Friday, February 01, 2013

A Referendum on Absurdity

At a meeting held earlier this week, representatives of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and several Albanian parties hashed out a plan to introduce a referendum for a Tuz Municipality by no later than 29 September of this year, with the possibility of an earlier date if legal procedures allow.

Albanian leaders previously demanded that the ruling DPS hold the referendum simultaneously with the presidential election, which is tentatively planned for this Spring.  That plea was snubbed and Albanians reluctantly agreed that they will go ahead and throw their meaningless support for the referendum and to presidential candidate, Filip Vujanovic (DPS) anyway.  

The referendum would proceed as soon as the fesibility of the economic viability of the municipality of Tuz is complete  

In designing and implementing a referendum mechanism many important issues must be considered.  The questions are both procedural and substantive and must all be dealt with by law in order for the referendum to be deemed legitimate.

The referendum will be a vote to decide whether to re-establish the "Municipality of Tuzi", as normally referred by a government to the people.  Electors will vote by writing 'yes' or 'no' in the box opposite each question. 

Referendums can be mandatory or optional.  A mandatory referendum is a vote of the electorate which is called automatically under particular circumstances as defined in the constitution or ordinary legislation.  Mandatory  referendums are usually restricted to very important political decisions.  For example, this type for referendum is normally used in relation to constitutional revisions, disagreements between the president and legislature, adoption of international treaties,  joining a supra-national organization, on issues of national sovereignty or self-determination (For examples see Australia, Denmark, Estonia, Macedonia, Iceland, Peru, Lithuania, Switzerland & Venezuela).

The second category of referendum, and the one that is planned for Tuz, is the optional referendum.  This is a vote of the electorate which does not have to be held by law but can be initiated by the  government and in some cases by other parties.  This type of referendum can have many  different forms: they may be pre-regulated by constitutional rules or otherwise prescribed referendum rules (Spain,  Austria, Argentina); or they may be special (ad hoc) referendums setting forth particular rules to be followed specifically for individual referendum (Norway, The United Kingdom).  Optional or special (ad hoc) referendums are those that are not regulated in the constitution or any permanent legislation. 

Generally, in order to hold a special (ad hoc) referendum the decision to do so must come from the majority of the legislature (i.e., DPS) via passage of a specific law authorizing the holding of the special referendum.   Optional referendums have been seen frequently in Europe on the issue of integration into the European Union.  
Referendums are certainly wildly popular with voters, who like any opportunity to get their view across and feel like they have a say.  The ethnic classes instinctively welcome the idea.  But those who have looked more closely at what referendums involve might think otherwise.

There is widespread research showing that plebiscites around the world show they tend to be mainly used by autocratic regimes to get the answer they want.  The underlying question is whether they're actually that democratic, after all.  For example, (1) it’s legitimacy can be undermined by low turnout.  If only a small electorate show up and vote one way or the other, is this really the voice of the Albanians?  Given the salience of the issue, turnout should be expectantly high; (2) the result itself is subject to interpretation, as negative voting can be seen as either an indication of satisfaction with the status-quo or as a rejection of the politicians putting the idea forward.  Albanians may indeed be satisfied with the safety net of Podgorica; they might feel insecure and incapable of supporting their sociopolitical status be going forward alone.  Others may rebuke their own political representatives and cast a vote to maintain the status-quo, for example, as a show of dissatisfaction.  Although an independent Tuz Municipality is an ideal conclusion to the referendum, there are many in its jurisdiction that feels just fine with the territorial organization just the way it is.  Chances that the status-quo will remain intact, however are minimal.

One of, if not the most, important issues involved in crafting this referendum mechanism lies in the drafting of the referendum question.  The way the question  is phrased can have significant consequences on how Albanians vote and the method in which the question is crafted  and whom drafts it, can have substantial implications on the legitimacy of the referendum overall.  Therefore, it is crucial to consider all aspects influenced and procedures necessary to develop a strong, neutral and effective referendum question.

Then comes this Question:  Why have referendums?  Especially when the status that is being voted for should be a guarantee protected under human rights charters and minority laws, and not one that should be decided at the ballot box with a chance that these human rights are negated.  Albanians in Montenegro live in regions considered their Homeland, or an extension of the Albanian state.  To hold a referendum that decides whether to legally recognize a district (Tuz/Malësia) or not is absurd.  Malësia was once a fully functioning and legally recognized municipality before it was stripped of its rights in 1957.  Today, the politics surrounding the re-establishment of Tuz’s municipality have reached levels of absurdity on both sides of the political spectrum.  The ruling DPS has managed to have their way with Albanians and their puppet-representatives by using the promise of a municipality as a carrot to get what they needed – votes for an independent Montenegro and votes for sustaining DPS leadership.  Along the way, the municipality spotlight has dimmed the lights on other matters that are far more important for Albanians in Montenegro, and that a municipality cannot fix.  The fact that Albanians do not have a special status in Montenegro is concerning.  The constitution allows any minority group, past or present, to be protected under the same conditions.  This allows any ethnic minority to enter the country, settle where they choose and if their population is high enough can have a louder voice than minorities that were there since antiquity.   This problem is plaguing Albanians in Montenegro today.  Without a special status that would protect their territories (especially in the Malësia region), and permanent representation in any council apparatus, they could very easily (albeit constitutionally) become erased from the map.      What we are seeing instead are (Albanians) politicians doing what they are good at – chasing (rotten) carrots in efforts to elevate their political standings (in the eyes of no one that matters) and hoping that history books (or should I say coloring books) will remember their destructive deeds.


Anonymous said...

well said

Anonymous said...

The Social Democratic Party has said it will not support the nomination of the current Montenegrin president, Filip Vujanovic, for another term in office.

"He cannot be a presidential candidate for constitutional and legal reasons," the statement from the Social Democrats said.

The ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, led by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, nominated Vujanovic as its candidate on January 24. The DPS described Vujanovic's previous incumbency as president as highly successful.

“Those are the best guarantees that the candidacy of Filip Vujanovic will have the widest support of the DPS's political partners, and of other social and political subjects as well,” the party stated.

The SDP has been part of every Djukanovic-led pre-election coalition since 1998, and, as a result, it has also been a part of every Montenegrin government.

Vujanovic's nomination is contested because he has already served as president twice and the constitution does not permit a third mandate.

But advocates of Vujanovic running again say his first presidential mandate does not count, as it coincided with when Montenegro formed part of a joint state with Serbia.

The election is on April 7.

Anonymous said...

How exactly is allowing people within a particular municipality to vote on their status an infringement on human rights?

The authors of this blog are reaching here. Again. Shocker.