By: Gašper Blažič
We have entered a year that will be marked by triple elections, i.e., elections to the National Assembly, elections of the President of the Republic and then local elections. Therefore, it can be expected that this year will be politically very hot.
Namely, it is characteristic of Slovene politics that recycled political parties in new guises according to the formula of “new faces” appear on the horizon again and again. So, to offer people something new and fresh, thus obscuring the core of such a political choice, which is a continuation of the old transition policy as we were used to before the arrival of the current government. It is therefore not surprising that some opinion agencies already include parties in their polls that have not yet emerged. Which is a rather perfidious way of directing public opinion. They used to do it in secret, now in public.
But before we focus on the possible new parties that will enter the election race in just over three months, let’s look at Slovenian political history from 1990 onwards.
Almost 32 years ago, Slovenia, then still part of Yugoslavia, witnessed the first multi-party elections after the Second World War. We often call them the “first democratic elections”, although there was actually very little democracy, as the elections were held according to a slightly modified cardinal system, which means that voters had the opportunity to influence the composition of two of the three assemblies of the National Assembly (since we did not yet know the National Assembly at the time, because the old Cardinal Constitution of 1974 was still in force). A major anomaly of this system was that the third assembly of the parliament – the assembly of united labour – actually had the same right to vote, although it was much closer to the current National Council than the National Assembly, however, as elections to it took place through labour organisations, where Party bodies still had a very large influence, this posed a very high risk to the normal functioning of the assembly. Demos’ parties represented “new faces” at the time, but without significant media support. Nevertheless, Demos managed to form a government, but was less successful in the elections of the President and members of the Presidency of the Republic of Slovenia, where faces from the world of established politics predominated.
In order to better understand the situation at the time, let’s look a little further back, in April 1989. At that time, direct elections of the Slovenian member of the Yugoslav state presidency took place. In the candidacy process, SZDL offered two candidates from the economic and financial milieu, the well-known president of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce Marko Bulc and the little-known young Zasavje banker Janez Drnovšek. Aware of the fact that the Eastern European bloc was collapsing, the then regime opted for a kind of referendum in which the Party leadership could check the mood of the people. The battle was all the more prestigious because the Slovenian member of the presidency had been the president of the SFRY presidency for one year since May 15th, 1989 – the Slovenian presidency of the Yugoslav federation, to use a slightly more modern term. Drnovšek’s victory was a good indicator, but also an attempt by the red regime to try to save Yugoslavia outside the previous political patterns, as they saw a tandem in the alliance between Drnovšek and the new Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Marković that could save Yugoslavia from hyperinflation and raise its international credibility, as the Belgrade “leader” was already rising at the time, and Kosovo was drowning in a spiral of violence.
As is well known, this attempt to resolve the crisis failed – Yugoslavia did not survive, the Slovenes decided to become independent through a plebiscite after a wave of violence swept through Knin and moved towards the (then administrative) border with Slovenia. Drnovšek, then a trained diplomat, gained enough sympathy through media recognition that, despite his intimate views on the break-up of Yugoslavia, he was able to take the seat of the successor to the ZSMS, the Liberal Democrats, and soon to the government. However, we know that at that time he was no longer a “new face”. This was followed by his three electoral victories in the parliamentary elections and then in the presidential elections, where he was stopped by a serious illness. During this time, new political factors were already emerging: some parties disappeared from parliament (for example, the SDZ disbanded, and those who joined the Liberal Democrats…), new ones appeared in the parliamentary benches (1992 SNS, 1996 DeSUS, in 2000 the Youth Party of Slovenia and NSi), some of which were renewed and “thickened” in the meantime (ZKS-SDP became ZLSD, today SD; Liberal Democratic Party was renamed Liberal Democracy of Slovenia). Milan Kučan also reached the top of Slovenian politics twice (1992, 1997). With the exception of the electoral success of Podobnik’s SLS in 1996 (when the party reached second place), not many “new faces” appeared in the Slovenian political space – simply because the nomenclature did not need them yet. Even during the first Janša government, when the party Zares emerged from the disintegrating LDS faction, “new faces” did not break through, as “uncles” swore allegiance to established politics: in 2008, the first place in the elections was won by SD, led by Borut Pahor, the current President of the Republic, for eleven years. Shortly before that, Katarina Kresal appeared as a relatively fresh face in politics in the role of the president of the LDS and then the minister of the interior, and at the same time the former diplomat and professor Dr Danilo Türk, who at the time seemed “worth the risk” to the public in contrast to the well-known Lojze Peterle, who until then was considered the favourite, broke through to the presidential summit. This, however, already indicated certain changes in the old nomenclature in the technology of seizing power by “democratic means”.
