PM Bratušek Down A Minister. Just Not The One SDS Was Aiming For.

Late last night, after a 15+ hours of debate, the parliament voted to reject the bid to oust finance minister Uroš Čufer. The motion was filed by SDS of Janez Janša and the two basic charges against Čufer were that he backed the Bank of Slovenia plan for a “controlled liquidation” of Probanka and Factor banka, two small sort-of-investment banks which were mainly vehicles for financing ventures of their owners (although Probanka had a small contingent of “ordinary” customers) as well as the fact that he dismissed Andrej Šircelj, an SDS MP, from the board of the yet-to-become-operational Bad Assets Management Company, a.k.a. bad bank.

Two ministers: one in resignation, the other one not so much. (photo: Aleš Černivec/Delo)

Now, the move-to-oust, or “interpelation” as it is known around here was filed some time ago and it went without saying that the SDS, which was alone in this venture with NSi and SLS watching carefully which way the wind blows, threw at Čufer everything they could get their hands on. Which mostly meant lecturing him at how he should run state finances.

Which is all fine and well, after all this is a democracy of sorts with a relatively well-thought-out system of checks and balances. The same goes for the interpelation instrument. However, what we witnessed yesterday was not so much a case of oppositional oversight as it was a degenerated filibuster where the goal was not to prevent a measure being passed but to drag the proceedings for as long as possible, hoping that somewhere along the way the coalition would drop the ball and fail to produce a majority vote. In fact, this was nothing short of a shit in political tactics. Namely, about a week ago we’ve seen practically the same approach when the parliament debated the 2014 and 2015 budgets. In a multi-day session which culminated in a Thursday all-nighter, the final vote was cast on Friday at 6 in the morning.

The good old days of touch and go

Now, all-night-sessions are not unknown in this part of the world. When shit was hitting the fan while Yugoslavia was disintegrating and the whole Slovenia situation was touch-and-go we used to see them regularly. In fact, one could argue that all-night sessions of the parliament or another high-ranking body were the hallmark of the era. And it seems as if the opposition is trying to bring back the aura of emergency and instability.

Not that there was any lack of urgency to begin with and until the budget was passed, the Bratušek administration sure as hell couldn’t be filed under “stable”. But ever since Janez Janša was toppled he was looking for ways to undermine the current government in any way possible. True, the ruling coalition is perfectly capable to undermine itself (as we’ve seen time and again in the past months) but it would appear there’s some movement in the right direction.

One could argue that Bratušek and Čufer achieved with this budget what Janša and Šušteršič couldn’t. Namely, get at least half a nod from the EU and effectively take threat of the Troika descending off the table at least temporarily. And as demonstrated in the previous post, for Janša the equation is simple: no Troika, no return to power any-time soon. And a derailed budget or a toppled finance minister are not to high a price to pay, apparently. Not to mention inevitable relegation of Slovenia to protectorate status in case the Troika materializes.

Again: Slovenia is not out of the woods yet (not even close) but a hint was given we’re on the right path. And that is not good news for Janša.

It’s about management, stupid

But as someone recently told pengovsky, this country doesn’t have as much of a financial problem as it does have a leadership management problem. Both in government and in business. Which is one of the reasons we find ourselves in the shit we’re in. Case in point being minister of economy and technology Stanko Stepišnik, who was forced to resign yesterday evening over a repeated issue of his tools-manufacturing company Emo Orodjarna applying for and being awarded government grants while he was in office.

Now, there’s a caveat to this: until recently, there was a strict prohibition of companies (co-)owned by public officials applying for tenders with the institutions their owners worked for. I.e.: a company a minister or a member of his family owned (at least partly) could not apply for a grant within his ministry’s purview. Some years ago there was even a complete prohibition for such companies doing any business with any government institution, but that was struck down as unconstitutional. But even this watered-down prohibitive clause was too much for some and was reduced even further by the last Janša administration (albeit at the behest of the SLS) and now stipulates only that people with a conflict of interest should remove themselves from the decision-making process.

