How To Lose Voters And Alienate People

As pengovsky noted yesterday, Gregor Virant is more or less a political corpse, he just doesn’t know it yet. How so, one might ask, if the man is the president of the parliament (nominally the second most senior position in the country) and was the potential king-maker in Zoran Janković‘s PM bid. In short, the man is on top of his game. What could possibly go wrong?

I know it’s a good film. I just couldn’t resist…

In fact, everything that could go wrong, already did. Virant made every error in the book and the fact that he finds himself presiding the parliament is more a result of chance than of a carefully executed plan. Leader of the Gregor Virant Citizens’ List (DLGV) came to the forefront seemingly out of nowhere at the beginning of the election campaign and stole quite a bit of limelight from the eventual winner of the elections Zoran Janković. Previously of Janez Janša‘s SDS Virant went solo, apparently due to mounting discord with Janša, who – as proven time and again – does not tolerate independent-minded individuals within his inner circle for long. In short, he had plenty of political capital to fool around with. And then he went and blew it all (almost) at once.

Item 1: Money. ‘Nuff said.

Item 2: Playing both ends against the middle. You don’t negotiate with both main contenders at once the same time, especially not if they’re political and ideological opposites. This is not the Cold War and you’re not Tito, Naser and Nehru combined.

Item 3: Backstabbing. When you negotiate, you do it in good faith. You don’t piss in your potential partner’s pool, even if it means you end up being president of the parliament.

Item 4: Jumping ship. You better have a good excuse. Saying that the other side wasn’t serious about it when you all but closed the deal is a sorry-ass excuse. Also, saying at first that Janković is “dictating terms rather than negotiating, hence no deal” and then saying that “he’ll agree to just about anything, hence no deal” is just pitiful.

Item 5: Janez Janša. Virant got points for splintering from Janša. By rejoining him only a couple of months later, he’ll be making a lot of his supporters unhappy. Also, by following Janša and applying the same scare tactic on his MPs (instructing them not to pick up ballots for the secret PM vote), he is turning out to be just a bleached copy of his former party boss. And no-one likes unoriginal people.

Item 6: No more kingmaker. By allying himself with Janša, Virant lost his political sex-appeal as kingmaker. This role now yet again belongs to Karl Erjavec (oh, the irony!) just as it did in 2004. As a result, Erjavec is in a much better position to dicatate terms to Janša than Virant.

Item 7: Reality check. If by any chance Virant contemplates playing hard-ball against Janša as well, he’ll end up alienating both centre- and right-wing of his base, not to mention losing whatever friends he has left in the parliament.

Item 8: Public opinion. In a recent poll by Delo newspaper, 25% of voters blamed Virant for the political stalemate. 27% blamed Janez Janša. And that was before he jumped ship on Janković and way before the vote yesterday.

A lot of people were surprised how fast Zares of Gregor Golobič and LDS of Katarina Kresal went down the drain in opinion polls in the previous term. Virant’s DLGV is well poised to achieve a new speed record in that department.

And it would be a shame, really.

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Janković Fails In A Cliffhanger PM Bid

We were in for a cliffhanger. Today the parliament voted on Zoran Janković‘s bid for the post of Prime Minister with the outcome being far from predictable. Janković needed 46 votes but after Gregor Virant’s Citizen List gave him the finger on Monday evening, the winner of December 4 elections only has a 44-vote coalition.

Janković minutes before the fateful vote (photo: RTVSLO)

Janković’s coalition forming attempts got off to a rocky start. PM-presumptive got himself into a cock-fight with outgoing PM Borut Pahor early on, while Gregor Virant accused him of not so much negotiating but rather dictating terms. It all culminated in a clusterfuck at the end of which Gregor Virant saw himself get elected to the post of President of the Parliament, courtesy of an ad-hoc coalition between DLGV, DeSUS,NSi, SLS and SDS. Seemingly having learned his lesson, Jay-Z re-initiated negotiations and was all praised for the “new and much more constructive approach”. And indeed it looked as if the coalition deal will be cut like a butter with hot knife, with PS, SD. DeSUS and DLGV initialling the agreement during the weekend.

