Electoral Post-Mortem

Time for some election result analysis in Ljubljana. With 99,57 percent of the votes  counted, Zoran Janković won with a few percentage less than exit polls suggested. In the race for mayor the incumbent mayor won with 65 percent, leaving his nearest challenger, Zofija Mazej Kukovič of SDS in the dust with 13,5 percent. His List of Zoran Jankovič, however, got a significantly lower percentage (48 % as opposed to 54% suggested by the exit polls), but even with that result he still strengthened his hold on the majority in the city council (25 seats out of 45, an increase of two seats). The divison of city council seats is now as follows: List of Zoran Janković – 25, Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) – 9, Social Democrats – 4, DeSUS (pensioners’ party) 2, Nova Slovenija (NSi) – 2, The Green Party -2 and Liberal democrats (LDS) – 1.

The outgoing Ljubljana City Council

The above is not exactly what pengovsky predicted, so let’s see what lessons can we derive from this electoral post-mortem for Ljubljana

1) Things don’t happen by themselves

Pengovsky already wrote that this was a lacklustre campaign. Most parties were sort of resigned to the fact that Janković will get another term and only made more or less token efforts in the race for mayor, hoping to see the mayor’s power curbed by preventing his List to retain absolute majority in the city council. However, they made only half-hearted efforts in that area as well. As if they convinced themselves that there is no way for Jankovič’s List to repeat the result. Well, guess what: parties that had most vested interest in this issue (SDS on the right and SD on the left) gave sub-par perfomances, both in terms of style as well as content and the List of Zoran Janković now enjoys an even bigger majority.

2) Never, ever, run without your candidate for mayor

LDS took a big hit, as they’re down from five seats to just one. They probably wouldn’t have repeated their result anyway, but we can probably put their feeble result down to the fact that they did not run their candidate for mayor. Not only does this confuse the voters (vote Janković for mayor, but don’t vote for his list!), it also diminishes their media exposure, as most if not all debates are held for mayoral races. The fact that there weren’t that many debates in the first place only reiterates the point.

3) If you put forward your candidate for mayor, even for the sole point of collecting votes for your council candidates, make sure he/she stands out.

Case in point being Zares of Gregor Golobič, which failed to win a seat in the council. Granted, we can apply this formula to virtually all candidates and parties, but Zares had a lot going for them: they had a likeable, educated and eloquent candidate for mayor, who had no real experience in politics which is an asset in this day and age when “politics” is a dirty word. Unfortunately Milan Hosta discovered too late that being different grabs attention. In the last few days he did start to talk about the need the change the system, either from within or from without and he coined some highly quotable soundbites (pengovsky’s favourite being about how Ljubljana should switch from donation urbanism to donation socialism) but it was too little too late. Most of the time he just tried to imitate the big boys and girls, not knowing that they were just as much at a loss as to what to do as he was.

The other side of this coin are Mojca Kulcer Dolinar of NSi and especially Miha “Jazby” Jazbinšek of the Green party. The latter put virtually all of his eggs in one basket: the referendum bid to overturn the new spatial planning act. And (to quote Andrew Carnegie) Jazbinšek then watched the basket. As the referendum bid, in fact initiated by him but executed by an association of citizens’ groups, started crumbling, he wisely put a daylight between him and the proponents of the referendum, coming across as the only guy in city politics who knows how things really should be done. And he won two council seats in the process.

4) If you want to make a decent result, don’t go after the leading candidate

What we saw in this campaign was most of the candidates going after mayor Janković, attacking both the style and the content of his running the city. While this is a perfectly legitimate tactic it can backfire big time (as it did in case of Ljubljana elections). But the added effect was that by subscribing to this approach candidates which went after Janković were all addressing the same pool of disillusioned voters and – by extension – blurring differences between themselves. Thus there was no intelligible difference between (for example) Metka Tekavčič of Social democrats and Meta Vesel Valentinčič of DeSUS. The fact that both some from the left side of political spectrum only adds to the effect.

