The Gunfight At PS Corral

There are many angles to the aftermath of the real-estate-tax debacle and the ruling coalition sought to close the fiscal one last weekend when they plugged a 200-million gaping hole in the budget. The deal, a combo of public-sector cuts and excise-hikes is not yet entirely done and is already drawing criticism from both labour unions and the Chamber of Commerce. But the dash to find two hundred big ones was soon eclipsed by what for all intents and purposes is turning out to be a showdown between PM Alenka Bratušek and Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković.


Namely, only a few days after the Constitutional Court struck down the real estate tax (with one of the judges resorting to Hayek as he did so), the interpelation of interior minister and leader of DL Gregor Virant was on the books.

Now, Virant is in his own set of omnishambles, apparently getting the soft treatment by the anti-graft commission over cheap(ish) airline tickets he was buying at Adria Airways. While the price of the tickets, which was the main sticking issue, apparently is not all that problematic, he first claimed he didn’t have anything to do with it, saying his wife handled the tickets, only to see emails emerge (via Dnevnik newspaper) that he did in fact handle at least some tickets himself. Which basically boils down to whether he lied or not.

Virant and Janković playing hardball

Be that as it may, his position as the kingmaker was becoming ever more fluid as a result. Which in turn caused a low-level rift between pro-Bratušek and pro-Janković factions inside the Positive Slovenia to explode suddenly. Namely, the way Virant played hardball with regard to government policies (derailing VAT hike as a way to mitigate the real-estate fallout, to pick an example at random) built up quite a lot of resentment within the PS. Which was a signal Zoran Janković was waiting for to make his move and reclaim some political ground he is consistently losing since the party threw him under the bus in March last year, not in the least because Virant made that a precondition to ditch Janez Janša and join a PS-led government.

Thus Janković had a little chat with several PS MPs and lit a fire under the anti-Virant sentiment, inciting a bit of a revolt and persuading several MPs to support the SDS-sponsored bid to remove Virant as minister of interior. This was of course a direct challenge to PM Bratušek who faced a similar scenario last summer and autumn, when Janković attempted a comeback and announced he wants to settle the question of party leadership, considering himself to have only “frozen” his presidency.

Tables turning

But back then Bratušek was being bombarded from all sides. Public finances were going south, so was the economy, the Troika was getting ready to deploy its drones against Slovenia, the opposition was rabid over having lost power only months earlier and the government itself wasn’t exactly ship-shape.

Today, the tables have turned somewhat. The government itself is still struggling somewhat, case in point being ministry of silly walks health where Alenka Trop Skaza lasted less than a month. But the interest on Slovenian debt went down somewhat, we appear to be out of recession (technically, at least, not that anyone noticed) and despite a major setback with the real-estate tax the government pulled its act together and cobbled up a 200-or-so million revenue plan mostly by cutting subsidies and raising excise on alcohol and tobacco. On the whole, in April 2014 PM Bratušek is much more in charge than she was in July 2013.

On the other hand, Zoran Janković was starting to see the results of various investigations opened against him, with charges being filed in at least two cases pertaining to his activities as mayor of Ljubljana while in a third case, about a deal while he was still CEO of Mercator, he was indicted and will stand trial. Additionally, Janković feels – not wholly unjustified – that he was used by several key PS people, helping them to re-emerge politically, only to find himself being thrown under the bus when push came to a shove.

But be this a case of bruised ego, an attempt to stay afloat politically at any cost or, as Janković claims, a perfectly normal, if loud, clash of different visions, fact of the matter is that the rift between Bratušek and Janković is apparently complete and – unlike the last time, when it was avoided by postponing the congress – this time around a full-blown gunfight between the prime minister and the mayor is almost inevitable. And unless one of them blinks until 25 April when PS congress is to be held, it’s bound to get real ugly.

Who will draw faster

The fact that Alenka Bratušek is preparing for a (political) shoot-out suggests that either she doesn’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys about the outcome and whatever happens, happens, or that the outcome of the congress is a foregone conclusion and that Bratušek will win hands-down.

