The Alternative President

It’s been 72 hours since The Donald was sworn in as the 45th US president and it is already clear that the next three-to-four years are going to be. So. Much. Fun.

I mean, yes, it will not be pleasant, to say the least. But the US will recover. Let’s not forget just how indignant the same crowd (more or less) was when Dubya was appointed president in 2000. Many people were freely using the term coup d’etat at that point. And indeed, this has brought at least two wars, human suffering beyond belief and an economic catastrophe of biblical proportions. True, it wasn’t all George W.’s responsibility and when shit hit the fan economically, it was the black man left holding the bag, but there you go.

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Respite Van Der Bellen

The fact that Norbert Hofer of the Austrian Freedom Party came within a whisker of winning the country’s presidency speaks volumes. Indeed, it is a sign of times that a Neo-Nazi candidate winning “only” forty-six percent of the vote is considered a success for the democratic order. The sad reality is that the election of Alexander van der Bellen for Austrian president is merely a respite from the onslaught of forces of destruction and division that have engulfed much of Europe and the Western world in general. A welcome respite, to be sure, but a respite nevertheless. The shit has not yet stopped hitting the fan.

The Most Interesting van der Bellen In The World (source)

That van der Bellen defeated Hofer twice and with a larger margin on the second go is a silver lining and perhaps strengthens the rationale for a second Brexit referendum. But one should not count on the far-right tide ebbing across Europe. Not with the Dutch, French and German elections still in play and with their own Neo-Nazis well positioned to make substantial gains and sow further discord and hatred. This, of course, was made possible (not solely but in substantial part) by several critical failures of both the European project as well as of the underlying concept of post-war liberal democratic order.

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In Politics, A Week Is A Long Time

As weeks go, the last one has been pretty bad for The Donald. It started with him tanking in the first presidential debate and ended with a revelation (presumably, the first of many) about his agressive tax avoidance. In between he managed to insult women, Latinos and fat people all in one go, had a 3 AM Twitter meltdown, brought up the Lewinsky scandal (which boosted Hillary‘s image in the 90s), has seen an investigation of his fundation expanded, and was venting publicly over his campaing people conceeding he lost the debate. You’d be excused for thinking that he’s over and done with. Only you’d be dead wrong.


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Third Time Unlucky (Take-Aways Of A Referendum Defeat)

Now that the heads have cooled off, the gluttony of various light-related festivals passed and the sordid reality of yet another year finally sunk in, it’s time to take a long look at the can of whoop-ass that was opened on the same-sex marriage legislation on 20 December. As most of you know, the third iteration of the marriage equality bid failed. Spectacularly.

Final, albeit unofficial, referendum results. Chart via ChartGo

Namely, not only did the NO campaign clear the much-hyped quorum hurdle with relative ease (more than 20% of all eligible voters voted against the measure), it also added 100k voters to the cause in comparison to the ill-fated Family Code, the 2012 attempt to resolve the issue via a comprehensive legislative package. The result came as a rude shock to the YES campaign and as an (unwelcome) surprise to pollsters who are starting to see changes in voters’ behaviour that make predictions even harder. Still, a few take-aways are obvious.

Battles are won or lost before they’re started

Sun Tzu‘s quote, although obvious or useless (or both) seems rather apt for the occasion, as all the work by the YES camp resulted in exactly zero progress in the field. The total number of people who supported same-sex marriage this time around is almost exactly the same as the total number of people who supported it in the 2012 vote. They may be different people, but the reach of the progressive side effectively remained the same. This suggests a complete misreading of the field at the very start which led to an ineffective campaign which did nothing but get the vote which most likely had in the bag anyway.

Cultural learnings of the right for make benefit the glorious political option of the left

We all live in a bubble, and yours is smaller than you think. One would think that the progressive side had learnt that lesson the last time around, but apparently not. Srsly, people, the few hundred followers that agree with you don’t mean shit. There was a noticeable lack of dialogue in this campaign, as if neither side really wanted to engage the other. And while the YES campaign probably avoided contact to prevent itself getting drawn into needless fights, the NO campaign, hard at work since March when the law was initially passed, thus remained happily undisturbed at enlisting support and amassing troops. The NO campaign also understood exactly what was at stake and what it needed to do to shoot down the law, while the YES campaign (and, more broadly, the progressive side in general) apparently had little grasp of the opponents’ gameplan and at times seemed to hope things will take care of themselves.

