The Prez Has Ideas As Golobič Eyes Resignation. Plus A Few Fun Facts About Early Elections.

The saga continues. After Karl Erjavec and his DeSUS quit the coalition and the government of Borut Pahor, the ball kept rolling yesterday and today. With the notable exception of Pahor’s Social Democrats, LDS of Katarina Kresal and Zmago Jelinčič‘s nationalists, every major political force in the country called for early elections to be held as soon as possible. Even President of the Republic Danilo Türk spoke to that effect this morning and – what was most shocking to the uninitiated – Gregor Golobič of Zares said that he will resign his post as minister of higher education, science and technology and return to the parliament. And SDS of Janez Janša still maintains that all it takes to hold early elections is a deal between SDS and SD. So, let’s take it one thing at the time.


The Prez with his two cents (source: Office of the President)

The Prez held a press conference where he “commented on recent developments in the country”, which is polit-speak of saying that he chipped in his two cents. His bottom line was that a) the coalition must throw everything is still has behind the pension reform and that b) he’d be quick to call early elections had he the power to do so.

A slap on the wrist for The Prez

As most of you know, The Prez has very limited powers and even him saying what would be the best course of action while we still have a fully empowered government means pushing the envelope of acceptable. Toying with the (admittedly hypothetical) scenario of dissolving the parliament and calling snap elections, knowing full well (and saying as much) that he can not do that, is bordering on exceeding his powers. I know things look bad, but apart from the fact that a junior coalition party left the government and that reforms are not popular, there is not a whole lot that is wrong at the moment. Yes, we can see the contours of a political crisis shaping but we’re no there yet. And until we get to that point the day-to-day politics should be left to the coalition and the opposition. The Prez went out on a limb needlessly.

Secondly, the idea of calling snap (or early) elections is floating around for some time now. Indeed, until DeSUS quit the government, a sort of political paralysis seemed to have crept into Slovene politics as no one wanted to make the first move. But now the ball has dropped, the paralysis is gone and suddenly things are moving ahead with lightning speed. But getting to early elections is mighty difficult. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. The Prez can not call them and even saying what he would do (or contemplate doing) had he broader powers means walking on thin constitutional ice.

A slap in the face for Zares MP

While it may be constitutionally dubious for the president to call for early elections, it is perfectly OK for leader of the coalition party to do so. Which is what Gregor Golobič of Zares is apparently attempting to achieve. He said in no unclear terms that the main goal right now should be the referendum on the pension reform (which will be held together with referendums on black market labour and access to secret archives on 5 June) and that a new government should be appointed sans leaders of the coalition. Since neither PM Pahor nor Katarina Kresal were amused by the idea, Golobič decided to go for broke and announced that he will tender his resignation as minister some time between now and 5 June and that elections could be held as soon as September this year.

Despite the fact that it looks suspiciously similar to president Türk’s idea, Golobič’s move is actually a small political masterpiece which a) keeps the momentum of actually forcing early elections (more on that later on) and b) solves a nasty problem in Golobič’s own party, the problem which goes by the name of Cveta Zalokar Oražem. This MP for Zares who only gained her seat after Golobič was appointed minister and who used to be a member first of Social Democrats and then of LDS (and was a long time mayor of Domžale near Ljubljana) has long been critical of her president and stabbed him in the back quite a few times, most notably during the Ultra Affair, where she was careful to get as much media attention as possible criticising Golobič and doubting his leadership abilities.

Well, by announcing his resignation, Golobič made sure himself and Zares continue to be among those who dictate the tempo of the game and will have gotten rid of Zalokar Oražem, who will thus lose her MP status and cease to be a major problem within the party.

A few fun facts before everyone gets carried away

But before everyone goes ga-ga with the possibility of breaking new political and constitutional ground in Slovenia, here are a few facts to consider:

-Slovene political system is so stable it borders on rigid. Which is precisely why everyone is getting so nervous these days. The government, albeit a minority one, is still fully functional. Political crisis is possible, but still some time away. It’s just that we’re not used to these kinds of situations.

-Because of this rigidity of the system, early elections are practically impossible. The only way to have them under present constitution is a) for the government to resign and b) for the parliament to fail to elect a new government in three consecutive votes. The parliament can not simply dissolve itself by a majority vote or something like that.

-To ensure early elections by means of either empowering the president to call them or enabling the parliament to dissolve itself would require a change in constitution. To do that, a special procedure must be initiated, requiring a two-thirds majority twice over, which is extremely unlikely the way things stand now.