A number of not-so-subtle signs suggest the latter to be the case. First of all, only a day after this particular political zit exploded Bratušek sent a letter to party members, basically saying that enough is enough. But more importantly, several days before that former president Milan Kučan met with Alenka Bratušek. Supposedly, they were talking about whether or not to raise VAT after the real estate debacle. But subject of the meet is secondary to the fact that it took place. Namely, Kučan was long seen as a key Janković ally and allowing himself to be seen meeting the PM, acknowledging her both as head of the government as well as head of the party, first and foremost sends a message to Jay-Z.

But Bratušek is sending a message of her own. She announced she will seek a vote of confidence and will not tie it to a specific measure, opting instead for a simple yes-or-no vote (not like the last time around), refusing the rebelious MPs, four or five of them, apparently, all of them from her own party, the luxury of a political cover along the lines of “I voted for the [insert specific measure] and not necesarily for the PM”. This, too, sends a message to Janković that she considers her position much stronger and believes she has a better set of cards in hand than Ljubljana mayor.

The shootout

Whether or not he gets the message, remains to be seen. Both he and Bratušek have until Monday to formally confirm their leadership bids and although rumours are aplently that Zoki will withdraw his bid at the eleventh hour, this is highly unlikely. Much more likely that he and Bratušek fight it out on open stage on 25 April.

But if he wins, Janković will find the coalition going tits-up and see early elections called, most likely bringing SDS and Janez Janša back to power in one form or another. That much is a given.

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.

Worried (photo: TheFirm™)

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 Bratušek 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 Zanoškar 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 😉



Mutiny On The Bounty

Oh, boy… Contrary to what pengovsky predicted two months ago, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković on Wednesday did in fact agree to run for president of Positive Slovenia, throwing a huge wrench in what was already a barely functional political environment. A shitstorm of epic proportions ensued which unmasked a huge rift within the party and threatened, well, omnishambles. These were temporarily put off by what for all intents and purposes was a below-the-belt move by party executive committee to postpone the congress until shortly before parliamentary elections. Which amounts to an in-party mutiny and drives a wedge between Zoran Janković and the party he founded in 2011 led to victory in parliamentary elections only seven weeks later.

Zoran Janković vs. Alenka Bratušek (not an actual representation of roles ;))

Janković went all in on Wednesday and said he will stand in party elections, thus going head-to-head against Bratušek who confirmed her running some time ago. He also rejected speculations he would back down at the very last moment and went on to state that he sees no reason why junior coalition parties would quit the coalition if he were to return to the helm of PS. Well, maybe he didn’t, but Lukšič, Virant and Erjavec sure as hell did. But more on that in a moment.

PM Bratušek was on an official visit to Serbia on Wednesday and refused to comment on Janković move, but come Thursday, she was all like Cary Elwes in Robin Hood: Men in Tights and published a written statement saying that time for play is over and told him to bring it on, saying she will quit as PM if she loses party elections (Google translate here).

The stage was set for a showdown of epic proportions. Janković’s move was either motivated by one of those Tom Cruise moments or by the notion that he has little left to lose and decided that if he has to go, he will take the party with him. The former would go against him being suicidal, especially since he did hint at a possible “third option” a couple of weeks ago, namely, his retirement some time soon. He wasn’t really serious about it, but the mere mentioning of it suggest that he did take it into consideration.

Additionally, he apparently calculated the junior coalition parties have attached themselves to enough gravy-trains to continue in a Janković-led coalition rather than to quit their respective honey-pots, regardless of their insistence in Spring that Positive Slovenija is only acceptable as a coalition partner sans Janković. Furthermore, he figured (not entirely unreasonably, it must be said) that most of PS senior figures are somehow indebted to him politically. Lastly, he figured that he could easly sway the vote in the party Congress his way. Well, turns out he was right only on the last count.

immediately after his announcement on Wednesday all three junior coalition parties said that Janković as PS president means gave over for the ruling coalition which – by extension – meant early elections within a matter of months. The only coalition party that could reap some sort of benefits from this scenario are the Social Democrats which have seen a steady streak of top ranks in public opinion polls. Thus, even if DL and DeSUS would back down on their demands, the SD would almost certainly call it quits. Which why all three junior parties were watching each other, which would flinch first. With the congress only 17 days away on Wednesday, a proper flip-flop on the issue would be hard to execute.