And when it transpired that Stepišnik’s company did in fact apply for a government grant at Stepišnik’s ministry, it was all perfectly legal, since Stepišnik did in fact remove himself from the decision-making process. And yet, it failed to dawn on him that simply is not the way things should be done. It took further revelations of his company applying for additional tenders and – this clinched it – apparently falsely stating there are no possible conflicts of interest in one of the tenders for Stanko Stepišnik to finally realise he is in an unsustainable position.

However, since Stepišnik was an MP for Positive Slovenia before assuming ministerial duties, he is bound to return to take his parliamentary seat, making the situation no less more agreeable. Now, arguably, Stepišnik’s resignation is a good omen as it is the second minister in Bratušek administration to resign over a similar conflict of interest (Igor Maher having done so after only 12 days in office) and it shows this government does have a sense of appropriateness. Also, Stepišnik was widely tipped to be let go once PM Bratušek wins the vote of confidence, so there’s no real harm (political or otherwise) in him being replaced.

The necessary vote of confidence

But it does show that – despite the fact some people were mocking Bratušek for tying it to passing of the budget – the recent confidence vote was much more crucial than most people thought. It finally gave her the leg to stand on politically and rallied the coalition around her, at least temporarily. And it appears finance minister Čufer is one of the cornerstones of her political credibility. Which is why she took the somewhat unusual step of the PM addressing the parliament and defend her minister during an interpelation.

This, of course, did not go unnoticed and you can be sure Čufer will find himself the target of much more elaborate attacks and insinuation than just a case of a disgruntled opposition MP who – due to a legal provision, mind you – lost his 6k EUR monthly paycheck in the bad bank which came on top of his 4k monthly MP salary.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Troika Democracy And The EPP

Although there’s shit going on daily that would warrant a well aimed rant in its general direction (as always in this sorry little excuse for a country), pengovsky has a month-old axe to grind. Not surprisingly, this connects to more recent events, including the European People’s Party trying to meddle with the judicial process and demanding Janez Janša be exempt from whatever fallout (political or otherwise) there may be from the Patria Affair. But parallel to the Passion of Ivan – and very much caused by it – for the past two months or so, the political right is producing a steady stream of calls for the Troika to descend upon Slovenia as soon as possible.

A masterpiece by Matej Avbelj, PhD (source)

Now, that Slovenia is in economic omnishambles is hardly news anymore. But just as they have done for years, part of the political class is still refusing to recognise the reality and is playing hide-and-seek regardless of the cost. You see, back in 2008, when crisis loomed large on the horizon Janez Janša in the last days of his 2004-2008 government famously said that “only an aspirin is needed while the left-wing wants to prescribe an antibiotic to the Slovene economy”.

Well, five years later Slovene economy is in the middle of open-heart surgery while Janez Janša, since conviced of corruption (appeal pending) is saying that we’d all be better off if we just let the Troika handle things from now on. This, of course, has precious little to do with the economy (of which Janša still doesn’t understand didly squat) but rather with that elusive thingie called election victory.

Namely, it goes without saying that Slovenia’s formal appeal for a full bailout would most likely mean yet another early elections, which Janša might actually have a chance of winning (more on the current public sentiment some other time). But to do so, he’d have to paint the current government as a) incompetent and b) illegitimate. In this enterprise he is helped by a plethora of people of various intellectual prowess, not in the least by Matej Avbelj PhD, dean of a small Faculty for State and European Studies which – contrary to its name – mostly offers courses in public administration. A month or so ago Avbelj published a column on a law-oriented portal titled “Troika as a Catalyst for Democracy” (Google translate here).

In the text, Avbelj basically argues (from a supposedly academic point of view) that Slovenia is a state, captured by special interest and dark powers and that elections don’t really count for anything. “Anything” in this case of course translates to “Janša in power”. Because even when Janša was in power and Slovenia witnessed an unprecedented blitz against the media, economy and other sectors, thus paving the way for many a folly we witnessed in the past ten years, the man still claimed Slovenia is run by communists and if he couldn’t find them it just meant he wasn’t looking hard enough. Thus, even when Janša is/was in power, there’s an ongoing conspiracy against him, preventing him from doing the good things.

