Croatia urgently needs a reform of its election legislation and the introduction of preferential voting, said legal experts on election legislation who attended a round table discussion organised by the Croatian Labour Party in the parliament on Monday.
“Constituencies should be changed because their current structure does not contribute to politicians’ responsibility towards the electorate,” said Zagreb Law Faculty professor Ivan Rimac, who believes that the boundaries of the constituencies should follow the administrative boundaries of the counties. He said that each county should be a separate constituency and that the number of mandates per county should be determined according to the number of eligible voters.
Labour Party MP Dragutin Lesar said the current situation with constituencies jeopardised the fairness of the election competition and questioned the equality of votes, noting that the difference in the number of votes needed for one mandate was as much as 15% in some constituencies. The Labour Party therefore proposes that the country be divided into six constituencies with an average of 26,000 voters.
Lesar recalled that as many as 78.5% of voters in the last elections for the European Parliament used the right to preferential voting, along with the right to vote for a specific slate. “That shows that the principle of voter participation has been accepted by the Croatian electorate probably as an expression of opposition to the closed slates that we now have,” said Lesar. The Labour Party proposes an election law granting voters three preferential votes in parliamentary elections, without a prohibitive clause.
The chairman of the parliament’s Committee on the Constitution, Standing Orders and Political System, Social Democrat Pedja Grbin, warned against changing the election system a year before elections, saying that he advocated a mixed election system as existed in Germany. “I believe that at the moment Croatia only needs the most necessary interventions in the election legislation to deal with the inequality of voting rights among individual constituencies, because one should not allow a vote to weigh differently in Pula, Osijek, Rijeka, Split or Zagreb,” Grbin sad, adding that more serious changes required time.
Grbin was also in favour of preferential voting, however, he noted that with completely open slates, no political party would nominate dissidents, but only obeying members. Grbin supported a debate on a comprehensive reform of the election system, “but not for the 2015 elections or the 2019 elections.”
Another Zagreb Law Faculty professor, Robert Podolnjak, too, advocated changes to the elections system but agreed with Grbin that a reform required time. Podolnjak said that changes to the election system would not be proposed by big political parties and would probably be brought about by civil society groups. There is no political will to embark on a reform of the election legislation, said Berto Salaj of the Faculty of Political Sciences, underlining that the existing election model suited the two leading political parties. Participants in the round table also warned that holding the office of member of Parliament was incompatible with holding an office in the executive authority of a local self-government unit.