was rattled pretty hard. After the news of indictment was leaked, Janša retorted with vocabulary we’ve all but forgotten and which was indicative of Janša during his pre-PM escapades when he was desperate for a short-cut to power (and without exception failed spectacularly). Words like “udbomafia”, “regime media”, “a plant”, “forgeries”, “the [communist] party” and so forth. For the umpteenth time Janša invoked his I-was-arrested-in-’88-bitch! approach (sort of Slovene version of “I was in ‘Nam!” and tired to prove that basically he is the victim of a 22-year-long conspiracy with former president Milan Kučan on top of it. To prove his point, he pointed out that prosecutor’s husband was one of his arresting officers in 1988 (the JBTZ affair), which – implies Janša – proves that there are sinister forces at work and that this country has a parallel power structure (dubbed “udbomafia”).

To cut a long story short: According to media reports, in what is apparently a heap of evidence which includes impounded notes, calendars, computers and emails, as well as more than a hundred SMS messages and phone numbers, the prosecution claims to have reconstructed a chain of events in which PM Janez Janša and those close to him decided upfront that Slovenia will buy 135 8×8 APCs from Finnish Patria rather than Ravne-based Sistemska tehnika, since the latter was dubbed as being closely allied with LDS, which Janša had (at the time the decision of purchase was being made) just thrown out of power. In exchange for awarding the deal to Patria, compensations are fees were -according to prosecution – expected and arranged via a series of middle men and at least one company. The final destination of at least part of the money (after the middlemen had taken their cut) was supposedly Janša’s Slovene democratic party. The final sum of the compensation (i.e.: bribe) is estimated around 3 million euro, of which some 900,000 euro is thought to have changed hands. As a result indictments were filed against Janša, his friend and brother-in-arms Brigadier General Tone Krkovič, Jože Zagožen (high ranking SDS official and minister of economy during a brief right wing government in 2000), Ivan Črnkovič (CEO of Rotis, a go-between-company, which was set up to “represent” Patria in Slovenia) and Walter Wolf, A Slovene Canadian with an eclectic range of business interests (from Formula 1 racing, to tobacco, clothing and arms deals). But that’s just to bring you up to speed. What happens now is that a lot of interesting questions pop up.

Why now?

The natural reflex is to put the situation in the context of this autumn’s local elections. Sure, there’s an undeniable political component, either by design or just by extension, but to say that the indictments were filed to influence the result on 10 October is pure oversimplification. Not in the least because we know what happened just weeks before 2008 elections: when Patria affair exploded, Janša was widely perceived as the victim of a smear campaign. Regardless of the gravity or credibility of accusations, Slovene electorate seems to be a collective sucker for the politician others pick on. It happened in Ljubljana in 2006 elections, when shit was thrown at Zoran Janković and after Patria broke, Janša’s popularity actually rose. It was only after the then-opposition ceased beating the drum on that particular tune and switched to other issues, did Janša’s popularity take a dive and he ultimately lost the elections.

The other thing that needs to be taken into consideration is the fact that the Finnish part of the investigation was concluded some months ago and it seems probable that Slovene end could only be concluded after the Finns did their part. Led by Kaj Erik Björkqvist, the Finnish investigators took their time and extended the duration of investigation at least twice. And thirdly, it is not unimportant that prosecutor Zobec Hrastar filed the indictments while her boss Barbara Brezigar was on vacation. And this is where we get into speculation territory. In other words: the fun part :mrgreen:

The Canine Affair

Remember that one? The media frenzy, the rabid masses and the drooling right-wing politicos who got their hard-ons repeating over and over just who supposedly banged who and that the political left is nothing but a bunch of sodomites who get together in secret meetings to tickle each other’s asses and hump dogs for fun. In other words, at that time the right wing and most of the media were sporting a classic case of psychological projection. Be that as it may, it so happened that Branka Zobec Hrastar was heading a tangential investigation into just who exactly leaked photos of dead Saša Baričevič, a prominent doctor who was mauled to death by his bull mastiffs. At some point during the investigation Zobec Hrastar’s superior, Prosecutor General Barbara Brezigar (politically very close to Janez Janša) started communicating with the investigative police officer, thus bypassing Zobec Hrastar. Political left went apeshit and accused Brezigar of trying to influence and/or obstruct the investigation and called for her dismissal.