The first more ambitious attempts to sow “something new” in party politics appeared only sometime after 2010. As is well known, representatives of the most famous neo-communist “uncles and aunts” marched on the Ljubljana City Hall in 2011, where Zoran Janković has been working for about five years – the latter broke through to the Ljubljana mayoral seat through the halo of a politically dismissed businessman and after great disappointments due to two rather inefficient ladies in the Ljubljana City Hall (Vika Potočnik, Danica Simšič). Positive Slovenia, as Janković’s list at the state level was called, picked up enough personnel from the failed LDS and at the same time drew enough media attention to be able to celebrate first place, while on the other hand the mainstream media knocked down SDS ratings with new and new constructs. In the meantime, Virant’s Citizens’ List had already been formed, which later represented a tab on the scales. The attempt with Janković as Prime Minister failed, of course, the development coalition and the new Janša government were formed, but only for about a year and a half, as in the meantime there was an affair with the Court of Audit, which led to the collapse of the coalition, and election of a new government with Alenka Bratušek, who temporarily succeeded Janković at the top of the PS, and then “split” from the party with the Alliance (now SAB).
Everything that followed in the following years showed that it was a launch of so-called instant parties. In 2014, the “ethical” Dr Miro Cerar with a party that was originally named after him happened. However, it turned out to be a project that Golobič’s cadres actually stole from their old opponent, Peter Jamnikar, who had previously set up the party’s local structure. It seems that this project with “new faces” was the most successful so far for the old nomenclature, but again only in the short term: in the meantime, the focus shifted to the Marjan Šarec List, which did not reach first place, but still had enough coalition votes to form Šarec’s government all the way until the famous throwing in the towel. Meanwhile, the SMC, then known as the Party of the Modern Center, has slipped to the level of its real power, especially after it moved from Šarec to Janša’s coalition and was abandoned by some prominent members (some of them left later), including founding president Cerar.
And what awaits us this year? It seems that there have never been so many possible new parties that could at least break into parliament. Thus, various anti-vaccine populist parties appeared, as well as at least two ecological parties (one of which is led by former State Secretary Jure Leben), Parliament Chairman Igor Zorčič also took the new party path, Aleksandra Pivec is returning to public with Naša dežela party, after merging with the Economic and Active Party, SMC changed its name to Konkretno, and the association Povežimo Slovenijo has been appearing in public for some time. But, of course, the focus of media attention is on where there is no party yet: namely Dr Robert Golob, who is trying to repeat Janković’s formula from 2006, is playing the role of a politically dismissed businessman. However, it will be very difficult to convince the egalitarian Slovenian public: first because of the salary, then because of the populist clichés that make him a dangerous competitor to the KUL parties, but also because he is not a new face in politics, but a man who was a Secretary of State from the LDS staff as early as 1999. And, of course, this time too, it is possible that the public, if the engineers of human souls suggest it, will forgive him all these sins, just as it forgave Janković in 2011, who for the majority of the public was suddenly no longer a “thief” but an example of a successful businessman who excels in politics. Well, at least that is what many thought…
If we approximately assess the current situation, we can see that the parties of the Coalition of the Constitutional Arc, i.e., SD, LMŠ, Levica and SAB, found themselves in a difficult position. Populist slogans of their kind show severe nervousness, especially now that they have to compete with Zorčič, Golob, Leben, and anti-vaccination parties. Therefore, it would be wisest for the current government parties to leave such quarrels alone and wait for the political corpses to float down on their own. After all, commitment to development and cohesion are the qualities that motivate voters to express active confidence in the government.
Gašper Blažič is a journalist for Demokracija, editor of its daily board and editor of the Blagovest.si portal.