A Parlamentarian Vignette (throw him the fuck out!)

Tadej Slapnik, Zares and Zmago Jelinčič, SNS (source)

SCENE: A parliamentary investigative committee on the Patria Affair. Headed first by Zvonko Černač and then by Branko Grims, both members of SDS, it is aimed at proving that the Patria Affair was concocted to influence the result of 2008 parliamentary elections when the left wing coalition led by now-PM Borut Pahor defeated Janez Janša and forced SDS back into opposition.

Branko GRIMS of SDS, head of the committee
Tadej SLAPNIK of Zares, member
Zmago JELINČIČ of SNS, member
Franc PUKŠIČ of SLS, member

THE PLOT: Just as they did with Černač, the ruling coalition aims to have GRIMS replaced as the head of the committee by declaring him a witness in the inquiry. This would further hamper the work of the committee. The approach was pioneered during the last parliament, when SDS used the tactic to replace Milan M. Cvikl of Social Democrats, who ran his Patria investigation committee but was prevented from finishing the job on bogus claims that he must testify in front of the committee. As a result, the committee never filed a final report on the issue.


GRIMS: Esteemed colleague, if you don’t have…
JELINČIČ: What’s that suppose to mean, ‘you too’?
GREMS: Order, please! Look, if you don’t have…
JELINČIČ: You’ll get your cunt slapped, I’ll show you ‘you too’!
GRIMS: … if you don’t have a clue about the law and procedures, I can’t…
JELINČIČ: You watch now!
SLAPNIK: What’s the matter? You want me to throw you out the window?
SLAPNIK: Who are you to threaten me?
GRIMS: Would you please stop…
SLAPNIK: Jelinčič, who are you to threaten me
JELINČIČ: Call security and throw him the fuck out!
SLAPNIK: Just try and hit me…
JELINČIČ: Call security and get him out of here…
SLAPNIK: You bum!

Further on in the scene SLAPNIK refuses to give in and continues to argue, when PUKŠIČ walks over to him and turns off his microphone

In case you’re wondering, the above really happened. Word for word. It is taken from a transcript of the session of the committee, released by the parliament on Zares‘ demand.

Very well-mannered people, Slovene MPs, no? 🙂

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De Referenda

Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

In the wake of the fiasco that was the referendum on RTV Slovenia, both the ruling coalition as well as the opposition are (again) mulling changes to referendum legislation. This was of course expected but it is none the less a most unwelcome turn of events, especially since constant abuses of referendum legislation in the minds of what seems to be majority of the voters now warrant limiting legal possibilities for holding a referendum.

There are broadly three sets of proposals in this debate. What (hopefully) follows is their deconstruction.

Set a referendum day

Proposed by Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) of Janez Janša. What the largest opposition party proposes is that a specific day in the year be set by law in advance and on that day any and all referendums which were called early enough in the year are to be held. On the surface, the proposal is quite appealing: no matter how many referendums are called, all the votes are held on the same date and instead of spending four million euro per referendum, you spend four million once and be done with it.

However, there is a huge – and I mean galactic – caveat. Let’s say for argument’s sake that the referendum date would be set on 1 June and the decision to hold a referendum would have to come no later than 30 May, because a month of campaigning has to be allowed for. Technically this means that any law passed after 30 May on which a referendum is to be held, will be “on ice” for up to thirteen months. If there ever was a neat way to temporarily block a law, this is it.

As we know, calling a referendum is a piece of cake in Slovenia, especially if you’re a political party which can muster 30 signatures in the parliament. This was was the case with almost every referendum ever held in Slovenia, be they consultative or subsequent (legislative). If the proposed provision were to be enacted, a law – no matter how urgent or crucial or just plain practical – could be blocked out of sheer politicking just by collecting the necessary signatures. Add to that the fact that by the time the referendum will be held the debate on the issue will have died long ago ans with it all the niceties connected with either “yes” or “no” vote, and you get a situation where the electorate is even less informed about the issue once it actually comes up for a vote and – even more – has to vote on multiple issues at the same time.

Indeed, one can easily argue that the idea of a single referendum day (or even two) per year in fact decreases democratic standards in Slovenia which are not all that high to begin with. Furthermore: although the idea was floated by the largest opposition party it is a given that – despite being prone to losing crucial battles – SDS will in time again be the ruling party in Slovenia. When that happens, such a provision on referendum would work very much against them, especially if they would be still given to radically altering legislation across the board. Actually, pengovsky refuses to believe that SDS leadership is as short-sighted as not to see that and that the entire idea is simply a red herring or a tactical move which – after it will be rejected by the parliament – will enable them to claim that they tried to do something

Set a quorum necessary for validity of referendum

We’ve been over this already in some other setting. But the bottom line is this: if a vote is called and majority of people don’t bother to show up, how can it be that their decision to stay at home has more merit than decision of the minority (no matter how small) which decided to exercise their right to vote? Seriously, people…

Revoke the 30 MP signatures provision

Floated by the ruling left-wing coalition – notably Social Democrats led by PM Borut Pahor – the idea sounds, well, tempting. No doubt a lot of people would see it as taking candy from a spoiled brat. But not really. You see, the “30 signatures” provision is in the constitution for a reason. It is an essential element of a system of checks-and-balances. It provides the parliamentary minority with an instrument to prevent what de Tocqueville and Mills called “tyranny of the majority”. Because not all decisions are good or sensible, even though the majority voted in favour. So the provision goes beyond it’s current use as a political weapon of legal destruction.

