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?

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, 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


Apparently the free part of the blogosphere is again under attack, but I saw my very first Piramida talk-show today and was immediately stung by the following…

Žnidaršič… Erika Žnidaršič

OK, I may be both tone deaf and Bond-prone. But does the theme of Piramida sound like a Bond theme ripoff to anyone else?

Please, compare and comment – and please notice the rhythm of both clips…

Piramida theme
James Bond theme

P.S.: How the hell do you get Audio Plugin to work 👿

Give Mi Mani

Minister of civil service Gregor Virant and Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković

So, today (that is, yesterday) Zoki finally got to meet with JJ. Why? To get back the money the state more or less took from Ljubljana in the begining of the year. The result? 0 €. Yes. Zoki got zero. Zilch. Niente. Nothing. Nada. JJ was even cheeky enough to no attend the press conference, but sent Minsiter Gregor instead.

While Janković had hoped to develop over € 2 billion worth of projects, Janša more or less told him to go fuck himself. Now, I was always wary of Janković’s grandeur, but the thing that pains me is the fact that the tug-of-war between the state and the city will leave us – the Ljubljanians – worse off.

No matter what the government says it is more or less obvious that the overnight change in financing municipalities was passed to please the mayors of 206 smaller (and more rural) municipalities, and to hurt one (1) mayor in particular. Had the government of Janez Janša really wanted to distribute the funds evenly it would have done so in phases – not leaving Ljubljana budget gaping with a € 45 million hole.

I’m sorry if I sound biased, but this is yet another example of this government pursuing specific goals (i.e.: neutralising an unwanted mayor) by changing the legislation in general. I have my reservations about Janković, but I resent Janša for fighting this battle over the back of the citizens of a capital of the state he runs.