Slovenia: after the vote of confidence – who trusts the Prime Minister?

Few days after Peterle’s defeat in the Presidential elections and the lost referendum on the partial privatization of the Slovenia’s largest insurance company “Triglav”, the PM Janša shocked virtually everyone by stating that “all options are open, including the resignation of the government“. A week later, and few bizzare TV appearances, the PM held a 2 hours speech in the Parliament and got the vote of confidence he asked for.

What was the story all about?

It was obviously difficult to swallow a 68-32 defeat in the Presidential race and an even tougher 75-25 defeat in the referendum. The results and the debate surrounding it, gave for sure enough of a headache to the Prime Minister that has been facing dropping support for months. Even the last government reshuffle didn’t manage to turn the trend around or at least stop the dropping. Janša was desperate.

And such was his decision to ask for a vote of confidence. His rhetorics was again one of an opposition leader, not of a Prime Minister. He blamed external factors for the poor performance of the government. The coalition partners are not good. Media are subjective and leftish. The opposition is nasty and destructive. 1 month ahead of the EU Presidency, the government cannot sustain scrutiny. No word about problems with his leadership, attitude or performance. Janša offered to the opposition to take over, if they have the guts.

The session in the Parliament was scheduled for Monday, 19th November, the PM got 2 hours to explain the reasons behind his request. These were historical moments. The whole transcript of the speech is available in Slovenian only, but it was for sure impressive. The first statements of Janša after the defeat in the Presidential elections were relatively moderate compared to his speech in the Parliament.

An often cited personality problem of Janša is that he believes in big conspiracy theories. There are “centres of power” that prevent him from becoming the most beloved Slovenian politician. It has nothing to do with his negativism and agressive rhetorics, it has to do with “centres of power” that portray him negatively. I wonder how did he manage to win the elections in 2004 if everyone and everything works again him, but this is already a story on its own. But this personality problem lead me to expect a dreadful speech. It turned out much worse. It turned out a disaster.

Janša accused the opposition and journalists for his poor performance. He accused them of misusing media to create the wrong impression of Slovenia abroad. He went on to basically equalize Slovenia with the Slovenian government. If you are against the Slovenian government abroad, you’re basically against the country. Janša’s statements against the journalists were impressive. Their actions prevent the government to function normally, they prevent the Ministers to work, they create such a negative environment that the government is under constant stress.

I wonder if it’s normal that a PM devotes so much attention to journalists? To a certain degress one can understand him, it’s true that the media are not favourable to him. But this comes with a reason. Janša spent quite some time demonizing media in the past (since his removal from office in 1994 basically) and when he got into power he started to work for more “media objectivity”. This meant that wherever the state financial institutions still own stakes in media, he tried to change editors and company heads. While it seemed to work for a while, very short while, it became too obvious and it brought him in this situation where 571 journalists signed a petition against government censorship in the media. Which Janša describes as a lie and as an act against Slovenia and makes it as the main cornerstone of his speech…

In the most bizzare moment Janša linked the vote of confidence to the “unity for the EU Presidency”. I guess he was not serious about getting the support of the opposition for such a cheap trick?! Basically he took the chance to blackmail everyone with the fact that the EU Presidency is 1 month away and no one wishes to take over the government now. On the top he expected that the media would buy this argument. Obviously, as an impressive strategist, Janša was not so naive. He knew fully well that no one will dare take over the government without fresh elections – a move most improbable, because of the impact this would have on the EU Presidency.

Janša’s statement and actions can be valued differently from different points of view. It’s difficult to be objective here, but here are the main conclusions:

1. As a strategic option, the vote of confidence was a good choice. It cut the euphoria on the centre-left after the reaffirmation of its strong standing in the polls. Janša wanted to win something, so he opted for the only option and won. The debate focused again on the government and its role. And this is what we have to give Janša credit for.

2. As a political decision of Janez Janša as the Prime Minister, the vote of confidence was relatively irresponsible and unnecessary. Janša could have congratulated Türk on his election (something he still hasn’t done…), admitted that Peterle was not a good candidate and focused on the government work. With his actions he created confusion and nervousness, with a particular attention from foreign media.

3. As a political decision of Janez Janša as the President of the Slovenian Democrats, the vote of confidence was possibly positive internally, but certainly negative externally. His 2 hours speech for sure alienated possible support and only perhaps strengthened his party internally. If things don’t change, his party will lose badly next Autumn.

This is just a brief analysis, time will tell more. Judging by the first reactions, the move was a disaster. All the main editorial comments in the days after Janša’s appearance in the Parliament, went against his rhetorics and claims. Similar is the mood among the bloggers and political leaders. It’s very improbable that any media will judge his statements as positive. Sure, there are few individuals that give him credit and I think as well, that the Slovenian media environment is not perfectly balanced…But well, this is not up to the government to fix with force, but with good performance and openess.

Performance and openess is not something Janša would so far be famous for.

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