Yes, the provision was abused many times under circumstances that -although perfectly legal – didn’t really warrant invoking it. But the parties currently running the show will inevitably come into a situation where they will be glad that the provision is in place. Even more: Slovenia may come into a situation where a question, vital to the future of the republic will be decided on and the only voice of reason will be a small, across-the-isle ad hoc coalition with the “30 signatures” provision being their only hope of preventing a decision of disastrous consequences.

And if you think this is a purely hypothetical scenario, think again. We saw that film a couple of times already. Or at least variations of it. In pengovsky’s opinion, the “30 signatures” provision was and is intended to be used in extreme cases. That it was abused doesn’t mean that it has to be abolished.

What to do?

Nothing. Direct democracy and checks-and-balances are not things you tamper with in a heat of a moment. Besides, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with current referendum legislation. It’s just that it is being abused beyond any sense of decency. But that is not a question of legislation but rather a question of political culture.

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Honey, I Shrunk The Coalition!

My, how the tables have turned! A little more than eighteen months ago Zares of Gregor Golobič floated the idea of some fundamental changes to Slovenian referendum legislation. What on the surface looked like a noble idea, had way to many drawbacks, but for purposes of this post suffice it to say that among other things this junior coalition party wanted to institute a “Referendum Day” or two where all referendum bids filed until a certain date would be voted on (Read The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions if you want to jog your memory).

The Boy with the Flute is a mascot of RTVSLO ever since it was created as RTV Ljubljana (source)

Today the government of Borut Pahor and Zares in particular are in a situation where such provisions (had they been passed in time) would most likely kill one or more key pieces of reform legislation which the coalition somehow managed to squeeze through the parliament despite copious amounts of shit being thrown at it.

Notably this goes for the famed Law on Menial Work (which was, truth be told, vetoed by the National Council hours ago and will have to be voted on again by the National Assembly) and especially for the new law on national radio and television (RTV Slovenija) which was passed last week and which (again) brings sweeping changes to the institution and (according to the Ministry of Culture) is returning the now-state-run media back into the public domain.

State vs. Public

A quick but necessary digression: Soon after Janez Janša won 2004 elections (so soon in fact that the LDS did not yet have the time to fall apart) a new law on RTVSLO was passed by the parliament which turned the former into a full-blooded state radio and television, mostly through changes in composition of supervisory and programming boards and election of its members and (further down) by altering the way Radio and TV chiefs were appointed.

The changes, however, were sold as “more quality programming for less money” since of the more debated provisions of the law was the so called RTV-fee (which was set at EUR 12) held the most tangible value. Everyone who’s ever worked in media knows that you never get more (quality) content for less money, but since RTVSLO was, is, and will be a money-guzzling-bottomless-pit and since quality of programming already at that time left a lot to be desired, it wasn’t a hard sell. And even so the law was barely confirmed on a referendum.

Honey, I shrunk the coalition!

The new law was passed on 20 October with an ordinary majority and immediately caused a bit of a rift in the largest coalition party as Andrej Magajna (leader of non-parliamentary Christian Socialist party, elected as MP on a Social Democrats‘ ticket) broke ranks and gave the crucial thirtieth signature needed by opposition Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) and Slovene National Party (SNS) to call a referendum on the freshly minted law. Furthermore Magajna left SD’s club and declared himself an indpendent.

One vote less in a squabble-prone left wing coalition is quite a price to pay for a single piece of legislation. This proves that the law, which was drafted in the ministry of culture (a portfolio held by Zares’ Majda Širca) has such a strong backing in the government and PM Pahor personally that he was willing to see his majority in the parliament reduced to 47 votes. just a vote above the single-vote majority.

Cynics will obviously say that this is a small price to pay to have RTVSLO shaped according to Zares’ and Pahor’s wishes, and to an extent that is true. The true question therefore is whether RTVSLO will truly be returned to the public domain as the coalition claims or will it be further politicised as the opposition claims. Janez Janša’s SDS crying foul on political influence over RTVSLO is of course a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, but this does not automatically mean that the law is good. But it does provide some basis for gradual comeback of quality content and serious journalism to what supposedly wants to be the Slovenian BBC. But nothing will change just because there’s a new law in place. Just sayin’

Oh, the irony!

Wait. What? Who said there’s a new law in place? The referendum bid was successful, which means that the voters will have the final say in the matter. And this is where we come full circle to the beginning of the post. It is somewhat ironic that today it is the opposition which wants to institute a “Referendum day”, mostly on the grounds that there are numerous referendums being mulled (RTVSLO, law on menial work and pension reform among others) and “since we’re at it, we might just vote on them all in one go”.

We’ll neglect the fact that this is a rather poor attempt at shooting down Pahor’s government at the expense of an overhaul this country badly needs and rather focus on the fact that Zares responded fiercely to the idea. Not just because they see the referendum as a “waste of taxpayers’ time and money” (which is the official party position) but also because holding a referendum on 17 April would a) probably sink the law by default as it would not be voted on on merit but as a protest vote against the government and b) would – if it somehow survived – come into force on 1 January 2012, more than a year from now. Which is precisely one of the drawbacks of Zares’ idea pengovsky pointed out a year-and-a-half ago.

Yes, I am feeling rather smug 😀

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