Things don’t “just get better”

pengovsky realises that LGBT NGOs are probably thinking “what more could we have done” and, in all seriousness, the answer is “probably not much”. Theirs is a worthy cause and they’ve been at it for the better part of the last three decades. But that doesn’t mean things will suddenly fall in place. Not when there’s a substantial part of traditional left-wing voters who are, well, traditional and will vote against same-sex marriage regardless of their general political persuasion. Which explains the lacklustre campaign performance by both junior coalition partners, the DeSUS and the SD (with PM Cerar’s SMC putting only slightly more back into it). Just because something is right, or just, or just plain overdue, it doesn’t mean it will just happen. This sort of perception is a problem that has plagued the progressives for the last few years at least (and possibly longer than that) and is something they need to fix ASAP.

If anything can go wrong, it will

There seems to be little respect for the wisdom of Major Edward Murphy these days, but just like Sun Tzu’s seminal work, Murphy’s laws should (once again?) become required reading for political strategists. At least in this sorry little excuse for a country. Apparently the strategy regarding this law (insofar it existed at all) was based on the optimistic scenario of the law getting passed in the parliament, presuming that even if the NO camp collected enough signatures to call a referendum, this would be rebuffed by the Constitutional Court on human rights ground and even if that failed, there would be no way the 20% quorum would be reached. And even if this was a plausible scenario at one point in time, it is almost outrageous that no contingency was planned in the event that the worst-case scenario were to unfold. And when it did, the YES campaign was struggling to get its shit together.

Ground game matters, you can’t win by playing defence

You see, the NO side was hard at work ever since the law was passed. Not only did they have a basic network in place from the last time around, they had worked hard in expanding it. Arguably, they’ve more than compensated for the resources spent on defending Janez Janša during the Patria affair and the operation the right has in place right now is nothing short of formidable. The YES campaign and the left in general on the other hand failed spectacularly in this aspect. Reports from the field suggest that there were almost zero attempts at taking the game to the opponents’ side of the pitch. What little ground operation there was in the YES camp, it was limited to friendly environment and even there results were meagre.

Winning on the internets counts for nothing

Most observers agree that the online population was tilted heavily in favour of the YES vote. But counting on online support is almost like preaching to the choir. And even there the level of engagement was, well, lacking. This is where the inexperience of campaign principals (specifically, the United Left) showed in its entirety. For some reason, they were apparently convinced the key to the victory was the internets. Just how they came to that conclusion is beyond comprehension. Maybe they thought it was the key to their own political success in 2014 elections (it wasn’t). Or maybe they thought the NO campaign collapsed after that bizarre debate ten days before the vote (quite the opposite). At any rate, winning just the internets is useless.

The new referendum rules are not a game changer

Although the double-whammy of the new referendum rules seemed like it will take of the problem by itself, it didn’t. In fact, the United Left, which by virtue of sponsoring the latest iteration of the same-sex marriage legislation was running the show, at first apparently toyed with the idea of calling on people to boycott the referendum (which they wrongly assumed would not be allowed) but then came to the realisation that the only way to beat this would be to win a relative majority, fair and square. The lesson here being that although the new rules can weed out referendum antics the likes of Arhcive referendum, proper political fights are less affected by the new rulebook.

Even if you think rules favour you, you should study them in-depth

The NO camp was a bit nervous at some point regarding the outcome. That Aleš Primc bugged the State Electoral Commission (DVK) over the accuracy of voters’ registers and whether people who died in the last ten days before the vote (the interval between the date of posting invites to the vote and the vote itself) will count towards the quorum proves this. Now, at first, the commission told Primc to go suck a lemon but he managed to secure enough support in the supervisory body of the commission to have the rules on this altered to his advantage. Thus the final rule, announced just days before the vote, stated that the commission would update voters’ registers to reflect the number of eligible citizens on the day of the vote. Not that the NO campaign needed this particular tweak in the rules in the end, but the point is they did get their way. Because they knew the rulebook.

Get the vote out

No, really. I mean, if you make exactly zero headway in widening your reach compared to the last time around, you might want to go back to the drawing board.


Hopefully, someone will do the last item, at least. Pengovsky has no doubt Slovenia will legalize same-sex marriage. The trend seems to be both world-wide and irreversible. But it needs help and a well tought-out strategy. Because left to its own devices, Slovenian society, known for its glacial pace of accepting change (or accepting nearly anything else, for that matter), will, well, warm to the idea some time in the mid-2080’s, probably several years after Iran and Saudi Arabia will have already legalised same-sex weddings.






