Not Gilcup!

Leader of DeSUS and former defence minister Karl Erjavec and former Chief of the General Staff of Slovene Army Albin Gutman have been found not guilty of negligence and dereliction of duty in the Patria Affair. The court pronounced them not guilty after Higher State Prosecutor Branka Zobec Hrastar apparently failed to prove beyond the shadow of the doubt that actions of the either of the two accused caused 17 million euro of needless costs to the state budget.


It wasn’t them. Karl Erjavec and Albin Gutman (photo: Matjaž Rušt/SiOL.net)

Technically, this is not over yet, because Zobec Hrastar already filed a complaint with the Higher Court, arguing that the District Court ignored important evidence. But as things stand now, this is yet another notch in the belt of Teflon Karl who seems to be impervious to anything anyone throws at him. In this respect it is an even bigger wonder that Prime Minister Borut Pahor managed to kick Erjavec out as the minister of environment on account of waste management and mere allegations of misuse of public funds.

Erjavec and Gutman acquittal on one hand spells bad karma (as far as prosecution is concerned) vis-a-vis The Big One in the Patria Affair – the indictment of former PM and current leader of the opposition Janez Janša, who stands accused of corruption and bribery together with four more individuals. One is tempted to think that if Zobec Hrastar is unable to prove dereliction of duty, how will she prove that substantial amounts of money changed hands (or were about to)? However, from what pengovsky understands, the reasoning of the court in the case against Erjavec was rather simple: the deal with Patria was not yet concluded (i.e.: not all deliveries and payments have been made) therefore it is impossible to say when and if public funds have been unnecessarily spent. Apparently the circumstantial evidence was not strong enough to bridge this logical gap and Erjavec and Gutman walked out free men.

Whether or not this will be the case with Janša et al. remains to be seen. The amount of (dis)information in this particular case is astonishing and one can never really be sure who is working for whom. Case in point being journalist of Delo newspaper Dejan Karba who seems to be rabidly covering the case from a strong Janša-is-guilty point of view but of whose motives pengovsky voiced concerns some time ago. The two admitted to have collaborated on this issue so I’m just chasing ghosts here. But that is just a sideshow, just as the case against Erjavec could turn out to have been.

But before we get to the big finale, there will be fun galore. Not just because Janša has been found to be eschewing delivery of official mail, some of which are said to be fines for publishing personal data of third persons when publicly decrying the injustices which he is allegedly subjected to. Then there are a number of civil lawsuits by Janša against various individuals who accused him publicly of wrongdoing. There will also be funny/ridicolous/outrageous attempts by both prosecution and the defence to derail each other’s case. Not to mention the media insinuations which will be a dime a dozen and will blow everything way out of proportion. Then there’s the government of PM Pahor which is still mulling over what exactly to do about the deal with Patria. Zares of Gregor Golobič is pushing for Slovenia to bail out of the deal and take Patria to court invoking the anti-corruption clause (i.e.: the deal is null and void if there was corruption), whereas the defence minister Ljubica Jelušič is nixing this saying that a) nothing was proven yet and b) Slovenia needs those APCs.

In short, what we are up for could very well be a very powerful courtroom drama with Jack Nicholson as Janez Janša. Just try saying “You can’t handle the truth!” in Grosuplje accent :). But what we are more likely to get is a courtroom comedy which will make Monty Python look like the Royal Shakespearean Company 🙂

 

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A Parlamentarian Vignette (throw him the fuck out!)


Tadej Slapnik, Zares and Zmago Jelinčič, SNS (source)

SCENE: A parliamentary investigative committee on the Patria Affair. Headed first by Zvonko Černač and then by Branko Grims, both members of SDS, it is aimed at proving that the Patria Affair was concocted to influence the result of 2008 parliamentary elections when the left wing coalition led by now-PM Borut Pahor defeated Janez Janša and forced SDS back into opposition.

