Slovene Political System 101

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?

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

7 thoughts on “Slovene Political System 101”

  1. First of all, thank you for this informative piece of writing.
    I did wonder what was meant by the census for the validity of elections, and then I remembered Mr. Lukašenko confession of having falsified election results in 2006: he claimed 80-sometning per cent of votes were for him instead of 90-something (yes, he chose the lower percentage, but my guess is you know the story anyway) so that Europe would be convinced he was elected in a democratic process…
    I did discover an interesting difference between Slovenian and German presidents: the German president need not sign anything that is against constitution. My guess is many people occasionally wish he didn’t have the right to decline, as he did one or two times…

  2. Yes, it rings a distant bell. But if I remember correctly, the final say on the matter rests with the Constitutional court in Karlsuhe. Here, however, the Prez must sign the law, but I think he can also dispute it in the Constitutional Court (as the President he has valid interest) – unless someone does that beforehand.

    As far as the census is concerned… That was one way of Slobodan Milošević retaining power. Even after he had lost the popular support, people just didn’t vote (or were made not to vote) and the clause on the voting census kicked in, effectively keeping Slobo in power.

  3. The Constitutional court commences its work only, if someone sets the procedure in motion. Otherwise, the president has decided…

    About law students and lawyers: of course there must be both, the “seers of the greater picture” and the “nitty-gritty-masters”. Sometimes I think if I had to learn so much by heart, so many details, during my studies, I would certainly use every opportunity to show it off. Who was the guy with the action-reaction theory? 😀
    The main secret is, however, how to turn one’s gift into something erotic, no? Like, shiny eyes and a prophetic gaze for people who see the wood, and a little, nasty smile and a serious, adult face for those who see the trees… Erm, sorry, I think I got carried away… 👿

  4. Oh, I didn’t know that… Interesting… Must remember that…

    I’m not sure that learning by heart is actually what should be required of lawery. In the words of an old proverb: Be wary of a lawyer without a book, an of a doctor with a book.

    As for erotic part… let me have another coffee and I’ll get back to that 😀

    The guy with action-reaction theory was Newton. I think your reffering to his third law 😀

  5. First time for me poking around your old blog after finding my way here Carniola. This was most interesting to read, since sometimes I get the feeling that Slovene politics is like the language; you can’t get a Slovene person to explain anything so that it makes sense.
    Again thanks.

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