„The Mighty Handful“ facing off against SDP and HDZ on electoral reform

Zagreb, 23.07.2014 - Nakon što je 29 zastupnika i zastupnica (od njih 151) potpisom podržalo izmjene izbornog zakonodavstva na tragu GONG-ovih prijedloga, ta udruga organizirla je sastanak zastupnika pod nazivom "Kad se Vladi ne da, neka se glas Sabora èuje". foto FaH/ Dario GRZELJ /ds

„If the Government doesn’t feel like doing it, let the Parliament be heard“, or at least so it goes for those 29 MPs who have expressed support for GONG’s proposed reform of electoral legislation with their signatures. GONG has staged a meeting with the group in the Parliament in order to discuss further steps needed to initiate electoral legislation reform this autumn.

Once again, it is evident that, despite their differing opinions on how to provide for certain reform arrangements, “The 29“ is not lacking will and ideas. Further mutual adjustments are forthcoming, with autumn promising to show just how much strength this „Mighty Handful“ has to confront HDZ [Croatian Democratic Union] and SDP [Social-Democratic Party of Croatia] on electoral reform, a topic the two major parties are obviously not fond of.

„If the Government doesn’t feel like doing it, then neither does the Government’s parliamentary majority, and we can tell that the opposition leader HDZ does not support the reform either. This is because the presidents of the two major parties would not benefit from preferential voting on electoral lists, which would put them at the bottom of the heap“, stated Labour Party MP Branko Vukšić, who believes that the gathered MPs should form a task force and get to work. He announced that he would “sign the request by On Behalf of the Family to formalize preferential votes, regardless of how much Željka Markić had manipulated the December referendum on marriage. Imagine Zoran Milanović and Tomislav karamarko’s vanities being cut down to size, knowing that preferential votes could knock them down to the seventh, eighth or ninth place on their lists”.

Vukšić also warned that, no matter how much he supports every such initiative, “we should remain realistic and consider the odds of something like this being implemented” and stressed “the need for moral and political accountability in order to restore citizens’ trust in politics, while we have to serve as the Parliament’s conscience”. The work on change should be started as soon as possible, just as it is necessary to initiate the procedure of electoral legislation reform as soon as possible so that we do not end up in a time pinch, warned HNS [Croatian People’s Party]’s Vladimir Bilek of the Minority Representatives’ Club. His former party colleague and current initiator of forming the Croatian People’s Party – Reformists Natalija Martinčević went on to invite Josip Leko, the acting Speaker of the Croatian Parliament , to put her proposed amendment to the Act on Electing Representatives to the Croatian Parliament – regarding the legal threshold and preferential voting –on the agenda.

Regarding referenda, Martinčević warned that “they did not turn out to be the festivals of democracy they were supposed to; instead, they lead to divisions, lack of dialogue and crises, while the issue of electoral legislation can be resolved through consensus and parliamentary procedure”. Jadranka Kosor also warned that the Parliament should take on a leading role, independent representative and former Prime Minister, who believes that the groups of MPs supporting electoral reform based on GONG’s proposal is “a mighty group, one that should be able to reach and sign an agreement on what elements of the reform package can be realistically expected, and then proceed to pressure the Speaker of the Parliament to put those elements on the agenda once the parliamentary sessions begin anew”.

“There is always the need for a consensus; it is hard to attain it, but right now, it exists – HDZ and SDP are agreeing not to change the electoral system”, warned Kosor. Apart from the Reformists’ proposal, a proposal by the Labour Party also awaits its place on the agenda. The Labour Party’s Nansi Tireli reminded that “among other things, [we] endorse the amendments that would divide Croatia into six electoral constituencies, with preferential voting enabling citizens to elect to Parliament those persons who they believe would best represent their interests, encouraging elected representatives to be more accountable towards the electorate”.

“There will be no democracy in the state or in the municipality so long as there is none in the political parties”, warned SDP’s Gvozden Flego, who has, among other things, endorsed women quotas and minority quotas and stated that an agreement should be reached on the minimum and maximum expectations from this reform package. His former party colleague, OraH’s Mirela Holy, warned that “usually, it is the practice to look for rationalizations as to why reforms cannot be carried out” and emphasized that “preferential voting might turn out to be a major risk to women’s positions in politics because men have much easier access to the media; and if you’re not in the media, you are not reaching your voters”. She therefore endorses special women’s electoral lists instead of women quotas.

Her party colleague from back when they were both SDP representatives Slavko Linić stressed that “if [we] want to succeed, we need to work out compromise solutions because there is no way that parties will leave all the decisions to the citizens and the time for reform is running out. Politics are considered to be the one of the worst professions out there and politicians must strive for this to change. As we change the perceptions of ourselves, turnout will increase”. Croatian Party of Pensioners’ Silvano Hrelja warned of “the unbearable lightness of founding parties, which is tied-in with issues of transparency and accountability towards voters and citizens” and expressed his hope of the reform initiative succeeding.

The same sentiment is shared by HNS’s Goran Beus Richembergh and his fellow MPs, Democratic Center’s Vesna Škare Ožbolt and independent representative Josip Kregar, who were unable to attend the meeting but have stated their support for GONG’s initiative. GONG’s Executive Director Dragan Zelić recalled how “the Government can often be heard to say that the economy is their top priority; but the Government has many departments and can do multiple things at once, instead of focusing on just one issue”. Just prior to the meeting, GONG members have presented their proposal to the President of the Republic of Croatia Ivo Josipović, who has stated that “this proposal of new electoral legislation is of high-quality and should be stimulating for the discussion on the future of the Croatian political system”.

The reform package includes a reform of electoral constituencies, the introduction of preferential voting, amendments to regulations on referenda, a ban on candidacies for persons convicted for corruption, corrupt business practices and war crimes, coordination of electoral procedures, further professionalization of the State Electoral Commission and electoral committees and amendments to the media rules on election reporting, all with the common goal of advancing electoral legislation.