Slovenian Lessons for Trump’s Election Delaying Antics

 The collective hand-wringing on Twitter that followed Donald Trump’s tweet about possibly delaying election due to potential voter fraud with mail-in voting is – as per usual – more or less unnecessary.

Trump channeling his inner Janša

As enraging as it is, Trump’s tweet is only the latest in the long line of distractions, a crude attempt to divert attention from his car-crash of an interview on Russian bounty for US soldiers and the fact that US GDP in Q2 dropped off a cliff.

For what it is worth, past experience in the US apparently shows that voter fraud in mail-in voting is practically non-existent and whatever voter fraud there was in general, it seems it was various GOP types who were dabbling in it.

(for the purposes of this blogpost, pengovsky will ignore the fact that the entire system of gerrymandering, so popular with Team Red and Team Blue, is a form of systemic voter fraud in itself)

In fact, there is no danger of The Donald going full autocrat. Not just because autocrats are usually meticulous about keeping an election schedule (after all, if you know the result beforehand, why worry?) but also because US election dates are hard-wired into the US constitution and whatever authority to reschedule the vote there is, it lies with the congress. And if that weren’t enough, the execution of the actual voting is up to the states themselves.

So there’s no chance of US elections being postponed unless something much larger than Covid-19 hits the country. The tweet is just Another Shiny Object.

But, pengovsky, I hear you say, what has any of this to do with Slovenia?

Ah, I’m glad you asked. Because yes, the above is easily accessible on the interwebz and you don’t really need this scribe to find it.

It just so happens, that twenty years ago, just around this time of the year, Muddy Hollows was on the brink of postponing elections, not because of a pandemic but because the a centre-right government wanted to introduce a change in the voting system, ostensibly to increase its chances of getting re-elected.

Y2K called and it wants its playbook back

Long story short: in 2000, after looking at the case for four years, the constitutional court decided that in a three-way referendum on voting system, back in 1996, the proposal to introduce a majoritarian first-past-the-post voting system won, despite not getting an absolute majority of the votes.

Soon thereafter, the centre-left government led by the late Janez Drnovšek was overthrown and replaced by a short-lived centre-right government led by the late Andrej Bajuk (SLS+SKD, later NSi) but with defence minister Janez Janša (SDS) more or less pulling the strings.

Implementing the FPTP system became a key issue for that government and – as it turned out – the very thing that broke the coalition Janša back then spent months, if not years, putting together.

Back then, there simply wasn’t a majority in the parliament to do anything about the electoral system. Round after round of negotiations yielded absolutely nothing as most parties realised that FPTP system clearly favours the SDS at the expense of virtually everyone else. The fact that three justices crucial to deliver the verdict at the constitutional court were then appointed ministers in Bajuk government did not help the situation at all.

Then, in the middle of that particularly scorching summer two decades ago, the government suddenly upped the ante and said that, as far as they are concerned, unless an agreement is reached (and FPTP is enacted), Slovenia will not have a valid electoral system and elections will have to be postponed.

Predictably, pandemonium endued.

In a matter of days, venues that seemed politically impossible before were suddenly explored in detail and soon enough it emerged that a combination of proportional and majoritarian electoral system was agreed upon by the left-wing opposition and most of the SLS+SKD MPs, while the ruling of the constitutional court was circumvented by writing the basic tenets of electoral system directly into the constitution.

This broke the centre-right, undid the SLS+SKD merger (with NSi emerging as a splinter group) and led to a landslide election victory of the liberal LDS a couple of months later.

Any resemblance to current developments in the US is, of course, purely coincidental.

However…

Just as The Donald might be channeling his inner Janša, so too is Janša liable to channel his inner Trump in about a year and a half.

You see, the story with the electoral system in Muddy Hollows did not end there. Since the 2000 constitutional amendment was a slap-dash action to make an end-run around the constitutional court and a government toying with the idea od postponing elections, a lot of things were left half-done. Including the stipulation that “voters have a decisive influence on the allocation of seats to the candidates«.

As a result, the Constitutional court found in late 2018 that the existing law on parliamentary elections is not in accordance with the constitution (the very article the parliament rushed to amend in 2000) and gave the parliament two years to set things right. That is, until the end of this year

The political class have negotiated among themselves for most of this time. A couple of times it seemed as if the deal was within arms reach, but nothing came of it.

Nerd alert: the issue boils down to whether to implement an absolute preferential vote, allowing the voters to pick their favourites by name rather than party affiliation, or to water down that provision, allow for some party mucketing in picking favourites and risk running afoul of the constitutional court yet again.

At any rate, you can be sure that if (or rather, when) the two-year deadline passes without a deal being struck, the conciliatory tones incumbent PM Janša occasionally strikes with regard to this issue will fly right out the window and that he will openly question both the legality as well as legitimacy of any election held under the current system.

This is what happens when the legislative branch cannot get its shit together and lets the executive run amok.

Any resemblance to current developments in the US is, of course, purely coincidental.

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pengovsky

Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.