Op-Ed/Democracy at work

Op-Ed/Democracy at work

By Peter Vanhoutte

(Part I)

  1. You are the biggest party after elections, so what? In a democracy with proportional representation, this is only the first step.

After the elections on 11 December, no one in Macedonia has an absolute majority, even though one party behaves as if they have the absolute majority. No, you don’t!

Even worse: the parties who formed the government in recent years, lost a lot of support, in total 19 seats. In a normal democracy, this would not be considered a victory, but a big defeat — a serious electoral punishment. As a result you would step aside and leave the initiative to form a government to the real winners.

  1. Because no one has an absolute majority, one can only try to form a majority with other parties. This means, you need to look for coalition partners, who are willing to join you and form a majority.

Partners can include some of the parties who were in the government before — as they are necessary to get a stable majority.

  1. You need to agree with your coalition partners. You therefore have to write a program you and your coalition partners will agree upon. The program should not include your personal ideas, but the main issues why citizens voted for you — their priorities.

Politicians and their parties are at the service of the citizens, they shouldn’t serve their own interests.

  1. And finally, you need to divide the jobs: who will get which ministry, who will become the Prime Minister, and who will become the Speaker of Parliament.

A sound balance between political parties in power is necessary: you can’t get it all. It is not healthy to claim the three top positions (President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament).

About the Macedonian case:

  1. The concrete question in Macedonia is: do you want to form a government with a party who is already now threatening citizens, calling to lynch people who have a different opinion or who witnessed irregularities in the elections, putting pressure on regular institutions, not allowing them to function properly? What guarantee will you have that this party doesn’t threat you in the same way once a government has been formed?
  2. A possible conclusion from the perspective of the smaller parties: let’s form a government with slightly smaller parties. At least they will listen to us, the smaller parties in the coalition, and we will have a more stable government, where we can have more leverage, based on a common program.

Big parties — the elephants — usually tend to run over smaller parties and to impose their own positions on everything — “because we are the biggest” — as was the case with the former government.

  1. So the biggest party should go to the opposition? Yes, that is perfectly possible. An opposition cure is usually a healthy exercise in modesty and allows you to rethink your position.

(Part II)

The Administrative Court annulled the vote in Tearce. As a result, the State Election Commission (SEC) decided on a re-vote at this polling station.

The decision of the Administrative Court is encouraging. It proves that there still is a glimpse of independence within the judicial system. The fact that the SEC decided on a re-vote is also encouraging. It proves the the Election Commission respects fully the final decision of the Administrative Court.

It is also a proof that the SEC in the end respects the separation of powers, and doesn’t want to interfere in what should be considered a final Court decision.

On the side of VMRO-DPMNE, the situation is less clear. Not only the party, but even a Minister, heavily oppose the decision of the Administrative Court. What this means is: a member of the (Acting) Government is not recognizing a decision from the judiciary. With his statement, he is directly interfering in the judiciary, not respecting the separation of powers.

Why is separation of powers essential? In The Federalist, a collection of 85 articles and essays promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution, J.Madison said (The Federalist, LI): “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels werd to govern men, neither external, nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” By separating the different powers (Government, Parliament and Judiciary) we allow a system of effective control on the Government by Parliament and by the Judiciary.

Characteristic for authoritarian regimes is to reject this separation of powers. They want to have all the power, without any control. The statements of the Minister, as well as of the former Prime Minister and several party officials from VMRO-DPMNE and the blunt refusal to accept a re-vote is a clear indication of a major problem. Part of the outgoing government does not accept the principle of separation of powers and rejects thereby any independent control by the judiciary. A year ago, there was a similar problem with Parliament, when several Ministers as well as the Prime Minister refused to testify for the Inquiry Committee on the wiretap scandal. This way, they refused to accept any responsibility, even though the Administration for Security and Counterintelligence (UBK) should be controlled first of all by the Government.

This leads me to the second issue: the non-respect for the separation of powers is only a symptom for the refusal to accept responsibility for their deeds as members of the government.

The citizens just elected a new parliament. But this doesn’t mean they provided a blank cheque to a new government — because indeed: the members of the government are no angels. Effective control on the government is necessary, by an independent parliament —but also by an independent judiciary.

Any party, any politician, any member of the government not respecting this shows disrespect for the voters and closes the book of democracy.

(The author has published this article in his blog. He has served as EU negotiator in the talks held last year which aimed at overcoming the crisis. But then he was announced a “non grata” person by VMRO-DPMNE)