Despite her unquestionable expertise, Barbara Brezigar is as popular with the political left as, say, clap. Aligning yourself with Janez Janša will do that to you. She is, perhaps unjustly, perceived as an instrument of his political power and influence, with her role being primarily to keep the man out of hot water, not unlike she did with the Depala Vas affair. However, she did nothing to impede the Patria investigation. She could have relieved Zobec Hrastar and reassigned the case to a more, say, suggestible prosecutor. Or at least someone who is more likely to fuck up. Namely, Zobec Hrastar is reportedly a very good prosecutor with a record of establishing rock-solid cases and with some big scoops under her belt. So the question is why did Brezigar leave Zobec Hrastar be?

The answer could lie in the meeting between Brezigar and Zobec Hrastar chez PM Borut Pahor who called the meeting in late March this year after the Brezigar vs. Zobec Hrastar clash over the investigation of the leaked photo. Apparently a lot was said there and then and part of the transcript still remains classified. Since Zobec Hrastar was already heading the Patria investiation at that time, one could speculate that Brezigar (who against all odds was not dismissed and even won praise by PM Pahor) agreed to cease protecting Janša in order to save her own skin. This took the form of her conveniently being on vacation while the indictments were filed by Zobec Hrastar who then also conveniently slipped on a vacation of her own, thus creating a six-week window where there was no one around who could possibly prevent procedures from taking their course. A classic case of “Hey, I was on vacation, I couldn’t do a thing about it”.

Secondly, there’s a possibility that Brezigar would like to help Janša but that the case against him is so strong that not even she can help him this time around. A lot of people on the left are fapping wildly just thinking about this option. However, there’s another possible explanation. Regardless of Zobec Hrastar’s ability it could very well be that Brezigar thinks that the case against Janša (the other four people are “expendables”) is far from watertight and that she needn’t intervene at all. In other words, that Janša will walk away clean from this one and – yet again – politically much much stronger than before.

Circumstantial evidence and the Australian connection

Pengovsky loves to make leftist miserable (hey, you gotta pick on your own kind, it a leftist thing :)), so the following has to be said: based on the information available, there is not a snowball’s chance in hell Janša will be convicted. First and foremost, the evidence against him is circumstantial. If he indeed had a hand in the Affair, it will be hard to prove as he indeed took great care not to be directly linked to Patria or their middlemen. I agree, there wasn’t an arms scandal in Slovenia where Janša’s name didn’t pop up sooner rather than later, but proving in a court of law that he a) demanded and b) took bribes from Patria will be fucking difficult. And unless proven guilty, he is innocent.

However, there are a couple of lose ends in this whole thing. First and foremost is the trail of money. The prosecution apparently claims that a large cut of “commissions” went to Janša’s Slovene Democratic Party. If that is true, I kind of doubt they would be stupid enough to just have the money transferred onto their bank account. And sure enough Walter Wolf together with his Austrian associate Wolfgang Riedl apparently gave some 900.000 euro in cash to a Thai citizen who in Vienna boarded a plane to Bangkok and vanished from the face of the Earth.

Or did he? Relatively speaking Thailand is fairly close to Australia, and that’s where there’s rather strong power- and money-base for SDS. In this case we’re talking of one Dušan S. Lajovic, a prominent member of Slovene diaspora in Australia, who became generally known when he established a website called udba.net (now defunct) where he published raw personel records of Slovene branch of UDB (later SDV), Yugoslav secret police. Lajovic is also believed to have bankrolled various SDS campaigns and operations and was (for a time at least) very close to Janša. So, without a shred of evidence and purely on instinct, pengovsky thinks that if SDS and Janša did indeed take money, it ended up Down Under.

The lie

Also, this was the first time Janša slipped and fumbled. When appearing in the first edition of a new hard-talking, hard-hitting show on state television (in other words, utter crap of a show produced by overpaid and under-talented journos who defected over from POP TV – more on that some other time) Janša was, for the first time, caught in an outright lie.

