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Comment on Croatia's move to toughen the referendum rules

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Daniel Schily

Comment on Croatia's move to toughen the referendum rules

The intentions by Croatia’s parliamentarians to water down Croatia’s direct democracy legislation show the need of preventive checks of compatibility with the constitution instead of raising the turnout quorum. This is because the rules of direct democracy should base on the rule of law and human rights the same way representative democracy does. To guarantee the rule of law of direct democracy, citizens’ initiatives should undergo a scrutiny check with regards to their judicial compatibility with the constitution.

Unlike direct democracy, the supreme court can rule on parliamentary legislation after being adopted. This is because only a small part of the population, the parliamentarians had legislated. Yet when direct democracy is concerned, its instruments would be harmed when a supreme court takes a decision after thousands of signatures were gathered or, even worse, when a referendum has taken place. Citizens will lose trust in the power of their democratic rigthts.

In my opinion it makes sense to provide electoral bodies with the opportunity of stopping a citizens’ initiative through the supreme court. On this occasion, the court could voice its concerns with regards to content und formality of the initiative, which then citizens can discuss. This procedure ensures that citizens’ forming of political will is protected.

In contrast, it is fully undemocratic to stop direct democracy through high amounts of signatures or turnout quora that cannot be reached. This makes things even worse. This is because citizens would get the impression that their voice is not listened to and that their vote is disrespected. As a consequence, citizens will turn their back to democracy and favour extreme voices instead.

Comment by Daniel Schily, board member of Democracy International


This comment refers to

Embarrassed by the success of right-wing groups in overturning government policy through referendums, the Croatian authorities are changing the rules.


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