ROLES:
Branko GRIMS of SDS, head of the committee
Tadej SLAPNIK of Zares, member
Zmago JELINČIČ of SNS, member
Franc PUKŠIČ of SLS, member

THE PLOT: Just as they did with Černač, the ruling coalition aims to have GRIMS replaced as the head of the committee by declaring him a witness in the inquiry. This would further hamper the work of the committee. The approach was pioneered during the last parliament, when SDS used the tactic to replace Milan M. Cvikl of Social Democrats, who ran his Patria investigation committee but was prevented from finishing the job on bogus claims that he must testify in front of the committee. As a result, the committee never filed a final report on the issue.

THE DIALOGUE:

GRIMS: Esteemed colleague, if you don’t have…
JELINČIČ: What’s that suppose to mean, ‘you too’?
GREMS: Order, please! Look, if you don’t have…
JELINČIČ: You’ll get your cunt slapped, I’ll show you ‘you too’!
GRIMS: … if you don’t have a clue about the law and procedures, I can’t…
JELINČIČ: You watch now!
SLAPNIK: What’s the matter? You want me to throw you out the window?
JELINČIČ: Who?
SLAPNIK: Who are you to threaten me?
GRIMS: Would you please stop…
SLAPNIK: Jelinčič, who are you to threaten me
JELINČIČ: Call security and throw him the fuck out!
SLAPNIK: Just try and hit me…
JELINČIČ: Call security and get him out of here…
SLAPNIK: You bum!

Further on in the scene SLAPNIK refuses to give in and continues to argue, when PUKŠIČ walks over to him and turns off his microphone

In case you’re wondering, the above really happened. Word for word. It is taken from a transcript of the session of the committee, released by the parliament on Zares‘ demand.

Very well-mannered people, Slovene MPs, no? 🙂

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Second Republic Revisited

As expected, the big coalition pow-wow turned out to be a non-event with a predictable result. PM Borut Pahor outlined six priorities his government has to tackle in the remaining 18 months which effectively remain until elections, for all his boasting Karl Erjavec of DeSUS was sidelined and his cajoling to re-open the issue of pension reform was apparently ignored by the rest of the coalition partners. LDS and Zares pointed out a couple of issues they intend to stick to outside the immediate six-point priority plan (the new Family Code and the issue of Patria APCs respectively, to pick examples at random), while the Social Democrats have problems of their own, especially regarding the fate of finance minister Franci Križanič for whom the Court of Audit recommended a demission for dereliction of duty. In short: rumours of this coalition’s demise were greatly exaggerated.


Janez Janša during his particular pow-wov Saturday last (source: SDS)

However, that is no to say that Monday’s huddle was all about sipping tea and checking sports results. Waves were created especially by Gregor Golobič who stepped in front of the press late on Friday, just in time to make the evening news and plenty of ink in Saturday’s newspapers. Leader of Zares made plenty of noises about the need to change the constitution to break the impasse this country apparently found itself at. What made Golobič’s proposal intriguing was the fact that only days earlier Janez Janša and his SDS floated their very own idea of constitutional changes, claiming that the time was ripe for a “second republic” which should break the impasse this country apparently found itself at.

Although Golobič said that he had no problem cooperating with anyone, even Janša on constitutional changes and Janša too said that he would work with anyone to bring about the necessary changes, one should no go ga-ga over it. Rather, what we’ve seen is a cheap political bluff on Janša’s side with Goobič calling it as soon as possible.

La deuxième république

SDS leader talked at length about the need to create the “second republic” which would effectively tackle issues of today much like the “first republic” more or less successfully tackled issues of a fledgling democracy Slovenia was twenty years ago (and then some). The thing is that apart from a fancy but possibly embarrassing name, Janša thus far has little to show for this second republic of hid. Truth be told, he said that the new and improved constitution would be outlined until the end of the year by which time SDS would be ready to take power once again.

At this stage it is not entirely known whether this latest constitutional dash by Janša has anything to do with his previous exploits of this nature, the last of which was his ten-point-plan for constitutional changes which he floated in 2009 upon being re-elected to the post of SDS commander-in-chief president. But given the fact that he scheduled the new constitutional draft eleven months from now suggest, that SDS will go back to the old drawing board and start from scratch. Again.

