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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    WED, 19 APR 2000 22:01:43 GMT

    Slovenia and Elections

    The End of Drnovsek's Era?

    The fall of the coalition government of LDS (Drnovsek), SLS (Podobnik) and DeSuS (pensioners), marks the end of the eight-year long rule of prime minister Janez Drnovsek. The official Ljubljana is involved in a political crisis the way out of which will not at all be easy.

    AIM Ljubljana, 7 April, 2000

    "I promise you that Liberal Democracy of Slovenia and the government will do their best - if you support this government - to have changes of the election system adopted within a month; simultaneously the government and the parliament would on the basis of this agreement continue with passing of European legislature", declared head of Slovenian government Janez Drnovsek in one of his last attempts to convince the parliament to vote confidence to new ministers. Everything was in vain. From the very start it went badly, during public hearings of the future ministers, because deputies of almost all the parties voted against each candidate despite their qualifications and expressed expertise. The explanation given for each one of them was that the candidate might be capable but he was denied support for political reasons.

    The crisis began by the announcement of the Slovenian Populist Party (SLS) that it would leave the ruling coalition on 15 April; then ministers of SLS withdrew from Drnovsek’s government, and the prime minister responded quickly. And unexpectedly - instead to keep Populist ministers in the government for some time (as provided by law) and prolong its term in office in this way, Drnovsek responded to the ultimatum by recalling the ministers who had resigned and proposed names of eight new (independent) ministers to the parliament. He linked vote of confidence to his government to the vote for their term in office. Then bargaining began, publicly (leaders used the media to blackmail with the public the other party in order to avoid any agreement), and secretly (which, of course, also leaked via media).

    Small parties - SNS (Nationalists of Zmago Jelincic), DeSuS (Pensioners), ZLSD (reformed Communists of Borut Pahor) demanded in unison that early elections be scheduled as soon as possible "so Slovenia could get a competent government with full authority". The real reason for consistent opposition to reconstruction of Drnovsek’s government was fear that the new government, if it passed the majority election system - which was a condition of the rightists loyal to Jansa and the opposition - would endanger their survival. In fact, they were right - in his open offer to Jansa, Peterle and Podobnik, that is exactly what Drnovsek had promised.

    It seems, however, that this time Drnovsek had badly estimated the appetites of his opponents and the current situation, although the position of the rightist parties was extremely paradoxical. Jansa’s Social Democrats and Peterle’s Christian Democrats withdrew their third partner from the ruling coalition in the struggle for full power - the Populists of Podobnik brothers. All three parties were severe critics of Drnovsek’s proposal but to the last minute they secretly kept trying to reach an agreement with him. And then, both the public and the secret negotiations failed. The opposition parties demanded that deputies first vote (in summary procedure) on majority election system, while Drnovsek wanted the parliament to vote confidence to his government first.

    To make the confusion completely absurd, in this haggling, Drnovsek was suddenly offered support by his recent partner in power - chairman of the parliament Janez Podobnik (brother of Marjan Podobnik, head of the Populists, also a Populist) who decided despite pressure of his new allies among the rightists that the parliament would first vote on Drnovsek’s proposal of the new cabinet. Indeed, this proposal was the first to arrive. The reason for Podobnik’s little trick was hurt vanity; in this strategy of Jansa and Peterle for overthrowing Drnovsek’s government the Populists played the role of the Trojan horse. They gave in under pressure of their political supporters and caused the crisis of Drnovsek’s cabinet, and after that their allegedly much more principled partners started conspiring with the shaken prime minister. SLS and its leaders, but primarily Podobnik brothers felt cheated and put to shame. In any case, Drnovsek’s manoeuvre was not successful, the parliament rejected his proposal and did not vote confidence to his government, and the rightists made the surprise complete by announcing that they already had its own candidate for prime minister.

    At this moment, the period of thirty days (which began on 8 April) is well under way. Within that period Slovenia must get a new government or early elections shall be scheduled. In parliamentary lobbies, however, at the moment of Drnovsek’s fall, news leaked that the rightists were proposing their cabinet. A new candidate for prime minister needs parliamentary majority of 46 votes (out of 90 possible ones); at this moment the rightsts can count on 44. Two votes belong to representatives of Hungarian and Italian minorities, but these votes traditionally go to the left political block. That is why the rightists do not have much choice: they must attract one of the minor parties to their side. Zmago Jelincic, president of Slovenian National Party, has already declared himself; he confirmed that his party would vote in favour of the candidate of the rightists, although in the parliament, concerning numerous questions, Jelincic has often been opposed to his colleagues from the same political block (Jansa and Peterle).

    The cause of the latest love affair between Jelincic and Jansa, Peterle, Podobnik brothers is already known - SNS wants the post of the minister of internal affairs for itself. As concerning the new candidate for prime minister, two names have been mentioned so far: France Demsar, the current minister of defence, is menrioned most frequently, and there are speculations that France Arhar, governor of the Bank of Slovenia, could also be the man. It is interesting that the public is not at all excited about the decision who of these two will take Drnovsek’s place. The choice between France and France does not seem to be especially difficult. What tickles analysts is the announcement of Jelincic’s SNS that it will support any one of the two France. Jelincic’s decision, however, seems to be reasonable. Zmago Jelincic is an authentic rightist although his party has many times played the decisive role in the struggle between the left and the right in the parliament where SNS often sided with the left in opposition to its natural allies. Drnovsek and the left have never publicly awarded Jelincic for his constructive attitude towards the government. On the contrary, Drnovsek’s "flirtation" with the majority system endangered survival of Jelincic’s party.

    However, the announcement that SNS would join the party of Jansa, Peterle and Podobnik brothers came as a big surprise. Leader of SNS Zmago Jelincic has been a difficult opponent and critic of the Catholic Church and its wishes to restore its property (forests in the first place) and enter state schools, and he was also against the demands of prewar owners of large estates and projects of rightist parties which advocated introduction of majority election system. Nothing seems to matter any more now. A convenient pretext has been found for the sudden support to the coalition of the right (joint front towards Croatia and Austria, caution against hasty joining the EU, etc.). This is not the first such Jelincic’s conversion; about ten years ago he built his career of a rightist by shooting "southerners" in Trzic and stirring up xenophobia against foreigners in general. And then, two years ago he changed his attitude. He still called Croats names, but he was also among the rare ones who expressed sympathy for the Serbs, criticised the policy of western powers towards FRY and established contacts in Belgrade with certain high officials of Yugoslav United Left (JUL) and Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS).

    Although it seems that the new rightist government is already an accomplished fact, commentators are sceptical in the assessments that such a combination could be successful. Although the leadership of Drnovsek’s LDS claimed before the decision of the parliament that "the question of the election system and support to the government were not connected" and that LDS "since a long time ago has been in favour of the majority system", it is possible that the support to majority system as a project of Jansa’s rightists will be cancelled. This would make the strategy of the right fail. As another possibility of a way out of the crisis there are speculations that, after an agreement with Drnovsek, the right might once again vote confidence and nominate Drnovsek its candidate for prime minister. In any case there is no doubt that the forthcoming period in political life of Slovenia will be exceptionally tumultous.

    Igor Mekina

    (AIM Ljubljana)