It was a comparatively small thing. In an exchange between Janša and Drago Kos (outgoing head of anti-corruption commission, head od CrimPolice during Depala vas Affair and a man Janša detests), the former accused the latter of making things up while being questioned as a witness in Finnish part of the Patria investigation and that Janša only saw Kos’ testimony days ago, after it was published in a recently released book by one Dejan Kaloh (at this point an unimportant side-kick) and that he will, as a result, sue Kos. However, sitting next to Janša was also journalist Dejan Karba who said that Janša knew about Kos’ statements for months, ever since he (that is Karba) gave Janša a transcript of Kos’ testimony, with important bits marked and that same transcript now appears in Kaloh’s book. In other words: Janša supplied at least part of documentation to Kaloh who in turn published a book exonerating Janša and saying that it is all the work of a dark organisation with Milan Kučan on top. Which is what Janša claims all along.

Thus we’ve seen on live television how Janša works. He bends the truth to the point of lying, has others repeat his version of events and then quotes those people as independent sources supporting his conspiracy theories. As a side note it should be noted that this was also the first time we’ve heard confirmation of collaboration between Karba and Janša (which apparently went sour at some point). Pengovsky wrote about that months ago, but was widely mocked for being overimaginative. Eat that, biyotches! 😀

The fallout

For better or for worse, this is the first allegedly corrupt arms deal in this country that will end up in court. This in itself is a noteworthy event. The fact that every time around more or less the same principals appear, will add gravity to the situation as the outcome will inevitably be interpreted as a symbolic verdict in all arms scandals which rocked the country in early 90s. Thus even though the case was filed with the local court, which deals with cases which carry only up to three year prison sentence, the final result will have consequences beyond the Patria affair

In terms of political fallout we should make a distinction between Janez Janša and the rest of the accused. Not only because Janša is the only one against whom evidence is (reportedly) entirely circumstantial, but also because he is the only one among the five who is holding public office. On that note, there’s an ongoing investigation against leader of DeSUS and defence minister in Janša’s government Karl Erjavec, for alleged negligence with regard to the Patria issue. The same charge extends to former Commander of General Staff of the Slovenian Army Albin Gutman.

Good old days

Namely. It is highly unlikely that all five will be found guilty. There will be enormous media and political pressure from both sides and the court will have a hard time maintaining composure and keeping the case on track. Add to that the lack of direct evidence against Janša (I can’t stress that point enough) and you have a high possibility that Janša himself will be acquitted while some people will be left hanging (chief candidate among them is Jože Zagožen). To Janša’s supporters this will the ultimate proof that the man is innocent and was used by people around him, while his detractors will see it as proof enough that he’s just as guilty, only that he was wise enough to put a daylight between himself and people who ran bag for him. And it’ll all be just like the good old days, no?

And The Loser Is… Belgium

(another mighty fine post by dr. Arf)

Vlaams Belang in action (source)

Wednesday, June 9th. D- Day rememberance is well behind everyone and it kind of went unchecked over here in Belgium, because a different kind of war is being waged here at the moment : the national election. Now, I shouldn’t say ‘national’, because while there is still such a thing as a Belgian nation, it isn’t unified as you all know, and this while the national motto is ‘Unity makes power’. That power, though, has been seriously weakened over the past three years. It seems like only yesterday that one Yves Leterme won the 2007 federal election (that’s the proper name for this election) with 800.000 votes and the bold statement that ‘five minutes of political courage’ would suffice to split the electorate of Brussel – Halle – Vilvoorde, which entails the Belgo- European capital and its surrounding suburbs on Flemish regional ground but is inhabited by a majority of Francophones who are represented by francophone politicians who would like nothing more than to take another bite out of the Flemish region purely for electoral gain. Old news for those who have read my guest blogs here, I’m sure.

Just like it is old news that after three years of nothing much except saving the banks with tax payer’s money – no doubt a great feat in these times of economic crisis – this federal government was terminated when Open VLD president Alexander De Croo felt that three years of talk was cheap enough and pulled the plug. He was branded everything from a fool to a traitor by the other majority parties and even some politicians in his own ranks when that happened.

