Slovene Political System 101

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The Main chamber of the National Assembly and the Contstitution of the Republic of Slovenia (source)


On Friday I did an unintetional tour-de-bar, which percipetated my head being the size of Texas for the greater part of today. I’ve had a wonderful time, which was spiced up by a rather heated debate with a great looking woman who just happens to study law.

Now, I must admit (full disclosure) that I have a thing or two about female lawyers (or students of law for that matter). I wouldn’t call it a fetish, but it definitely is somewhat sadistical on my part. Being a political scientist by education I tend to look at the bigger picture rather then immerse myself into detalis. The other thing that excites me is their attitude of intelectual superiority which I’ve sensed in almost every student of law I met (there are exceptions, of course, some of them are my close friends). Had I been younger I might have been offended by their attitude, but today it seems just funny. The way they brag and quote this-or-that, proving to themselves as much as to other just how important they are. Pathetic…

However, since one of this country’s former top lawyers is a member of my immediate family, I’ve been exposed at lenght to “lawyer mentality”, their way of thinking, the decision-making process and the logic behind it. It also gave enough information “from the other side” to re-examine things I learned during my studies and look at them in another perspective.

But I’ve come to realize that often lawyers tend to forget the bigger picture and are keen on solving the problem at hand, with little or no regard for the consequences of a particular decision. It is basically due to the fact that the concept of “the rule of the law” has far greater implications than just determining relations between various players in a society.

So, a debate raged whether or not one should vote in an election. I was naturally on a position that one should always vote, whereas this particular babe said that she doesn’t vote because all the candidates and the politicial parties are made of the same shit. Right. But to cut a long story short, we argued about whether the parliament also represents people who hadn’t cast their votes and then she drops a bomb:

“…and in any case there’s a census for the validity of the election result…”

Stop. Rewind. Play…. Census? WTF?!?! I politely asked her to repeat the statemet. Turns out I heard her just right the first time around. And she’s dead wrong. There.Is.No.Census.For.Validity.Of.Elections.

You see, there are things people should know. People should know the names of the president of the republic, the president of the parliament and the prime minister. People should know their basic human rights and the fact that voting can change things. People should also know that the point of democracy is to constantly re-examine the actions of whoever is in power at any given moment.

Now, if you’re a lawyer (or, say, a political scientist, or – heavens forbid! – a journalist), there are also a couple more things you should know. Things like how the political system works and why it works the way it does. And so, to right a wrong, here’s Slovene Political System 101 by Pengovsky. This is by no means a complete guide and I do not guarantee it’s complete accuracy. Should you find an error, please let me know, I’ll look it up and make the necesary corrections.

Most of what you’ll read here can be found in the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, but let’s start with the basics. Slovenia sports a parliamentary democracy with parliamentary elections held every four years (usually in autumn or winter). Any registered political party can run in elections, as well as independent candidates but the latter have little chance of getting elected to parliament due to mathematics of the election law. Anyone can form a political party, provided that he/she gathers 200 valid signatures and satisfies some other demands of the law on political parties.

There is no census for the validity of the elections. The electoral result is calculated as a percentage of all valid votes cast. So, theoretically, only 100 people (or less) out of 1.6 million voters can vote and the result will be calculated from their votes only.

Slovenia has a “proportional voting system with elements of a majority voting system”. A rather long but accurate description of the compromise that became to shape Slovene political landscape. Voting in 88 voting precintcs, divided into 8 voting units, people cast their vote both for a political party and (should they choose so) for a particular candidate from that particular party. Thus – it is implied – voters have greater control over who gets to represent them in the parliament. In reality this “preferential vote” is rarely used, but it can happen. The votes themselves are converted into number of seats in the parliament using the Droop Quota, and the remaining votes are converted into seats using the d’Hont formula. Political parties must get 4 percent or more of the popular vote to get into the parliament.

