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.


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A Day In A Strike

Those of you who follow The Firm™ on Facebook (hint hint!) probably already saw this, but nevertheless: Some 100,000 public sector employees went on strike today. Schools, kindergartens, libraries and some faculties were shut, policemen, firemen and customs officials were down to skeleton crews and performed only basic duties. Ditto for nurses and several other public services. As every branch of every union had to vote on whether to jon the strike, there were exceptions: journos for state TV and radio did not join the strike, altough they supported it. Some faculties voted against the strike, some didn’t even have a union branch organised. But after all was said and done, this was still the largest strike in the history of this country.

Most of the people were on strike at their place of work. Some, however, joined protests in cities all around the country, the largest of them being held in Ljubljana, where it is estimated that some ten thousand people poured in front of the governmetn and the parliament building. Pengovsky was there for your viewing pleasure.

More on austerity measures planned by the government of Janez Janša and what they lead to here and here, gallery below.

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The Return of the Jay-Z

Zoran Janković is to be sworn as mayor tomorrow and I still owe you a run-down on his victory on mayoral by-elections on 25 March, so here it goes: While the result was a virtual no-brainer, the whole episode is slightly more interesting than it may seem at first glance. As you very well now, the sole reason for these by-elections was the fact that Janković was elected MP on 4 December parliamentary elections and had to relinquish his position as the Big Kahuna of the coty. After being outmanoeuvred by Janez Janša and had the premiership snatched from under the nose, Janković was faced with quite a dilemma: whether he should continue as MP and a nominal leader of the opposition, or whether he should leave the parliament and try to – as schizophrenic as this may sound – succeed himself as the mayor of Ljubljana.

Just to make sure everybody’s on the same page, pengovsky would like to remind both readers again that these were mayoral by-elections which had no effect on the composition of the city council itself with Zoran Janković List having an absolute majority of 25 out of 45 councilmen, so there was a theoretical possibility of a cohabitation. But in all honesty, the result was never in doubt. Ljubljana is Zoki’s turf and with the political right being continuously unable to mount a serious challenge to win since 1994 municipal administration reform which established Ljubljana as a single entity, the question du jour was not if Jay-Z will win, but by rather by how much. In the end the metre stopped at 61%, which is a) a repetition of his election results in 2006 and 2010 and b) still pretty awesome.

Having said that, additional and equally important issues were raised by these elections: a) why can’t the political right put up a decent fight in the capital and why it tried in vain to do so, b) what’s with the left side of the spectrum and c) what will Janković’s move from National Assembly to the City Hall mean for him and for the parliamentary opposition.

The Empire

As you know, right wing parties put forward two challengers to Zoran Janković. Mojca Kucler Dolinar, a joint SDS/NSi candidate and Matjaž Glavan, who stood for SLS. While Glavan scored a neglible 1% which is in line with that SLS got in municipal elections in 2010, Kucler Dolinar scored marginally better than she and Zofija Mazej Kuković did year and a half ago when they ran solo for NSi and SDS respectively.

But the real question is why did Kucler Dolinar run for mayor the second time knowing she’d lose. Pengovsky tried to answer this in his post running up to the elections (hoping for a reward down the road), but there are other factors to consider as well. Most of all the fact that for all intents and purposes Mojca Kucler Dolinar is now a spent force. She lost to Janković twice in a row and although one could claim that she did pretty well, she came nowhere near forcing Janković into a second round, let alone endangering him directly. This does not exactly do wonders for her political career as she has little to show for in terms of achievements. Also, word has it the joint SDS/NSi ticket was her idea but that the SDS had to formally extend the invitation since Kucler Dolinar’s NSi was strongly opposed to what they probably saw as a lost cause.

Bottom line: whatever political ambitions Kucler Dolinar might have had before 25 March are now probably up in smoke. She was probably hoping to re-enter national politics (she served as a higher education minister in the first Janša administration) but given lack of success on her part and the minute role NSi is playing the current Janša set-up, her chances are virtually nil. Ditto for any master plan she might have had to take over the party.

SDS came out of this mess virtually unhurt. From their point of view it doesn’t really matter who made the initial offer, fact of the matter is that by having Kucler Dolinar as a joint candidate they made at least a pro-forma challenge to Janković while not throwing away a name and a face they’ll have to send into battle in two-and-a-half-year’s time.