Curiously, though, we’re now in the home stretch of the election campaign and while there have been a few references to De Croo’s so called irresponsibility (which, of course, made him responsible for these elections), it’s hardly come up at all. Why? Well, there is a party called N-VA that has a party president called Bart De Wever, who makes no secret of the party’s wish to secede Flanders from Wallonia and thus to terminate the Belgian federal state, which, according to De Wever, is highly inefficient and brings this land to a standstill. However, De Wever repeatedly stated that while the final goal is secession, he sees this as an evolutionary process, rather than a revolutionary process. And the man and his party are booking great successes in every poll leading up to the elections, which are taking place when you read this (provided you read it on Sunday, of course). Which, of course makes all the traditional parties go apeshit, not in the least those south of the language border and makes them say the silliest things or try the most underhanded tactics to try and thwart N-VA’s success in Flanders.

On Flemish side, everything from ridiculing De Wever and N-VA to labour unions and former politicians ‘advising’ not to vote for the party and the man has been tried. It even seemed like a new ‘cordon’ sanitaire’, like the one placed around extreme right nationalist party Vlaams Belang, was being put in place. Undoubtedly, some politicians in other parties were wishing – although not out loud – that this would happen. Here’s why it didn’t : firstly, De Wever has successfully managed to come across as a competent politician and a consequent one to boot. The man also has a certain charm because he doesn’t pretend to be anything more or less than he is and he’s rather good at being himself. He’s also blessed with a rather sharp wit and a dry sense of humor that is certainly appreciated among the Flemish populace. Third : N-VA has been a loyal partner in the Flemish government, even if they were resigned to govern with left wing socialist party SP.a. Furthermore, N-VA’s message to cut deeply into the pockets of the unemployed by limiting the duration of eligibility for unemployment benefits hits home with the traditionally hard working Flemings, even if the majority of these Flemings don’t necessarily want the secession of Flanders. And lastly, unlike the Vlaams Belang, N-VA is indeed a democratic party. Having a nationalist agenda doesn’t change that.
This entire scare mongering against N-VA apparently seemed to worry the international economic markets, who, ever ready to make a profit from someone else’s recession, are poised to speculate against the Belgian National Debt. This is merely economical logic, because if Belgium falls apart in two states, who will pay off the Belgian National Debt? Our journalists reported in their blogs that they were overrun with mails and calls from their foreign colleagues, who wanted to know what was going on. One even spoke of a Serbian colleague who – recent history in mind – wanted to know if the Belgians could avoid civil war. This prompted N-VA to announce and international press conference to appease the international markets and explain that these were just scare tactics from mainly the francophone politicians and media, as foreign journalists apparently read the francophone press more than they do the Flemish.

One Flemish political commentator even wryly remarked in his blog post that he thought that CDH’s party leader Joèlle ‘Madame Non’ Milquet was on the payroll of N-VA’s PR department, as she made a lot of crass comments about how the language border, established in 1966, was a sociological mistake and that Brussel was 90% francophone anyway, so a demand for a ‘corridor’ to connect the capital to Wallonia seemed ‘like the natural thing to do’, therefore treading flat out on the territoriality of both regions and enraging even those Flemings who aren’t nationalist at all. I can only imagine the very large smile on De Wever’s face when she made that comment. My take on it is that Milquet seems as imbalanced as a certain Slovene politician was made out to be by his former Croatian colleague, not in the least because she makes this election all about the Brusselian francophones and not about the Wallonians in general, who are, according to independent press south of the language border(most newspapers are working out of Brussel and hence have a francophone staff and stance) are sick and tired of their own politicians. Having a Wallonian guitar player in my band, I can only attest to that statement. Which Is good news for the Parti Socialiste, as all the political ground gained by CDH and liberal MR/FDF will almost assuredly be ceded back to them after Sunday. The downside is that even the PS refuses to tell its constituents that there are massive budget cuts on the horizon and keeps promising higher unemployment benefits and pensions while there is no money. It is more important, it seems, to fend off the spectre of Flemish nationalism and make these elections about Francophonia, as the Brussels Capital Region is now called.

