Referendum On Same-Sex Marriage Blocked But Not Over And Done With

Slovenian parliament yesterday voted to block the referendum on same-sex marriage by an overwhelming majority od 53 votes in favour nad 21 against. This comes after the SMC ironed out the problems they had with the move by the United Left, SocDems nad Alenka Bratušek‘s ZaAB, which called a special session of the parliament to block the referendum on the grounds that it would put a human rights question up for a popular vote.

Final vote in favour of blocking referendum on same-sex marriage (source: RTVSLO)

The SMC initially said it would not impede the referendum, causing much furore in the LGBT community among the progressive part od the society in general, especially since they voted in favour of the law. But as pengovsky wrote days ago, there was much more to their misgivings than a simple flip-flop on the issue.

You see, the story does not end bere. In fact it is entirely possible that the referendum will be held nevertheless.

Namely, what happened yesterday was that a new constitutional provision allowing for blocking the referendum was applied for the first time ever. And now the ball is in the petitioners’ court, giving them a chance to challenge the parliament move in the Constitutional Court. Aleš Primc & Co. will obviously do exactly that. Especially since they’ve apparently already collected the necessary 40.000 signatures.

And as usual in Slovenia, this constitutional provision, enacted during Janša government 2.0 was not followed up with necessary legislation. This existing legislation on popular initiative is to be applied in analogy which leaves even more room for manoeuvre that there was meant to be in the first place.

So, the way things stand now, the whole same-sex marriage issue will land in front of nine judges of the constitutional court. The judges have 30 days to decide but they have anything but a consistent record on such issue. Both as an institution and as individuals. In fact, given past experience, it not at all unfathomable that they will allow the referendum to go forward, be it on procedural ground, be it on substance.

And if you’re not worried yet, try this on for size: in the constitutional court, the deck is stacked against proponents of same-sex marriage. Because technically the defendant is the National Assembly as an institution and not political parties which voted in favour of blocking the referendum. This means that the actual legal argument for blocking the referendum will be laid out by the parliamentary legal service. Which in itself is not a problem, since the said service sports some of the best lawyers in the country. The problem is that the parliamentary legal service can by its very definition only make a legal argument.

In all probability, the argument in favour of the referendum will be made by more or less the same legal team which is heavily affiliated with the NSi and by extension the Catholic church and which already has a couple of constitutional victories under its belt, most notably the case against the naming of Tito Street and, more recently, a case against discriminatory funding of private schools with regard to state schools.

But the question at hand is not just legal, it is also ideological and emotional. And nothing prevents the judges to look beyond the mere letter of the law. In which case the odds for green-lighting the referendum increase dramatically.

And should this happen, the petitioners will have been inadvertently given an enormously powerful weapon in the referendum debate. Namely, it goes without saying they would claim that even the constitutional court thinks that same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Which of course wouldn’t be true, but they would go ahead and say it anyway. Because the more doubt they can sow in the people’s minds, the better. And the proponents of same-sex marriage, an already wily heterogeneous group, would face even more of an uphill battle, demanding even more discipline and consistency.

All of that in a debate on an issue where emotions will ultimately decide. So, while the vote in the parliament was a politically bold move, the issue is far from settled. And until then, the law allowing same-sex marriage is on ice.



March 27th, 2015, posted by pengovsky

Vexating Veber

Defence minister Janko Veber landed in a massive pool of boiling water. Last week the parliamentary intelligence oversight committee made a surprise inspection of the OVS, the military intelligence service. The inspection uncovered that the OVS, acting on Veber’s orders, was making inquires about the sale of Telekom Slovenije, the state-owned telco which is in the final stages of privatisation of its large part. Since Veber, a senior official of the coalition SocDems has a bit of a history of loudness regarding the sale (before being appointed minister he decried the intended sale as high treason) and since the SD as such is less than lukewarm on privatisation of the company, all hell broke loose. The SDS and the NSi, the latter in the form of its young-and-stellar MP Matej Tonin were quick to claim Veber was abusing office and using the intelligence service to derail the already protracted sale. And to be honest, Veber didn’t do a particularly good job at proving them wrong.

Defence minister Janko Veber is in the spotlight these past couple of days (source)

The whole thing has a couple of dimensions. First, there’s the fact that Veber did a shitty job at explaining himself. He first claimed to have been within his rights and indeed duties and that he only asked the OVS to check the effects of selling Telekom on critical military, intelligence and first-response systems under the assumption that threat prevention would be harder if Telekom was foreign-owned. Which of course begs the question just how easy is Telekom making it for intelligence services to wire-tap, collect and retain data while it is state-owned. To put in other words: could be be that in a post-Snowden world a privatised Telekom Slovenia would actually be good thing from the standpoint of an average Slovenian‘s privacy?

