2018 Parliamentary Election: Bells And Dog-Whistles

With only days remaining, the 2018 Slovenian parliamentary election campaign continues to underwhelm both in style and substance. There has been precious little movement in top positions in public opinions polls, but as time is running out nervousness is starting to set in, with subtle policy hints and dog-whistles giving way to veritable bullhorns in crude attempts to pick up an additional vote or two.

Best of the worst of campaign posters. (source, source and source)

Parties are promising everything and the moon to their voters. No commitment is too off-the-rails, no slogan is beyond the pale and no lie too bald-faced to serve the purpose. Sometimes it feels as if everyone involved just went off the rocker a bit. But given that between 20 and 45 percent of the electorate remain undecided (depending on which poll you look at), that is probably to be expected.

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2018 Parliamentary Election: Gifts That Keep On Giving

T-14 days and the election campaign in Muddy Hollows is now seeing increased use of heavy artillery, pengovsky did some punditizing on the telly and the debates are about to start coming in thick and fast.

Debate on POP TV on Monday night (source: screencapture)

But before we go into all that, the story that dominated the past week was one this scribe had briefly covered here and has to do with Slovenia turning out to be much more of a banana republic than its indigenous population is willing to admit

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Gold Rush

In a development that surprised a grand total of zero people, Marjan Šarec, mayor of Kamnik and erstwhile presidential candidate announced yesterday that he will take part in the parliamentary election. This comes on the heels of a host of new political parties announced or already formed and ready to enter the already-crowded arena. And with the vote six months out it is high time pengovsky takes a closer look at the lay of the land .

Slovenian ballot box (photo by yours truly)

Although reguraly decried by their more established and/or traditional cousins as attempts to con and defraud the good citizens of Muddy Hollows, new parties are by no means a purely Slovenian phenomenon. Case in point Czech Republic (or Czechia, as it now wants to be called in English) where a large majority of parliamentary parties have yet to celebrate their tenth birthday and one was established only two years ago. Or neighbouring Slovakia where two parliamentary parties were non-existent as little as three or four years ago. Or even France, where the right wing is currently billed as Les Republicains but used various acronyms throughout the decades as its (originally Gaullist) platform evolved. All this and we haven’t even mentioned Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique En Marche which was but a figment of imagination as little as eighteen months ago but has since opened a can of whoop-ass on the French political establishment.

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The Aftermath Of An Election

The ordeal is finally over. Borut Pahor was elected to a second five-year term, fending off a second-round challenge by Marjan Šarec, the mayor of a mid-size town in central Slovenia. But although Pahor’s victory was expected, he had to work harder and longer for it and won with by a much smaller margin that generally expected at the outset of the campaign.

The runner-up and the incumbent (source)

Still reeling from the clusterfuck after the first round when a number of of prominent polling agencies called the race for Pahor even ahead of the vote, the pollsters were more or less on target this time around. Most of final polls coalesced around 55/45 percent for Pahor but the final tally showed Pahor won in the end by 53 percent to Šarec’s 47 percent. That’s a mere six-point spread.

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Seventy Votes (Franc Zagožen, 1942 – 2014)

“Seventy”, he said with his distinct drawl. “At this moment I count seventy MPs who would support a proportional voting system.”

Franc Zagožen had just been elected president of SLS+SKD, a powerful new party that united both Slovenian People’s Party (SLS) and Slovenian Christian Democratic Party (SKD) in a single political player. Since SLS was a member of Janez Drnovšek-led coalition while SKD was in opposition, Drnovšek was forced to call a confidence vote which he tied to demission of ministers the new party. The way the proposal was formed the government was bound to fall either way which enabled SLS+SKD and Janez Janša‘s SDS (back then still known as SDSS – SocialDemocratic Party of Slovenia) to form a centre-right government with Andrej Bajuk as PM. Zagožen, however, despite becoming an interim leader of the party, remained an MP and their chief-whip. This turned out to be crucial.

Franc Zagožen (photo: Aleš Černivec/Delo, source)

Namely, two years earlier in 1998, the constitutional court decided in favour of the Slovenian Democratic Party which petitioned the court to change the results of the 1996 referendum on election system. SDS submitted a majoritarian election system, while the ruling LDS-led coalition formed a mixed-system proposal (close to what we have now) and the National Council proposed a purely proportional solution. Voters voted on all three in a single vote and none got over the 50% treshold. But majoritarian system 44%, by far the most of all three options and Janez Janša‘s party wanted the constitutional court to rule in favour of majoritarian system winning. Against all odds they succeeded.

Instrumental in this mathematical enterprise (where 44% is equal or greater to 50%) were judges Peter Jambrek, Tone Jerovšek and Lovro Šturm. All three became ministers in the first (albeit short-lived) right-wing government in Slovenia. And almost immediately, the government, led by Andrej Bajuk of Zagožen’s SLS+SKD but with Janez Janša as defence minister pulling a lot of strings, took the position that – due to decision of the constitutional court, majoritarian voting system must be adopted immediately, ominously adding that the current system had been invalidated by the 1996 referendum and subsequent court decisions.

This is where things got tricky. Postponing elections “due to irregularities” is an old trick used by autocrats, dictators and military juntas all over the world. Slovenia had a perfectly legal voting system even back then and it was Franc Zagožen who recognised that the threat to constitutional order and the stability of the country was starting to come from the government and not from somewhere else. The fact that his new party stood to profit handsomely from a mixed voting system did help, but in the final analysis it was about basic democratic principles: elections are held on time no matter what.

Once it became obvious that SLS+SKD MPs are not on the same wavelengt as the SLS+SKD & SDS government was, things began to heat up. More often than not, Zagožen would pace up and down the corridor next to the men’s loo, the only place in the parliament where one could smoke at the time. And when he wasn’t chain-smoking, he was in his office, fielding calls, taking the heat and keeping tabs on his MPs.

In the end, a solution was formed which surpassed the ruling of the constitutional court: the principles of the voting system were ensrhined in the constitution itself, thus changing the game completely. The SDS(S) went apeshit. Lovro Šturm even said that the parliament was exceeding its authority, for “above the constitutional court there is nothing but blue skies” (and thus ruined his reputation for ever). But to achieve this, a 2/3 majority of 60 votes was needed in the parliament. It all hung on MPs for SLS+SKD and with it, on Franc Zagožen. No wonder he (reportedly) fainted in his office more than once.

In the end, on a hot July day, the constitution was amended, providing for a mixed electoral system. The final tally was 70 votes in favour, just like Zagožen said months earlier. The Professor, as he was apparently known, managed to maintain a 2/3 majority in what was arguably one of the more intense moments of Slovenian political history, foil what for all intents and purposes was an attempted coup d’etat and save the democratic foundation of the country.

If there is one thing he should be remembered for by the general populace, this is it.

Franc Zagožen died last Saturday, aged 71.