Internal power struggle threatens Slovenia's newfound stability

By bne IntelliNews April 24, 2014

Guy Norton in Zagreb -


Arguably the last thing that Slovenia needs right now is another bout of political uncertainty. But that's just what threatens to happen if the country's prime minister, Alenka Bratušek, loses a crucial vote at the congress of her Positive Slovenia party on April 25.

In a graphic illustration of the unfortunate tendency of Slovenian politicians to put personal pride and ambition ahead of national interest, Bratusek is being challenged for the presidency by Positive Slovenia founder Zoran Jankovic, who claims that the party he created in October 2011 has lost its way under Bratusek and that it has failed to do enough to kick start the moribund Slovenian economy.

Jankovic, mockingly referred to as Jay-Z by his political opponents, is currently serving his second term as mayor of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana and is looking to regain the leadership of Positive Slovenia despite his political credibility being increasingly called into question as a result of a number of corruption and abuse-of-office allegations levelled against him.

For her part, Bratusek has threatened to resign the premiership if she fails to secure the backing of the Positive Slovenia party faithful on April 25. The intra-party election at the congress is the culmination of hitherto low-level tensions between pro-Jankovic and pro-Bratusek factions within Positive Slovenia, which have been simmering ever since Jankovic called for an election congress to elect a permanent president last October – a move that was postponed until now by the party's leadership in an attempt to avoid political instability.

Outcome uncertain

In the run-up to the vote the outcome remains highly uncertain. Jankovic, who led it to victory in the December 2011 parliamentary elections, reportedly still enjoys widespread support in the party, being viewed as a father figure who rapidly established Positive Slovenia as a political force to be reckoned with in 2011. That's something that even Bratusek acknowledges, with the prime minister telling Slovenian daily Vecer: "The fact is that with him and because of him we won the elections at the end of 2011."

However, Jankovic's sometimes overbearing manner and rumours of financial shenanigans have often made him persona non grata with potential allies. Thus, although Positive Slovenia emerged as the largest party in the 2011 general election with 28.8% of the vote, Jankovic failed to garner enough cross-party support to assemble a coalition administration.

Subsequently, Janez Jansa, leader of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), was able to cobble together a right-wing alliance that relegated Jankovic to the role of the leading opposition figure in Slovenia.

Both Jankovic and Jansa were subjects of damning findings in a report compiled by Slovenia's Corruption Prevention Commission in January 2013, which found that both men had failed to properly account for the source of some of their financial assets.

While the findings of the country's anti-graft watchdog led to the collapse of Jansa's SDS-led centre-right administration, Jankovic's political fortunes also took a turn for the worse when potential political partners of Positive Slovenia insisted on his withdrawal from the helm of the party as a pre-condition for holding talks on forming a centre-left administration.

This allowed Janković's one-time political protégée Alenka Bratusek to assume both the leadership of Positive Slovenia on a pro tempore basis in January last year, as well as take charge of a centre-left coalition government which was formed in March 2013. In both instances the relative political novice Bratusek was spared the challenge of facing elections for the position of Positive Slovenia president as well as prime minister of Slovenia, becoming the first woman to hold the post.

Holding it together

So far the 44-year-old, an economist by training, has managed to hold together an at times fractious coalition administration, which as well as Positive Slovenia comprises the Social Democrats, the Democratic Party of Pensioners (Desus) and the Civic List (DL) party. Indeed, she has thus far defied the SDS' infamous prediction on Twitter that the lifespan of her government would be as short as the hemlines of her skirts – a reference to Bratusek's preference for above-the-knee skirts, which in the stuffy world of Slovenian politics ranks as a racy choice.

What's more, Bratusek has successfully steered a much-needed banking sector rehabilitation plan through parliament that also received the all-important approval of the European Commission, which has forecast that Slovenia might actually emerge from recession this year, after the country's economy shrank by 1.3% in 2013.  

However, in the latest monthly public opinion poll conducted by Slovenian daily Dnevnik and broadcaster Pop TV, only 21% of 700 respondents rated Bratusek's government a success. That's the worst result in the whole of her 13-month rule, although it's still considerably better than the 13.6% mark registered by the preceding Jansa-led coalition when it fell last February.

On balance, therefore, the Slovenian political blog Sleeping with Pengovsky argues: "On the whole, in April 2014 PM Bratusek is much more in charge than she was in July 2013 [when speculation about a potential political challenge from Jankovic first surfaced]". When asked at the weekend whether she thought she would defeat Jankovic's political challenge she told Vecer: "I believe, I will."

Nonetheless, Bratusek's position within her own party was recently weakened when a handful of Positive Slovenia MPs voted against the party line in support of an opposition motion – ultimately unsuccessful– to dismiss Interior Minister Gregor Virant, leader of the coalition party Civic List, over an expenses scandal. As Virant has long been an outspoken critic of Jankovic, the mini-rebellion within the Positive Slovenia ranks was widely regarded as having being engineered by Jankovic.

For his part, Jankovic has maintained that his victory in the April 25 vote should not preclude Bratusek from continuing to lead the government for the remainder of its term until 2015. However, Bratusek has rejected that interpretation of events and said she would refuse to serve as premier of a party headed by someone facing various corruption charges. Bratusek's three coalition partners have expressed similar reservations. "I expect Bratusek will resign immediately if Jankovic is elected," Meta Roglic, a political analyst at daily Dnevnik told Reuters, adding: "As it is very unlikely that another coalition could be formed within the present parliament, we can expect an early election in late September or October."  

Consequently, a Jankovic victory would most likely mean the third government collapse in four years and yet another early election, the second one in a row following the 2011 vote. According to Abbas Ameli-Renani, an emerging markets strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland, the political interregnum following the possible collapse of Bratusek's regime would most likely hamper efforts to push through much-needed financial and economic reforms. 

So a Positive Slovenia-led government that came to power amid comments about the length of the prime minister's skirts, may actually be ousted from power as a result of a tussle over who wears the political pants in the party.


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