Call Me A Referendum

Funny thing, democracy. Apparently it’s OK to have a referendum on gay marriage but not OK to have a referendum on policing powers for the military. This, at least, will be the final take-away of deliberations of the Constitutional Court on recent referendum issues. Namely, after having OK’d a disputed referendum on the new marriage legislation, the court is poised to nix the referendum on increased powers for the military, further cementing its appearance as a senior citizen’s club trash-talking the issues of the day without caring either for the effect this has on the society as a whole or on the legal system in particular.

Graphics by @mapixel

Now, it should be said that neither of the outcomes is at all surprising. Not with this particular composition of the court, that is. But the problem is the inconsistency that stems from that. Especially since this exact same court a couple of years ago came up with a “human dignity” benchmark when deliberating on whether to repeal a city ordinance naming a street in Ljubljana after Marshal Tito. But despite the fact that the court bent over backwards in coming up with at least a semi-coherent  definition of human dignity as a legal and consitutional concept, it was never ever applied again. Question is, why?

Random Senior Citizens’ Club

The short and the long of it is that the judges are acting more and more like nine randomly selected, rather well-off senior(ish) citizens, who – by the very nature of things – tend to lean conservative (as in “preserving status quo”) and more often than not decide from their particular view-point rather than from an eagle-eyed view of an ever-evolving democracy they were mandated with.

To put it crudely, you might as well go to a posh restaurant in downtown Ljubljana, randomly pick  nine individuals aged 50+ and you’ve an even chance of coming up with similar decisions. The only difference being that the judges are able to dot the i’s and cross the t’s as far as legalese is concerned. But in substance, there would be little discernible difference.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that the referendum on the amended law on family and marriage, which allows for same-sex marriage by simply redefining marriage as being “between two people” and not anymore “between a man and a woman” was allowed, while the referendum on army having jurisdiction over civilians will in all likelihood be denied. It’s how a substantial number of Slovenians close to retirement age, when unchallenged, think about these issues.

The thing is, that the Constitutional Court is not “a substantial part of Slovenians close to retirement age” but rather the (pen)ultimate guardian of the republic, founded on civilian control over the military and equality for all.  But at this particular moment, that’s the way the cookie crumbles and there’s little we can do about it.

Really? Not exactly.

The GOP, Slovenian edition

While the referendum on same-sex marriage will be held on 20 December, the result is by no means a given, even though a much more comprehensive piece of legislation which included same-sex weddings was voted down three years ago. In fact, despite the vote being only two weeks away, there has been, until this weekend, an eerie quiet on the ground, with sporadic fighting going on only within the social media bubble. While no-one expected this to last, it does seem to suggest that outside the campaign proper, which is bound to pick up in the coming hours and days, there is little new to be said on the issue.

That, of course, does not mean that both YES and NO campaign are preaching solely to the choir. According to a Delo poll, the voters are split down the middle with 40 % being in favour and 41 % opposed to the legislation, which means there’s a roughly 20 % of the electorate available to swing the vote either way. And in this, the opponents of equal rights enjoy a huge advantage, as they don’t have to present actual fact, they only have to make people afraid. Of whatever. In fact, you could do worse than to draw a comparison between the NO campaign and the current GOP primaries in the US of A. You can totally see The Donald, Cruz and Rubio as being at the forefront of the Slovenian opposition to same-sex weddings. They’d fit like a glove.

Losing ground, gaining ground?

That scare-mongering tactics work, goes without saying. The problem is that the ultra-conservative opposition is far less sure of their own position this time around. Both in terms of arguments as well as in terms of numbers. Which, again, is strikingly similar to the position the Republican party is in. Their core base is shrinking, and while the scare-mongering may rally the supporters of the NO campaign it is far less sure to sway those who haven’t decided yet. And this in a situation where every vote might count.

Aleš Primc, one of the heads of the NO campaign is well aware of this, which is why he suddenly started making an issue out of voters’ registers. Namely, it turns out that, on average, fifty people per day die in Slovenia. From Primc’s point of view this translates into fifty people who could have voted no but won’t. And since the State Electoral Commission makes the final update of the registers about ten days before the vote (they take their data from the Central Citizenship Register), on the day it sends out invitations to all eligible voters to vote in a referendum, this means that around five hundred people who will not be voting due to the fact that they will be dead, will still be eligible to vote.

Now, normally, this wouldn’t matter. But unlike the election process, where the resulting percentage of votes is calculated against votes cast, the last iteration of referendum rules calls for a two-step verification. A referendum result only overturns the law passed if a majority of votes cast are against but only if the total votes against amount to at least 20 % of the entire electorate. Including those five hundred dead people who are projected to pass away in the days between the final update of the voters’ registry and the actual vote.