The Parliament consists of 90 deputies, 88 of whom are elected by some 1.6 milion people who are of voting age (18+), wheras one deputy is elected by Hungarian and Italian minority respectively. Upon the confirmation of the new parliament after every elections, the first order of business is formation of the executive branch of power – the government.

Currently there is a two-step process in effect, which is more or less specific to Slovene political system. The president of the republic (more on that shortly), upon consultations (demaded by the constitution) with parties elected to the parliament, proposes a candidate for the mandate to form a government. Note that technically this is not yet a candidate for the Prime Minister. This person (usually the leader of the largest coalition party) presents its agenda to the parliament which votes on whether to conffer to him/her a mandate to form a government. If this occurs (it is by no means a given, especially if the parliament is in libmo), then this person must propose candidates to ministerial posts. Unlike much of the rest of democratic world, where the Prime Minister simply picks his ministers, the latter are in Slovenia confirmed by the parliament. Thus the ministers must undergo a “hearing process”, where they explain to members of appropriate parliamentary committees, why they are the correct choice for a particual post. Now, the committees themselves have no real power, but a hearing process is the candidates’ first time where they show whether or not they’re ill equipped to run a ministry they were proposed to. Once the parliament confirms the entire cabinet, the government has been formed and with it the office of the Prime Minister. Thus the ministers are responsible both to the prime minister and the parliament, which somewhat diminishes the constitutional powers of the prime miinster, as it is only the parliament which can dismiss a minister.

Now, the President of the Republic is largely a ceremonial post, but is (contrary to most countries where president is more or less a figurehead) popularily elected and not subject to a parliament vote. While the president has few powers, those that he has are crucial to balance of political power. The president proposes the judges of the Constitutional court, the Governor of the Central Bank, the Prime Minister and represents the republic in foreign affairs (together with the Foreign Minsiter and the Prime Minister). He also names ambassadors to foreign countries (upon government’s suggestion), but can also refuse to name a particular individual to a post. The president however cannot refuse to sign a law that was passed by the parliament, no matter how unconstitutional the law may be, or how strongly the president might disagree with the law.

Constitutionality of a particular piece of legislation is judged by the Constitutional Court, which is comprised of nine judges, each of them serving a nine year term. Anyone with a valid interest can dispute the constituionality of any piece of legislation, but the most interesting cases are (no wonder) those which determine basic relations between branches of power. The judges of the Constitutional Court of hte Republic of Slovenia are elected by the parliament upon suggestion of the President of the Republic. Obviously, the president mus get a 46-vote required majority for “his” candidate, meaning that the candidate must be acceptable to (usually rulling) majority in the parliament. Thus the government can informally influence the selection of members of an independent branch of power, as it can undermine the required majority. But as Slovenia has a coalition government, the rulling party can find it hard to maintain a solid front against an unwanted candidate, especially if he/she is otherwise widely respected (as judges of the constitutional court usually are)

Oh, and one final note on the parliament: Slovenian parliament is actually a one-and-a-half chamber parliament, consisted of the National Assembly (Državni Zbor – usually reffered to as the parliament) and a “side-chamber”, the National Council. The Assembly passes all legislation and other decisions and meausers and in effect functions as the sole chamber. However, the Council can veto a piece of legislation, forcing the Assembly to debate it again and pass it, but this time the law must be supported by an absolute majority of 46 votes. The Council itself has a five-year mandate and its 40 members represent various special interests in the society.

There… Any questions?

Prešeren IT…

preseren.jpg The guy who went on to become Slovenia’s greatest poet has in his time written some rather stirring poems.


The romantical drunkard that he was, he had obviously suffered from a bad case of Weltschmertz, which I always somewhat resented him. Add to the fact that we basically had to idolise him in high school, and you can easlily understand why (mostly) young Slovenes have a sort of love-hate relatioship with France Prešeren


Now – every year for the past 20-or-so years Slovene Association of Teathre Performers organises a Recital of Prešeren’s poetry as their hommage to France and his work. The Firm™ covered the event for the last four years and we do so today as well. So, if you feel like enjoying some excellent performances and not your average dull reading of poetry, tune in today from noon (12.00 CET) as we will be broadcasting live – audio and video.

