The Week You Wouldn’t Trade Places With Zoran Janković for All The Farms In Cuba

To say that last week was bad for Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković is a gross understatement. The truth is it was just south of a disaster, a shambolic series of events which probably hasn’t ended yet and will one way or another have serious repercussions down the road.

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Worried (photo: TheFirmâ„¢)

It started with the National Investigation Bureau (NPU) filing an indictment against several people including the mayor over the Stožice sports complex affair, sixteen months after the cops raided Janković’s home and office. The case seems to have focused on what the NPU believes was a false contract between Sport Ljubljana (a city-owned institute running all sport facilities) and GREP, the Stožice developer. The contract, the cops claim, was signed only to give the appearance of GREP making it appear as if it had secured enough lease contracts for a consortium of banks to approve a 150 million loan for the project.

The loan, albeit topping at 115 million was indeed granted, the project went tits up financially with retail part being only half-finished (the stadium and arena are fully functional) and all hell breaking loose some weeks ago when the NPU raided the house of defence minister Roman Jakič who signed the contract in question, having headed Sport Ljubljana at the time. Jakič, too, was indicted and had maintained he will resign, should the court accept the indictment as valid. Jay-Z, on the other hand, intends to do no such thing. Not yet, anyhow.

But only a day later he lost another legal battle (well, the city did). A developer sued the city, claiming it had sold him land that wasn’t municipal to begin with. Some months ago both the NPU and the developer filed charges against Janković, but the court’s decision to invalidate the sale gives quite a bit of impetus to the whole thing. The immediate effect being the city will have to return a million euros it got from the now sale, as for the rest, time will tell. Ad then, just to top it off, Thursday last the cops descended upon the City Hall yet again, this time apparently investigating the much-advertised quid-pro-quo approach Janković employs running the city. Namely, he maintained from day one of assuming office that companies operating in the city and making a profit should give something back to the city. And so donations started pouring in. But while the NPU has no proof that donations went to places other than city coffers (NPU head Majhenič said do the other day), it was the manner in which donations were allegedly secured that bothers the cops.

Namely, the mayor is under suspicion of tying these donations directly to big city contracts, awarding them to the company which promised to give more back to the city. In this, Janković claims no wrong-doing and viciously defends his approach. And indeed it seems as if the cops and the prosecution will have a hard time arguing their case on this issue. Corruption and bribery as criminal act is notoriously hard to prove and in this case the beneficiary of the “pay-offs” is apparently not an individual but the community. But, pengovsky is told, it is the alleged act of bribery that counts, not to whom the pay-off was made. Anyways, point is Janković is in a pretty substantial heap of manure right now and will have to spend a considerable amount of energy and resources to deal with it.

Especially before the upcoming municipal elections this autumn. Which is why a theory was floated early on that the repeated visits by the local FBI are a form of not so gentle a hint to let it go and slowly fade out of the picture. The only problem is Janković doesn’t take hints. What is more plausible is that NPU felt they finally have enough to move on and are now fishing around for more things that might stick on the proverbially Teflon-skinned mayor. It all comes at a very awkward time for Zoki who is due to announce his decision on whether to run for mayor for the third full term (bur for the fourth time as he got elected twice last time around).

The big announcement is scheduled for 9 May, Liberation day, when the City Council meets for a special session to celebrate the city’s single most important anniversary. The drama and flair suggest a monumental decision although Janković stubbornly refuses to give so much as a hint on which way he’s leaning. Even more, he’s apparently actively giving mixed signals – preparing the groundwork for a record third term and yet being completely unenthusiastic, even bored with the very idea.

Because the outside signs are there. The 2014 city budget was increased 40% with respect to 2013 results, a shitload of infrastructure projects are planned and – as if learned a lesson with Stožice – most of those are city-financed, not some form of public-private partnership. A lot of other things, too, bear hallmarks of impending re-election bid. For example, plumbing is being constructed in a remote part of Ljubljana, which has been screaming for it for over three decades. New buses are on the shopping list. Stuff mayors do when elections approach. And yet, there seems to be precious little flair left. It wasn’t just regular visits by the cops. Positive Slovenia, the party which he formed almost single-handedly, has all but thrown him under the bus. Minister in the BratuÅ¡ek administration considered close to Janković are being replaced one by one. Prominent MPs considered from his stock are either evasive, deserting him or facing their own investigations. Renata Brunskole and Matjaž ZanoÅ¡kar being examples of the latter two. And to top it off, the “interim” Positive Slovenia leadership just signed the party up for ALDE membership in EU politics, linking it with the liberal camp, while Janković wanted the party to join the S&D, the so called Socialist Internationale.

Thus it was as much a recognition of the fact that he was effectively muscled out of his own party as it was pure bitterness when he said the other day he’d never consider forming yet another party. Which begs the question in what form will he enter the race for the third term at the helm of the city (presuming he does indeed decide to run and that the indictment is either thrown out or the court doesn’t rule on it yet). Technically, the city council has no Positive Slovenia councilmen as all of Janković’s majority in the council was elected on the Zoran Janković List (LZJ) in 2010 and there’s no reason why Jay-Z couldn’t do it again. Provided (again) things on the legal front don’t deteriorate further for him.

And although much of the panache is gone, the re-election of Zoran Janković is not as much a question of his “fitness for office” as it is the question of the opposition coming up with at least one credible candidate. Everything until now was more or less a joke with NSi‘s Mojca Kucler Dolinar being the most serious of generally laughable candidates for mayor in the past eight years. It will also be fun to see whether the PS will run their own candidate, against Janković. With this being the capital and all, it would be only fitting for the largest party in the parliament to come up with a credible candidate for mayor. But then again, even if their man/woman loses they’d have opened another bitter dispute with Janković.

All in all, as far as Ljubljana mayor is considered, his is a pretty shaky position right now and you wouldn’t want to trade places with him for all the farms in Cuba. Strengthening it will require time, but it’s not like he could whistle on his way home.

UPDATE, 19 FEB: Well, turns out Jay-Z’s woes are not nearly over. Today’s Delo reports (Slovene only) Peter Vilfan resigned as city councilman for LZJ. Vilfan, a former basketball star is also MP for Positive Slovenia and his resignation is no small matter in this respect (talk about MPs distancing themselves from Zoki). Namely, Vilfan said that despite his belief that Janković is a) innocent and b) the best mayor Ljubljana ever had, the prime reason for his resignation are mayor’s mounting legal problems with the added bonus being the fantastically fruitless debates in the city council.

Well, while Vilfan put himself in the classical foot-in-mouth position (If he believes Janković is innocent of the charges, why resign?), he is at least correct on the last count 😉

 

 

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 Firmâ„¢

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 JanÅ¡a 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 AleÅ¡ 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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