With the benefit of hindsight pengovsky thinks that it would be much better if candidates from the left went after Zofija Mazej Kukovič (SDS) and Mojca Kucler Dolinar (NSi), thus a) better profiling their differences and b) galvanizing a different pool of voters. This especially applies if their goal is not really to win the race for mayor but to create enough hubbub to make the cut for the city council.

Again, cases in point being Milan Hosta of Zares and Miha Jazbinšek. The former decided too late that he can be a colourful candidate with both a good platform and an attitude to match, whereas Jazby picked a single issue (spatial planning act) and campaigned hard on it.

5) Don’t import candidates

This goes mostly for SDS. Just as they did four years ago, this time around they picked a candidate who originally resided outside of Ljubljana. Technically this is solved easily – the candidate just has to change his/her address of permanent residence, just as Zofija Mazej Kukovič did. But since all politics is local, this can and usually is a factor. Perhaps not for die-hard voters (of any party), who will vote for their party’s candidate regardless of everything, but if such a candidate wants to appeal to a broader base of voters, he or she will find the recently-changed address a rather huge drawback.

There, this about covers it 🙂

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Lahovnik To Quit As Minister And MP (His Schwartz Just Ain’t Big Enough)

Lahovnik and Golobič while they were still on the same team (source)

Yesterday the government communication office released the infamous letter minister of economy Matej Lahovnik sent to Prime Minister Borut Pahor in which he detailed grievances against his former party boss and ministerial colleague Gregor Golobič. Lahovnik’s adios to Zares was not really a surprise, but the timing left a lot of people, yours truly included, a bit baffled. Pengovsky speculated on reasons why Lahovnik took the Fatboy Slim approach (right here, right now) and now it turns out that he thought his Schwartz was bigger than anyone else’s and he turned out to be dead wrong. As a result, he announced his resignation earlier today and even said that he will not re-take his position as MP.

The letter was widely expected to be a bomb-shell. It turned out to be a dud. Basically, Lahovnik complained that companies owned by or connected with Ultra (a company in which Gregor Golobič owns a 7% stake) applied for public tenders and such. Lahovnik’s main grievance – at least according to the letter – was the very fact that a company in which a sitting minister owns a stake runs for public funds. But the devil is – as always – in the details. Lahovnik goes on to write that in no instance (at least no instance which he detailed) did any of the companies win any tenders, but – and this is where he seems genuinely pissed – in one case the company files a lawsuit against his ministry for kicking it out of the tender.

Let’s be brutal. The fact that a company, where a sitting minister (or any other elected and/or public official) owns a stake,  no matter how small, runs for a public tender, is not entirely cricket. The world would be a much nicer place if these things didn’t happen. However, the Ultra issue was over and done with. At least on relation Golobič-> Zares-> Coalition-> Government (the opposition is still trying to keep the whole affair simmering on a low temperature).  If Lahovnik had a problem with that, he should have quit months ago.

From a legal point of view, however, there is nothing wrong with Ultra (or any other similar company) running for public funds. The law stipulates that a company where a public official and/or his immediate keen hold more than 20% stake cannot take part in public tenders. And if it does it anyway, it simply gets thrown out. Pengovsky should know, it happened once with The Firm™. No ifs, not buts, one simply gets a nice letter saying “Sorry, you can’t take part due to anti-corruption legislation”.

But Golobič’s share in Ultra is not above 20%. It is not even, say, 19.5%, which would imply that he is following the letter if not the spirit of the law. No, he holds a 7% share, which he apparently earned by working for the company and that’s it. There are scores of public officials which own various stakes in various companies. After all, we are running a sort of capitalism in Slovenia. But Lahovnik goes on to say, that he finds it hard to believe that Golobič would not use his influence to put Ultra at an unfair advantage vis-a-vis other companies running for tenders. That may be, but in all honesty, you don’t need to have a sitting minister among your stakeholders to better your business positions. All you need to do is know the right people.