“Second republic” is a bit unfortunate name. Not only did Borut Pahor use it way back in 2000-2004 term when he was serving as president of the parliament during governments of Janez Drnovšek and Tone Rop, but also because both Janša today and Pahor back then were obviously alluding to the French Second Republic, which was of rather ill fate an ended with a coup d’etat by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, from then on known as Napoleon III. Obviously, I’m not saying Janša wants to perform a coup d’etat (we’re past that, methinks), but there could be an echo of the subconscious here 😉

50+

I’m joking, obviously. But Janša apparently is not. He made it perfectly clear that he intends to increase the number of seats in the parliament in 2012 elections and with help of “compatible” parties (namely SLS and NSi) gain not only an absolute, but a two-thirds majority, enabling him to go through with constitutional-changes-to-be. This masterplan was uveiled and a party conference titled 50+ which apparently stood for percentage of support he wants to win in 2012 and was not code for “mid-life crisis”.

Truth be told, Janša might have a point. The government’s ratings are at an all-time low, SDS is comfortably leading public opinion polls and ruling Social Democrats are fighting off competition from Karl Erjavec’s DeSUS to keep second place, while LDS and Zares would barely make the cut, according to the latest public opinion poll. In theory, all Janša has to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

How to tame your Karl

But as noted in the beginning, rumours of the coalition’s demise were grossly exaggerated. Not only did it take the parties in power surprisingly little time to find common ground, the supposedly down-and-out players on the left refused to go on the defensive and instead delivered a few well aimed punches of their own. Case in point being the sudden taming of Karl Erjavec and DeSUS who now suffer all the drawbacks of a single-issue party. Erjavec tried in vain to reopen the debate on pension reform. The move was apparently rejected flat-out which left him without political ammo, even though he was uttering words such as “street”, “protests” and “unrest”. The rest of the coalition was – on the surface at least – left unfazed by this and didn’t go beyond adopting Golobič’s proposal to seek cooperation with three independent MPs. As much as broadening the number of votes the coalition can count on in the parliament sans DeSUS, the move is aimed at taunting Karl Erjavec whose two former MPs are now independents and DeSUS leader made it plain that he is unhappy about being in the same boat with people he threw out of the party.

Then there is Zares’ constitutional bid. While it looks revolutionary on the outside (revamping referendum and election rules, establishing the mayor/MP conflict of interest and so forth), Golobič also said that he is willing to cooperate with Janša on this issue and since Janša said that is willing to cooperate with anybody (after all, this is the constitution we’re talking about), we’re supposedly looking at a Janša-Golobič led constitutional reform. Obviously, hell will freeze over before the above happens.

Taking the edge out

Neither of the constitutional bids are in pengovsky’s opinion what they appear to be. So far, Janša’s bid is only a thinly veiled attempt at gaining momentum to insert himself back at the top spot. The fact that the bid thus far lacks substance only reiterates the fact. Historically, the current leader of the opposition always looked for short-cuts to power. Be it referendums, no-confidence votes, calls for early elections or calls for constitutional reforms, Janša’s general aim in the past fifteen years was to gain power by almost any means possible. Ironically, the only time he didn’t fail in that enterprise was when he waited patiently and won the elections fair and square. But back then he also had substance and the electorate to back it up. Today, he has neither. Sure, he might be leading polls by a large margin, but when push comes to a shove, his own voters seem rather lukewarm and no longer support all of his bids en masse, case in point being the referendum on RTV Slovenia, where turnout was criminally low on both sides of political spectrum.

On the other hand, although carrying slightly more substance, Zares’ constitutional bid was very much tongue-in-cheek. Rather than jump-starting the long and painful constitutional process 18 months before elections, its primary function seems to be to take out the edge of Janša’s bid. Most of what Golobič wants can easily be achieved via normal legislative procedure and does not require a constitutional majority (two-thirds of all MPs in two consecutive votes). Thus the only real effect now is that Janša no longer monopolizes the debate on constitutional reform, which probably means that the issue will die out sooner rather than later.