Because based on a report initially released by the ministry of defence after the story broke, the analysis showed that most of Slovenian first responders, civil defence and natural disaster management services use Telekom infrastructure and commercial services and that quality of those would diminish if the company would become foreign, possibly German-owned. However, the report has a couple of problems. It’s not really an analysis but rather an amalgam of second-hand reports, mostly from Croatia, where Deutche Telekom snapped up their state-owned telco and statements that existing quality of service needs to be maintained even after the sale is completed. While legitimate concerns, these aren’t exactly rocket science and you don’t really need military intelligence service to come up with a two-page report.

And secondly, the report pre-dates Veber’s order to OVS upon which the parliamentary committee “stumbled”. At that point calls for Veber’s resignation were mounting and despite his initial defiance he soon realised that his was a precarious position as PM Cerar did not exactly run to support him. As a result and at insistence of the NSi the defence minister admitted to existence of a second, more detailed report which he even declassified although it is still a working paper, not a final document. This report shows various sections of the OVS have a different take on the effects of the sale. The predominant view seems to be that the ownership of the company does not matter and that there are no reports on potentially harmful effects of the sale, but the OVS did not yet make a final conclusion.

This report has a problem, too. And that is that Veber, although he claims all along that he was only acting in the interests of national security, declassified a working paper which pointed out a division within the OVS and did so without batting an eyelid the moment his political survival was at stake. This, of course, gives some credence to claims by Tonin that Veber was following a political rather than a national-security agenda when he issued the order.

But then again, the parliamentary intelligence committee, too, didn’t just stumble upon the relevant documents. The inspection party, which besides Tonin included MPs Branko Grims of the SDS and Matjaž Nemec of the SD, knew exactly what it was looking for. At the very least, Tonin and Grims did. Tonin later claimed they were pointed in that direction by an OVS whistleblower. But for a person to become a whistleblower, he or she must go public with the information if not reveal his/her identity. What Grims and Tonin came up with was an inside leak by an informant within the secret service. Which smacks of precisely the same abuse of intelligence service they are accusing Veber of.

So what we are looking at, in fact, is amateur night of attempts to make political gains over sale of Telekom, market value of the company be damned. The MPs obviously knew what they were after, which makes this a political raid rather than a proper parliamentary inspection. And yet, at the same time Veber is stumbling over his own legs trying to come up with some sort of plausible explanation for his misconduct. Because misconduct this was.

The last, and most worrying dimension of the whole issue is the fact that Veber ordered military intelligence to poke around a civilian issue. This country was built on re-establishing civilian control over the military and anything that smacks of things being the other way around. OVS is not the only government service to use Telekom infrastructure. It is also not the only one to wire-tap its cables. In fact, SOVA and possibly the CrimPolice are the only government inteligence agencies that can legally and legitimately make inquires into deals about Telekom. Even more, they can do so in behalf of the OVS as well, leaving the military spy-service well out of it.

This appears to have dawned on the SD as well. Namely, earlier today (ironically, a news portal in part owned by Telekom) reported that the freshly minted party gen-sec Dejan Levanič threatened the party will quit the coalition should PM Cerar demand Veber’s resignation. But Levanič later claimed he was misunderstood while party boss Dejan Židan said Veber’s dismissal was only a hypothetical posibility and reiterated Veber was victim of a smear campaign.

Perhaps. But the fact remains that he asked a part of the military to busy itself with a civilian matter. And he is doing a very poor job of explaining himself. If this drags on much longer, the OVS report might become less of a problem than a defence minister who is turning into damaged goods.



March 24th, 2015, posted by pengovsky

Same-Sex Legislation (Predictably) Not Yet Home Safe

Remember when pengovsky wrote that the new same-sex weddings legislation is not yet home safe? Well, guess what…

Modern Centre Party – SMC (source)

The SMC seemingly flip-flopped on the issue, saying they will not challenge a referendum initiative which would yet again put up the same-sex weddings issue to a popular vote. Naturally most of the supporters of same-sex weddings went apeshit and the SMC was served a proper Twitter-storm. Its intensity was probably confounded by the fact that in the eyes of many people the SMC finally saw the light by voting in favour of the legislation (and doing so en bloc) but has now retraced its steps and found itself on its pre-election neither-nor position.

