After the parliament voted to dismiss defence minister with a 68-11 vote, Janko Veber’s very own Social Democrats predictably decided not to leave the ruling coalition, regardless. And while the debate, most of it held behind closed doors under the pretext of confidential information being used, proved that security issues were indeed secondary and that the real fight was about sale of Telekom Slovenije, the whole political clusterfuck amounted to little more than a storm in a very leaky tea-cup. Namely, the company in question is not as sought for as some wanted and other feared. On Monday, only one binding offer for Telekom was submitted and – adding insult to injury – it wasn’t the Jerrys. It was, in fact, a British investment fund Cinven.
Telekom Slovenije (TSLG) share in the past year (source: Ljubljana Stock Exchange)
In all honesty, this was in fact more than just a political dust-up as tensions did flare high and the parliament debated Veber’s dismissal. The exact content of the debate is unknown, that being closed session and all, but word on the street has it that Veber and Cerar were ripping each other a new one. Which also explains why the public was excluded. Apparently, there was next to nothing confidential info mentioned in a five-hous-plus long debate but the whole thing was an ugly sight to see and the coalition, especially the SMC wanted to avoid that. But in the end, this was not the coalition-toppling earthquake many have speculated or indeed wanted it to be.
Implosion of Janko Veber
Politically speaking, this was a marginal victory for PM Miro Cerar. Not because he would have done a marvelous job of treading this particular issue, but mostly because Veber fucked up only days before the parliament session. Just as he was gaining some ground on Cerar, he threatened the prime minister with criminal charges on a count of destabilizing country defences, basically telling the PM he should be put on trial for high treason. With that Veber went into self-destruct mode, just revving up the rhetoric and not substantiating it with, well, anything. To put it in Top Fun terms, his ego was writing checks his body couldn’t cash.
Veber’s spectacular implosion overshadowed a just as equally embarrassing event. Namely, just as Veber moved to defenestrate Veber, the newly minted science, sport and education minister Klavdija Markež stepped on a landmine in the form of her masters’ thesis being mostly plagiarized. Which turned out to be true and prompted her immediate resignation, only five days after she had been nominated to the position. A huge embarrassment for Cerar as Markež’s predecessor Setnikar Cankar was dismissed for excessive earnings, tainting the clean image of PM Cerar and his party.
But in the end, it was the SD which blinked. And for good reason. If the party followed the path its VP had set, it would have found itself in opposition together with the United Left (ZL). Which would be bad news for SD as the ZL has the same number of deputies and are much better at being the rabid opposition party than the SD ever was. Not to mention the vast ground-network the SD has to maintain which costs money. Not to mention all the debt the party has incurred over the years and is now struggling to repay. And it’s much harder to do that when you’re in the opposition. Just as the once-mighty LDS. What’s left of it, anyway.
Minister for agriculture and defence
As a result, Slovenia is now in a mildly bizarre situation where it’s government in effect has a minister for agriculture and defence as Dejan Židan, SD’s main honcho temporarily took on defence portfolio as well. Technically, this set-up can last six months at the longest (three months, plus one three-months extension, as per law).
This is not the first time defence department was attached to another sitting minister, however. Years ago, under one of Drnovšek governments, the legendary PM, during one of his defence-minister-voes simply appointed science minister Lojze Marinček. An overall joyous character, the professor-turned-politician took the role in stride and went around official functions (which usually included then-president Milan Kučan) running around asking “has anyone seen my Commander-in-Chief?” and generally making light of the embarrassingly protracted situation.
To their credit, the SD said they will come with a suitable candidate sooner than in six months. although what passes as a “suitable candidate” in this day and age is debatable, to be honest.
Homo homini minister (of defence)
But as if one (former) defence minister making a fool out of himself wasn’t enough, his predecessor (many times removed) had to add his two cents. Or whatever the fuck his measure of monetary value is. Namely, while Veber, or more precisely, his social media manager was doing his best to make his case on Twitter (and failing badly), at some point he responded to a tweet by Janez Janša who accused Veber of lying with regard to secure locations used by the army. Veber replied with some sort of rebuttal upon which Janša replied with calling Veber a moron. Literally.
While Janša might have actually had a point (at the very least is takes one to know one) the ease with which elected officials, senior political leaders at that, dig new lows in public communication is flabbergasting. Perhaps this is the result of Janša slipping ever more into irrelevance and being unable to do anything about it, but it does explain just why exactly fewer and fewer people want to have anything to do with him. Case in point being the NSi, which stands to reap benefits from what has since been dubbed The Veberkom Affair.
Last week Janša floated the idea of a shadow government, inviting anybody who would join, to well, join. The “everybody” was of course limited to the NSi, the only other opposition party on the political right-wing and the NSi said “thanks, but no thanks”. Janša took the rejection badly (as he always does) and threatened the rejectors will pay a heavy price for it. The truth, however, is that the NSi can in the long run only profit from its newfound spine. Indeed, they will most likely push for some sort of concessions from PM Cerar on issues dear to them. This will probably include but will not be limited to legislation regarding post-war grave-sites, an issue Cerar has already hinted he is willing to meet them at least half way.
And all of a sudden, nobody is in a hurry to sell the Telekom. Even the NSi, disappointed that there was only one offer (more likely: disappointed Deutsche Telekom did not bid), now say it might be prudent to halt the sale. The PM’s office, wisely, is not commenting on the ongoing procedures, but it seems that the political parties at large see the sale of Telekom in terms of short-term income, either for the budget or for party coffers and not in terms of what is best for the company.
For what it’s worth…
In fact, the current political elite is behaving as your average Slovenian small-time entrepreneur, valuing his business by the time and money he invested and not by what other people are willing to pay for it (i.e. it’s market value). As if we learned nothing from the numerous false starts of sale of Mercator retail chain resulting in the final price-tag being only a fraction of what it used to be or from the so-called Brewery Wars, which have led to rise and fall of Boško Šrot of Laško Brewery and, ultimately to the sale of the company for only good 50% more what Laško paid for Union ten years ago to monopolize the beer market in Slovenia.
Thus, the expectations that the value of Telekom Slovenije will rise on its own, are naive at least and the share price reflects that. It has been in a free-fall for the better part of the last two weeks and has rebounded slightly only today. A company which has not released an innovative product of its own for the better part of the decade, has spread itself too thin across the region only so see itself rolling back Balkan operations in the past few years and is being dragged through courts for allegedly abusing its market positions will require much more than just responsible management and ownership to increase its value. Since the state has, unfortunately, repeatedly failed to provide either (with a few notable exceptions far between), there is no compelling reason for the sale not to be realised, pending negotiations.
Unless, of course, the political elite suddenly wants to prove Janko Veber right.