Borut Pahor’s Mitt Romney Moment

Slovenian and US menstrual election cycles are oddly in sync. No matter the clusterfuck this country is in, we’ll always find elections to have more or less simultaneously with the “Tuesday after the first Monday in November“. Four years ago it was parliamentary elections which gave us Borut Pahor and gave Barack Obama to the rest of the world. Well, except Iran. And maybe Israel. But that’s another story.

Borut and Mitt, the also-rans (sources: The Firm™ and NYT)

This time around, however, the game in both towns is presidential. Barack H. Obama is running for re-election in Washington, while Danilo Türk is running for another term in Ljubljana. Also running are Mitt Romney in DC and Borut Pahor over here. Or should that be in past tense?

You’ll remember how pengovsky wrote about Borut Pahor turning into Slovenian Joe Lieberman. Today, however, he seems to have suffered his very own Mitt Romney moment, and not even a full 24 hours after former Governor of Massechussets more or less tanked his presidential bid.

Namely, in a pre-session huddle with members of the press Pahor, who serves as MP for Social Democrats (where he lost a re-election bid as party leader) said that his 2008-2011 government was oblivious to the worsening situation in the banking sector and totally failed to detect a problem. Which was a bit of a duh! moment for everyone else, but it seems to have been a breakthrough for Pahor himself. Which would be all fine and dandy were it not for the small fact of him running for president of this country.

The post of the President of the Republic is the pinnacle of political hierarchy in Slovenia. Despite the fact that it is largely (but not completely) a ceremonial post, the president is elected by a popular vote and is as such often looked to for moral and political guidance. Borut Pahor, despite his undeniable political and diplomatic achievements (the Arbitration Agreement with Croatia being his lasting contribution to the short history of this country), was voted out of office on account of – well – bad leadership. Sure, the fact that the pension- and labour-market reforms were defeated on a referendum was the result of an unholy alliance between the right-wing opposition and labour unions, but even after the defeat he relentlessly clung on to power saying that the last thing this country needs is political turmoil. Failing to recognise the fact that by then the country was throat-deep in political turmoil.

He also did not realise that, for better or for worse, the buck stopped with him, the head of the government and of the largest coalition party. He actively evaded taking responsibility for the situation and thus only protracted the political impasse that had at the time gripped Slovenia. And when he did make a move it was far too little, far too late. And after being subjected to an open can of whoop-ass in 2011 parliamentary elections (SD plunged from 30% in 2008 to a meagre 10% in 2011) he blamed everyone and his brother for the defeat. In fact, the only proof that Borut Pahor does indeed have a back came only days ago, when he fell of a horse and hurt it. The back, I mean. The horse is reportedly OK.

The scene was repeated in June this year, when – despite the epic electoral defeat – he ran for re-election as party leader. The Social Democrats, in what appears to have been a rare moment of lucidity, ousted him by the thinnest of margins and installed Igor Lukšič as head of SD (Lukšič himself painfully underperformed ever since, but that’s another story). Pahor went on with his presidential bid regardless, as if he is somehow entitled to the top post, after having already served as head of the Parliament (2000-2004) and head of the government (2008-2011).

Thus, after objectively failing as prime minister and then as party leader, Pahor now of his own free will said that he also failed in realising the problems of the banking sector. And yet he truly believes that he is fit to be president of this country, at a time as perilous as any this generation has ever seen. This, ladies and gentlemen, is nothing less than a humongous case of disconnect from reality.

Despite his apparent panache and suaveness, Borut Pahor often came across as overly candid, naive and unable to properly gauge the political environment he was in. Not unlike Mitt Romney, who probably killed any chance he had to get elected president. And so, too, it seems, has Borut Pahor.

Unless, of course, the disconnect is not only with Borut Pahor.


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How Borut Pahor Is Turning Into A Slovenian Joe Lieberman

Slovenian Social Democrats are up for a long-overdue post-election convention on 2 June and all signs point to a bloodbath. Borut Pahor is facing multiple challengers and the next two weeks will probably see precious few punched being pulled. Of the three, Pahor’s main rival is Igor Lukšič, party heavyweight and ideologue who used to be the brains behind Pahor’s rise to power and served as minister of education in the previous government. Lukšič was removed from Pahor’s inner circle quite unexpectedly in a small scale party purge soon after the 2008 election victory and little love was lost between the two since then.