So, the only viable option to call early elections remains resignation of PM Borut Pahor and it seems Gregor Golobič is trying to force him to do exactly that. The PM does not enthuse over that, but things might change come June 5 and the triple referendum.

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Slovenes Reject Menial Work, Pollsters Miss By A Mile

In what appears to be an overwhelming defeat for the government of Borut Pahor, Slovenians today rejected the law on menial work by an 80/20 vote against. The turnout percentage was in the very low thirties, which makes it one of the more attended referendums in recent history (save the Arbitration Agreement referendum). That is in itself a sad fact, but there you go.


Lost. Ministers Katarina Kresal, Aleš Zalar, Ivan Svetlik and PM Borut Pahor (source: RTVSLO)

Politically, this is a slap-in-the-face for PM Pahor and his government that will hurt more than they will be willing to admit. True, the upcoming referendum on the pension reform is much more important and – if rejected – could even cause the government to step down. However, the law on menial work was a key part of labour market reform which will now still see plenty of tax evasion and companies which exploit students full time without guaranteeing them any social security whatsoever.

PM Pahor and labour minister Ivan Svetlik played down the result saying that people apparently are not yet aware of importance of reforms. On the other hands, there are calls for the PM to step down (even over at the wonderful Drugi dom blog, which generally gravitates to the left). Predictably the opposition, spearheaded by SDS of Janez Janša are interpreting the result as a no-confidence vote for the government, even though this time around the opposition just tagged along in what pengovsky still maintains was an unholy alliance of special interest. Anyways, there’s no reason for the government to resign. Elections are a year and a half away and even if the government resigned today, elections could not be held sooner than in autumn this year, not to mention that we’d probably have to go through a period of extended political crisis, since the MPs are about as likely to recall the parliament as they are likely to, say, ratify Slovenia becoming part of Croatia. Point being, that resignation of the government would most likely cause more problems than it would solve. Especially, since the other guys are not even close to being ready to take over. In fact, despite their vocal calls for Pahor to back his bags, the current situation suits them just fine, because they have yet to substantiate their claims of 50+ result in 2012 elections.

This is also yet another defeat for pollsters. Public opinion polls did in fact forecast victory for the no-vote, but no single poll detected a 80/20 distribution. Not one. Sure, it was a beautiful day today and with low turnout the margin of error increases substantially, but how the fuck don’t you detect an electoral freight-train coming in your direction? But perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps they did detect it but no-one published it, since the law forbade it. Days ago, the Constitutional Court ruled that this particular provision is unconstitutional and in the future we can look forward to last-minute polls on Friday nights :).

The way things stand now, people with ideas don’t have the authority, and people with authority don’t have the ideas. Expect turbulence ahead. We’re in for a bumpy ride…

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Fear and Loathing of Menial Work

This Sunday Slovenia votes on referendum on menial work, courtesy of student organisations backed by the unions. The law, which is primarily aimed at reforming student work in Slovenia had seen some well organised and stiff opposition both from the student organisations and the unions, who were joined by the right-wing parties of the opposition, thus creating an unholy alliance of special interests aimed at shooting down whatever reform attempts this government undertakes. After the law on menial work we’re up for a referendum on pension reform and as of yesterday Janez Janšas SDS and Zmago Jelinčič‘s SNS teamed up on the law against black market labour.


Last year’s violence makes any argument against menial work null and void

But we’ll deal with those in due course. Today we’re three days away from a vote where campaign brought us a shitload of misinformation, fear-mongering and outright lying on the part of those who oppose it and (it needs to be said) a somewhat lacklustre campaign on the part of the government. In case you haven’t done so yet, it is high time for you to pop over to drfilomena’s who put together an awesome post on the issue (Slovene only) and you can see why, despite certain drawbacks, we’d all be better off if the law were indeed enacted.

Going biblical on their asses

Having said that, pengovsky has a couple of axes to grind. First and foremost: if all were good and fair in this world, after what happened on 19 May last year when the anti-menial-work demo went bad, student organisations and everybody who assisted them in that sordid enterprise (unions included) would be hiding under a rock somewhere.

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who indulges in senseless violence and destruction has no legitimacy whatsoever to be a part of the public debate. I honestly don’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys if last year’s demonstration just got out of control or whether the three-hour-long rampage was premeditated and planned. Organisers and supporters of that particular rally failed to assume responsibility for the mayhem with people in charge actually fleeing the scene. Without a sincere apology and financial and/or legal consequences, any and all arguments against menial work are null and void. If those who oppose the law cannot face the consequences of their actions, they are in no position to judge actions of others.

