National Council And The Kangler Paradox

The new National Council met today for an inaugural session and gained plenty of airtime. Mostly because soon-to-be-ex mayor of Maribor Franc Kangler was elected but immediately evicted as councilman during what was later dubbed The 1st Maribor Uprising, which started the wave of protests still sweeping the country one way or the other.


Franc Kangler leaving the National Council chambers (photo: RTVSLO)

The National Council is a weird body and pengovsky has long maintained that there would be no harm in abolishing it. Its members are elected indirectly, via electoral votes with half of them representing local interests and the other half representing various trade, labour and industrial interests. And the public sector. It is in fact a classic corporatist body where representatives of particular interests are allowed a say on matters of national (public) interest. In fact, it is a prime example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions.

The National Council is not a proper second chamber. It wields certain powers, but it doesn’t automatically have a say in the every-day legislative process. Among other things it can use a holding veto, forcing the National Assembly (the parliament proper) to re-take the vote on a certain law and it can call a referendum. As such is quickly went degenerated into a place of lobbying and back-room politicking where even representatives of trade/industrial interests take votes along the party lines or hidden agendas, depending on the issue at hand. The fact that council members can be granted immunity from prosecution only adds to the shadowy clout of the institution.

Enter Franc Kangler whose election to the council was reportedly the result of some serious political horse-trading in the Maribor region while protesters outside the Maribor City Hall pelted the building with eggs and the newly elected council member had to be escorted home by riot police. Between then and now Kangler announced his resignation as mayor of Maribor (effective 31 December) but his membership in the council seemed a fait accompli.

But in what is usually a mere formality of confirming new councilmen, members of the National Council voted to deny Kangler a seat in the body on – wait for it – moral grounds. As a result, Kangler will apparently petition the Constitutional Court to overturn the decision and allow him to start his five-year term as a member of the 40-seat sort-of-upper chamber of the Slovenian parliament.

So, what actually happened? As stated many times on this blog in the past few days, the political elite is scared. Think soiled-underpants-scared. Pengovsky has it on good authority that parliamentarians are bewildered with what is going on in the streets, they are starting to realise they have a general legitimacy problem and are slowly starting to panic. As a result, they are making rash moves, trying to save their face, hoping they’ll not have to save their skin.

This was the prime reason they denied Kangler his council membership. Trying to put a daylight between him and themselves, they singled him out as the proverbial root of all evil and attempted to evict him at the very start, thus making themselves look good. Which only proves that they still don’t get it. They do not realise that Kangler is not the cause of the troubles but rather symptom of a much deeper problem of state-capture. Contrary to common sense, the Slovenian state was not captured by the economic elite (although it often seemed so) but by its political sibling. The people have had enough of it and Franc Kangler was only the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In their rash and voluntaristic approach, the newly minted councilmen proclaimed Franc Kangler morally unfit to serve on the body. Which may even be the case, but it is not their place, neither legally nor otherwise to say so. Fact of the matter is that Kangler was elected to the position, albeit with a legitimacy problem of galactic proportions. But legitimacy (or the lack thereof) is only judged with respect to the people (i.e. this nation’s sovereign) and not with respect to fellow council members.

Just as he was forced to resign as mayor, Kangler could have been forced to resign as councilman. Media and public pressure can do the trick. He has shown his fragility on the issue earlier today where he actively avoided journos and cameras. He clearly wasn’t enjoying any of this and odds were he wouldn’t last long in the council. But in their stupidity and short-sightedness, his fellow council members presented him with the perfect tool to get away with it.

What the council did today was illegal. Council members have no authority to judge appropriateness of a fellow member once he or she has been elected. But they did it anyway. As a result, Kangler will petition the Constitutional Court which will have no option but to confirm his mandate. Thus Kangler will in all likelyhood be reinstated as a member of the National Council, ironically coming out of this mess with more legitimacy than when he entered it because his council membership will have been confirmed by the ultimate guardian of the rule of law in this country.

In effect, the National Council created a situation where the rule of law (the lack of which is one of the key issues of the protest movement) will, ironically, be strengthened with Kangler in the council rather than with him outside the council.

Omnishambles indeed.