OT: since a fallen government would most probably result in The Troika descending from Brussels-am-Berlin, the election result would matter about as much as a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys, but I’m sure few people even considered that.

So, this was miscalculation numero uno, not unlike the one Janković made in 2011, when he was negotiating a coalition on his own and wouldn’t cave in to personal vanities of other party leaders. It was this clash of egos that ultimately cost him his premiership and that nearly caused a total political breakdown today. Namely, his running for party president also flew in the face of those who threw him under the bus in late July. He was challenging them as much as he was challenging PM Bratušek and somehow thought his move alone would sway those still on the fence to his side. But again, since Bratušek upped the ante a day later and told him in no uncertain terms that she will only play this game is she heads both the party and the government, a lot of people suddenly stood to lose quite a lot if the government would indeed fall. Not to mention the prospect of yet another election or that of a Brussels intervention. Janković was forcing them into a battle no-one really wanted to fight. Miscalculation numero dos.

And yet, if the battle were to be fought, Janković would probably win hands-down. In this, he was correct. It goes beyond saying that the one thing Alenka Bratušek lacks is charisma. She is a technocrat. A bean-counter, if you want to be unkind to her. If she were pitted against Jay-Z on open stage, she might as well throw in the towel (which reportedly she thought of doing immediately after Zoki’s announcement). For Janković on stage is a sight to see. Regardless of whether one likes him or hates him, one has to admit that he can work the crowd. Especially if the crowd wants to be worked. And congress delegates aren’t exactly a hostile bunch. No-one expected the PS congress to be like the 14th congress of the Yugoslav communists, when the Party fell apart.

This, apparently was a fact recognised by PS ExCom which on Thursday afternoon decided to pull the rug from under Zoran Janković entirely and postpone the congress until some time before elections. Since there is no definitive date for those, the congress is as good as canceled.

But as things stand now, Zoran Janković chipped off yet another piece of what little authority Alenka Bratušek has in Slovene politics. To an extent, one can understand him. He was increasingly sidelined by his own party and no doubt saw it as going beyond the terms of his mutually agreed “freezing of party leadership”. Not the sort of person to take being left out of the loop lightly, he tried to engineer a spectacular come-back.

That he was wrong to do so, can be gauged by the simplest of methods: several prominent SDS members were supporting his bid, saying that a party leadership should be contested in an open manner. Which is all fine and well, but SDS is approving of developments in other parties only when it suits them and they too saw Janković returning to head the PS as a short-cut to early elections which they would probably win.

With these developments, the separation of Zoran Janković and Alenka Bratušek is complete and the upside for her is that no one in their right mind can now claim that hers is a puppet government controlled by Zoran Janković. In fact, it was all a bit like Admiral Roebuck versus M in Tomorrow Never Dies (at 4:10). And although the pundits say she missed her chance to establish herself as a political leader, she has only now opened the possibility to do so.

Namely, both JZ and AB remain candidates when the congress finally convenes, but by then Slovenia will either be under a Troika administration or will have fixed its finances enough to start breathing again which would give Alenka Bratušek a leg to stand on politically. Curiously enough, in all this conundrum the only support (if you can call it that) she got was from the European Commission which said that now is not the time to experiment politically. Translation: they need an operative government to work with/dictate terms to.

As for Positive Slovenia, things do not bode well. The ripple effect will no doubt be felt down the party ranks and some serious work will have to be done to repair the rift in the coming months. If that is at all possible. The very fact that congress was postponed means that party senior figures have not (yet?) won the hearts and minds of rank-and-file members. Some time in the future, there will be hell to pay. It isn’t entirely clear who will pick up the tab, but it should be noted that the mutiny on the Bounty was eventually put down.

