On Saturday before last former PM Borut Pahor was ousted as president of opposition Social democrats. In what was nominally a four-way race, his only battle-worthy adversary was Igor Lukšič, unofficial party ideologue and until Pahor’s 2008 electoral victory one of his closest allies who eventually prevailed in the second round of the vote, winning by the thinnest of margins. While Pahor won a 180 votes, Lukšič got ten more, ending Pahor’s fifteen years at the party helm. Pengovsky had again things to see and people to do and apologises profoundly to both readers for lack of posting and will try to make amends in the near future. So let’s start with what the near future has in store for Igor Lukšič, Borut Pahor and the Social Democrats.
Igor Lukšič and sour-faced Borut Pahor (Photo: Borut Peterlin/Mladina)
Pahor didn’t try very hard to hide his presidential ambitions. And so he tried to steal the show in Kočevje by announcing his presidential bid right there and then. The trick was that this was not followed by a withdrawal from the race for party president but – it seems – was meant as an ace up his sleeve to secure victory. It almost worked. At the very least, it put the party and its newly minted president into a rather tight spot as Pahor made it no secret that he fully expects the party to back his bid. Sure enough, almost immediately noises were made to that effect both by various local branches as well as Lukšič himself, although the later was careful to acknowledge Pahor’s ambitions but as yet stopped short of backing him. This, apparently, is a matter to be decided upon later this month by the new party leadership.
Igor Lukšič is caught between a rock and a hard place. He ran on a somewhat radical(ish) platform which promised a Hollandesque anti-austerity shift to the left for Social Democrats (where they supposedly belong anyhow) but seems to have taken to heart the tight margin by which he won the contest and interprets it as a call for moderation of his own views which apparently includes backing Pahor lest he risks a party-wide schism. However, supporting Pahor quite probably is just about the only thing he should not be doing. Pengovsky wrote on this a couple of days ago in a different setting and it stirred a little debate on whether it is the right thing to do and whether the SD (which is not in the greatest of shapes, to put it mildly) could actually benefit from Pahor’s bid and possiby even victory in presidential elections. However…
First of all, the notion that the party is somehow indebted to Pahor is utterly misleading. Yes, Pahor did lead it to power, securing the best result ever in 2008 elections. But he also led the party into the single largest routing at the polls, where the voters opened this huge can of whoop-ass on him, cutting the SD down to size from some 30% to a mere 10%. In other words, under Borut Pahor and in the three years that it was in power, the SD lost two thirds of its voters. Not even SLS was hit that hard in 2000 when they went down from 19 to 9 percent. Incidentally, when Pahor took over as party leader fifteen years ago, the SD (then still under the acronym of ZLSD) held about 9 percent in the parliament, meaning that it apparently made a full circle under Pahor and that is was time for him to say goodbye.
Secondly. The notion that Pahor can do wonders for ratings, both of SD in general and of Lukšic specifically, is utterly misleading. One of the few political convetions this country has is that the President, although nominally not prevented from being an active member of a political party (or even its leader), is expected to limit, suspend or completely stop with his party affiliation. With Borut Pahor you can bet your ass that this is the very thing he would have dome were he to become president. He wouldn’t lift a finger to help the SD and not just because the position of the Head of State would require him to do so. The trick is that Pahor’s accross-the-aisle attempts often went above and beyond the call of duty. It’s his trade mark. He did it while he was president of the Parliament, he did it as PM and there’s no reason to believe that he wouldn’t do it as President of the Republic.
Which brings us to the third issue: When Borut Pahor ascended the throne of the PM one of his first moves was to cleanse his inner-party structure, notably kicking out Igor Lukšič, his long-time confidante and party ideologue. In fact, Pahor didn’t even blink. Why on Earth should Lukšič do it any differently? In fact, pengovsky submits that not only should the SD not support Pahor’s bid, it should also try to isolate him in the parliament and remove him from the media spotlight. Namely, if Igor Lukšič fails to do so, he will constantly be second-guessed by SD voters and the general public. What would Borut Pahor do? Oh, there he is, let’s ask him….
Fourth: If Pahor is to remain a permanent fixture in Slovenian politics, there will be no end to second-guessing Igor Lukšič who will have to deal more with the long shadow of Borut Pahor rather than issues that really concern the party. The silhouette of Borut Pahor will haunt him and could very well turn him into a straw-man president with former party president still effectively running the show.
Fifth: Until now Borut Pahor held two of the three highest offices in this country: President of the Parliament and the President of the Government. Becoming the President of the Republic would round it off nicely, no? But the thing is that in both cases Pahor ran on a social democratic platform and as a party leader. Also, in both positions he was overly indulgent to the opposition, drawing much criticism from the party ranks. What in Bob’s name does automatically qualify him to expect support from the political left? Especially since he is actively wooing the right-wing vote (appearing on Catholic radio for an hour long programme, no less).
Six: In the previous presidential elections, the SD supported the incumbent president Danilo Türk. After losing the grip on power and political reality, Borut Pahor started flirting openly with ideas that used to be called Merkozy but now rightly go simply the last name of the German Chancellor. If Pahor were to become the official SD presidential candidate, the party would (again) implicitly subscribe to his views and policies although it had rejected them only ten days ago.
And finally, numero seven: In all honesty, it is somewhat debatable if Pahor would be such a proponent of austerity programmes if the situation were a wee bit different and he didn’t run out of ideas and people who were willing to talk sense into him. And despite his relatively illustrious political carrer, this crisis-handling thing was a gross political miscalculation on his part. It might be just proof enough that Borut Pahor reached the limit of his political prowess and that he is no longer concerned with the public good but rather with keeping his political legacy more or less intact.
Which is why the new SD leadership should think long and hard on whether to support Pahor or not. Pengovsky thinks it’s better for everyone that the support does not materialise. Thus Igor Lukšič would not be haunted by Pahor’s political ghost, the SD would cease being a catering service for Pahor’s political needs and wants while the political left could rally around the incumbent president (who has problems of his own, but that’ll wait for another time).
In short: Bourt Pahor should be made to realise that losing an election and wooing the other side are not the stuff the presidents are made of. It may be hard on him and he may take it badly. But hey, not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up…