Five hundred votes is not exactly a big number and since last year’s referendum on archives was held under the exact same conditions and no-one objected, the State Electoral Commission told Primc he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but it all goes to show just how nervous the ultra-conservatives are about the final outcome. And if the whole thing does indeed come down to the wire and the NO campaign ultimately loses, you can be sure the result will be challenged one way or the other.

No man is an island

Adding to the complication for the NO campaign is also the growing discrepancy between their general world outlook, which is (nominally, at least) pro-Western and their stance on marriage equality, which is, well, increasingly pro-Eastern. I mean, just look at it: You’ve got devoutly religious countries, big and small, such as Argentina, Brasil, Ireland and Luxembourg (to name but a few) adopting marriage equality. You’ve got the US of A and the United Kingdom doing the same. You’ve got countries that are predominantly Catholic, Protestant or atheist doing the same thing over and over again: Spain, Portugal, Sweden, The Netherlands, France…. the list gets longer and longer every year. Point being that the opponents of same-sex marriage in Slovenia are increasingly left without outside reference. Hell, even the Pope went soft-ish on the LGBT issue in general. Point being that no man is an island and that for all the doubts and misgivings the Slovenian electorate might have about the issue, there is mounting evidence that the world doesn’t end if people of the same sex can get married.

This of course does not prevent the NO side from coming up with a plethora of run-for-your-lives bullshit, including (but not limited to) the claim that same-sex couples will be “buying babies from surrogate mothers” and that “your kids will be turned into gays and lesbians by schools teaching them same-sex ideology”. Now, these and similar claims have been refuted time and again, the latter most effectively by Jure Šink (link in Slovenian), who held a senior position in the education ministry during the Janša 2.0 government. Which is yet another hint at the fact that the NO campaign is struggling with a broader appeal even with people with whom it would probably find common ground on other issues.

And yet, there is still every possibility that the YES camp loses yet another vote. Not just because bleeding voters on one side does not automatically translate into winning them over for the other side. It could be that come referendum Sunday, not enough people will be bothered to vote YES even though they support equal rights in the first place. This especially goes for GenY voters and even younger (apparently called GenZ) who take so many things for granted that they can rarely be bothered to care. I mean, LGBT rights, In Slovenia at least, are a cause old at least three decades. The vast majority of GenY wasn’t even born when gays and lesbians were starting their struggle in what was for that day and age a liberal environment. And one could argue that back then in many respects Slovenia was much more liberal than it is today. But since LGBT citizens have almost the same level of rights as their heterosexual compatriots, this can create a false sense of complacency to the tune of “ah, well, another time perhaps”.

Yes, there will definitely be another time. On the whole, the trend appears to be irreversible. But no right was simply acquired, every single one of them was fought over and won in a protracted struggle. So, the question for young voters, who are one of the key demographics for the YES campaign, should not be “why should I bother” but rather “why this wasn’t fixed already?” and then get out the vote and fix it.

The challenge

The YES campaign will also have to stay on message. That alone might prove hard enough. Namely, as many as 39 organisations have announced they will be partaking in the campaign which means that they get to have their say at least once. The majority of those are in the NO camp which means the ultra-conservatives get to have more exposure on a minute-for-minute basis than the YES campaign. And since a majority of the NO camp is consisted either by astroturf organisations and one-man-band crackpots, this puts the YES camp in the dangerous position of trying to refute the absurdest of claims thus wasting time, energy and credibility (pengovsky wagered 20 euros that someone will try to combine the same-sex marriage and the refugee crisis into one big scare mechanism).

The pitfalls of a substantiated argument against a “let’s shit all over them, something will surely stick” was described quite well in this Metina Lista podcast where Briški and yours truly talked to Grainne Healy of the Irish Yes Equality campaign which won the constitutional referendum in Ireland in May this year, enshrining equal right to marry in the country’s constitution by a surprisingly large margin.

The tl;dr of it being stay on-message, let others deal with bullshit and get the vote out.

Which basically sums up the next two weeks in Slovenia as well.


P.S.: At Diogenes’ request, here’s a translation of what YES and NO votes actually mean.

By voting YES, you vote in favour of enacting the law that was passed by the parliament and which makes it possible for LGBT couples to enter into marriage legally.

By voting NO, you vote to reverse the decision of the parliament, thereby allowing only heterosexual couples to enter into marriage legally, while keeping LGBT couples a couple of legal notches below, at “registered partnership” level.