But since going biblical on their assess is of little use save venting off some extra steam, let’s look at the reasons for this unholy alliance forming in the first place.

Special interests

As things stand now, student work is in fact unfair competition to regular labour market. Being a student entitles you to work within a very broad framework virtually without limit either in labour hours or monies earned (at some point you get taxed, but the ceiling is set so high no one really worries about that). On the other hand however, student work spiralled out of control and is becoming mainstream, not the “alternative” labour market. Given the near infinite supply of students workforce (which is performing even the most complex and responsible tasks), there is precious little incentive for employers to take on people full-time. Thus students find themselves in a viscous circle where they are actually forced to keep studying (at least formally) for as long as possible, since losing student status also means losing your job and only gets you a one-way ticket to the dole office.

And this is precisely the reason why labour unions are against the new law. Menial work disbands the student-only labour market and brings in pensioners and the unemployed, endangering the status quo that exists in the job market. Not that things are rosy in that department at all, but rather than being proactive, Slovene labour unions chose to defend the current (unsustainable) situation at all costs. And that includes the pension reform. Their goals are short term and so are their actions.

Student organisations, who in theory should have a vested interest in students finding jobs as soon as possible have instead become used to the substantial income from commissions on student work. They take a ten-percent cut out of all earnings students make under the current system. How that money is spent, no one knows, because there is no oversight, neither internal nor external. In fact Student organisation of Slovenia (the student umbrella institution) has so much autonomy that it can rightly be called a state-within-a-state. Obviously, they are keen on keeping the status quo as well.

And the opposition… Well, they follow a brutally simple logic: whatever is bad for this government is good for them, future of the country be damned.

The honest ones

Just about the only honest criticism of the new law goes long the lines that the new law fails to address problems of the existing system and will still enable abuse by some, forcing others to pay for those excesses. This post by Zloba (also in Slovenian) also writes to that effect. Personally, I think this is a flawed logic. Not just because the new law provides for a centralised database of who’s working where and for how long, but also because it imposes (in my opinion) effective limits both on duration and amount of menial labour an employer can engage. Anything above the limit and the employer in question will have to find other alternatives to get the job done, not just rely on cheap student workforce whose social and health insurance is paid for by the taxpayers.

Namely, under the new law people the time on menial work would count towards people’s retirement age and provide them with social and health insurance as well as additional stipend funds, all of which would be taxed off their income. Given the fact that it will no longer be a student-only labour market, this automatically means more funds for those particular ends.

What if…

However, there’s an alternative: if the law on menial work is rejected on Sunday, the government might just as well abolish the student labour market, forcing students to either make it on their allowances and/or stipends or compete in the real job market, working on contracts or as private entrepreneurs with full benefits and taxations thereof. The current situation is unbearable and is in fact working against students’ interests.

Politically, there is a lot riding on this. The few polls that were made on the issue suggest, that the law will be rejected on Sunday. Should this really happen, it will be a substantial blow to the already beleaguered government of Borut Pahor which again got only about 20 % approval rating. The possible rejection of the menial work will not bring down the government, but it will be a bad omen for the upcoming and way more important referendum on pension reform. Should that particular piece of legislation also be rejected, then Slovenia will really find itself in deep shit. In that case pengovsky would not be surprised to see PM Pahor tender his resignation.

 

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Referendum on RTV Slovenia: A Night To Forget

The final tally of Sunday referendum on the law on RTVSLO was disastrous, to say the least. The law was nixed with 72.64 percent votes against and only 27.36 percent in favour, with a criminally low voter turnout. The counter of voters attending the referendum stopped at 250 079 or only 14.56 percent. The good doctor rightly called it a fiasco. While the inevitable battle for interpretation of results ensued immediately, there are things that should not be overlooked.


(source: The Firm™)

Bottom line is that the law was quashed, meaning that the existing law on RTVSLO, crafted by SDS’ very own chief bulldog Branko Grims remains in effect. The coalition lost this round decisively and without reprieve. Well, without immediate reprieve, at least. Legislation stipulates that following a referendum, no change to a particular law can be attempted for a year. With PM Pahor’s government popularity points hitting the low end of the twenties, the defeat only reiterates what the opinion polls say. Furthermore, this is also major policy defeat for the coalition which put revamping of the law and limiting political influence over the institution high on its agenda.