Not that the Flemish political parties lagged behind in trying to scare the voter into not voting for N-VA, as I’ve already established. But only in this final week they seemed to find their feet to counter N-VA’s popularity, by addressing several economic issues in their party programme. To have any chance of winning, they should have done this from the start, on either side of the language border. As it stands, though, N-VA stands to gain a lot of votes and thus seats in parliament, which puts the ball in their court if they win the election. Traditionally, it’s the winning party who provides the prime minister, but De Wever already said he would not become prime minister, if it meant he had to make too much concessions. A smart move, as this means he and his party could once again claim being consequent when negotiations fail once again (and that is a definite possibility) and we’ll gear up for another election, which is bound to piss off the voters even more than they already are now throughout this kingdom. If N-VA play their cards right, they might not only win the current election this time around, but also the next one, which would put them another step closer to the Belgian dissolution scenario they adhere to.

However, De Wever can’t help himself sometimes and just last Monday he said to be in favour of the termination of Brussels as a region, which made all other parties (excluding the Vlaams Belang, of course) go apeshit and then some. His mathematical logic for doing so is near perfect : Brussels as a region is governed by a parliament with no less than 900+ officials, has 16 municipalities that are all governed by their own mayors and their cabinets who mostly care for nothing but their own interests and hence are called ‘baronies’, has no less than SIX police zones that have NO coordinated policies (one frequently recurring example is that when trailing a suspect, police cars need to switch radio frequencies as they transit from one zone into the other) and lastly, if not for ‘solidarity’ from the regions – but mostly from Flanders, as it also pays ‘solidarity’ contributions to Wallonia, which in turn donates some of that cash to Brussels – Brussels would be so bankrupt, it would be classified as a third world state being in debt the way it is. Keep that in mind whenever you visit Brussels again. Unfortunately, no politician, neither Wallonian nor francophone (and there is huge a difference between the two) is even willing to consider this, just as they aren’t willing to consider righting these severe wrongs to the benefit of everyone living and working in Brussels. I know this seems like I’m down with the nationalists, but unfortunately for those who think otherwise, I don’t ignore plain facts in order to be considered politically correct by any francophone who should happen to read this. Nevertheless, if De Wever would have wanted to play the election game strategically, this was a wrong move, as other parties were given fuel to counter argue the ‘peaceful dissolution’ policy he said to be favouring.

Friday, June 11th, one month before the Flemish National Holiday. So, where does this all lead to? Most political commentators still predict a giant win for N-VA, as Bart De Wever has won all televised debates so far, which is no mean feat when you’re up against six other party presidents in Flanders. The man is just an excellent debater, as he once again managed to show in the final debate on commercial TV station VTM earlier this evening. He may have been wavering (pun intended) in the past week when attacked on N-VA’s economic standpoints, but he didn’t budge. Given the bashing the Christian democrats got in Holland two days ago at that country’s national election, people are assuming this could be the case for CD&V as well. While the liberal VVD won the elections in Holland, there is a lot of ambiguity about its Flemish pendant, Open VLD. Not even the presence of VVD party leader Mark Rutte at the Open VLD party congress yesterday can help predict whether the party will gain or lose votes. SP.a has not been able to weigh in on the election debates until the last week, which may work for them, since it’ll be fresh in the voters’ memories, or work against them because it’s a matter of too little, too late. Green party Groen! will most likely consolidate its percentage from last year’s regional elections, but won’t in all likelihood gain more than a few percentiles. Something which is being overlooked, but I find very important is that extreme right party Vlaams Belang has done a fine job destroying itself from within over the past few years and is on its way down. For more than twenty years the party leadership has remained in the hands of Filip Dewinter and Gerolf Annemans, which created a lot of dissent within the party bureau with those who wanted the VB to run a different course. I have to say this pleases me, even though I am aware that this party is down – and severely down, now it is fighting against a democratic alternative when it comes to Flemish nationalist issues in N-VA – but not out (yet). Nevertheless, their core business of sewing hatred and racism by attacking muslims and Islam in general, the – admittingly – lax Belgian immigration laws and their traditional outcry for a police state (yawn) went largely unheard this campaign, something which a true democrat can only be pleased about. An economic and constitutional crisis can sometimes be a blessing in disguise…

In the south, the PS will most likely reestablish its monopoly position, backed by a strong Ecolo, the Wallonian green party. MR/FDF will probably do well in the B-H-V region, but I suspect they will get punished for their bad government and immobilism of the past three years in the rest of Wallonia, as well as making it all about B-H-V without taking the rest of the region into account. CDH stands to go the same route.

