Countdown to Slovenia’s 2017 Presidential Election

The Slovenian presidential election picked up a bit of unexpected momentum in the past ten days or so with the emergence of what seem to be the two most credible challengers to current #instapresident Borut Pahor to date.


 


Marjan Šarec (left) and Milan Jazbec (right) are challenging president Borut Pahor this Autumn

The whole presidential race thing in Slovenia is in flux right now. Obviously everyone knows it will happen but few people know when exactly, which is why the dynamic is slow at the moment although we’re already in mid-June and the clock is ticking.

Guess the date

President Pahor’s five-year term expires on 22 December meaning that elections must be held some time between 13 August and 3 December of this year. Traditionally, elections are not called during the summer recess (think mid-July through the end of August). Additionally, convention dictates that the election timetable should also allow for a meaningful campaign, which technically takes a month. Election day is also not supposed to coincide with any sort of public or school holiday, mostly to avoid the possibility of people vacationing rather than voting.

This means that August and September are out, as well as the last week of October, as it coincides with school holidays. Therefore, the best guess right now would be that the first round of elections will be called on 22 October and the second round on 5 November or a week later. Don’t bet money on it just yet as final dates can be set a week earlier or later, but in terms of a ballpark figure, this is where things stand.

Which means that today, roughly four months before the elections, we have three known challengers to the incumbent president. Zmago Jelinčič of the nationalist party (who in all likelihood is just attention whoring anyway) was joined by two more men who believe they can unseat president Pahor. Needless to say both have their work cut out for them as neither has the name recognition nor the media exposure of the incumbent.

Indeed, if the latest polls are anything to go by, president Pahor is so popular that – in the immortal words of Edwin Edwards – the only way he could lose this election is if he were found in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.

 

From Macedonia with love

And yet, soon after pengovsky published his first article on the presidential elex, Milan Jazbec, the current Slovenian ambassador to Macedonia, announced he’s entering the race. His announcement left many a pundit (pengovsky included) scratching their heads. Who is this guy, why is he doing this and – this being Slovenia and all – on whose behalf?

The answers to these questions thusfar seem to be in the realm of the mundane. Jazbec, a career diplomat, university professor and published author seems to be doing this of his own accord. While he maintains that he is not in the business of criticising anyone in particular, his assertion that the office he aspires to requires more statecraft than it currently provides is a not-so-hidden swipe at the incumbent president.

Jazbec, unsurprisingly, positions himself in the political centre and is trying to paint himself as a sort of intellectual if not political successor to the late France Bučar, one of the architects of democratic Slovenia and a person who was widely held in high regard, both for his legal mind as well as the ability to tell is like it is regardless of the consequences.

 

The comedian challenging the clown

If recent events are anything to go by, the centre will be somewhat crowded come Autumn. Weeks after Jazbec launched his bid, Marjan Šarec, the incumbent mayor of town of Kamnik, threw his hat into the ring.

Šarec made a name for himself as an actor and performer and got nationwide attention impersonating various characters on a popular Friday morning radio show called Radio Ga Ga (yes the Queen song was the show’s jingle). The two characters he was best known for were the redneck-type Old Man Serpentinšek and then-prime minister-cum-president Janez Drnovšek. But some seven years ago he dediced to run for mayor of Kamnik and never looked back.

Šarec, like Jazbec stated early on that he will restore dignity and bring back the art of statecraft to the office of the president. He even went a step further and said that serious matters require a serious approach, which is not the case right now.

The irony of a former comedian scolding the incumbent president for not taking his office seriously enough obviously escaped no one.

 

Framing

While the initial media reaction to Jazbec’s bid fell squarely into the WTF category, Šarec started off with some pretty good press. Interviews were made, TV appearances followed and he was free to position himself as he pleased. Jazbec profited from that as well and the two are now regarded as serious if handicapped challengers to incumbent president Borut Pahor. And yet the whole thing could very well turn shambolic for both of them.

Since the elections have formally yet to be called, both candidates have not yet begun to collect their 5,000 required signatures of support. True, the same goes for Pahor, but we’re assuming the incumbent will have no problem clearing that hurdle. And even if he does stumble, there are always the Social Democrats whose MPs might provide the legal backing for their former (and in many ways still influential) leader.

But Jazbec and Šarec do not enjoy that particular luxury. Especially if they want to maintain the aura of “people’s” candidates. That means they will require a good ground operation that will need to hit the, well, ground running. Failing that, they could try and “borrow” an existing party’s network.

This is probably the reason Jazbec was seen at Modern Centre Party (SMC) HQ the other day (quite possibly in vain, as speculations about Speaker Milan Brglez of SMC entering the fray have once again emerged), while Šarec might possibly want to check how much infrastructure of Zoran Janković’s now-defunct Positive Slovenia party remains in place, as he once chaired the party’s Kamnik chapter. Or maybe those bridges are burnt for good.

At any rate, both Jazbec and Šarec have their work cut out for them and yet they do not appear to be overly active candidates. There’s some activity on social media, but that is hardly an alternative to working the crowds, kissing babies and taking tons of Instagram selfies. Especially if the guy you’re trying to unseat – for all his failings and failures – is fucking brilliant at this.

Elections are not won by hoisting some tits up the flagpole and seeing if anyone got wood (thank you, Malcolm Tucker). What both Šarec and Jazbec need is a story. They need to show voters something they can connect to. Sure, bashing Pahor will win them approving nods among political connoisseurs and people of discriminating taste. They might even make ordinary voters think twice before voting for Pahor again. But not voting for the incumbent and voting for the challenger are not one and the same.

If the challengers are to stand a chance at all against the wildly popular president, they need to give the voters a reason to vote for them, otherwise they’re only reinforcing the frame of president Pahor, the silly but lovable douchebag, which is exactly the persona that got the guy elected the first time around.

 

The original version of this piece was published on pengovsky’s personal blog, Sleeping with Pengovsky. He has generously given us permission to republish it here.

Aljaz Pengov Bitenc
Aljaz Pengov Bitenc

Aljaž Pengov Bitenc a.k.a. pengovsky runs Radio KAOS, a multimedia radio station based in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He's also a resident blogger/columnist for the web edition of Delo newspaper. In addition, he also publishes his own blog, Sleeping with Pengovsky (www.pengovsky.com).