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Positive Discharge

Recently, Slovenian media widely reported of a rift in Positive Slovenia (PS), the senior coalition party. Both print and electronic media were awash with reports of sparks flying between PM Alenka Bratušek and Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković during a party huddle some three weeks ago.

WIZJGTD – What Is Zoran Janković Going To Do? (source: The Firm ™)

According to Delo (Slovenian only), Janković, unhappy with being sidelined within the party, went head to head with Bratušek over how much extra money city of Ljubljana would get in the budget balancing act (which has since been passed). However, Bratušek apparently told him that “how much” actually means “if any”. Apparently this precipitated and angryish exchange and forced a roll-call in the party council where a large majority sided with the PM.

The Clash

The allegations of party in-fighting were dismissed publicly and interpreted only as a “spirited debate”, but it did not escape pengovsky’s attention that Renata Brunskole MP, who actively courted Janković to enter the national race in 2011 and even split from SD to facilitate this, basically hung Janković out to dry. She told the media mayors often have different views of state budget thus in effect withdrawing her support for Janković. Not totally unexpected, by the way, since she apparently doesn’t blink twice when switching allegiances suits her immediate political needs. But still, something Janković will not forget easily.

After allegations of a party rift came to light, Janković sought to play down the whole thing, claiming he supported the budget rebalancing act all along and that he believes Alenka Bratušek is an excellent PM. Conspicuously, he said nothing about her as party president, only saying that we will decide on whether he’ll run for party chieftain some time until autumn.

Thus the question which causes many a talking head to predict yet another installment of the “hot political autumn” (the classic and probably most abused idiom in Slovene political lingo) therefore is, whether Jay-Z is going to run for president of Positive Slovenia during their September huddle.

Option One

There are two options, obviously, one more likely than the other. Option One: Janković runs for head of PS, Bratušek as per her earlier stated intentions does not put up a fight, Zoki gets elected head of the party (again), all hell breaks loose within the coalition, early elections are called, cue the Apocalypse.

Now, this scenario has a slight problem: it is way too straightforward. If current ratings are anything to go by, the only two parties which might be interested in (yet another) early elections are Social Democrats of Igor Lukšič and SDS of Janez Janša. The latter perhaps even more so since they are in opposition with Ivan basically hiding under a rock somewhere, save occasional sightings on Party meets and via Twitter. Janša’s political star is fading fast courtesy of the anti-graft report, a gift, by the way, that keeps on giving.

On the other hand, early elections might look appealing to Lukšič (his party secretary-general tweeted as much), since they do offer a chance to mitigate the 2011 ass-whooping the voters served to Borut Pahor and come out on top. With SD being the only coalition party that has both adequate reach and ground network, that may even be doable, especially if they manage to pin all the unpopular things of the Bratušek administration to the PS.

But Lukšič might face an unexpected problem: his party. Specifically, party heavyweights who have too much vested interest in this government continuing, or – at the very least – not having yet another government come in and running the danger of shaking things up. This includes (but is not limited to) the faction(s) supporting the massive headache that is the TEŠ6 power plant in Šoštanj. If too many key SD people became too cosy, early elections might prove to be a bridge too far for Lukšič.

But even so, calling early elections is not exactly a walk in the park. Even if SD quits the coalition due to Janković comeback, PM Bratušek might try to continue with a minority government. Namely, despite Karl Erjavec of DeSUS and Gregor Virant of DL professing their intention to vacate the coalition immediately if Zoki gets back in the game, they both stand to lose plenty. And while DeSUS can still be counted on making it above the 4% threshold on election day, DL is all but finished and the further away the election day is, the better.

Enter Kučan

But this is the less likely scenario. Apart from Janković’s insistence that he never really quit as party president (but merely “freezing” his position, pending a party vote), the only thing that goes in favour of Zoki’s mounting a leadership bid is former president Milan Kučan saying in a recent interview that he ought not to.