Playing both ends against the middle

But the ink on the paper didn’t even dry properly, when Virant was already in a huddle with Janez Janša, Radovan Žerjav and Ljudmila Novak, hammering out their version of a coalition agreement and apparently agreeing to that as well. Virant said that his party’s executive council will take the final decision on Monday evening, when they decided – without a vote against – not to go with Janković. However, careful observers immediately noted that Virant did not explicitly say that he’ll go into cahoots with Janša.

Virant’s chief negotiator Janez Šušteršič gave the flimsiest of excuses for the move for bailing out on a deal with Janković, saying that the PM-hopeful was not serious about it and would agree to just about anything to make the deal. He also said that DLGV and PS did not see eye to eye on some key points. In this he of course contradicted himself, showing that these were more excuses than real reasons. Also, Virant’s epic flip-flop from “he’s dictating terms, thus no deal” to “he’ll agree to anything, thus no deal” did not go unnoticed. It looked as if Virant was playing both ends against the middle and trying to end up on top, just as he did during the vote for the president of the parliament. This would mean Janković got screwed over yet again, this time due to no fault of his own (unlike the first time around).

Digging a new political low

As a result, Janković was left two votes short of an absolute majority, but claimed all along to have secured enough votes. This prompted a frantic search for supposed rats on the right side, with a couple of possibles coming from Virant’s own party. The political right went into emergency mode and announced that they will not even be collecting the ballots, much less casting their votes. With this they hoped to smoke out any possible converts (and en passant dug a new low in Slovene political culture). For a while it looked as if the two minority MPs might chip in their two votes, but they went on the record saying they stand by their previous statements that they will not be casting the decisive votes and will support a candidate who will secure 46 votes without them.

In the end, there weren’t any converts. Janković got only 42 votes, four short of the necessary absolute majority and two less than his coalition could nominally muster, which only adds insult to injury. It remains to be seen whether or not Janković will repeat the bid for PM, but since the right wing parties moved fast and already invited DeSUS and SD to enter coalition negotiations, odds are that Janša will have a go. But just as Janković could count on only 44 votes (give or take), Janša has no more to begin with and needs at least DeSUS to form a majority.

Will Janša step in?

And this is where things get blurry. Namely, it is entirely possible that the two votes Janković fell short of, were that of DeSUS’ very own Karl Erjavec and Franc Jurša. This is pure speculation and conjecture on my part, but word on the street has it that Jurša is somewhat more right-wing oriented than the rest of the pensioners’ gang, while Erjavec was apparently manhandled by the party’s executive council into supporting Janković. And since it was a secret balot, no one can actually say for certain who cast the single no vote and which four MPs abstained. On the other hand, it could still happen that – just as he did Janković – Virant doublecrosses Janša as well. I agree that is not likely to happen, but it is an entertaining to think that DLGV would actually play to come out on top, screwing both Janković and Janša out of their PM bids. Some say that this is the so-called “American plan”, where the US would like to see neither Janković nor Janša at the helm, but rather “the third man”, which Virant often hinted could be his chief-negotiator Janez Šušteršič. Again, not that this is a likely scenario.

What happens next? The president of the republic will re-open consultation with parliamentary groups to see if there is a new or at least a different consensus regarding a candidate for the PM. Türk did not rule out the possibility of re-nominating Janković, but that was before SDS officially invited DeSUS and SD for coalition talks. One thing the president did make clear, however, is that he will be making a nomination. This of course means that he could end up nominating the man who used forged documents, trying to implicate President Türk in the Velikovec Affair. But democracy is a cruel mistress and she has a sick sense of humour. On the other hand, even if Janša gets nominated, the outcome is far from certain. Not only does he not yet have the necessary votes, with him being the one who has to broker a deal, the relationships between potential partners will change rapidly. Erjavec will have to do some master salesmanship within his own party to ally DeSUS in the right wing coalition yet again, while SD membership will most probably mount a bloody revolt if Pahor as much thinks about jumping on that particular bandwagon.