Of course, these are all just guesses. While my suspicion against politics, politicians and political parties prompts me to keep an eye on what they’re doing to this country and its people, I am not a professional political commentator and as such, I can only give my own opinion based on whatever political instinct I’ve cultivated over the years. But I am rather certain that N-VA will take a huge leap forward, even if other parties and journalists will want to minimize their result if they won’t gain as much as the polls predict and will speak of a ‘victory defeat’ if such is the case. Whether this will be to this party’s advantage or not remains to be seen. There already have been rumours abounding about secret negotiations between N-VA, CD&V and the PS, in order to install a federal government which mirrors those of the two regions. Bart De Wever even admitted as much last night. As I’m writing this, only 24 hours remain until the voting stations open their doors. I don’t think we’ve had such an interesting election campaign for as long as I can remember and its results might, eh, result in me and my fellow countrymen waking up in a different country 48 hours from now. It’s either that, or more of the same for the next four years. Just before turning in this piece, I read a chronology of the current political problems concerning B-H-V by Prof. Dave Sinardet (a Fleming, in spite of his French sounding last name), who pointed out that this election is in fact the end result of several political parties on either side of the language border putting their own party political interests above the greater good by blocking negotiations whenever it suited them best. In short, he says the responsibility for the current situation lies largely with them. While I believe there is also an underlying ‘francophone’ issue concerning B-H-V that has been going on for over forty years and the responsibility thereof lies mostly with the Wallonian parties who refuse to respect the territorial boundaries for purely political gain, Sinardet’s analysis is by and large a correct one, as is his assessment that the polarization between Flemings and Francophones only increases due to this political scheming. And if this kind of scheming and the resulting immobilism will continue over the formation talks and, say, the next year or so, that much dreaded split of this country, the nightmare scenario for every Francophone politician and much of the Flemish ones, might get even nearer than it is today. If I wanted to keep Belgium in existence (I’m neither saying I would or wouldn’t), I don’t think I wouldn’t want that on my conscience, but then, I’m not a politician and it is crystal clear that several politicians on either side have not learned that lesson and they maybe never will. For now, let’s see what the voter has to say…

The End of Belgium, Part II

A guest post by dr. Arf, naturally.

Like the Good Doctor reminded me today, Belgium hasn’t let anyone down and stayed true to its tradition of creating crisis and instability in this little country. I’ve been saying it before and I say it again : Belgium is only a country in name anymore and, as was once again evidenced in the past three years, the water between the respective regions is proving to get increasingly deeper, up to the point where it’s ocean sized. And in my somber estimates, we’re not far from that point. Sit back and have a drink nearby, this is a long one, because the matter is complicated and requires some explanation. My sincere apologies…


I already attempted to explain the problems situated in the region around Brussel, which is Flemish territory, but over the past fifty years got increasingly inhabited by francophones. Now, I must say there is a significant difference between francophone Brusselians and Walloons. Our Wallonian brethren and sisters probably are scratching their heads just as much as their Flemish counterparts about this issue, but one thing is for sure : everyone has become sick and tired of the whole thing.

A quick recap of what it is about: an electoral district was created, called Brussel – Halle – Vilvoorde. Constitutionally, it is however illegal, because the Halle – Vilvoorde part is Flemish territory, meaning that Wallonian politicians have no legal right to campaign for votes there. The problem, of course, then becomes that there are too many votes to be gained from H – V for the Brussel Capital Region, and this of course doesn’t sit well with said parties, especially the Wallonian Liberals of MR and their cartel partner, the FDF, which in itself was established to claim the rights – rightfully or wrongly – of the francophones in the Flemish region around Brussels way back when. Their current president, Olivier Maingain has been walking around with a box of matches and a can of gasoline for the past three years, demanding that H-V should be added to Brussel, giving nothing in return and even demanding more money and the official appointment of three francophone mayors elected in the last municipal elections, who refuse to abide by Flemish constitutional law and therefore aren’t eligible to govern their respective municipalities. This, in turn, is of course fuel on the fire of moderate Flemish Nationalist party NV-A (not related to the Viet Cong, I assure you), for whom the division of B-H-V can only happen unconditionally. And even the other Flemish political parties don’t really feel like giving too much concessions anymore.