Audio stream link here (WMP required)

Video stream link here (RealPlayer required)

And if you have a 3G mobile phone (UMTS or EDGE enabled) you can tune in to http://mobile.radiokaos.info, as we will be broadcasting to mobile phones as well.


But just to wet your appetite, here are two performances from previous years.


Nebeška Procesija (Heavenly Procession) performed by Marko Simčič, 8 February 2005
This one is a must. When I heard it for the first time, I was stunned by the fact that one can easily apply it to the situation in present day Ljubljana.


And, of course…

Zdravljica (The Toast) performed by Polde Bibič, 8 February 2004


BTW: My all time favourite verse in all of Prešren’s poetry is from the second stanza of Zdravljica:
“Bog živi vas Slovenke, prelepe žlahtne rožice.
Ni take je mladenke, kot naše je krvi dekle.
Naj sinov zarod nov,
iz vas bo strah sovražnikov”

What’s yours?


UPDATE: There were some problems with the video connection in the last 15 minutes of the broadcast, but othetwise it went without a glich. Me very happy 😀 All in all, some 1800 people attended the performance on Prešeren square. It was quite a show – despite the occasional downpour

“Ne grem na Kanenas

Saška Lendero is not exactly my all time favourite Slovene singer… Especially due to the fact that she cannot make up her mind as to wheather to go with “turbofolk” or to stick to the Dalmatian melos which is even more annoying in my humble opinion. Some have newfound respect for Saška, and while I’ve no doubt that she is a professional (afterall, it takes a whole person to keep her gig going), and I’ll admit that she may find her way into the Friday Foxies category if I can get my mouse on some of her nude photos, I seriously can’t stomack her music. But – degustibus non disputandum est

However, the reason for this post is not her music… We’ll it is actually. Specifically, her latest hit single “Ne grem na kolena” (“I won’t go down on my knees”)

OFFTOPIC: Don’t you just love the double meaning? I wish they’d stop with such obvious allusions to sex. Really

Anyways: As you can see from the videos below, Saška’s song is suspiciously simmiliar to a song titled “Kanenas”, performed by Anna Vissi a Greek pop singer. The fact that the two pop-diva-wannabes look very much alike is probably just a concidence. Or not. 😀



Say “živjo” to Saška…

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…and say “kalimera” to Anna.


Truth be told, Saška’s record company Menart did give credit to Nikos Karvelas, who (as it happens) is Anna’s husband. Nikos is credited as composer, arranger and author of lyrics. So basically Saška had very little to do with her hit single – except to record it. But they sure didn’t advertise that fact…

Smoke On The Water

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Things are too serious not to be taken lightly 😀


I stayed out the anti-smoking legislation debate, mostly because I have a rather ambivalent attitude towards the issue. As you know I smoke, but I understand that people who don’t would like to come home from a bar not smelling like an ashtray. On the other hand, I also hate the idea of being forced into the street from a bar if I wanted to enjoy a fag with my Guiness.

Numerous bloggers already posted on the issue, so I’ll refrain from repeating what was said already. But a thought occured to me while reading these two posts (via Jonas Ž.). How much did I spend endangering my life?

Let’s compare things: Smoking is not unlike driving. It’s a calculated risk, taken by an individual. When I light a cigarette, I am endangering myself and those who happen to be around me. But when I drive a car, I am also endangering myself and those around me. So isn’t banning just smoking a bit hypocritical, if what the Minister says is true and he’s really concerned about the health of his fellow citizens? And aren’t people who claim to have saved a fortune by quitting smoking just slightly off the mark?