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Administrative Reform Packages, pt. 3: On National Council

It’s been a while since pengovsky wrote up an instance of the constitutional overhaul the ruling coalition went about more or less from Day 1. You can refresh your memory here, here and here if you need to, but the item on today’s menu is the proposal to abolish the National Council. Funny thing is, pengovsky is about to break into the Mipos Dance of Joy over it, although the big honchos are doing it for all the wrong reasons.


National Council (source)

Namely, Gregor Virant‘s DL (formerly DLGV – they’ve dropped ‘GV’ some weeks ago), chief proponent of the move claims that the National Council is an oboslete institution, adding that the second chamber of the parliament is usually found in federal countries and is as such unncessary in a unitary Slovenia, costing money but adding little of value. Well, I’m sligtly sad to say that on this issue Gregor Virant is full of shit.

The current president of the parliament, former minister for public affairs, former state secretary (right-hand man) to the minister of the interior and a professor with the Faculty for Administration know full well that the National Council is not some cockamamie piss-pot institution but a virtually unckecked bastard of an instituion which weild a rather hefty arsenal of powers for which it has no clear mandate. Never has and never will. Among others, the National Council can use the so-called “deffering veto”, by which it can send a law back for another vote in the National Assebly (parliament propper) where it needs an absolute majority (46 votes) to be confirmed, even if it needed only a relative majority the first time round. But even more importantly, the National Council can call a referendum on a law with a simple majority of 21 counclimen (out of 40).

The problem is that none of the councilmen are elected representatives of the people. Rather, they represent special interests. No, really. They literally represent speical interests. Four representatives of employers, four of employees, ditto for farmers, crafts and trades, and independent professions, six councilmen representing non-commercial fields and twenty-two (22!) representatives of local interests. Need I say more? I do? OK…

As with most old democracies (and in this respect, Slovenian democracy is aging fast), the decision making process is ever more initiated and to an extent controlled by some sort of special interest and ever less by the general public. This in it self in not necesarily good or bad. As basic relations in a society are settled, for the time being, at least, other, more specific questions arise, where general public is less keen to take interest (a great manifestation of not-in-my-back-yard-syndrome). Thus special interests come to the forefront, be they local, regional, business, industrial, whathaveyou. The problem is, however, that – when left unchecked – special interest can not only act to bypass the common good (the interest of the public, if you will) but can also act squarely against it. A classic example of this would be drilling for oil in Alaska. Or, if you want sometihng closer to home, liquid gas storages in the Gulf of Trieste, just off the Slovenian Adriatic coast.

Ideally, the parliament acts to limit these particulars or find common ground between special and public interest. Now, we all know that is seldom the case, especially with specific pieces of legislation (case in point being the shooting-down of the media law near the end of the previous term, courtesy of a would-be media baron). But the point is that the parliament can and should act in the public interest. The thing is that in case of Slovenia, the legislative process can be (and often is) plagued by special interest not just at the bottom (during drafting period) but also at the top, after the parliament has passed a law and is up to the National Council whether to confirm it or enact the “deffering veto”. In short, under current system, special interest squeezes public interest from both sides, which is a) undemocratic and b) totaly unhealthy in the long run. Not to mention the fact that over the course of the last twenty years, sucessive National Councils and especially their presidents have tried ever so hard to win the status of a full-blown second chamber of the parliament, if not in theory, surely in practice.

Thus, the National Council is a far cry from an obsolete and unimportant institution as claimed by Gregor Virant and politically icreasingly lonely leader of Social Democrats Borut Pahor. Rather, it is a residual element of a corporativistic mindset which Slovenia (let’s be honest here) has never completely done away with, no matter the political option in power. As such, the National Council is in fact a long-term threat to democracy of this country. It is because of that that it must be abolished sooner rather than later. Sure, the current government (with the notable exception of Radovan Žerjav and his SLS who oppose the move) is trying very hard not to mention the elephant in the room and is making sorry-ass excuses as it goes along, but right now the problem is with the opposition. Unfortunately, Positive Slovenia of Zoran Janković is trying to have the cake and eat it by proposing modification to the role of the Council, but stops short of supporting complete abolishment. Thus one of the few constitutional changes which would have made sense (and there really are only a few of those) both in long- and short-term (I’m sure no-one would mind one less possibility for calling a referendum) looks dead on delivery.

BTW: if Slovenia ever gets around to establishing regions as the definitive layer of local self-government (stripping municipalities of much of their powers), we might consider the parliament getting a second, regional chamber. But we’ll cross that bridge if an when we get to it.

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