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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Second Republic: on the threshold of a grand (constitutional) coalition?

By: Gašper Blažič

I humbly report that I have just read the working draft of the constitutional amendments. The unsigned draft – I received it yesterday – is addressed to the President of the National Assembly Urška Klakočar Zupančič, but it has no signatures, and the authorship is also not indicated. However, this is the most comprehensive package of constitutional amendments to date and could be somewhat jokingly called “the project of the second republic”. Namely, “the Second Republic” attracts the attention of the leading opinion leaders of the transition already due to the fact that this phrase was brought to the public by someone other than the president of the SDS, permanently hated by them, Janez Janša.

In the developed world, it is considered that the constitution is changed with a trembling hand and that therefore there are as few constitutional changes as possible. It is, after all, a fundamental legal act of a country. You could say that it is the central statute of the Republic of Slovenia if you were to compare the state to a society. After many years of efforts, Slovenia got its current constitution on the first anniversary of the plebiscite, i.e., on December 23rd, 1991, which means that we were a year late compared to Croatia, the constitution was adopted after severe controversy half a year after Slovenia’s independence. Until then, we had to endure with the old Kardelj’s constitution, adopted in 1974 and with added amendments. Of course, it should be remembered that the constitutional movement in Slovenia started practically immediately after the publication of the Slovenian national programme in the 57th issue of Nova revija – on the anniversary of the publication of this publication, the first draft of the modern constitution was published, but it suffered a similar fate as the Slovenian national programme a year earlier because of the communist authorities and their media bullies. So, a lot of verbal violence, otherwise without legal consequences. And, of course, the fact that the delegates of the republican assembly approved without any major comments the proposed amendments to the Yugoslav constitution from 1974 in the direction of greater centralisation of Yugoslavia. The “mistake” was corrected only at the end of September 1989 with amendments to the republican constitution, which caused a lot of stir in Belgrade, but 1989 was already extremely hot due to Milošević’s rallying. And that very year, the Assembly for the Constitution was also created in Slovenia, whose role was then taken over by the Republic Assembly in a new, multi-party composition, with its own constitutional commission. They calculated that the project of adopting a new constitution would be completed by the end of 1990 (including a referendum that would confirm the constitution and thus the independence of Slovenia), but this did not happen, which is why we then had a plebiscite.

Why am I mentioning the new working draft of the proposal for constitutional amendments, which should mean, so to speak, the adoption of a new constitution, i.e., constitution for a “second republic”? It contains quite a few proposals that have been on the agenda for the last few years, but were never realised, but in between there are quite a few “wet dreams” of the transitional left. For example, the abolition of the State Council, the increase in the number of MPs at the same time as the increase in the number of electoral units, the abolition of electoral districts, and the introduction of preferential voting. The provinces would be introduced, which was already attempted by the first Janša’s government, but there was a lot of political opposition to this project, but in the meantime, they apparently changed their minds in many places.

More interesting is the part of the constitutional amendments, according to which ministers would not be appointed and dismissed by the National Assembly, but by the President of the Republic on the proposal of the Prime Minister and eliminated the possibility of interpellation about the minister’s work, which means that another important instrument of control would be taken away from the opposition over authority. By amending Article 114, the determination of the composition of the government and the number and organisation of ministries would also be exempted from legal regulation and the regulation of these issues would be left to the Prime Minister or the government, while the law would continue to regulate the powers of the government and the work areas and powers of the ministries. In other words: at least the Prime Minister could change the number of ministries at will, without this resulting in legal changes. The method of appointing judges is also changing, as the president of the republic would be appointed, while the president of the Supreme Court would be appointed by the National Assembly, and judges could be appointed to a permanent judicial position only after at least four years of judicial office. At the same time, a different composition and election of the judicial council would be determined, and as a result, the regulation of the dismissal of judges and the regulation of their immunity would be changed. The constitutional amendments also include a change in the organisation of the Constitutional Court, which would de facto lose a considerable amount of jurisdiction (which would mean that, under the new law, constitutional judges would no longer be able to delay the entry into force of the new Act on RTV, because in this case it would be a substantive and not a typical constitutional-legal question).

Even a fairly cursory review of the listed constitutional amendments tells a lot about for who it is in the interest of such constitutional amendments being adopted, as they abolish or at least greatly limit the possible control mechanisms that prevent the arrogance of the authorities. If I add to this the unofficial information that the sources entrusted to us – namely that one of the authors of these constitutional amendments is also a prominent member of the NSi, Dr Janez Pogorelec – then it becomes clear that a new constitutional coalition is already emerging on the horizon, in which, in addition to the 53 coalition MPs, there would also be eight NSi MPs, which in total amounts to 61 votes, i.e., the necessary constitutional majority required for the adoption of constitutional changes. What can – given the past experience of hand-quick adoption of some important laws – should worry us.

And while we are talking about NSi, it is worth recalling the events of the last few days, when the president of this party, Matej Tonin, refused the possibility for his MPs to sign the interpellation on the work of the government. Perhaps this action could be understood if it were a kind of sandbox where the logic of give-and-take ruled. As if to say, SDS did not want to give signatures to the interpellation about the work of the Minister of Culture Asta Vrečko, and we will return tit for tat”. Well, Tonin justifies his party’s action in a different way, saying that we are a constructive opposition and cannot agree to some general criticism, stubbornness, and destructiveness that SDS is going for. And that it is also necessary to present some alternative. Good, I agree. However, in this case, Tonin invented hot water, which we should not blame him for, because he is still too young and probably forgot that SDS had its own expert council in the period before the 2004 elections, which regularly presented its alternative proposals, when the ground was collapsing under the feet of the then Prime Minister Anton Rop. When the Assembly for the Republic was founded about half a year before the elections, in which the then Foreign Minister Dr Dimitrij Rupel (and consequently got kicked out), it was clear that the then “great” LDS began to collapse in on itself. The mainstream media interpreted the victory of the SDS in the elections mainly as a “gift” to the LDS, i.e., as a result of objective circumstances, saying that you do not think that people value you. And yet: the expert council or the government in the shadow, with the support of a critical civil society, that actually ousted the arrogant transitional leftists from power. The team that came to power at that time already had an alternative programme ready.

Given the above fact, I would expect Tonin to first announce the establishment of such a shadow government, especially in cooperation with SDS and some non-parliamentary parties. However, this will probably not happen because NSi already has one foot in the coalition, which can be concluded mainly from two facts. First of all, all the personnel purges of the current government in companies where the state plays a decisive role have not washed away the chairman of the board of DARS, Valentin Hajdinjak. Secondly, the cooperation of the NSi parliamentary group with Gibanje Svoboda regarding the management of commissions has also passed to the stage when the signatures of the NSi MPs for the establishment of an investigative commission that would deal with Golob’s controversial transactions in Gen-I have still not arrived, although, as days ago Tonin told, they are already collected. However, there are none because, according to Tonin’s belief, the SDS should neglect its role in the working bodies, where the opposition already has a majority anyway…

But let’s return to the starting point: constitutional changes. If even the controversial ones are accepted, this is a sign that a new grand coalition already exists. The question is how, in such a case, the representatives of NSi will be able to explain to new civil society initiatives, such as the Voice of the Pensioners, that they are just as “fighting” for those who are on the margins of society. If we leave aside the fact that any amendment to the constitution can be similarly fatal as the constitutional amendment of 2000, which concreted the proportional system into the constitution. And it was precisely this constitutional amendment that led to the creation of NSi that year in the first place…

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