DeSUS electing new leadership on Saturday

Ljubljana – The Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) will hold a congress on Saturday to elect what will be its third leadership in a year and a half. Last December, after less than a year under Aleksandra Pivec, the party again elected its ex-boss Karl Erjavec, but he stepped down in March. There are three contenders now.

Ljubo Jasnič, a former secretary general of the party, Srečko Felix Krope, a former senior police officer who teaches at the Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security, and Gorazd Žmavc, former minister for Slovenians abroad, are vying for the post of party president.

Due to Covid-19 restriction, fewer delegates will be invited to the event at the Ljubljana main fairgrounds, Gospodarsko Razstavišče. Around 120 delegates are expected.

It is not clear whether the smaller number of delegates could affect the outcome of the election or which of the three candidates has the best chances of taking over the party, which has been embroiled in internal conflicts for the last couple of years.

Franc Jurša, the head of the DeSUS deputy group, said ahead of the congress that his personal criteria for picking the new party head was not reflected in the list of candidates. He said he would like a representative of the middle-aged generation of members to take over.

The deputy group has not expressed public support to any of the candidates. However, Jurša had previously stated he would not back Krope because of his views in a dispute between the MPs, who often vote for government-sponsored legislative proposals despite being in the opposition, and the party and its deputy head Brigita Čokl.

DeSUS, a party with a long tradition, has been seeing some turbulent times recently. At the leadership election in January 2020, the party’s long-term head Erjavec lost to Pivec, the then agriculture minister, who promised to consolidate the party. But the opposite happened.

After joining the Janez Janša government following the break-up of the cabinet led by Marjan Šarec, divisions in the party grew. Pivec was criticised over the party’s role in the government and her mixing of business and family activities led to her resignation last September.

The then Health Minister Tomaž Gantar took over as an interim head until Erjavec returned to the helm of the party at a congress last December.

On 17 December the party left the Janša government and Erjavec, supported by the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Social Democrats (SD), Left and the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), ran for prime minister but was six votes short to be elected. 40 MPs backed his candidacy, which meant that he was probably not even backed by all DeSUS MPs.

Erjavec proposed that some DeSUS members, including MPs, be excluded from the party, but in the end he was the one to leave in March.

The fate of DeSUS’s two ministers was left to the prime minister. Gantar soon stepped down at Janša’s initiative, while Agriculture Minister Jože Podgoršek stayed on with Janša’s support, which was why he was excluded from the party in line with its statute.

For a while, he had been mentioned as the most probable new DeSUS head. Parliamentary Speaker Igor Zorčič was also mentioned, but his candidacy was allegedly not possible under the current party statute.

Zorčič left the Modern Centre Party (SMC) at the end of March to join the group of unaffiliated MPs, which was also joined by Jurij Lep, who left the DeSUS deputy group.

The group now has four MPs, including Robert Polnar, who was excluded from the party during Erjavec’s stint.

MPs have shown their power in the last year and a half, and it remains unclear whether the new party head will be able to influence the deputy group, which mostly supports government projects.

DeSUS MPs are expected to also support the bill on the national Demographic Fund and the bill on long-term care, which are to be put to a vote soon and which DeSUS has been anticipating for a long time.

Nevertheless, Jurša is confident that DeSUS will survive the turbulent times. He thinks it should be a centrist party that would not get too close to either the left or the right.