But even then they will still be faced with the same dilemma: Why can’t they win in Ljubljana? Well, the marginally younger, more urban and slightly more left-wing orientation of the population helps, but the reality is that the political right has been re-active. In other words, they always campaigned on »not doing stuff like the previous administration did it«. And had Zoki not burst on the scene in 2006, that might have just been enough. But he did and it wasn’t. As a result, they (as well as most of the other political parties) are hopelessly aping his platform which is broad enough to have encompassed most of the challenges this city will be facing in the next decade or so, as well as trying to beat him at his own game of setting goals and achieving them (or at least coming close enough). And when that doesn’t work, they fall back again to »promising not to do it like the previous guys did it«. It’s a vicious circle, which will only be broken if and when Janković (again) decides to quit the mayorship. Be it to return to the national lever, be it for good.

The Rebels

On the other hand, things are not exactly dull on the left, either. The suprise of the day was a relatively strong showing by Vito Rožej of Zares, who scored slightly above four percent of the vote, which was quite a feat for a party which barely registered with voters across the country only months ago in parliamentary elections and did only marginally better in 2010 local elections.

But before people start opening bottles of Dom Perignon ’58, we should make a few things clear. To an extent Rožej did get his four percent on account of being a relatively fresh but recognisable face on the scene (he did serve as councilman in city of Kranj and as MP in the previous parliament). Then again he was also active in the campaign for the Family Code, which must have helped. But most importantly, he had the good luck of SD, DeSUS and LDS opting not to enter the race with their respective candidates, so it is safe so say that Rožej got a fair amount of their votes as well. Just so we’re clear on that. No champagne yet, I’m afraid.

And while we’re on it: some of those votes must have gone to the lone ranger on Ljubljana politics Miha Jazbinšek, who scored a record 6 percent of the vote.

The return of the Jay-Z

So, the one last thing that remains to be answered is what will the return of the Jay-Z mean for the situation on the parliament? In the short term, nothing good, really. Sure, Janković didn’t exactly loiter in the parliament and his people had to do without him on occasion. But the fact that he will be physically gone will have its repercussions. If one is to judge by the situation in his city council group upon his leaving, Janković will have to make damn sure that MPs for Positive Slovenia don’t lose focus, motivation and go for each other’s throats. Because once the Big Kahuna is gone, a lot of small and mid-sized Kahunas will try to impose themselves unto their colleagues, despite the fact that the parliamentary group is headed by Janković’s former vicemayor and still-serving Ljubljana councilman Jani Möderndorfer. He will have his work cut out for him once Zoki is gone.

As for the left wing in general, things will become much more interesting. It is no secret that litlle love is lost between Janković and leader of SD Borut Pahor. That much became plainly obvious after the SD gave a cold shoulder to Zoki when he tried to rally all left wing parties some days ago and everyone save the Social Democrats and SMS-Green Party attended. The SD implicitly accused the re-minted mayor of trying to take over the left and impose himself unto others and they might have even been correct to an extent. But fact of the matter is that the SD finally started settling in-party scores and is locked in a bitter power struggle between Borut Pahor and Igor Lukšič, with the latter pulling no punches (and having no reason to, sice Pahor sidelined him early in his premiership for no apparent reason).

If Janković really wanted to unite the left under a common banner, he should have waited a couple of weeks, two months at best, for the shit to hit the fan witihn SD and for the defeat on the Family Code referendum to really sink in and he’d have almost all of the left eating out of his hand. But as things stand, he jumped the gun again (just as he did immediately after his election victory) and came out more or less empty handed.

But be that as it may, with Zoki in the City Hall as of tomorrow, a new centre of political power on national level is starting to emerge and it could very well be that the end result will be a situation not unlike in Austria, where nothing happens on the political left unless the all-powerful Vienna mayor Michael Häupl OKs it. And – funnily enough – Janković always said how he considers Häupl to be his role model. I guess he meant it…

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Karl Erjavec Wants To Be No.2

Unless the world comes to a premature end, Janez Janša of SDS will be sworn in as the tenth Slovenian PM come Saturday. In what was an act of political expedience, the coalition agreement was hammered out during the weekend, while leaderships of SDS, DLGV, SLS, NSi and DeSUS are meeting today to vote on whether or not to join the centre-right coalition.

Not exactly up to pengovsky’s standard, but this photoshop is circling the Slovenian internets lately 🙂 (source)

Although not an entirely open-and-shut case, it seems safe to assume that everybody is more or less on-board with this one. Some key members of DeSUS (the pensioners’ party) are not really head-over-heels about going to bed with Janez Janša and a relatively coordinated lobbying action is taking place to convince enough members of the party’s executive committee to vote against. But note that the phrase “relatively coordinated” should be taken with a pinch of salt. To be honest: the general level of party organisation in Slovenia is awful. If companies in this country were ran that way, they’d go bankrupt in a matter of years. Oh, wait…

Karl Erjavec wants to become No. 2

Anyways. As both readers of this blog know, DeSUS is in the kingmaker position and it is generally considered that they drove a hard bargain. Whether or not it was hard enough, remains to be seen. Janez Janša was smart enough to at least try to get the parties agree to a coalition agreement first and leave the issues of specific ministerial nominations for after he is sworn in. However, names have already been leaked and there are a couple personnel problems the new PM-apparent will have to tackle soonest.