Who stands to lose the most

Also, one must not forget that both Janša and Erjavec, while apparently giving the coalition a run for its money, have problems of their own especially with regard to Patria Affair, where they are facing their own respective trials, with Janša’s SDS in hot water also over financing its pre-election “free newspapers” Slovenski Tednik and Ekspres.

Point being that everyone, including Janša and Erjavec stand to lose a lot in the next eighteen months, especially given their current standing. Thus – illogical as it may seem- the one who stands to lose the least is the government of Borut Pahor. While pengovsky thinks that there’s more to its achievements than meets the eye, there’s no doubt that the general impression of this government is it being long-derailed, chaotic, inept, scandal-ridden and trying to run in several directions at the time. From this point on things can only go up. Whether or not they will, remains to be seen.

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A Pow-Wow Turned Photo-Op

Earlier today Duša Trobec Bučan was confirmed as new minister for local self-government and regional development, thus succeeding Henrik Gjerkeš who resigned from position after he was caught driving under the influence. With this ends yet another episode of inter-coalition tug-of-war which some hoped would bring down the government of Borut Pahor but instead – as usual – fizzled out into a quick photo-op.


Coalition leaders. A family photo from happier times (source)

Namely, the last few days Slovene political scene was abuzz with a top-level coalition huddle which took place yesterday and was supposedly called to close ranks and plug some holes in a government which just scored a new low with only 23 percent approval rating. However, amid “a flurry of expectations”, which just journo-speak for hoping that a general fist-fight will break out, the only thing the yawning press core got was yet another statement about “a firm decision that this government will within next-year-and-a-half “do everything in its power to ensure economic and social recovery”.

So, what happened? I mean, noises were made and the scene was set for at least a mid-season political cliffhanger. To an untrained eye, it may seem as if the stars of the feud are DeSUS of Karl Erjavec and Zares of Gregor Golobič. Indeed, the pensioner party is becoming ever more obnoxious, especially after they broke the 10-percent mark in public opinion polls, besting even the ruling Social Democrats. On the other hand, Zares seems to be opting for some hard-ball politics, seemingly going after DeSUS for not supporting the pension reform and the Budget Act, both of which are key documents. Thus Zares’ second-in-command and president of the parliament Pavle Gantar said in no unclear terms that a party which does not support key documents has no place in the coalition (note that the statement did not come from party leader Golobič). On the other hand, Erjavec struck back saying that it was Zares’ MPs who voted against the government on multiple occasions, so would Zares please shut up, thank you very much.

But this is not the real feud. Despite ego-inflating poll results and his loud-mouthing about how he’s already thinking about 2012 elections, Karl Erjavec’s interests are primarily short-term. He is on trial for dereliction of duty in the Patria case and at the moment his party’s high ratings serve no other purpose than strengthening his position within the party, half of which would replace him given half a chance (exactly which half of the party that is depends on the situation at hand). What we are witnessing is Zares actually pushing Social Democrats into a bit of a tight spot, cashing in favours and support and thus carving out more manoeuvring room for it self. The party is currently near rock bottom poll-wise and has lately done a bit of bag-carrying for PM Pahor personally, notably with going all-out against building of a new Šoštanj coal power plant (siding with PM against local SD strongmen, although there are more angles to the story) and sacrificing the new law on RTV Slovenia on the referendum (provided that was the plan as detailed in this post).

So, rather than this being a Slovene version of Faces of Stupid contest between Zares and DeSUS, it looks more as if the former is trying to reposition itself vis-a-vis Social Democrats, which – the story goes – have often supported Zares’ legislative initiatives only after claiming them as their own. And it looks as if Zares is in for a fight. The grapevine has it that Gregor Golobič will soon come under heavy fire for his initiative of research and innovation centres. Golobič negotiated some serious money to be pumped into ten-or-so combinations of hi-tech companies and research facilities which have the highest potential to generate added value through innovation and subsequent production, but apparently allegations (probably in the form of “anonymous tip-offs”) are expected to arise that tenders were won only by people close to Golobič. That’s the word on the street, anyway.