Thus, what we saw today was not a forming of a right wing coalition, but rather an orchestrated attempt to prevent Zoran Janković from becoming prime minister, with little afterthought for consequences. It was, in fact, old boys preventing the new kid on the block from getting where the relative majority of the people wanted him. Theoretically, this can even end in yet another snap elections, but in all likelihood it will not come to that. With the new guy out of the picture, the established political players can now return to their business as usual and stop worrying about competition. This includes Virant, who is a) on the scene for more than a decade and b) is – as of today – a political corpse. He just doesn’t know it yet.

On the other hand, Zoran Janković could very well again run for Ljubljana mayor.

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Slovenian Elections: The Janković Upset

In what was described as a shock win by the Beeb, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković won yesteday’s early elections in Slovenia. His fledling party Positive Slovenia won 28.5 percent of the vote, narrowly beating Janez Janša and his SDS, which won 26.3 pecent. The turnout was around 65 percent.

The presumptive PM (photo by yours truly)

The upset was only hinted at on the last day of the campaign by the very last result of a tracking poll conducted by Mladina weekly, which did in fact note a slight downward trend for SDS. Every other poll missed by a mile. It wasn’t that Janković’s support surged all that much, but rather that Janša bled just enough votes to push Janković over the top. As it seems that the last few days were crucial, it can be said with a degree of certainty that Janša hurt himself too much by a) fumbling the question of his real estate, b) avoiding the last debate on state television and c) acting as if the election result is a foregone conclusion.

a) Documents

Janša couldn’t help himself. In what was essentially “game over” for Janković, he went on the offensive and pressed Janković (and by extention Pahor and Virant) to disclose their financial and real estate documentation. Borut Pahor and Gregor Virant obliged promptly, Janković – who was already under media pressure on this – dragged his feet, but did produce (almost) complete documentation, challenging Janša to do the same. The SDS leader – unexpectedly – came under fire himself due to somewhat misterious ways of his real estate deals and took much longer than expected to hand over his papers. And even after he did so, it turned out the package is incomplete (he published the complete documentation on his Facebook page early on the last day of the campaign).

More importantly, his party blamed a broken-down scanner for the delay in producing the papers which instantly brought about unpleasant memories of the Archivegate. Voters’ memory is indeed short, but some people seem to remember.

b) Debate avoidance

Both Janša and Pahor canceled their appearance on the last debate on RTVSLO (state television) opting to appear on cable-only Info TV instead. While Pahor’s motives are unclear, it was more than obvious that Janša did not want to face Janković for the third time in a week and in a setting, where he would have to share time with “lesser” candidates. It was a snub both to his fellow candidates as well as to the viewers, who had to settle for Patrick Vlačič (SD) and Zvonko Černač (SDS) instead. While Vlačič was his usual acceptable self, Černač perfomed poorly, being unable to go beyond buzzwords and the general SDS mantra. It was not a good conclusion to the otherwise professionally conducted SDS campaign.

c) Foregone conclusion

Pahor and Janša on Info TV was meant to generate the appearance of the outgoing and the incoming prime minister having a civil chat on the pressing issues, possibly undoing the damage Janša suffered during a mano-a-mano with Janković on the said TV station. This, however, was Janša’s crucial mistake. His demeanor throughout the campaign was one of calmness and composure. Janša was already meeting with labour unions, EU ambassadors and was receiving support from fellow right-wing party leaders throughout Europe (including ill-concieved support from the jailed Julia Timošenko of Ukraine and Victor Orban of Hungary). In the end, it might have done more harm than good, probably convicing some of those who would have otherwise voted for him to support other parties. Either because it seemed game, set and match for Janša, or because the whole thing spilled over into arrogance.

The aftermath

Janković won, Janša lost. But winners (in their own particular way) also include DeSUS (the pensioners’ party) of Karl Erjavec, who seem to be disaster-proof, regardless of the clowning demeanor of the party president and Christian Democratic Nova Slovenija of Ljudmila Novak, which scored the unprecedented success of being the first party in history of Slovenia to make it back into the parliament. There is certain logic to it, as it is against the general order of things not to have the Catholics in the parliament in a country which is nominally 57% Roman Catholic.