Well, the reality is there is no conspiracy. Whatever Janša was doing in power wasn’t good on the whole, but he was good at doing it. Sure, this can be said for a couple of other administrations as well, but the difference is that Janša was and still is motivated mostly by perpetuating and increasing his power, politically and otherwise. In this, he often resorted to abusing democratic instruments and occasionally tinkered with undemocratic ones, claiming to have “protected democracy” all along. This goes for calling for Troika as well.

Avbelj, in his texts, assists Janša in this enterprise. The Troika may be many things. but is not a tool of or for democracy. It is comprised of representatives of institutions whose democratic potential ranges from “miniscule” to “none”. The European Commission is a body agreed upon by the EU member states and although approved by the European Parliament, it is hardly subject to a serious checks-and-balances mechanism. The ECB is a monetary, not a representative institution. The IMF doubly so.

Secondly, the way the Troika operates is anything but consensual. In its purest form – as witnessed in Greece time and time again – it is a Godfather-type ensemble which simply dictates terms (how does one say “we’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse” in German?) And even if Slovenia were subject to Troika-light, things would still be a couple of orders of magnitude uglier than they are now.

One of the effects being that it wouldn’t matter a pair of fetid dingo’s kidney who is in power. Even today Slovenia is reportedly (and those reports have not been denied) under daily scrutiny from EC experts (again: unelected!) and right now to a large extend ours is only a pretend economic and political sovereignty. But if the Troika is hell, then Slovenia is purgatory at the moment. We can still hope to get out. With the Troika in the house, not so much.

And so, the logical conclusion is that Janez Janša will stop at nothing to regain power, even if only as a puppet leader with no autonomy whatsoever. Such is the lust – or rather – the need for power. Because Janša as PM stands a much lesser chance of having a verdict against him being upheld than citizen Janša does. This, at least, is the subtext of yesterday’s resolution by the EPP on Slovenia which among other things states that Janša should not be excluded from the political process until final verdict is passed.

In reality, the political star of Janez Janša is fading fast. It is, however, very worrying that a generation of intelectuals has been bread that will happily continue politics done Janša’s way. The only difference being that with him it was a survival tactic, whereas they’ve objectified it into a legitimate political tactic.

EDIT: only minutes ago Janša suggested the government “avoid the Troika by requesting a bank bailout”. QED as far as I’m concerned.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Retiring Rupel

The world of international diplomacy (probably) breathed a collective sigh of relief a couple of days ago, when Slovenian foreign minister Karl Erjavec announced the imminent retirement of the one and only Dimitrij Rupel. The once seemingly eternal foreign minister is apparently going to become the first high-profile victim of austerity measures enacted by (oh, the irony!) the previous right-wing government of Janez Janša.

Dimitrij Rupel and his boss Karl Erjavec (photo: Ljubo Vukelić/Delo)

Long story short, when Janša’s government opted for across-the-board-no-questions-asked approach at slashing government expenditures it provided for mandatory retirement of public servants when they reach both 40 years of employment and 67 years of age. Unless, of course, their supervisor decided their services are so essential they warrant extension of employment. With Dimitrij Rupel now being Slovenian Consul-General in Trieste (a prestigious, but technically mid-level appointment), he is about to fall within both categories in a matter of days, allowing his political past to finally catch up with him.

Rupel is, naturally, screaming bloody murder and claims he’s a victim of a political purge. Indeed, his retirement being announced on the eve of Statehood Day only adds insult to injury for Rupel, who exactly five years ago was embroiled in a similar controversy and famously said this anniversary sort of belongs to him since he was the foreign minister when Slovenia declared independence. But back then, he was on top of his game. He switched sides four years earlier, in 2004, from LDS (which went on to lose elections) to SDS, became a hardcore supporter of Janez Janša, the same man he once labelled a nationalist in need of a reality check.

As a result, when Janša came to power again in 2011, his government – no doubt as a reward for his newfound loyalty – appointed Rupel the Slovenian Consul General in Trieste, Italy. As you know, the Trieste region has a large Slovenian ethnic minority which makes the said diplomatic post politically relevant and very sensitive. But in Rupel’s case, it was just one more proof that the man, whose ego usually can’t fit through the door and has been known to bend the fabric of space-time to fit his needs, has long outlived his usefulness and is having trouble letting go.