Carte blanche

Rejection of the law threatens to open a Pandora’s box of pressure being brought to bear on RTVSLO once again. The existing law allows for it and the referendum result now gives the ruling coalition almost a carte blanche to shape the institution according to its own image, just as Janša’s government did after the 2007 referendum on the same issue (when the current law was confirmed). An overwhelming majority of members of Programming and Supervisory boards will still be appointed by the parliamentary majority. This means it is up to good will of politicians to decide whether board members will be people who know what TV and radio are, or people who will more or less faithfully follow party directives. And being dependant on good will of politicians is never a good thing. RTVSLO thus remains a state media and is eons away from becoming public.

However. While resounding, the defeat is not catastrophe for the coalition. Immediately after declaring victory, Janez Janša and his SDS called for Minister of Culture Majda Širca to resign. This was later (predictably) expanded to a claim that the entire government led by Borut Pahor should resign, since they are wasting time on trivial matters, such as the new law. Following government resignation, sayeth the SDS, early election should be called.

Same old, same old

Pengovsky will not go again over why it is next to impossible to call early elections in Slovenia. But constant calls for early elections are becoming really old really fast and only prove that SDS in fact has no serious alternative on how to handle the general situation Slovenia is in right now other than the fact that it is them who should be in power.

Which brings to the next issue at hand. Despite clinching a victory, the SDS can be far from happy. Having thrown shitload of mud in the general direction of Pahor’s government and in the specific direction of minister Širca, despite trying hard to galvanise the vote, less than 15 percent of people showed up at the voting booth and of that less than three quarters voted in line with SDS’ position (a no vote). Even if we assume that everyone who voted against is a SDS supporter (which is not the case), this means that the die-hard base of Janša’s party ammounts to less than 12 percent of Slovene voters. While still a number to be reckoned with, this shows a marked decline in both power and reach of SDS, which – this must be said – is leading the opinion polls for some time now.

So, in purely political terms the winner of the referendum battle is the SDS (or the opposition in general), but in the wider perspective both the coalition and the opposition will want to forget the episode as soon as possible.

Dangers ahead

As written above, the immediate result of the referendum is that RTVSLO remains state rather than public media. But bad news don’t stop here. Since it is obvious that – while legal – the referendum was (ab)used for specific political purposes and that the majority of voters (for one reason or another) wanted to have nothing to do with it, calls for revamping of the referendum legislation are becoming increasingly loud, again especially from the left side of the political spectrum. Indeed, a recent poll showed that were the government call a “referendum on a referendum”, a large majority of people would a) vote and b) vote in favour of restricting possibilities to call a referendum.

Appealing as it may sound, such a move would quite probably be a start of a very bad journey.

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Ljubljana Elections of 2010 (Part Four: The Round-up)

With two more days of campaign remaining, it is time for pengovsky to bring you the fourth and last instalment of 2010 local election guide-extraordinaire. For parts One, Two and Three click here, here and here respectively.


Debate of candidates for mayor of Ljubljana. Source: The Firm™

So, what to say about this campaign in Ljubljana local elections? One word comes to mind: lacklustre. In Slovene capital at least, there was no serious campaigning until the very end. As if the huge lead incumbent mayor Zoran Janković enjoyed from the start put his challengers off. To an extent that may very well be the case. However, this election season was also marked by striking similarities between platforms the candidates and their parties and lists were running on.

Platforms

Again, one word: traffic. With mayor Janković sort of delivering on most of his election promises from 2006 (although, it must be said again, things are not always as advertised), most candidates focused on problems this city has yet to solve. And traffic in Ljubljana is one big clusterfuck which will probably get much worse before it gets better. Candidates somewhat differ on approaches, but the bottom line is that some sort of railway will have to be constructed. Question is, whether Ljubljana should have a tram or a fast regional railway, which would connect Ljubljana to its airport and nearby towns (with SDS’ Zofija Mazej Kukovič and notably would-be councilman Žiga Turk opting for both). In addition, there are plans (mostly by mayor Janković) for widening main traffic arteries to allow “yellow lane” for buses and other modes of public transport. All candidates also vow to complete the network of cycling lanes. The same goes for most of other issues. Almost everyone agrees on what is needed, but they differ on how to get there.

Differences

Where there was some scuffling, it had mainly to do with challengers taking turns in criticising and attacking how incumbent mayor Zoran Janković ran the city in the past four years. The hick-ups related to Stožice sports we documented on this blog as well. But criticism also went in the general direction of his conduct during sessions of the city council, presumed arrogance, authoritarian tendencies and overspending.

Janković in turn generally replied that most of the people trying to oust him from office have one way or the other been in power for years on end (either on state or city level) and that they had ample opportunity do things their way, but instead just sat on their hands and talked too much. As for overspending, he maintains that, although higher than in previous years, the city debt is still well within legal limits and is being repaid without a problem.