The same logic applies to the apparent losers of this elections, both liberal parties, LDS of Katarina Kresal and Zares of Gregor Golobič. Neither of them made it above the 4% treshold. Zares scored a disastrous 0.65 % of the vote, while LDS fared only marginally better with 1.46 %. This, however, will not stand in the long run and I fully expect the liberal/social-liberal option to make it back into the parliament. But we’ll cover that in one of the upcoming posts.

One party no-one will particularly miss are the nationalists of Zmago Jelinčič. Scoring only 1.80 % of the vote they’re down and out. We’ll see if that’s for good, though.

Also, technically Borut Pahor’s Social Democrats must be counted in the ‘losers’ column, since they’re down to 10 seats from previous 28. But given the criminally low ratings Pahor’s government was getting in its last year, the fact that the SD came in third does soften the blow quite a bit.

What happens next?

Obviously, Janković will have to go about forming a coalition government. We already noted the seat-divison for the top three parties. Citizens’ List led by Gregor Virant came in fourth with 8 seats, DeSUS gor six seats, ditto for SLS of Radovan Žerjav, while NSi of Ljudmila Novak got the minimum possible four seats. Two seats are, of course, reserved for MPs representing Italian and Hungarian minotiries.

The PM-presumtive (that be Jay-Z) said time and again that he will not form a coalition with Janez Janša no matter what (as in: he’d rather gnaw his arm off than have to work with the man who snubbed him in every way possible during his 2004-2008 rule). And even though he reportedly initiated talks with SDS as well, that can be – for the time being – regarded more of a good-will gesture than real negotiations. Which leaves Zoki with a couple of options to go by: First (and least likely) is to try to isolate Janša and invite just about everyone and his brother to form a coalition, including the NSi. But since the latter went head-to-head with the new leader of Slovenia on a couple of occasions, including but not limited to Tito Street (where the NSi won the case in the Constitutional Court), odds are NSi will sit this one out.

This leaves Janković (PS) with SD, SLS, DeSUS and Virant’s List (LGV) to choose from. Social Democrats are almost necessary as coalition partners as they bring in ten votes. Additionally, If the PM-presumptive wants to achieve at least some sort of across the isle consensus on reforms, he will have to include at least one of the pro-welfare-reform parties, either Virant’s List of the SLS (both centre-right). If he includes both of them, he already enjoys a comfortable majority of 52 votes (54 if minorities are counted in) in a 90 seat parliament. The other possibility is a Jankovic-Pahor-Virant-Erjavec coalition (again, 52 votes) or a slightly less comfortable PS-SD-DeSUS-SLS combo with 50 votes.

But given DeSUS’ anti-reform stance, the PS-SD-LGV-SLS seems most probable. This would also probably mean (in addition to Janković at the helm) Borut Pahor as foreign minister (a field where Zoki is noticeably lacking both in skills and personnel), Gregor Virant as either minister of justice or of the interior (possibly both, as there is talk of reducing the number of porfolios) and Radovan Žerjav as agriculture or transportation minister (portfolios which SLS usually wants to control).


The State Electoral Commission will declare the final official results no later than 16 December, which means that the new parliament will convene for the first time on or around 24 December. After that the President of the Republic Danilo Türk will start consultations with parliamentary groups upon which he will make his nomination for the post of prime minister. While the consultations are a mere formality, they help to establish a clear picture of whether the PM presumptive can secure a necessary majority in the parliament.

And if all goes smoothly, Zoran Janković, a self-made-man of humble origins, born to a Slovene mother and a Serbian father in a backward village in Serbia, who moved to his maternal country at the age of 11 and continues to be mocked on account of his mixed roots to this very day, will be sworn in as the eight Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia.

The irony of course is not lost on Janša… If only he hadn’t had Janković removed as CEO of Mercator retail chain in 2005…

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