And, admittedly, it did not look good. Even since Aleš Primc and his band of merry men initiated yet another referendum bid to strike down this harmless but ideologically very loaded piece of legislation, it was more or less the accepted wisdom that the parliament will use the recent changes to the constitution to their fullest effect, prevent the referendum on the grounds of this being a human-rights matter and then let Primc fight it the Constitutional Court. Well, apparently not. At the very least, not just yet. Namely, the ruling SMC stated they’ve no intention of denying the people a vote on an important issue. Later they’ve signaled the decision may be revised but at any rate this turn of events made a lot of people unhappy and they sure let the SMC know.

There are a couple of ways to digest this. The most obvious one is to say that the SMC flip-flopped on the issue or – even worse – that its support for the legislation was not genuine but rather a price they had to pay to join the ALDE (liberals) political group on the european level. This is possible, especially if reports from some months ago are correct and UK LibDems did indeed take issue with SMC sitting on the fence on this prior to elections. But one would like to think that European parliamentary groups take themselves slightly more serious than that and that a true about-face on same-sex weddings would have wider recriminations for the offending party.

So chalk that one to “possible, but not likely” column. A bit more likely is the possibility of the SMC parliamentary group not being entirely on the same page on the issue. There are thirty-six SMC MPs, most of them with little political experience and – understandably – of 50 shades of liberal ideology. So the decision not to go against the referendum head-on (not yet, at least), might have something to do with that. Keeping 36 people on-board on a highly divisive issue while they’re all lobbied and bombarded with arguments from all sides is not an easy task.

And finally, it could be the party simply got scared of its own power and what it can do with it. With great power comes great responsibility and never in the history of Slovenia did such a greenhorn party with such a politically inexperienced leadership hold so much power. And it seem probable, to pengovsky at least, that the moral imperative of ethical policy making simply got the better of them. As a result, Slovenia will once again be the battleground of rational-but-useless arguments in favour of same-sex weddings, opposed by emotional outcries backed up by manipulations, fear mongering and blatant lies by the opponents. The rhetoric is already there. Now it will only get worse (Slovenian only).

But the referendum rules have changed since the Family code was struck down two years ago. Which brings us to the fun part.

Because while the SMC said it will not impede the referendum initiative, there are unofficial signals it might back the bid to prevent the referendum. And while the (centre-)left parties are pushing forward with the bid, they can do didly squat without votes of the SMC. The way this works is that once the petition to hold a referendum is filed, the parliament can decide by a simple majority the referendum is illegal as it deals with basic human rights which then leaves it to the petitioners to challenge the decision at the constitutional court. And with the current composition of the constitutional court suggesting anything but a clear dismissal of the referendum, it seems reasonable to expect that the legislation allowing same-sex weddings will be challenged on a referendum one way or another.

And if there is a referendum, the new rules stipulate that the legislation is struck down if a majority votes against it, but only is this majority represents more than 20% of all eligible voters. Which means about 340.000 people will have to make the effort and cast their “no” vote on referendum day. Which is quite an obstacle.

With this in mind, other dimensions open up which put the SMC decision into a slightly more nuanced perspective. For example, it is not entirely clear whether the special session of the parliament can already be called. Namely, if you wanted to truly dot the i’s and cross the t’s (as lawyer-heavy SMC is probably inclined to do) it seems reasonable to wait and see whether the referendum petitioners will actually collect the necessary 40.000 confirmed signatures. While they’ve done it before, this is a condition that should not be taken for granted. If by any chance Primc & Co. fail in collecting the signatures, then the whole brouhaha will have been in vain and the SMC will have been vilified for nothing. Politically, at least. At the very least, this means the party still has about three weeks to decide whether to fight the referendum in court or not.

But the last – admittedly most wildly optimistic – scenario is also the most interesting. What if, just what if the referendum is held without being challenged in court and fails? What if the majority of the people votes in favour of the law or at the very least decide same-sex weddings are a non-issue and don’t bother to vote, thereby helping the legislation to survive? If that were to be the case, the SMC would suddenly be in the position to claim it gauged the public mood much more accurately than any of the left-wing parties. And even if their reasoning did not go this far, a favourable referendum outcome would give them back much of the political credibility they’ve lost in the past couple of weeks.

At any rate, there are a number of ways this story can unfold and not all of them are negative. But as pengovsky was warning even as the left was celebrating, the hard work had only begun.



March 20th, 2015, posted by pengovsky