First and foremost, it seems that Gregor Virant and Karl Erjavec are locked in a bit of a cock-fight over the presidency of the parliament, nominally the No.2 spot in the country, just after the President of the Republic. As you know, Virant’s ascent to the position was the result of a similar cock-fight between Zoran Janković and Borut Pahor back in the days when Jay-Z was eyeing the PM spot himself. Back then Virant said time and again that he let himself be elected as president of the parliament just to get things going and that he will vacate the position should any coalition agreement demand so.

Well, guess what… Turns out Virant kind of likes it there and (apparently) for the same reason as Erjavec wants to get there. A high-profile, perk-heavy, pizazz-rich position with a security detail, bullet-proof car and a relatively low workload. At least compared to any ministerial position where the occupants are sure to piss blood during the next few years. Alternatively, Erjavec is earmarked for the position of the foreign minister, which should provide some laughs, not just at home, but also around the continent. With the pensioner party FM, the term “old school diplomacy” might take on a whole new meaning.

Character assassination

But be that as it may, the balance of power seems to favour Erjavec. Not only do he and his party hold the key to a Janša-led coalition, Gregor Virant and his DLGV are in no real position to bargain. This was graphically demonstrated today, when the dirty-lanudry-news-sites posted a picture of Jani Soršak of DLGV, former head of national anti-trust office and a man widely expected to take over as justice minister in a not-really-intimate-but-suggestive-enough position with a woman who is not his wife. Not that his really is anyone’s concern (save maybe his and his wife’s), but it was all a part of a quick-and-dirty character assassination, which – in addition to the picture – included a much more damaging accusation that Soršak, while still the head of anti-trust office, in fact facilitated an attempt to take over Večer daily through a straw company which definitely did not have the funds to buyout the newspaper’s owners.

Soršak alleged role was to turn a blind eye to the fact that the ultimate buyer would be a now-bankrupt-and-sold media company Delo Revije, at the time owned by Soršak’s close friend Matej Raščan. Soršak already denied any wrongdoing and stressed that he excluded himself from the procedure for exactly that reason, but he also said publicly that he will not be taking over the justice portfolio. Which means that the character assassination succeeded brilliantly.

While we’re on this: it’s kind of funny, how accident-prone DLGV is. First it was Virant’s faux-pas over MP compensation, now this thing with Soršak and just as if that isn’t enough, Janez Šušteršič is apparently poised to take over as finance minister, possibly the worst job there is in any government. Finance ministers tend to get screwed for every financial fuck-up there is, while receiving little praise when things are good. The late Andrej Bajuk learned this the hard way during Janša’s first stint as PM (2004-2008) and Šušteršič would do well to watch his back.

And in case you’re wondering, where the attacks came from, look to the political right. Virant was eating into Janša’s electorate early on in the campaign and had to be cut down. He then insisted his party take over the justice portfolio regardless of the eventual coalition, since both Janša and Janković are or are about to be subjects of criminal investigation. Sure, Janša is standing trial over Patria Affair, while Janković is rumoured to have been indicted for tax fraud and abuse of office (no official word on that yet, though).

So, the need to discipline the new justice minister early on is also plainly visible. Add to that the fact that Virant himself was recently sentenced to a month in prison with a two-year probation period over defamation and you see that very little is left of his and his party’s claims to be the defenders of truth and justice in the next government. Unless they are prepared to commit a honour-bound political suicide, they will most likely just sit there and be pretty.

WWDTD (What Would Danilo Türk Do)?

Therefore, all eyes are on DeSUS of Karl Erjavec, while his eyes are on the position of the President of the Parliament. If the pensioners’ party gives the nod, the parties of the centre-right coalition will – as per constitution – nominate Janez Janša for the post of the Prime Minister in the second round of the nomination process. However, president Danilo Türk is also scheduled to make an announcement regarding his PM nominee, a week after he fumbled it with Marko Voljč.

The Prez, who is up for re-election later this year and already has a challenger from SDS in the form of MEP and former education minister Milan Zver, has two options. He can go full-throttle-head-to-head with Janša and say that he will not be making a nomination (retracting his previous statement, that he definitely will be making a new nomination) and unload a barrage on Janša, including but not limited to the Patria Affair and Archivegate. On the other hand, he can try to take the wind out of Janša’s sails, hijack the entire thing and nominate Janša himself. Since the president’s nomination takes precedence in any vote, this would technically mean that the parliament would support the president. But the question is whether or not anyone would in fact care for such political niceties.

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