Borut Pahor never really came to terms with the results od 2011 parliamentary elections. What by any measure was a defeat of epic proportions, he strove and still strives to present it as a “good enough” result, saying that the SD got 10 percent even though some pre-election polls showed as little as three-point support. But fact of the matter is that the SD would score in the vicinity of ten percent even if it were led by a ventriloquist’s puppet Which, incidentally, is how many people see Pahor in the first place.

Pahor was not a bad Prime Minister. In fact, he and his government had the right instincts and addressed the correct issues. The arbitration agreement with Croatia alone is enough to give the man a Medal of Honour. The fact that he tried to offset the first onslaught of the worldwide economic meltdown by raising the minimum wage while the business sector cried murder was a gutsy move. And to his credit, his government came up with a set of sweeping labour market and pension reforms, which – as both of you readers know full well – went down the drain courtesy of the unholy alliance between the right-wing opposition and the labour unions. But good ideas are a dime a dozen and after suffering the traumatising defeat on the super-referendum vote, Borut Pahor was never able to recognise that the buck stops with him and never took responsibility. Yes, the unions fucked him over (paying dearly for it under current Janša administration). Yes, the then-opposition went to epic lengths to undermine any and all policies he came up with and relentlessly beat the drums on various cockamamie scandals which turned out to be nothing but elaborate character assassinations. But at the end of the day, it was Borut Pahor who was at the helm of the country and he counted on everyone else to help him steer the ship while he was running out of ideas on what to do next. And this is where he reached the point of no return.

When Pahor Met Merkozy

When his tenure was nearing the terminal stage, he liked to use the phrase “Franco-German train” which was suppose to mean that Slovenia should follow France and Germany in their economic policies. In fact, he’d often say “either we’re on that train or we are no more”. This Franco-German railway arrangement soon thereafter became known throughout Europe as Merkozy, shorthand for hardcore austerity and an all-out neoliberal agenda. Which is what Pahor bought into as the lack of vision on his part settled in completely and he became preoccupied with his legacy and immediate political future. Bottom line: No matter how often he quoted Churchill, unlike the old English fart Borut Pahor was not a PM fit for a time of crisis.

This became painfully obvious just prior to elections, when (against many an advice) Zoran Janković went national and the obviously-outgoing PM went ballistic, concocting a phrase “behind-the-scenes uncles” which supposedly handled Janković, instructing him to take over the reins of the political left-wing from Pahor. This line of reasoning conveniently forgot to take two things into account: a) that Pahor never really steered the left wing (although he wanted to) and b) that by that time Janković was way beyond anyone’s control including that of former president Milan Kučan who (pengovsky has it on good authority) privately advised Janković not to enter national politics. Such reasoning pushed Pahor ever more towards Janez Janša and – augmented by his chronic and notorious need for compromise – played a key part in him not lifting a finger when Janković was tripping over his own legs trying to clinch the PM post (and failing miserably).

Step by step, inch by inch, Borut Pahor was nearing a position where his positions were becoming very similar to those of Janez Janša and his government. Most notably on the fiscal rule, which apparently was the straw that broke the camel’s back and caused a very public rift within the party and its parliamentary group. As a result. the constitutional amendment enacting the fiscal rule does not have the necessary 60 votes in the parliament, but staying true to his reality-denying self, Pahor maintains that eventually he’ll deliver the necessary votes, allowing the government of Janez Janša to pass the amendment.

Falling Down: “I’m the bad guy?!”

Now, whether or not this is just a matter of political physics (distancing from one object inevitably draws you nearer to another object) or a carefully executed masterplan remains to be seen. With Pahor’s modus operandi to date, this would indeed seem more like an accident and I can totally see him as Michael Douglas in Falling Down, when he finally realises what he’s done and says “You mean, I’m the bad guy!?” But he’s not there yes. In fact if one were to draw a parallel, one could compare Borut Pahor to Senator Joe Lieberman, who – as you’ll remember, used to be the next Vice-President of the United States, but then gradually gravitated towards the Republican party, at one point actually addressing the GOP convention in 2008, supporting John McCain against Barack Obama. Interestingly enough, Pahor did in fact make several appearances at various right-wing pow-wows but thus far limiting it to addressing think tanks and affiliate organisations. Why?