That’s right. Some days ago Kučan, commonly seen as Janković’s mentor, gave an interview to a TV station in his native Prekmurje region saying “if Janković can not lead his party due to corruption charges – and it is my belief he can not – then the same goes for a president of any other party, regardless of the support within the party ranks” (full video here, in Slovenian).

Now, Kučan obviously drew a parallel between charges against Janković and Janša, both implicated in reports by the anti-graft commission. Not only did Kučan say Janković shouldn’t lead the PS anymore (thus implicitly supporting PM Bratušek), he also drew a parallel between JJ and Jay-Z, something the latter has tried very hard to dismiss ever since the reports were published.

The pundits went into a frenzy, interpreting this as Kučan throwing Janković under a bus, the final nail in Janković’s political coffin and so on ad nauseam. However, Zoran Janković didn’t get where he is today by taking orders from other people. In fact, while he has always maintained he has deep respect for Kučan, he has defied him politically before. Apparently, Kučan advised him against running for mayor in 2006, but Janković did and won in a landslide. Similarly, the former president apparently privately advised Janković not to go national in 2011 election, but Janković did, again winning in a landslide, but ultimately failing to clinch the PM job. After Janković announced his bid amid much media furuore, Kučan supported him, but noted that he did so for “different reasons”.

Anyways, point being that Kučan lost control of Janković years ago – if he had any in the first place, that is. Also, history shows Janković reacts badly when being told what to do and is liable to do exactly the opposite, just to prove his point. But again, the probability of anything like this happening is, for the moment at least, fairly small.

At this junction, a word of caution is necessary: With Janković, any decision he might or might not take is of academic value at best until a week or so before deadline. As a politician, he often acts instictively, making any sort of rational analysis of his actions useless. During the years, he has toned down this approach significantly, especially after the government-forming debacle in late 2011, but as he often says, he’s too old to change.

Option Two

In pengovsky’s opinion, Janković will (cue Option Two) not run for president of Positive Slovenia. Even more, there is a high level of probability he will not run for a third term as mayor of Ljubljana, either. For some time now, Janković has been dropping hints about “a new mayor and a new team” every now and then. And while he only recently initiated a massive push to upgrade Ljubljana’s ailing infrastructure with a price tag north of 200 million euro, there is a certain lukewarmness in Jankovič’s demeanor.

While this could all be put down to pre-summer exhaustion, it should be noted that municipal elections are slightly more than a year away and that while all other parties in Ljubljana have thusfar failed to produce a strong challenger to Janković, his armor has been more than just slightly dented in the past two years. And, as we have seen time and again, to win an election, you needn’t be the best candidate. You just need to make the fewest mistakes.

2014 is also the year of European elections and it is unlikely the electorate would look kindly upon a political player that would bring them yet another trek to the polling stations, despite the fact that Janković at the helm of PS would probably mean a boost in public-opinion polls for PS which as things stand now, continually scores only high single digits. Despite being instinctive about politics (or precisely because of that), Janković is not suicidal.

In pengovsky’s view this computes into Jay-Z not running for head of the party, while his running for a third term as the mayor of Slovenian capital should not be taken for granted. Sparks were flying, but the lights didn’t go out.

Cultural Learnings of Azerbaijan for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Slovenia

The fallout from the report of the anti-graft commission is huge. On Friday the protest movement got a new impetus, putting Janez Janša and Zoran Janković side by side, along with the rest of the gang. Some 10.000 people attended the second edition of the “National Uprising” and the centre of Ljubljana was again packed, but it was in fact just a prelude to what turned out to be a bit of a cliffhanger Saturday.

