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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Lessons from the second round of mayoral elections

By: Gašper Blažič

Several times on this website in the last two months, you could read the claim that the countryside is the core of healthy patriotism. But that does not mean that it will remain so in the future, as rural municipalities are also faced with the immigration of new citizens from urban areas.

Stereotypically, what is “rural” has always been considered somehow backward and dependent on opinion leaders, i.e., “shepherds”, from the local pastor on. Even though we know that it is the “masses of people” in urban environments who depend more than anywhere else on various media political commissars. However, with the second round of mayoral elections, the transitional left got its hands on an important argument that the “right” was actually expelled from the municipalities by the will of the people. The only mayor who is as close as possible to the so-called right centre, is Gregor Macedoni in Novo Mesto. Bojan Šrot, who in the past was considered one of the SLS’ strongest assets – remember, he was even the president of this party, but later left the party – suffered a severe defeat in Celje after 24 years, although in the past he won the second round of elections without any problems.

It is known that mayoral elections are a kind of presidential election in miniature. The only difference is that, unlike the president of the republic, mayors do not have a term limit, so it is possible, for example, that the municipality of (Goriška) Brda has had the same mayor since the establishment of the municipality in 1994, i.e., Franc Mužič, whom the voters awarded on Sunday for the eighth consecutive term and is considered the oldest among mayors. However, the current mayors who are running for a new term have a hard time repeating their success if they did not win in the first round. Some, like the aforementioned Mužič, succeeded. Maribor mayor Saša Arsenovič, who was also helped by the support of NSi, also succeeded, as well as Kranj mayor Matjaž Rakovec. However, for example, Klemen Miklavič did not succeed in Nova Gorica, who served as mayor for a single term (interestingly, in the second round, he defeated the then-mayor Matej Arčon, a current minister in Golob’s government and a former local LDS official, by a very small margin, even though in the first round Arčon got a lot more votes). Apparently, it was not dissatisfaction with the mayor that was expressed here, but rather the effect of state politics – let’s not forget that Prime Minister Robert Golob is from this very municipality, and it would be extremely unusual if the Nova Gorica municipality was not led by someone from the Gibanje Svoboda party. And interestingly, a review of the data from the first and second rounds shows that the winning (party) candidate Samo Turel did not get much more votes in the second round than in the first (4,789 vs. 4,801 in the second round), which means that the voters of the other candidates mostly boycotted the second round.

Bojan Šrot is certainly the biggest loser of these local elections. In the first round, with 47 percent, he was already very close to the success of the previous elections, but in the second round he got even fewer votes than in the first (7,582 vs. 7,226) and easily lost to his competitor Matija Kovač, who ran as a non-party candidate and also the party (Levica), of which he is a member, did not officially support him at all. However, Kovač had a considerable advantage: in contrast to the visibly tired Šrot, he acted fresh and as a kind of fresh energy, and that was all he needed. The official support of the Levica party would at most lost him a few votes – but of course he did not hide the fact that he was a member of the Levica, since in the previous term he was a city councillor from its list, but he did not show any great enthusiasm for city politics. But it was enough for his success that he caught the right moment, when the spring parties in Celje did not have any candidates this time, and with his appearance of unburdenedness and commitment to the development of the city, he was able to appeal to many right-wing voters. They perhaps were not bothered that he is a member of the Levica, or they were not interested, because they were already too tired of the “old cat” and took a risk with the “cat in a bag”, who was supported by the well-known Celje high school principal Gregor Deleja. Which is a good reference for many.

However, the new mayor of Celje will have considerable problems. He will not have many allies in the Celje city council. It is ironic that the largest number of mandates (nine) belong to Celje’s mayor’s list, which is actually Šrot’s (and will probably have to be renamed). And it will in all likelihood become the Celje city opposition. Therefore, if Matija Kovač wants a majority in the Celje city council (which is a minimum of 17 councillors out of a total of 33 councillors), he will have to obtain at least four non-party councillors through negotiations, who will join the councillors of Gibanje Svoboda (8), SD (3), and Levica-Vesna (2). For example, he has at his disposal the Celje Independent List (2 councillors), the List for Celje (1 councillor), and the Party for Jobs (1 councillor). There are therefore two framework scenarios for the further development of the municipality: either Matija Kovač negotiates a stable “rainbow” coalition, or he insists on a programme that will not have majority support in the Celje city council, which means that the development of the municipality will be blocked and will sooner or later be forced into early resignation.

At the same time, we should remind you that Zoran Janković will also be in a more difficult position in Ljubljana, because his list will not have an absolute majority in the “Ljubljana Parliament”. Even in Maribor, Mayor Arsenovič will have to seek agreement with Gibanje Svoboda.

In general, the principle that applies to local elections is that an individual’s personal charisma is more expressed there, as well as concrete projects for the good of the local community. This is also why there are now and then “unprincipled” coalitions, even in pre-election campaigns, where the same mayoral candidates are supported by parties that are not exactly compatible with each other at the national level. It happens, however, that one of the parliamentary parties takes a rather unusual political path, for example Maribor’s NSi, which decided to support Arsenovič, while SDS supported Franc Kangler. In any case, the most successful in local elections are the so-called ad hoc non-party lists and mayors who run without party support and with a group of voters. Which is not necessarily a recipe for success, which was demonstrated in Nova Gorica, where a party candidate defeated a non-party candidate. A similar thing happened in Izola, where the current mayor experienced a debacle.

Although the spring camp got quite a few mayors, they are mainly mayors of smaller, rural municipalities. SLS has some hope of breaking through again among the parliamentary parties, but its local network is not yet a guarantee of success. Some candidates from the SDS were surprisingly successful, for example MP Janez Magyar, who is returning to the municipality of Lendava from the parliamentary benches. Ivan Molan also managed to retain the position of mayor in Brežice, but he had a fairly dangerous competitor, Igor Zorčič. In Logatec, however, Berto Menard won a new mandate, even though it was already indicated that he would lose. Unfortunately, spring mayoral candidates in city municipalities, such as Ivo Bajec (Kranj), Andrej Mešič (Murska Sobota), Franc Kangler (Maribor), etc., remained on the losing side.

Taking solace in the otherwise solid result in the local elections is not very convincing. However, it is precisely in the municipalities that many examples of good practice are taking place as a model example of action at the national level (although we know that the legalities of local elections are somewhat different). And here I have to agree with what Dr Boštjan M. Turk wrote in Požareport.: it would be time for Dr Anže Logar to move from party politics to civil society. Perhaps also because the Gibanje Svoboda, as the latest product of transition predators, does not consider itself a normal party, but a movement – let’s remember that HDZ declared itself in a similar way in the early 1990s in Croatia, which instead of party crumbs gathered wide support in the field. Lost in the meantime, but came back again, despite the chronic dissatisfaction of less pragmatic Croatian patriots.

In short, this year’s election has much more to teach us than we are willing to admit. But first, it will be necessary to take a close look at the State Election Commission…


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