Get Me The President (Of The Parliament)!

It is against the backdrop of Phone-hacking scandal, the impending suicide of America’s public finances and the inherent inability to EU leaders to stop digging themselves into a Greek hole, that the Slovenian political crisis is unfolding in its own peculiar way. The government (or rather, the coalition) is only semi-operational, but is trying to mask this by hyperactivity. The opposition hasn’t got a clue what to do after if will (presumably) take power, but is trying to mask this by churning out amateur-night recovery plans. And the parliament is in shit-how-do-I-get-re-elected-mode, but is masking this by declaring a summer break.

Pavle Gantar, soon to be ex-president of the parliament (source: The Firm™)

After Zares quit the coalition and Gregor Golobič and Majda Širca returned to the parliament to serve as MPs (ousting Cveta Zalokar Oražem and Vito Rožej respectively) a rather unique situation was brought about in which the President of the Parliament was a member of an opposition party. Pavle Gantar of Zares was elected to the post as a result of a coalition agreement and since Zares quit, it is only logical that he should vacate the post toute-de-suite. Really? Not so fast. Initially, there was some level of confusion over this, with Gantar reportedly not committing to resigning while Golobič was already announcing it. Whether or not both top Zares men were of different minds is at this point almost irrelevant as Gantar only a day or so later announced that he is resigning as President of the National Assembly (the parliament), effective 1 September this year.

President of the Parliament (similar in function to Speaker of the House in US Congress and UK Parliament) is nominally the second-most senior elected official in the country. If for some reason the President of the Republic is incapacitated or otherwise unable to perform his duties, the President of the National Assembly steps in to take over in care-taker capacity until a new president is elected. All in all a powerful position, even if we neglect the usual separation of powers blah-blah such as the fact that the President of the National Assembly swears in all judges of the lower courts and so on. In short, being the top dog of the parliament is not exactly peanuts.

Which is why Gantar’s resignation created a lot of hoopla within the coalition (or rather, what was left of it). Whatever hopes Prime Minister Borut Pahor might have harboured about Zares not being entirely serious about quitting the coalition, these have now crumbled into sun dust. Even though both Gantar and Golobič maintain that the move was purely a question of political hygiene, the fact remains that the ruling Social Democrats led by PM Pahor now have another hot political potato in their hand. True, Zares MPs have woved to support whomever SD put forward for this position, but at the very least the parliament is up for yet another super-heated all-encompassing debate in September, one which is bound to raise levels of adrenaline and bad blood in the Slovene ecosystem even further. And there’s no shortage of either to begin with.

It all has to do with the epic #fail of the government on super-referendum Sunday last June. Just prior to the vote on pension reform, PM Pahor was making unmistakeable noises about requesting a confidence vote should the reform be defeated. But after the referendum defeat, these noises became increasingly muted and after it became obvious that Pahor in fact backed down from his political machosim it was a question of political credibility for Zares and Gregor Golobič (who resigned as minister days before that fateful referendum) to complete the cross-over to the opposition. Having done that, both the party and its president, proclaimed all but politically dead by some long ago, seized the initiative and are – for the time being at least – calling the shots in Slovene politics.

This, of course, will not last forever. But a number of things are working in Zares’ favour at the moment, not the least of them being the nonsensical hyperactivity of the government and its president, going about just everything, from health reform to solving the Greek debt crisis and everything in between. It is obvious that most of this is just smokescreen, trying to hide the fact that Pahor’s government is in retreat on all fronts and trying to cut losses. Case in point being the much-hyped law on media, which failed spectacularly at the very first stage of the legislative procedure by means of an orchestrated effort to kill it by (at least) a part of MPs for Social Democrats.

No need to go into too much detail (maybe some other time) but suffice it to say that a particular media baron wannabe had a particular interest to see the law killed as soon as possible and had apparently struck a deal with (at least par of) Social Democrats, to vote the law down, even though the government had approved the text of the law. The thing is that even though the MPs gave the man what he wanted, most of them will be outside of the parliament looking in some time within the next 16 months. But currying the favour of media owners is one thing (slightly OT: pengovsky predicts the SD will get screwed and that the favour will not be returned). It is quite another thing to sort out your own ranks and this is where PM Pahor is going from strength to strength in failing to do just about anything. The Capital Assets Management Agency is still going rogue, to the point of the PM actually calling in the anti-corruption commission to investigate, the project of Bloc 6 of Šoštanj Coal Power Plant just about got out of hand with costs now exceeding 1.3 billion euros (original estimates put the price tag at around 600 million) and the government still lacks four full-blooded ministers.

Add to this the urgent need to elect a new president of the parliament, possibly a referendum on the family code and you see that the situation is in total flux. Amid this a quiet by rather fast re-positioning is taking place. As said earlier, Zares is making the most of this and Gregor Golobič – having purged the party’s parliamentary group of unwanted element – is suddenly way more visible than he ever was as a minister. On the other hand of the spectrum, the Slovene People’s Party (SLS) distanced publicly flipped the bird to Janez Janša and his SDS, saying they will address voters by themselves and not via some astroturf initiatives.

These moves may seem innocent enough and it remains to be seen how the big parties (SD and SDS) will respond. Will SD get their act together and will SDS be able to stick to the point once for a change and not go on all-out rampage? The September vote on the new parliamentary chief will be a good measure of things. At any rate, the fun and the drama are not ending any time soon.

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