So, we had federal elections in June of 2007 and the winning party, Flemish Christian Democrats CD&V and their front man, prime minister Yves Leterme won the elections – with then cartel partner NV-A – on the promise of taking ?five minutes of political courage’ to divide B-H-V. It won Yves 800.000 preferential votes that immediately became the political millstone around his neck, as none of the Walloon politicians wanted to negotiate with him. You can read all about that in my previous series. Fact of the matter is that, ever since, there has been negotiation after negotiation, for three years straight, because the Walloon politicians simply refused to budge and neither did the Flemish. CD&V and NV-A parted ways not even a year after the elections because CD&V in the end didn’t prove to have the political courage to take those five minutes to divide B-H-V unilaterally together with all other Flemish parties. NV-A has since then become a major player, gaining a lot of votes in the last regional elections of 2008, not in the least because party leader Bart Dewever is an old school politician who knows his dossiers, is an apt historian and has a no nonsense attitude, telling it like it is and presenting himself the way he is unapologetically. He also has a dry and cynical sense of humor which seems to be appreciated by many a Fleming. In that sense, he and his party are the Wallonian parties’ worst enemy and that the politicians who landed this country in this mess some twenty odd years ago when Belgium became a federal state, on the idle hope that both regions would continue to understand each other. However, give a region its own constitutional powers and gradually transfer most of the governmental authorities that used to be in the hands of the federal parliament to them, and they will turn onto themselves, watching and reading only their own news bulletins, expanding on their own culture and becoming more and more ignorant about that of their neighbours and becoming more ignorant about each other to the point where Belgium has de facto become a divided entity, with few common ground to rally together. The common ground, in this case, consists almost uniquely of tennis players Justine Henin (Walloon), Yanina Wickmayer and Kim Clijsters (both Flemish). And maybe, just maybe, our blundering national football (soccer) team. And that, my friends, is it.

So what happened last Thursday? Well, after Herman van Rompuy, our beloved European President – if you count out UKIP EMP Nigel Farage, of course – took office, Yves Leterme returned as Belgium’s PM for a third time. It was agreed that former PM and European heavyweight Jean-Luc Dehaene, also of CS&V signature, would work out a plan to divide B-H-V that everyone could live with from December till Easter. Dehaene, who’s big on discretion as well as body mass index, wasn’t seen or heard, unless to say that this deadline was extended until the end of the Easter holidays. At that time, freshly elected Flemish Liberal Democrat party Open-VLD party leader Alexander De Croo – a coalition partner in the government – is alleged to have said that this deadline had to be respected and the B-H-V negotiations should by then have ?landed’, or they would leave the government. This was reiterated at the start of this week, when it became apparent that the Wallonian parties didn’t think Dehaene’s propositions went far enough and the latter exited in a huff of anger about their conduct during the negotiations, not in the least that of Olivier Maingain. The deadline came, and uncharacteristically true to their word, Open-VLD left the government, effectively putting this land in a federal crisis, causing the federal government to fall. De Croo alleged that it was apparent that the Walloons were just playing their tired old tactics of not wanting to negotiate, then saying the negotiations that DID take place were a basis for… negotiations to commence, and he would be right. However, all the other parties in the ?negotiations that were no negotiations according to the Wallonian parties’ came out saying that there was a basis to continue, at least until next Thursday, after which the Flemish parties would attempt to unilaterally vote the division of B-H-V. They further said that Open-VLD had agreed with that before concluding the negotiations, which was categorically denied by De Croo. Meanwhile, PM Leterme went to the king for the fifth time in three years to offer his government’s resignation, which the king said he’d take under advisement, and invited Federal Assembly president Patrick Dewael (Open-VLD) and asked him to put a stop to parliamentary proceedings for the day, in order to let everyone calm down, because it was apparent from early on that both CD&V and Open-VLD would try to put the vote to divide B-H-V on the agenda. The chaos which ensued in the Belgian parliament was something I watched with open mouth, while extreme right nationalist party Vlaams Belang took it upon themselves to sing the Flemish ?national’ anthem De Vlaamse Leeuw ? (The Flemish Lion), which is always guaranteed to disconcert the Walloons. It’s no wonder that, of course, this became the ?hot item’ on the Wallonian news as well as the newspapers down south. I’m sorry to say, but the Wallonian press and politicians just can’t seem to get their priorities straight. VB singing in the parliament scares them more than the fact they themselves have a big hand in helping to succeed what they fear most – the constitutional split of Belgium – while gangsters with Kalashnikovs raiding a jeweler and having a shootout in the midst of Brussel is considered a ?fait divers’. Nothing going on there, it happens in London and Paris too, so it’s not a big deal. I have to say ?quoi?!’ (yes, that is where Ljubljanchans get their ?kva’ from, thanks to Napoleon).