However, as noted above, Ultra did not win any of the tenders Lahovnik takes issue with. So, not only was no law broken by Ultra running for tenders, even if pressure was brought to bear, the system worked and threw Ultra’s application out on merit. The fact that the company then filed a suit against Lahovnik’s ministry over it only reiterates the fact that the system worked, because seeking legal protection against what an applicant deems an unfair decision is perfectly normal. It is done by scores of companies practically on a weekly basis.

So, on the face of it it looks as if Lahovnik doesn’t really understand how the system works. Which is kind of hard to believe for a minister who runs a pretty important ministry and (among other things) gave thins country a electronic one-stop-shop system (e-VEM) for setting up your own company.

So, waddafuck is going on? It looks more and more that there was a clash between Lahovnik and Golobič. Either there was some sort of a leadership challenge (less likely, as Lahovnik reportedly refused taking over Zares) or – more likely – Lahovnik felt Golobič was pissing in his pool and wanted to put an end to it. Only he played his cards wrong and put an end to his political life (at least temporarily).

Namely. One area Lahovnik specifies in the letter is the energy sector. There’s a relatively huge debate going on right now in Slovenia whether to invest in Bloc 6 of Šoštanj Coal Power Plant (so called TEŠ6) or to start building the second reactor in Krško Nuclear Power Plant (known as NEK). Pengovsky says “both” and there seems to be a general consensus that Slovenia will need both investments in the mid-term, but the real question is which comes first. Lahovnik was very much in favour of TEŠ6, as it will replace the ageing blocs 3,4 and 5 and produce much less carbon dioxide to boot. However, since Šoštanj is part of Lahovnik’s electoral unit (constituency, if you will), this can also be seen as “bringing the bacon home“, to use an Americanism. Which would all be fine and dandy, had it not been for the fact that some dubious contracts were being signed for TEŠ6 even before the project started for real. I’m not saying that Lahovnik had a hand in this (he probably didn’t) and regardless of his feud with Golobič, energy still is Zares’ turf right now and if there’s a screw-up, Zares as a whole will take the blame anyway. But it seems probable that he felt he was being side-tracked and he took it personally.

The more pengovsky looks at this the more it seems as if Lahovnik only tried to do as much damage as possible and brought up the Ultra affair for no reason other than to hurt Golobič. But he took it too far and forced PM Pahor to choose between a seemingly competent minister and a whole coalition party. Pahor obviously knew where his priorities are and Lahovnik achieved nothing but maybe yet another dent in the government’s already ridiculously low ratings. As a result he really had no other option but to quit his post and PM Pahor undoubtedly told him that his credit just ran out.

This goes for his MP status as well. Upon quitting as minister he could have re-taken his MP seat as he was elected to the parliament first and made minister second. Thus he would have ousted Alojz Posedel of Zares, chipped off one sure vote for the coalition and would even help form a new parliamentary group “independent MPs”, as parliamentary Rules and Procedures specify three MPs are needed for establishing a specific group and there are already two independent MPs (Franci Žnidaršič and Vili Rezman who quit DeSUS months ago), all of which would probably weaken the coalition grip on parliamentary majority, if not immediately, definitely some time in the future.

However, Lahovnik was probably told in no unclear terms that he would be branded a political leper had he returned to the parliament and started stirring shit, so he is apparently returning to the Faculty of Economics from whence he came – and will possibly be awarded membership in one or two low-key supervisory boards somewhere out there. He might have thought he was doing a good thing, but in politics, just as in real life, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Such is the nature of the beast.

Oh, and just a technicality. Some Slovene media erroneously report that Lahovnik’s function will cease tomorrow. Not entirely true. While he has already tendered his resignation, he will remain in office in a care-taker capacity until a new minister is appointed.

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