Slovenian: Peterle gathering the support on the right, how should Pahor react?

The news emerged this week that SDS, the governing Democrats of Slovenia, support Peterle as candidate for the President of the Republic. Although the decision is not yet final, this brings new elements into the debate. Let’s take a look at few.

An interesting article from Jani Sever, former Editor of Mladina now running vest.si, explores why the support of SDS is problematic for Peterle. He claims that SDS’ support comes at a cost – full cooperation during the mandate. As we have seen in the second half of Drnovšek’s mandate, he ran into troubles when fully confronting Janša. Nothing says that Peterle would not receive the same treatment.

Second thought. With SDS fully behind him, the all-Slovenian image of Peterle would pale further. If he was partly acceptable to those in the centre until now, support might drop because he would be seen also through a more ideological lens. He welcomed the decision of the SDS, while it could have been better to stay neutral and run on a completely non-party ticket, even freezing his membership in Nova Slovenija (NSi). But honestly, he is the candidate of the right, so there is no need to hide it. And of course, it is too late.

As I wrote here before, the youth wing of the Slovenian People’s Party (SLS) does not support Peterle, now it’s the time for the senior SLS. After the SDS give its support, Podobnik (President of SLS and Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning) has to make up his mind. As most of the readers from Slovenia will know, the SLS has always been the little trouble-maker on the Slovenian political scene. This is why they have been in government for longer than the Liberals, but also lost credibility significantly. This time they have a choice to stay out of the play, but it will of course be difficult.

A further reflection is the pressure this puts on Pahor. Now he seems as the only credible candidate that can actually beat Peterle. Jože Mencinger is out, Vasja Klavora and Zmago Jelinčič won’t get more than 5%, the rest of the current candidates will reach 1% if lucky. Unless he runs, Slovenia will have a right-wing government and a right-wing President.

As hopeless as this seems for the centre-left, it in fact isn’t so bad. Let Peterle win. After the recent discussions of curbing further the constitutional powers of the President and even if these stay the same, he will play only a minor role. And he will be isolated as a harmless political figure, with the right happy. On the other hand, the centre-left can keep Pahor as the leading face for the Parliamentary elections. Which is far more essential.

The only danger is if the public doesn’t understand the gamble. If Pahor chooses to continue his party-work and lead the SD to the Parliamentary elections next year, this has to become clear when he decides not to run for President. And has to be constantly stated, facing the defeat of the centre-left at the Presidential elections. Otherwise the Slovenian public might become as disillusioned about the centre-left as the Italian.

Oh yes, of course there is another danger. That the centre-left loses the elections in 2008 even with Pahor at the forefront. With quite some internal consolidation to be done because of recent transfers from the Liberals, this will become far more obvious in the months before the Parliamentary elections than it is now. Power struggle is not for Presidency, it’s for the government positions.

P.S.: On a more sarcastic note. Perhaps the Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel could provide the twist – leave the Foreign Office and run for the Presidency. There are many rumours that he will not have a job after the EU Presidency anyway, being replaced by the convincing Janez Lenarčič, the current State Secretary for European Affairs. What arithmetically could appear as an option in practice is not. Rupel has far less support than years ago, when this thought would have been more substantial.

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