Activists Deliver 38 Boxes with Signatures for Election System Referendum

By 13 June 2018

ZAGREB, June 13, 2018 - Representatives of the civil initiative The People Decide on Wednesday delivered to parliament 38 boxes with 405,342 signatures for a referendum question to amend election legislation and 407,469 signatures for a question depriving national minority representatives of the right to decide on the formation of the government and the state budget.

A member of the civil initiative's organisation committee Natalija Kanački said they expected the signatures to be counted in the same time period that they did that – two weeks – and that after that the questions be sent to the Constitutional Court to assess their constitutionality. They expect the referendum to be called in September or October at the latest.

Asked how was it possible that when the signature collection campaign ended the number of signatures was much smaller, Kanački said, "Very easily." "It takes several days for the signature books to arrive from Belišće, Mljet or Dubrovnik... The reports from our coordinators in the field were incomplete, they collected signatures until midnight. We counted every book, every signature and have done a complete review and the statistics on our own," she explained.

She alleged that signatures weren't collected after the deadline.

Kanački underscored that the referendum questions, explanations and requests were worked on with constitutional experts and that they are in line with the Constitution.

Asked whether the second question violated the principle of equality, Dominik Knezović said that "according to a Constitutional Court ruling from 2011, it is up to the legislature to decide whether national minority seats will be equated with those of other members of parliament. Therefore, that is not a cemented rule and it is something that parliament, in this case citizens through the civil initiative, can decide upon."

Commenting on the remark that they were separating MPs into two groups, those with greater or lesser rights, Knezović said that "their idea is not to divide MPs into MPs of a higher or lower rank."

"We consider that it is necessary to differentiate MPs who have bigger legitimacy from citizens, seeing that they are elected on a general slate and have a much higher number of citizens' votes, regardless of their nationality. The other thing that best speaks to a national minority MP's legitimacy is the election turnout. A large number – almost 80% – of citizens who are members of a national minority don't vote on their national minority's slate but on general slates, which best tells us what national minority citizens think about their representatives."

"In this situation, minority MPs have come to the point that they decide on a government. As you can see, now it depends on them whether the government will be brought down or not. When it comes to the budget, that is another mechanism to bring down a government and that is why we consider that national minority MPs should be involved with national issues – religion, culture, identity, integrating into society – and not whether a government will survive or not," Knezović said.

Sanja Bilač of the civil initiative claimed that the "state has to take care of national issues and enable minorities to have all rights." She in particular focused on Serb minority MP Milorad Pupovac and said that "he represents less than 14% of Serbs, which begs the question: What kind of legal national minority representative is he and, particularly, what kind of state representative is he when he decides and says that if this referendum is called, he will leave the government?" "Pupovac is the greatest enemy of national minorities and minorities will be able to breathe again with this system," Bilač said.

The initiative's representatives announced that they will continue, as they have until now, to work transparently and will publish information on financing for everyone who gave them permission to do so. They, however, expressed fear that some private companies that made donations and do business with the government could be exposed. They did not specify what these companies could be exposed to but hinted at political pressure.

They regretted that this was the first referendum initiative that wasn't received by the parliament speaker but the parliament secretary, to whom they handed over the boxes, which they believe is a form of pressure and indicator of the political opinion of their initiative.

The People Decide civil initiative conducted a signature-collection campaign on May 13-27 to call a referendum to amend election legislation in an attempt to make the election system fairer.

Activists are calling for a reduction in the number of seats in the current 151-seat parliament and that voters be offered an opportunity to select three preferential candidates instead of the current possibility of one preferential candidate.

They are also requesting that the boundary lines of constituencies correspond to county boundary lines, that the current five-percent election threshold be lowered to four percent and that postal and electronic voting be introduced.

The activists are also calling for an amendment to Article 72 of the Croatian Constitution which was why the petition included two questions.

The first question is about the above-mentioned requests, while the second questions deals with the possibility of reducing the rights of lawmakers representing ethnic minorities.

The initiative is calling for ethnic minority parliamentary deputies to be denied the right of taking part in a no-confidence vote against governments and of having a say in budget adoption.