To see a four-time foreign minister accept a lowly consular post just to stay in the game is utterly self-degrading. To see see him fall prey to the legislation that was meant for everyone but him (he would have most likely been granted an exception to the rule, had Janša remained in power) is ironic. But the real kicker is the fact that Rupel’s career was given the mercy shot by the same man who – under different political circumstances – would most likely extend it and not bat an eye-lid in either case. Karl Erjavec served as foreign minister both in Janša as well as Bratušek administration and is quite possible the only senior Slovenian politician who switched more parties than Rupel.

Which means Dimitrij Rupel should probably join DeSUS if he wants to salvage his career. And yes, the irony of joining the pensioners’ party to avoid becoming a pensioner is not lost on pengovsky 😉 Alternatively, Slovenian media will shortly be suffering a deluge of Rupel’s writing.

Well, they do say pensioners have all the time in the world



Enhanced by Zemanta

An Exercise in Futility

No, this is not a blog-post about the incredible stupidity of implementation of e-voting that was floated today by minister of interior Gregor Virant. Nor it is a write-up of a fairly sensible move by the said individual to reshuffle local self-government. This is not even a take on the government plan for a (fire)sale of several state-owned companies or the storm in the teacup caused by Croatian Agrokor taking over Mercator retail chain. True, all of the above would have deserved today’s title. Instead, pengovsky will be dealing with an even that was mostly and wrongly ignored.

The NSi shadow cabinet (source)

Namely, the ChristDem Nova Slovenija (NSi) led by Ljudmila Novak formed its “shadow cabinet” a couple of days ago. The move is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it shows that even 20 years after implementation of a liberal democracy some people fail to grasp the difference between various political and electoral systems. Case in point being the shadow cabinet.

Now, to be hones, this is not the first shadow cabinet that was formed in this country. The very first one was formed by the reformed Communist party and was led by Emil Milan Pintar and was not so much of a snub to the new democratically elected government as it was an attempt to show that even the former socialist rulers know how to play this new game of democracy. Of course, it soon turned out that a shadow government in a multi-party coalition/opposition system doesn’t really cut it and although it occasionally made noises, it was more or less DOA.

Fast forward a decade or so, to 2004 when LDS spectacularly lost elections to Janez Janša‘s SDS. Amid all the in-fighting, bickering and turmoil Tone Rop formed a shadow cabinet. Whether it was to keep the party together or just out of sheer disbelief that someone else is running the country, it doesn’t really matter. Point is that the shadow cabinet became a shadow of its former self sooner than you can say “party disintegration” and it wasn’t spoken of since.

Enter Ljudmila Novak, who days ago presented her own “shadow cabinet”. Comprised mostly of party heavyweights, it was in fact not so much a “shadow cabinet” as it was a shadow of the party’s former self which only showed that being a member of the parliament is no guarantee for understanding the peculiarities of a given system of government.

Namely, a shadow cabinet is a feature of Westminster-style two-party system, where the opposition is ready to jump in with its own people running the country should the balance of power suddenly tip in their favour. On the other hand, a single party sporting a shadow cabinet in a multi-party-coalition-type system is either a joke or a show of presumptuous arrogance. Usually both.

However, from a purely political point of view the move by NSi signals something entirely different. Namely, it is a thinly veiled attempt by the party leadership to exit one particular shadow – that of Janša’s SDS. With the Party leader being convicted in the Patria case, the timing is as good as any. Thus the NSi shadow government is not so much an attempt to keep the government in check but rather to put some distance between the parties. But as a significant part of NSi rank-and-file sees Ivan as their leader in spirit if not in politics, this, too, is quite possibly an exercise in futility.

Unless, of course, Janša’s conviction is upheld by the court of appeals. And it is quite possible this is the bet Ljudmila Novak made.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Patria Verdict: The Immediate Aftermath

Y’all probably know by now that Janez Janša was found guilty in the Patria Affair and sentenced to two years in prison and a EUR 37,000 fine. Similar sentences (22 months in prison and 37k€ fine) were passed on Brigadier General Tone Krkovič (Ret.) and Ivan Čnkovič, owner of company Rotis, while Jože Zagožen, accused to have done the legwork in the affair, and Walter Wolf, international lobbyist, businessman of Formula 1 fame and an overall shady character, will be sentenced separately. This, of course, is the bombshell of Slovenian politics and deserves to have some light shed upon. Also, it is a good enough excuse for pengovsky to re-enter the blogging orbit after an unintentionally long break.