Well, our why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along-and-love-me top-tier politician is widely expected to run for President of the Republic in the upcoming election. Which is somewhat weird, given that the incumbent Danilo Türk is of left-wing provenance and was more than once a target of a smear campaign, case in point being Archivegate concocted by the SDS. Given that Janez Janša already put forward his candidate Milan Zver, MEP, Pahor running for the highest office in the country seems illogical. But then again, nobody ever accused him of being logical.

You Want Me In That Office. You Need Me In That Office!

You see, Pahor was on the brink of running for that very same office in 2007 and went through a very tragicomic and very Pahor-like episode of public soul-searching including admitting on live television that he simply doesn’t know what to do. He was eventually persuaded by his inner circle to take a pass and go for the PM spot a year later. Which he did and succeeded. But his overtures to the political right wing, provided that there is at least a tiny bit of logic behind them suggest, that he wants a crack at the job and he wants it now. Which is why he is reluctant to criticise Janša with anything harsher than “we don’t always see eye to eye”. This would also imply that he has (or thinks he has) some sort of a deal with Janša on this issue.

But if that is the case, his clinging to party leadership is all the more illogical. True, it doesn’t say anywhere that a sitting party president can’t be the head of state, but of the few high standards that were set in Slovene politics, a non-party president is one of them. Milan Kučan, Janez Drnovšek and Danilo Türk, the three individuals holding the office to date were either unaffiliated with any party (Tűrk) or relinquished their active party roles prior to or upon assuming office (Kučan and Drnovšek). Pahor, on the other hand, is fighting tooth-and-nail to continue as the top dog of the Social Democrats and it would make little sense to quit the job only months after the convention. Provided of course that he’d keep the party job and then win the presidential election.

None of the two are certain, mind you. OK, his chances of surviving the in-party challenge are marginally better, but a lot can change in the two weeks. Fact of the matter is that the party is split, especially those senior party members who can throw some weight around. The parliamentary group and Borut Pahor more often than not appear to be two different items and the two things that work in Pahor’s favour are the fact that there are three challengers: former minister of education and party ideologue Igor Lukšič, former minister of transport and the “cool guy” of the crowd Patrick Vlačič and a former member of National Council Zlatko Jenko. This of course practically ensures that the opposition vote will split at least two if not three ways.

Challenge For The Challenger

Of the three, Lukšič is the only one who is capable of mounting a serious challenge. He’s an old party hand, knows Pahor inside and out and was with the party through thick and thin. Which buys him quite a lot of clout. He’s also a very harsh critic of austerity measures and recognises that the left as a whole needs to reinvent itself. His problem is that he’s no good at sound-bites and sometimes has trouble getting the message across. Which may be Pahor’s second saving grace. The current SD president has neither the results nor the content to continue in his capacity. But he just might. It’s not that Lukšič doesn’t know the inning and the score, it’s just that he has trouble hitting the home run. And as we’ve seen time and again, “close” doesn’t cut it. We’ll see if Lukšič can get his act together in the next two weeks.

As for his implied presidential ambitions, you can bet your ass that Janša will once again try to screw him over and clinch the office for a right-wing candidate for the first time in history of this country. The scenario is farily simple: First, he’d enjoy seeing Pahor take on Türk, splitting the left-wing vote down the middle, thus increasing chances of Milan Zver making it to the second round, possibly facing Pahor. Should that happen, a lot of left wing voters would probably stay at home in protest during the second round of the vote, practically giving the victory to Zver. And even if Pahor won, Janša would be only marginally worse off, since Pahor would (as per custom) go above and beyond the call of duty to indulge Janša over and over again. And if somehow both Pahor and Türk made it to the second round, Janša would obviously support Pahor, achieving the same result.

In fact, the only situation Janez Janša wishes to avoid in the presidential election this autumn is a face-off between Danilo Türk and Milan Zver, be it in the first or the second round. And Borut Pahor seems to be working hard to prevent that from happening.

P.S.: Many apologies for not posting in over two weeks. Again, things to see and people to do…

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