For many reasons the past weeks have been probably those defining the rest of the mandate of the current government under Prime Minister Janša. The most obvious reasons are three:
- The election of a new President and the campaign around it.
- The referendum on the partial privatization of the insurance company â€œTriglavâ€? that the government badly lost.
- PM Janšaâ€™s appearance in the Parliament and the vote of confidence.
All three would be too much to deal with in one post, so letâ€™s focus on the first one mainly.
The elections for the new President were held in two rounds, the last one on the 11th November. In the first round the main contenders were three: Lojze Peterle, Mitja Gaspari and Danilo TÃ¼rk. Peterle launched his campaign already in 2006. It was a very visually rich campaign, with plenty of travel, public events, support from abroad etc. Peterle was mostly supported by the parties currently in the government (SDS, NSI and SLS).Gaspari was more reserved about the value of the campaign, almost giving the impression of detesting the public performances. As a former governor of the Central Bank and finance minister he was perceived by most a an intellectual with limited rethorical skills. His name appeared often in the media recently because PM Janšaâ€™s government didnâ€™t prolong his mandate as governor for the second term. He was backed by the Liberal Democrats. Danilo TÃ¼rk entered the campaign as an outsider, supported by the Social Democrats, DESUS (the pensioneersâ€™ party) and the newly formed party Zares (with Gregor Golobič as President). A bit in the shadow of Pahorâ€™s decision not to run, TÃ¼rk was not supposed to interfere with the strong runnersâ€¦ On the top, there was Zmago Jelinčič, the President of the Nationalist Party (SNS). Supported by his own party, he ran on xenophobic slogans.
Peterle won the first round by a disappointingly narrow margin of 4% over the second runner TÃ¼rk, who was only few votes ahead of Gaspari, both getting some 24%. Jelinčič got an impressive 20%. The second round provided TÃ¼rk with an impressive win of 68%. Such a turnaround is worth a bit of attention, since it might signalize the Parlimantary elections next autumn.
Peterle was perceived as a done deal as President after Pahor stepped out of the race earlier in the autumn. He was well ahead in all the polls and there was even the speculation he will win in the first round. His campaign was impressive â€“ financially and organisationally. Websites everywhere, videos, debates, visitsâ€¦concerts and more. As ever to me Peterle was short of decent content, but was attractive as a person close to the â€œpeopleâ€?. Then Gaspari and TÃ¼rk entered the race, in a move that appeared as a split on the centre-left.
The more the campaign progressed, the more ground both Gaspari and TÃ¼rk were covering. Gaspari as a credible intellectual with relatively strong opinions in comparison with the rest. TÃ¼rk as an outsider, clean of Slovenian politics, with a very mild manners and sophisticated wording. Peterle was losing ground and getting nervous. The interesting bit started after the first round.
Until after the first round Peterle was doing fine and was well distanced from the support of the currently governing coalition. He was also quite successful in distancing himself from his political past, which was ideologically unhelpful to his campaign for President. He changed the strategy radically in the last weeks, be it because he was forced to do it, or on his own initiative.
In the light of the strong performance of a â€œno-nameâ€? candidate TÃ¼rk, Peterle was forced to go on the offensive. He openly questioned TÃ¼rkâ€™s role during the struggle for independence of Slovenia. His argument was that while he was â€œwalking around with his head in the bagâ€? fighting for the independence, TÃ¼rk was working comfortably in Geneva for the UN representing Yugoslavia. Besides convincing the convinced, he angered most of the rest. He has been claiming that he wants to â€œfocus on the futureâ€?, but he started to dig back into 1990s. The PM Janša and the Foreign Minister Rupel stepped into the campaign, both supporting Peterle, but seemingly driving even more voters aways. Peterle appeared nervous, angry and non-presidential.
On the other side, TÃ¼rk answered the claims calmly, precising his role during the independence. Even if that was smaller than Peterleâ€™s, he gave his contribution, full stop. Besides this issue, there were no substantial matters of debate during the last part of the campaign. As said eariler, TÃ¼rk got to an impressive win of 68% over Peterleâ€™s 32%.
My guess would be that Peterle played his cards badly. He could continue with the mild, vague campaign of the first round, probably lose the elections anyway, but at least keep the credibility and honour. Probably he was forced to fight more offensively, since PM Janša didnâ€™t like the increasing strenght of TÃ¼rk and the parties behind him (DESUS as part of his government and Social Democrats + Zares). Slovenians reacted to Peterleâ€™s â€œprivatizationâ€? of independence negatively and sanctioned his rhetorics, opinions and behaviour. From a clear winner he turned into a clear loser.
The interventions of Janša and Rupel made sure that the vote on the President turned out to be a vote on the performance of the government. With the increasing inflation, bad performance of many ministers and Janša’s attitude towards media, this was a good recipe for a flop. And so it was.
TÃ¼rk will take over the new post in December, with a very strong mandate and under considerable pressure from the current government. He inspires trust and seems a very reasonable person. More than a politician he appears an intellectual (professor of International Law) and morally honest. Which should secure him a successful mandate.