Back to the topic at hand, that same evening, Alexander de Croo was summoned by the king as well and afterwards went on record saying that he was more than willing to continue negotiations, if and only if the Wallonian parties would agree to set the deadline to next Thursday (that was implied, not said out right) and they would adhere to the propositions that Dehaene had made with no further additions. He also went on to defend his party’s governmental exit by saying that it was meant only as a strong signal to the Walloons that their philandering would not be acceptable anymore after three years of stalling. Other Flemish parties alleged that Open-VLD had made this move to score in the – constitutionally illegal – new elections that would undoubtedly follow this crisis and that they never constructively participated in the current government anyway, which of course was denied. My take on it is, that both grounds are true, with the one facilitating the other.

So, what will happen next? No one knows. The king appointed MR spearhead and vice PM Didier Reynders as negotiator to see if there’s still a basis for talks. Next Thursday, when the parliament reconvenes, it is however suspected that if talks fail, both CD&V and Open-VLD will put the ?division’ vote on the agenda, with the Walloons blocking it by filibustering and using what’s called an ?alarm bell procedure’, to take the vote off the table. As it stands, the Flemish parties could still unilaterally vote for the division, as they have done before. In any case, MR-FDF, in lieu with the other Wallonian parties, succeeded in making the Wallonian nightmare scenario, the end of constitutional Belgium, come dangerously close by their hardline demands and handing Open-VLD a way out of the government. Why? Well, if there will be new – and, again, illegal – elections, all political commentators agree that at the time of the new formation negotiations, the Wallonian politicians will find even less desire in their Flemish counterparts to come to a consensus, because it is becoming apparent that, while being sick and tired of the antics of their political representatives, theFlemish constituents will give their votes to those parties who will promise to make the division of B-H-V happen without any or at least the least amount of concessions. NV-A will have a field day. At least one Wallonian party – the Christian democrat CDH – sees that this would be a nightmare scenario and yesterday came out saying by way of party leader Joëlle ?Madame Non’ Milquet that the expansion of Brussel is not a must.

The only way this country will get a lifeline, is if both sides back down a bit, the Flemish accept that some concessions are unavoidable and the Walloons relent their unwillingness to negotiate and refrain from increasing their demands, knowing they will never get them. By which time the government can actually do what it is elected to : working on a solution for the economic crisis and improving people’s lives, none of which it apparently had the time or will to occupy itself with in the past three years. So far, we’ve had three years of nothing and have become the laughing stock of Europe to boot. But as it stands, the constitutional split of Belgium, as far as I can see, isn’t a question of ?if’ anymore, but of ?how soon’ and ?how’. With Flanders being tired of putting up with Wallonian demands about everything from land concessions to money transfers to prop up their badly managed economy (which is said to be on the rise, but so far, I’m not seeing it, while the long bankrupt Brussel Captial Region is still run on Flemish money, by the way) and Wallonia increasingly viewing the whole of Flanders as extreme separatist and making increasingly irresponsible political moves and demands as a result of that fear, we seem to go ?himmelhoch jauchzend zum Ende’. What this potentially could lead to, is something many a Slovene can testify of.