But for the moment, Zares and Gregor Golobič seem to have gotten their way at least partly. Today their MPs abstained from the vote on Duša Trobec Bučan. Thus a message was sent that they too can leave the coalition should PM Pahor forget to take their interest into account as well. And while DeSUS’ possible au revoir to the coalition would be bad considering the five seats it would take with it (down from seven, by the way), it would not be catastrophic. However, should Zares and Gregor Golobič bid farewell and take their nine MPs with them, that would probably be the end of Prime Minister Pahor as well.

But the immediate disagreements seem to have been settled before yesterday’s big pow-pow. DeSUS got away with it yet again, Zares made a big show of saying they will not be pushed around (and took a swipe at DeSUS as well), while PM Pahor got his new minister appointed and is closing ranks yet again. And the media got yet another photo-op. Until next time.

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SLS Saves The Pension Reform

A funny thing happened yesterday. A vital piece of reform legislation – the pension reform – sailed through the parliament almost without a hickup. It was confirmed by a majority of 49 votes and is as such a major success for the left-wing government of Borut Pahor. But the composition of the “yes” vote in the parliament is where the funny starts.


SLS president Radovan Žerjav (source)

Since this is pension reform we’re talking about here, it was kind of expected that – despite being nominally a member of the ruling coalition – DeSUS and it’s leader Karl Erjavec will give PM Borut Pahor an exceptionally hard time over it. Indeed, in terms of securing a parliamentary majority the main sticking point seems to have been the rate at which pensions will increase relative to increase in prices. And while Erjavec demanded parity between the two indices, Pahor and specifically labour minister Ivan Svetlik insisted on a .25 rate, meaning that for every point inflation rises, pensions goes up .25 percent. Erjavec was adamant to the point of other junior coalition parties, notably Zares and its leader Gregor Golobič calling on Erjavec to make up his mind whether he’s a part of the team or not.

In all honesty Erjavec has a couple of reasons for giving such a hard time to PM Pahor. First, he was more or less forced to resign as minister of environment. He was also indicted for his alleged role in the Patria Affair and just to top it off two of his MPs (Žnidaršič and Rezman) quit DeSUS and went independent. Also, Erjavec was perhaps overconfident from pulling this very same trick four years ago when then-PM Janez Janša agreed to re-institute price-index/pension-rise parity. So for purposes of this pension reform DeSUS de facto left the coalition. But then, seemingly out of the blue, Slovene People’s party (SLS) came to the rescue and chipped in the missing votes.

Pengovsky often wrote that he has a soft spot for SLS. Regardless of their general ineptitude and hypocrisy, they usually came through when push came to a shove. This soft spot exists since the constitutional crisis in 2000 when SLS provided crucial votes to avoid suspension of elections in what was increasingly looking like an attempted coup d’etat. Anyways, leaving bygones be bygones, SLS (just as in 2000) apparently put two and two together and found out that their primary voters’ base (farmers and the like) are quite well-off with this pension reform.

This is the first across-the-isle vote in this term, perhaps signalling complex two-years of the remaining first term of Pahor’s government (yes, I know what I wrote. Suck it up and move on ;)). The message is three-fold: First, Radovan Žerjav of SLS sent a message to Janez Janša that he’s not the only dog in opposition-town. Second, Karl Erjavec was told that he and his DeSUS can be replaced, if need be and that he’s is stretching it as it is. And lastly, SLS is saying that is it open to deals, preferably those which will a) benefit its voters and b) keep the party in the parliament. SLS is probably desperate to avoid the chaos its cousin-party, Christian Democratic NSi cannot really get out of ever since it dropped out of the parliament in 2008.

Should be fun. Especially, since there’s yet another referendum looming, this time on the pension reform.

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