While ministers-in-waiting were undergoing parliamentary hearings and while pope Francis was being installed with President Pahor rushing to be there when it happened, a short lull descended upon Slovenian politics which can and should be used to analyse Maribor mayoral elections which took place Sunday last. Pengovsky delivers.
Maribor, as you know, was the original flashpoint of the Slovenian uprising. Provoked by speed-traps installed around the city as a public-private partnership between the city and a privately owned company, it uncovered deep resentment, anger and rejection of political elite and politics in general by general population and quickly spread throughout the country. As a direct result of (occasionally violent) protests, Maribor mayor Franc Kangler stepped down, prompting mayoral elections held last Sunday where independent Andrej Fištravec won by a landslide in the first round, leaving other candidates, most of them running on party tickets, in the dust. There’s only one problem: the turnout was only 31 percent, criminally low even by Maribor standards where historically fewest people ever bothered to partake in a popular vote. Rok Kajzer (@73cesar) has a good piece on the aftermath of the Sunday vote (Slovenian only), but there are other implications as well.
Namely, the low turnout shows that resignation of a despised politician (in this case mayor Kangler) does not solve the basic problem, the disillusionment of the people with the political process and the waning legitimacy thereof. Even more: Maribor may have gotten a new mayor on Sunday, but the city council remains largely intact, although the protesters demanded councilmen resign as well. Only a few did, not enough to have the council dissolved. Meaning that while a new mayor will soon be in the office, the coalition in the city council more or less remains the same one which supported mayor Kangler. Which spells bad news for the new mayor as he will have precious few people to cover his back. It is as if the people sensed that the basic problems of this society can not be solved by early elections only.
Which brings us to lessons learned: firstly, that the entire political process is so tainted in the eyes of the people, that simply putting up new faces up for elections will get you nowhere. Sure, you may win the elections (as Fištravec did) but the actual problems remain the same. Or worse. And secondly, that early elections alone can not offer anything new if force(s) stemming from the protest movement are not able to properly form and present a viable alternative to the existing ruling elite.
Had other parties (most notably the SD) gotten their way and forced early elections as soon as this summer, chances are the turnout would be spectacularly low since only established political parties have the resources to mount a campaign in snap elections. Like Maribor. And had snap elections be called in Slovenia today, the turnout would possibly be equally horrid.
The notion that early elections alone can be harbingers of changes is ultimately flawed under present Slovenian circumstances, even though this is one of the core demands of the protest movement. The only way early elections can change something is by altering the political arena first. And that takes time. Plenty of it. Otherwise the established elite can also brush newcomers off as incompetent.