Below are two calculations (not exactly precise, but close enough):


SMOKING:

I smoke for four years now (give or take a few months). I estimate that I smoked three packs of cigarettes per week on average. I started with half a pack a week to about four a week now (at least a third of that during my Saturday night gig at Cutty Sark). I also estimate that an average price of a pack in this four-year period is abot € 2. Both estimates are a bit exaggerated, just to be on the safe side


excel_fags.jpg


So, I spent on average € 318 yearly endangering myself and those around me, or a total of € 1272 in the past four years. Not exactly cheap, but not utterly pocket-cripling either. To put in economic terms, I spend a little less than a basic Slovene sallary.


DRIVING A CAR:

I’ve had this particular ride for eight years now. I also made a couple of assumptions, especially the one about price of fuel. A litre of 95-octane gas is priced at € 0.95 now, and I have no idea what the price was in 1998. Also, I think that the amount of € 300 for maintainence is just about right, when you think that you have to do a major check-up every now and then, occasionally buy a new set of tires, change the lightbulbs, wiper-blades, etc.


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As you can see, I spend almost six times more endangering myself and people around me by driving a car than by smoking. Add to that the fact that I’ve crashed the car three times in those eight years, causing more than € 6000 of damage in total, and it becomes obvious that driving a car is much more costly.


Given the numbers I think that there is little financial benefit to an individual when this law will come into effect. Also, given the fact that every fatal car crash costs the government circa € 750.000 (I kid you not), perhaps the government should also start considering a ban on using motor vehicles in public areas.


Granted, it’s safer if you don’t smoke (and I’m not encouraging anyone to start). But it’s also safer not to drive a car or cross a street for that matter. It’s also safer not to bungee jump, go rafting, ride a bike or go mountaneering. But people do it anyway.

As I said – it’s a calculated risk. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take. For now, at least.


I have no illusions as to the fate of anti-smoking legislation. It will be passed and (in the beginning at least) vigorously enforced. I understand that.

But that don’t mean I gotta like it…

Backstabbers

I am disgraced, impeached, and baffled here;
Pierced to the soul with slander’s venomed spear,
The which no balm can cure but his heart-blood
Which breathed this poison.

-William Shakespeare,
The Tragedy of King Richard The Second


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This is way too vile even for JJ. I can understand that he resorts to dirty tricks and that he is generally a mischevious bastard who will gladly sacrifise people and ruin their reputation and personalities to promote his own agenda. But Mitja Gaspari didn’t deserve this.

After successfully introducing the euro, President Drnovšek proposed Gaspari to a second term as the Governor of the Bank of Slovenia. Given Gaspari’s track record he should have passed the parliamentary procedure with flying colours. (For the uninitiated: think of Gaspari as the Slovene version of Alan Greenspan)

But lo! Behold! What happens? Only 21 days (yes, three weeks) after Gaspari and Janša together oversee one of the most smooth currency transitions ever recorded, so called “documents” appear out of nowhere, produced by the general no-goodnik Zmago Jelinčič of Slovene National Party, who usually serves as a stooge for whoever is in power at a given moment. There documents allegedly claim that Gaspari and his team forecasted much bleaker economic results to the ECB in the months leading up to the introcution of the euro, damaging Slovenia’s reputation. Janša took the cue, now suddenly saying that he’s not so sure about supporting Gaspari for the second run.

Bullshit. A political ambush if I ever saw one.

And it didn’t take long for Gaspari to tighten the noose himself. Unskilled in handling the media he tried to shake off one danger, plummeting headlong into another. Namely: Yesterday afternoon he called a press conference, saying that he never reported anything of the sort and that he never damaged Slovenia’s reputation. Which is precisely what Janša wanted him to say – that Gaspari was more concerned with introducin the euro (and maybe even cooking the numbers, JJ would have you think) than with doing his job properly and with due scrutiny.

Mitja Gaspari didn’t deserve that and I hope that enough protest votes will mount in the parliament later this month to defy Janša’s dirty tricks. Actually, I’d like to see Gaspari’s nomination rammed through the parliament and right down Janša’s throat.