Janez Janša leaving the courthouse and meeting his supporters (source: Gorenjski glas)

Firs thing’s first: the verdict against Janša et al. is not final as the defendants will most likely file an appeal. Therefore, they should still be considered innocent until proven guilty. Also, given that conspiracy theories are his soft spot, it should come as no surprise that Janša declared the court’s decision was a part of a wide-ranging communist conspiracy (which, if one is to follow his logic, expands to Austria and Finland and in fact goes back in time all the way to 1945. You see, they were out to get him before he was born). However, there is more to the events of last Wednesday than meets the eye.

Then there is the mobilisation potential of the verdict. Rather, the lack thereof. Granted, the Party shot to the top spot in the polls, catching up with Igor Lukšič‘s SocDems. Also, there was a relatively strong showing of support for Janša within party ranks as both senior and not-so-senior party officials rushed to pledge allegiance to Ivan, without as much as blinking an eye.

But what the verdict failed to generate, was any sort of meaningful street protest, despite calls for a mass rally and people reportedly being bussed to Ljubljana from all over the country. In fact only a few hundred people attended the rally in Janša’s support and even they were constantly heckled by a few dozen anti-Janša protesters stationed nearby. In addition, the pro-Janša Twitterati are conspicuously quiet. Conclusion: while the Party closed its ranks and manned the barricades, the non-faithful seem much less impressed.

The problem, therefore, is twofold. On one hand, Janša needs all the support he can get. And – to be honest – few things are conductive for the sense of belonging to a group (or, say, a political party) than a clear and present danger of imminent destruction. After all, Janez Janša is literally the centre of political beliefs of a number of people in this country. And a guilty verdict shatters these beliefs to the very core. Thus it is no wonder a lot of people cried as if Kim Jong Il died. Can’t blame them, really.

But on the other hand, it is precisely those strong held beliefs which present the gravest danger to the man and his party. Because if Janša’s guilty verdict is upheld by any chance and the man actually ends up in the slammer, a leadership crisis will ensue faster than you can say “our beloved leader”.

Janša of course knows this and has been keeping more or less mum for a week now as a result, save an occasional interview. Instead, he has been calling in favours from all over the place. Be it from people who owe him their (political) existence or from people who have lobbied him successfully in the past and are now returning the favour (such as an owner of a large media network who benefited greatly from changes in media legislation under Janša’s first government, to give an example at random). At least, pengovsky hopes that is the case. If not, then people who have a vested interest in Janša remaining a free man are operating of their own accord, meaning the Force is not strong with the Prince of Darkness.

What is clear, however, is that a guilty verdict would have made Janša about as popular in the EU as clap. Janez Janša is no Julia Timošenko and Slovenia is no Ukraine where democrats are labelled as such depending on whom they sell their gas to. There is no way in hell Frau Merkel or David “Super Injunction” Cameron are staging a photo-op with a convict.

But not to get ahead of ourselves: despite the fact that Janša & Co. were found guilty, the judge still has to put the ruling in writing, which reportedly might take up to two months. After all, there are apparently more than 22,000 pages in the case file. It only then can the former prime minister appeal the verdict and the appeals court can take its time deliberating, you can be sure Ivan isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But he just might find it increasingly difficult to direct things according to his wishes.

One thing, however, does strike pengovsky as funny. Upon having been ousted as Prime Minister for the second time, Janša chose not to take his MP seat, he rejected ex-PM benefits and refused being employed by the party, running it in his free time. In fact, his means of income remain a bit of a mystery this time around (officially, he’s writing books and giving lectures). But the point is that – looking back – it appears as if he was wrapping up business. We’ll know soon enough.

P.S.: pengovsky bet Janša and his chums would skate free out of this one with only Zagožen risking a suspended sentence, so from my point of view this is an intriguing and somewhat unexpected turn of events. And, again, the ruling can still be overturned.

Enhanced by Zemanta