(photo by Smetnjak)

Namely, after calling, nay, shouting at both the Prime Minster and the mayor of Ljubljana to resign, Gregor Virant‘s Citizens’ List held a powwow on Saturday where they were they… waited. They were waiting for Zoran Janković and his Positive Slovenia to wrap up their own party congress, where they (finally) adopted their party platform which – to chagrin of many – puts fight against corruption high on their priority list. I mean, it is slightly silly to adopt an anti-corruption platform while your party chief is being slammed on the head by the anti-graft commission. OK, so Janković is screaming bloody murder over it and professes his innocence (as does Janša, mind you), but still. On the other hand, Janković being Janković, this is exactly the type of thing he would have done in any similar case. A tongue-in-cheek move, to piss everyone off and try to prove his point. Which is why it came as a bit of a surprise that at the end of the congress he announced he’s “freezing” his party leadership (cue penguin jokes).

Power play of galactic proportions

Hearing of it, pengovsky went oh-no-you-didn’t. This was the worst possible move for Jay-Z to make. He maintains he made the move to open the doors to a shake-up of the political landscape by removing himself from the picture and encouraging junior coalition partners to kick Janša and his SDS loose and possibly form an interim technocratic government until early elections are held. He maintains that he will have no part in any potential negotiations and will not contend for the PM job. Fair enough. But since at the moment the anti-graft report is the only game in town, his “freezing” the presidency (effectively resigning) by definition makes it look as if that was the prime reason and not the alleged political crisis. Also, the move fuelled calls for his resignation as Ljubljana mayor as well. After all the report dealt with his actions as a mayor. Also he could have simply said that he will not claim the PM position nor will he negotiate in any way, shape of form, empowering others in the party to do that, and achieve the same effect sans resignation. Alternatively, he could have resigned (or at the very least, “frozen”) as mayor as well and really send a powerful message. Either, or. He chose to sit on the fence and nothing good ever came from that.

Especially since the odds are, that the whole thing is just a power-play of galactic proportion over the Slovenian State Holding, the newly established mother-of-all-state-owned companies. Courtesy of the Constitutional Court and its “act on protection of the state” it became operational at the beginning of the year and has a nine-member supervisory board which is to be appointed by the parliament. Case in point being the fact that Virant called a “consultation meeting” on the issue only days after first calling on JJ and Jay-Z to pack their bags. Also, SLS of Radovan Žerjav extended their deadline for Janša to go from “immediately” to 8 March, i.e. after the board will be appointed.

Wet dreams of a Communist conspiracy. Also: Azerbaijan, douze points

Word on the street, however, has it that Virant is dead-serious with his threat to walk out of the coalition if JJ continues to cling to his job. That may be, but Virant is known for his being dead-serious over a lot of things but then backing off at the last second. On the other hand, he could have bluffed his way into a tight spot and now can’t get out of it.

Namely, the SDS (now lovingly known as The Party) is no longer pulling any punches and went all out against anyone who is doubting Janša’s fitness to do his job. This primarily includes the protest movement, which they’ve tweeted was “full of communist zombies”, pushing crack-pot theories about “left-wing fascism” originated by Slavoj Žižek (piggy-backing on a blog in The Telegraph) and generally claiming that the government of Janez Janša is the only thing standing between Slovenia and the Apocalypse.

Ironically, their main political targets are not Zoran Janković and his PS (after all, he and Janša are in the same fix) but rather Gregor Virant and his Citizens’ List. For there seems to be a pro-Janša fraction in the party some elements of which have taken it upon themselves to debunk the anti-graft report in minute detail. At the same time the SDS parliamentary group said that Janša resigning “are wet wishes of some people”.

Yes. Wet wishes. Not wet dreams. Wishes. Geez, you’d think these people were never teenagers, playing the one-string violin or something. Yes, I know it’s a terrible mental image, but still. Also, today the SDS released a letter in English (!) explaining their take on things, which can basically be summed up in one sentence: IT’S ALL A COMMUNIST CONSPIRACY.

No, really. Here’s an excerpt:

The last President of the Communist Party of Slovenia and later on the first president of the Republic of Slovenia, Milan Kučan, who despite his retirement still figures as the most influential political persona of the hard-core Slovenian Left, has in his public appearances as well as via the background networks, activated members of the former secret political police, communist veterans, network of leftist organizations and some trade unions, and is also personally actively engaged in efforts to replace the government.