How much is true?

Well, technically Janković has a point about city debt. By law a municipality can raise loans only up to a certain percentage of budget income, with the whole debt not being allowed levels which would hamper normal functioning of a municipality. This level is decided on a case-by-case basis by the ministry of finance. In case of Ljubljana this means that the current debt ceiling is set at about some 170 million euros, while the city currently runs a debt of about 124 million.

If there’s one thing one has to concede to Janković and his team is the fact that they know how to juggle numbers. As the mayor brought three of his four vice-mayors straight from the board of Mercator, financial planning is something they’re pretty good at. Although, it must be said they too sometimes find it hard to accept the peculiarities of public finances where not everything always goes according to plan. But in general Ljubljana’s finances are in order, it’s just a case of how much manoeuvring space remains should a financial emergency occur.

Secondly, Janković will apparently never forget how the government of Janez Janša took away 60 mil of spending money in 2006. After keeping quiet for most of 2010, he again brought it up with regard to Mojca Kucler Dolinar of NSi and Zofija Mazej Kukovič of SDS (his leading challengers, but both struggling in single-digit areas of polls). The mantra is naturally not as effective as it was prior to 2008 parliamentary elections, but Janković is very much an instinctive politician and his actions are rarely pre-meditated.

Which also reflects in the way he ran the city and (specifically) city council sessions. Pengovsky often said that the incumbent mayor is about as delicate as a buldozer on steroids when it came to enacting his policies. But if he was a bit rough around the edges at the beginning of the term, he got his bearings pretty soon and as a rule followed procedures. When he didn’t the city council rebelled (there was an issue of quorum) and he learned his lesson.

Approach

There are two things that work in Janković’s favour (and no, it is not media bias – a claim predictably uttered by Janez Janša a couple of hours ago). He is a text-book definition of a hands-on manager, who will go above and beyond the call of duty to oversee how things are progressing. He is also very approachable (if he wants to be) and he is known to be a great motivator, leading mostly by example. However, he is also the kind of person who loses his temper quickly if he feels people are wasting his time and can be very direct about it (to put it mildly). Case in point being a couple of outburst both in city council sessions as well as in press conferences. In one word, he is extremely charismatic.

And charisma is exactly what his opponents lack. Granted, most of them can hold their own. Some have more mileage in Ljubljana politics than it even bears thinking about. Some are in the race just for the heck of it, still others to lay groundwork for future terms (the latter case being especially Zares’ Milan Hosta).

In terms of campaign quality, the candidate that underperformed the most is in pengovsky’s opinion SDS’ very own Zofija Mazej Kukovič. Since she was deemed Janković’s main challenger, she was expected to tackle the incumbent mayor on a variety of very specific issues. But as time election day approached, it became painfully obvious that she is unable to go beyond clichés of allegations of mismanagement, corruption and dictatorial tendencies. She and her party also piggybacked on the initiative to hold a referendum on the recently passed new spatial-and-zoning plan, but failed to actively support it beyond posing for cameras while signing the petition. The deadline for collecting 11,000+ signatures to hold a referendum was yesterday and the initiative failed, in part due to lack of support from SDS, the only right wing party in Ljubljana with a power-base strong enough to make a difference.

On the other hand, the party which exceeded expectations (pengovsky’s expectations, at least) is LDS. In part still reeling from the 2004 meltdown, constantly scuffling with Zares and with its top two people (interior minister Katarina Kresal and justice minister Aleš Zalar) being almost constantly under fire, the party, which is not known for unity, closed ranks and got their shit together. Having been additionally fucked over by Zares which (contrary to expectations) ran their own candidate for mayor – thus trying to chip off votes from LDS, which supports Janković – the party went into town-hall-meeting-mode, organising events and discussions and tried to present itself as open to new ideas and approaches. We’ll see if the tactics works, but the overall impression was above average.

Projections

In the race for mayor Janković is poised to repeat his landslide victory of 2006. Pengovsky still maintains that the incumbent mayor will receive about 56 percent of the vote, but he will still leave his challengers in the dust. Ditto for the race for city council, where pengovsky projects The List of Zoran Janković winning about 20 seats and SDS about 10, while both will be followed by LDS, SD, DeSUS, Zares, The Green Party and possibly The List for Clean Drinking Water.

This concludes the Guide. Tomorrow is a you-know-what day, and pengovsky will be back with electoral results on Sunday 10 October, soon after 1900 hrs. Stay tuned! :mrgreen:

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