So, You Want To Amend The Constitution, Huh?

Lately, talk of amending Slovenian constitution is in vogue, it seems. Janez Janša‘s SDS announced it but failed to give it substance, Gregor Golobič‘s Zares presented their own version and gave it some substance and the government of Borut Pahor as a whole announced it is joining the fun as well. High time for pengovsky to chip as well, so try this on for size:

Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia (source)

Abolish the National Council. I mean, what’s with having special interest parliamentary representation in the first place? Sure, it’s nice to hear the voice of all walks of life when passing policy decisions, but there are ways to do it other than creating a second chamber and then amputating it from the start. Fourty-four representatives, all of them elected indirectly is an utterly failed attempt to mix the U.S. Senate with element of corporatism which serves no real purpose but to give give a group of people without a clear mandate the power to call a referendum and generally spend away taxpayer’s money. Cut the crap and create a true single-chamber parliament. Life will be much easier for everyone. After-all it is not as if people sitting in the National Council don’t have enough power as it is through various unions, industrial and commerce chambers and other pressure groups.

Increase number of MPs to 121. Not just because 121 is 11 squared (a nice number, ain’t it), which would make it possible for eleven MPs to be elected in each of the eleven voting units (an increase of three from the existing eight per voting unit). It would also decrease the number of voters per MP, thus increasing the relative representation of the people and – perhaps most importantly – give us an odd number of MPs, preventing the possibility of a 50/50 stalemate in the parliament. And you know how awkward that can be.

Institute a mayor/MP conflict of interest In fact, institute a conflict of interest between serving as an MP and serving as any other elected official, be it on municipal or regional level. Each and every MP represents the entire population of Slovenia. Not just his immediate voting precinct or unit. Mayors who also serve as MPs tend to a) support decisions which are in favour of their municipality and not necessarily in the interest of the entire country and b) have the possibility to indulge in pork-barrel politics, often at the expense of other parts of the country. This simply can not go on. There are municipalities running out of space for new state-funded infrastructure and highway-exits, while others still have problem stuff as basic as sewage.

And don’t forget, you can achieve this also by simply passing the appropriate law.

Amend election rules. This was done before, so it is nothing new, even though you could (as with previous item) get it done by amending the law and not necessarily the constitution itself. Specifically, what is needed is introducing an absolute preferential vote, whereby voters would vote for a specific candidate and thereby vote for candidate’s political party. Should the candidate not receive enough votes to be elected to the parliament, his votes would be added to the votes other candidates of the same party received within the same voting unit and then divided proportionally among those candidates, starting from the top of the list. Technically, this is called “proportional system with strong elements of majority system” and was actually called for by the Constitutional Court. So despite the fact that it is Gregor Golobič’s Zares which advocates this measure (and the one about conflict of interests), it should not be viewed as a party position but as a long-overdue and fundamentally necessary amendment to the constitution.

Create regions Six of them, with Ljubljana having special status as the capital city. True, you’d be creating yet another level of administration, but the advantages are numerous. You can strip the 210-or-so Slovene municipalities of most of their competences and transfer them to regional level. If you want equal access to things like health and education, you can not have municipalities handling it, because most of them don’t have enough money to provide either, let alone maintain their existing infrastructure (unless of course their mayors serve as MPs). This would also enable you to redistribute personal income tax revenue on a much more efficient level. As things stand now this revenue is directed to municipalities’ coffers, which is one of the main incentives for continuous creation of new municipalities (that and the notion that the state will chip in whatever monies the municipality is short on). This of course leads to a lot of municipalities handling minute amounts of cash. Do this on a regional level, however, and suddenly you can actually do stuff with that money. As a side-effect, less money will from central budget and municipalities will suddenly find that they will be better off if they unite rather than split up.

Oh, and why six regions? Because this is the numbers of dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in Slovenia. People are used to this division. It is also a division which has stood the test of time plus the borders are already drawn. This is probably one of the few good ideas the Catholic Church had in this part of the world, so why not use it?

Simplify the procedure for establishing government As things stand now, the President nominates the candidate for prime minister, who must survive the vote in the parliament. He/she then assembles the cabinet, submits candidates for ministers to a parliamentary hearing process (which has no legal effects whatsoever) and then has to survive the vote again in order to have a fully empowered government. This is bullshit. It was fun while Slovenia still had the assembly system (three-chamber parliament, a delegate system without freedom of vote, the works), but in a liberal democracy things just don’t work well that way. First of all, why should the PM go through the same procedure twice in as many weeks? Why should it take two or more weeks to establish a government anyhow? And why shouldn’t the PM be able to fire ministers on the spot? He/she can’t do it under the existing system. Since the parliament appointed the minister it is only the parliament who can dismiss him/her, effectively tying the PM’s hands and possibly putting him in the position of having to work with an uncooperative minister. It has happened, you know.

If there is a clear parliamentary majority (which would always be at hand if we had an odd number of MPs), there really is no need for such a prolonged process. The power to nominate the candidate for PM would still be with the President and after the parliament appointed the prime minister he/she would simply assemble his cabinet and send the list to the president for approval. And if you really need a safeguard, you can empower the Prez do refuse the cabinet list, at which point the PM-in-waiting would have to ask the parliament to vote on his cabinet. The same would apply for dismissal of a particular minister. Or, if you want the really effective version, you can leave the power to appoint and dismiss ministers solely with the PM, once he is appointed by the parliament. In any case, you have a much more effective government and a much stronger leadership role by the PM. And most importantly, the loyalties of individual ministers can no longer be torn between the government in which they serve and the parliament this appointed them.

Don’t mess with referendum. Just because the opposition fucked you with referendum bids a couple of times, this doesn’t mean that you can go about limiting who can call a referendum. OK, so it might be prudent to increase the number of signatures needed to start the referendum bid in the first place, but you don’t have to change a constitution to achieve that. Always remember that the point of the referendum is to check moves and motives of an excessively autocratic government (or parliamentary majority).

The fact that referendum provisions are being abused to block legitimate policies on a daily basis is not a legal question but rather a question of political manners. Because as long as no punches are being pulled as long as playing hard-ball is the norm rather than the exception and as long as any end will justify any means, so long will legislation and rules and procedures continue to be abused to derail policy agendas just for the fun of it. There is no way you can limit the system of checks and balances in a manner that will be both democratic and prevent abuse. You just can’t do it. It simply isn’t possible.

And should you by any chance manage to institute such limitations, trust me, they will come to haunt you faster than you can say “election defeat” (if you catch my meaning).

This, basically, is it. Anything beyond the above will either result in fundamental restructuring of the republic or will simply be yet another abuse of democratic mechanism aimed at paving the way to power without presenting anything close to a viable political platform.

And this is the gist of it, methinks. What this country needs is not some sort of a new social contract or (God forbid) a Second Republic, but rather a common awareness among political players that destructive behaviour will only increase the amount of shit we all will have to deal with. Fact of the matter is that lately nothing is sacred any more. Even the legislative procedure is abused in order to facilitate a desired outcome, case in point being the last events on establishing municipality of Ankaran (more on that some other time). The problems this country is facing are real and institutional changes can only take you so far. Especially if you play around with the constitution, which is suppose to stand the test of time rather than be changed according to daily (political) needs.

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