Read the letter in full. It’s a lovingly compiled scrapbook of their collective delusions, bad grammar included.

This, of course happened while Janša was in Azerbaijan, the winner of 2012 Eurovision song contest and apparently a new strategic market for Slovenia. In what has become a bit of a tradition, important things in this country happen while the man himself is out of the country. You know, alibis and stuff. The only problem is he was visiting the world’s Most Corrupt Leader of 2012. What were they doing? Exchanging notes? 😀

Letters Galore

Truth be told, the SDS only wrote the letter after first denouncing a similar letter (of opposite content, naturally) by KOKS, an association of people of creative and/or cultural milieu. Signed by thousands, the letter states among other things that

The government has also responded to the protests by closing down the centre of the capital city of Ljubljana, by using riot police, horses, armoured vehicles, water cannons, antiriot fences and helicopters in what can only be characterized as a gross overreaction to the largely peaceful gatherings of Slovenian citizens. Top members of
Janez Janša’s party (SDS) have described the protesters as “ultra left extremists,” “zombies,” and characterized them as radical “neo-socialists,” in an effort to balance out the actual presence of neoNazis during the first Ljubljana protest (possibly organised by the ruling government itself in an effort to discredit the protests at the beginning of the movement)

Read full letter here. At least the grammar is much better 🙂

Also the newly minted President of the Republic got a letter. His initial response to the anti-graft report was muted at best (he was “worried”). He added a week later that he supports the commission but that it was up to Janša whether to resign or not and that he will not enter party politics. And today, when pressed in a letter by Janez Stanovnik (last socialst president of Slovenia and head of WWII veterans’ organisation), Pahor wrote a letter of his own, clarifying that he supports the anti-graft commission in its drive to clarify its competences but that as a matter of principle he will not call upon any elected official to resign.

Note how Pahor is bending over backwards to avoid saying anything on the position the PM of this country found himself in. Also, it is extremely telling that the president did not support the anti-graft findings, but rather said that he is in favour of clearly defining the commission’s competences. Which is exactly the one of the point both Janša and Janković dispute the commission. Bottom line: Borut Pahor is paying dearly for Janša’s support in the presidential race. He even has to cover Janković’s back, even though Zoki was in the other camp.

What does Auntie Angela have to say?

At any rate, Janša is back in the country which means this particular game of high-stakes poker can continue. Will Janša resign and pick a successor from within SDS, as DL, SLS and DeSUS demand? Odds are he will not. The stakes are simply too high for him. Some, however, say that he will be forced to. Not by his coalition partners, but rather by Berlin and Washington. Sure enough, the outgoing US Ambassador to Slovenia Joseph Musomelli has recently met with National Assembly vice-president Romana Tomc whose name was already floated as a possible interim-PM until early elections are called.

Now, this is a highly unlikely scenario in pengovsky’s opinion. Janša does not breed successors, he breeds followers. But the anti-graft fiasco was noted in Europe as well and it is quite possible JJ will find himself sidelined by Angela Merkel and the rest of the EPP pretty soon. Especially after the fiasco with alleged support by EU Council President Herman van Rompuy which turned out to be a gross misinterpretation of the facts Or as we call it – lying.

How does this play out?

There are three, nay four, ways this whole thing can go:

One: Janša doesn’t resign and roughs it out. Possible, but will leave him crippled for the rest of the term. Also, this probably only postpones the inevitable.
Two: Janša resigns immediately, no replacement PM is found and early elections are called in Spring. In the current climate of popular uprising, this would probably mean a very low turnout and a result which would only prolong the existing status quo (the PS would lose to SocDems, but overall picture would change little).
Three: a new coalition with a left-wing PM who is not Zoran Janković. This is unlikely in the extreme.
And four: Janša resigns, SDS goes into the opposition, while all other parties form a sort-of-national-unity coalition with a technocratic government which edges the country towards early elections some time in autumn, while it enacts the basic demands of the protest movement, including but not limited to changes in the voting system, anti-graft legislation and curbing austerity policies.


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