Referendum Initiative Accuses Government of Dragging Its Feet

By 28 July 2018

ZAGREB, July 28, 2018 - The People Decide civil initiative on Friday expressed concern that the government had still not decided to count and verify signatures collected to call a referendum on changing the election law and said that it had sent an appeal to European institutions regarding the "undermined independence of the referendum process."

"We are expressing our concern because even after a month and a half after signatures were collected to call a referendum on changing the election system in Croatia, the government has not decided to count and verify the signatures petitioning for the referendum," a member of the initiative's organisation committee, Jelena Teklić, said.

The initiative organised a petition on May 13-28 and collected more than 405,000 signatures to call a referendum on the election system. Teklić recalled that it took volunteers less than two weeks to count and verify the signatures.

According to Teklić, the government is deliberately stalling the process of checking the signatures. "We wish to emphasise that the government has on several occasions breached the Venice Commission's recommendations calling for impartiality with regard to referendum issues and that it would be good for an independent body to check the signatures," she said and recalled that the initiative had proposed that the State Election Commission (DIP) check the signatures.

However. the government rejected that proposal. "That is why we are concerned with this breach of democratic processes that the government is making, compromising its impartiality," Teklić underscored. According to her, during the signature collection campaign, several government officials lambasted the NGO, making false accusations and compromising themselves.

"That showed that they were in conflict of interest because the measures we are proposing with the referendum directly affect them and that is why we think they compromised their trust and impartiality and that they should not be involved in checking the signatures, which should be left to a neutral body," she said.

"Considering that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković rejected the possibility for DIP to control the signatures, and intended to delegate the task to the Public Administration Ministry, whose minister grossly lied about the civil initiative, The People Decide is appealing to international institutions – the European Union, the Council of Europe, the Organisation for European Security and Cooperation – concerning the undermining of the independence of the referendum process," the initiative said, expecting those institutions to influence the Croatian government.