Archive for December 16th, 2010

De Referenda

Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

In the wake of the fiasco that was the referendum on RTV Slovenia, both the ruling coalition as well as the opposition are (again) mulling changes to referendum legislation. This was of course expected but it is none the less a most unwelcome turn of events, especially since constant abuses of referendum legislation in the minds of what seems to be majority of the voters now warrant limiting legal possibilities for holding a referendum.

20101216 zaproti De Referenda

There are broadly three sets of proposals in this debate. What (hopefully) follows is their deconstruction.

Set a referendum day

Proposed by Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) of Janez Janša. What the largest opposition party proposes is that a specific day in the year be set by law in advance and on that day any and all referendums which were called early enough in the year are to be held. On the surface, the proposal is quite appealing: no matter how many referendums are called, all the votes are held on the same date and instead of spending four million euro per referendum, you spend four million once and be done with it.

However, there is a huge – and I mean galactic – caveat. Let’s say for argument’s sake that the referendum date would be set on 1 June and the decision to hold a referendum would have to come no later than 30 May, because a month of campaigning has to be allowed for. Technically this means that any law passed after 30 May on which a referendum is to be held, will be “on ice” for up to thirteen months. If there ever was a neat way to temporarily block a law, this is it.

As we know, calling a referendum is a piece of cake in Slovenia, especially if you’re a political party which can muster 30 signatures in the parliament. This was was the case with almost every referendum ever held in Slovenia, be they consultative or subsequent (legislative). If the proposed provision were to be enacted, a law – no matter how urgent or crucial or just plain practical – could be blocked out of sheer politicking just by collecting the necessary signatures. Add to that the fact that by the time the referendum will be held the debate on the issue will have died long ago ans with it all the niceties connected with either “yes” or “no” vote, and you get a situation where the electorate is even less informed about the issue once it actually comes up for a vote and – even more – has to vote on multiple issues at the same time.

Indeed, one can easily argue that the idea of a single referendum day (or even two) per year in fact decreases democratic standards in Slovenia which are not all that high to begin with. Furthermore: although the idea was floated by the largest opposition party it is a given that – despite being prone to losing crucial battles – SDS will in time again be the ruling party in Slovenia. When that happens, such a provision on referendum would work very much against them, especially if they would be still given to radically altering legislation across the board. Actually, pengovsky refuses to believe that SDS leadership is as short-sighted as not to see that and that the entire idea is simply a red herring or a tactical move which – after it will be rejected by the parliament – will enable them to claim that they tried to do something

Set a quorum necessary for validity of referendum

We’ve been over this already in some other setting. But the bottom line is this: if a vote is called and majority of people don’t bother to show up, how can it be that their decision to stay at home has more merit than decision of the minority (no matter how small) which decided to exercise their right to vote? Seriously, people…

Revoke the 30 MP signatures provision

Floated by the ruling left-wing coalition – notably Social Democrats led by PM Borut Pahor – the idea sounds, well, tempting. No doubt a lot of people would see it as taking candy from a spoiled brat. But not really. You see, the “30 signatures” provision is in the constitution for a reason. It is an essential element of a system of checks-and-balances. It provides the parliamentary minority with an instrument to prevent what de Tocqueville and Mills called “tyranny of the majority”. Because not all decisions are good or sensible, even though the majority voted in favour. So the provision goes beyond it’s current use as a political weapon of legal destruction.

Yes, the provision was abused many times under circumstances that -although perfectly legal – didn’t really warrant invoking it. But the parties currently running the show will inevitably come into a situation where they will be glad that the provision is in place. Even more: Slovenia may come into a situation where a question, vital to the future of the republic will be decided on and the only voice of reason will be a small, across-the-isle ad hoc coalition with the “30 signatures” provision being their only hope of preventing a decision of disastrous consequences.

And if you think this is a purely hypothetical scenario, think again. We saw that film a couple of times already. Or at least variations of it. In pengovsky’s opinion, the “30 signatures” provision was and is intended to be used in extreme cases. That it was abused doesn’t mean that it has to be abolished.

What to do?

Nothing. Direct democracy and checks-and-balances are not things you tamper with in a heat of a moment. Besides, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with current referendum legislation. It’s just that it is being abused beyond any sense of decency. But that is not a question of legislation but rather a question of political culture.

 De Referenda

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

SLS Saves The Pension Reform

A funny thing happened yesterday. A vital piece of reform legislation – the pension reform – sailed through the parliament almost without a hickup. It was confirmed by a majority of 49 votes and is as such a major success for the left-wing government of Borut Pahor. But the composition of the “yes” vote in the parliament is where the funny starts.

20101215 sls SLS Saves The Pension Reform
SLS president Radovan Žerjav (source)

Since this is pension reform we’re talking about here, it was kind of expected that – despite being nominally a member of the ruling coalition – DeSUS and it’s leader Karl Erjavec will give PM Borut Pahor an exceptionally hard time over it. Indeed, in terms of securing a parliamentary majority the main sticking point seems to have been the rate at which pensions will increase relative to increase in prices. And while Erjavec demanded parity between the two indices, Pahor and specifically labour minister Ivan Svetlik insisted on a .25 rate, meaning that for every point inflation rises, pensions goes up .25 percent. Erjavec was adamant to the point of other junior coalition parties, notably Zares and its leader Gregor Golobič calling on Erjavec to make up his mind whether he’s a part of the team or not.

In all honesty Erjavec has a couple of reasons for giving such a hard time to PM Pahor. First, he was more or less forced to resign as minister of environment. He was also indicted for his alleged role in the Patria Affair and just to top it off two of his MPs (Žnidaršič and Rezman) quit DeSUS and went independent. Also, Erjavec was perhaps overconfident from pulling this very same trick four years ago when then-PM Janez Janša agreed to re-institute price-index/pension-rise parity. So for purposes of this pension reform DeSUS de facto left the coalition. But then, seemingly out of the blue, Slovene People’s party (SLS) came to the rescue and chipped in the missing votes.

Pengovsky often wrote that he has a soft spot for SLS. Regardless of their general ineptitude and hypocrisy, they usually came through when push came to a shove. This soft spot exists since the constitutional crisis in 2000 when SLS provided crucial votes to avoid suspension of elections in what was increasingly looking like an attempted coup d’etat. Anyways, leaving bygones be bygones, SLS (just as in 2000) apparently put two and two together and found out that their primary voters’ base (farmers and the like) are quite well-off with this pension reform.

This is the first across-the-isle vote in this term, perhaps signalling complex two-years of the remaining first term of Pahor’s government (yes, I know what I wrote. Suck it up and move on ;)). The message is three-fold: First, Radovan Žerjav of SLS sent a message to Janez Janša that he’s not the only dog in opposition-town. Second, Karl Erjavec was told that he and his DeSUS can be replaced, if need be and that he’s is stretching it as it is. And lastly, SLS is saying that is it open to deals, preferably those which will a) benefit its voters and b) keep the party in the parliament. SLS is probably desperate to avoid the chaos its cousin-party, Christian Democratic NSi cannot really get out of ever since it dropped out of the parliament in 2008.

Should be fun. Especially, since there’s yet another referendum looming, this time on the pension reform.

 SLS Saves The Pension Reform

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

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