Janša Wants to Change the Election System. Why?

By , 13 Jun 2018, 19:11 PM Politics
Janez Janša and President Borut Pahor, June 7, 2018 Janez Janša and President Borut Pahor, June 7, 2018

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Rather than forming a coalition, the person leading the party with the highest share of the vote in the 2018 elections, Janez Janša, seems to be more interested in making changes to the electoral system. 

June 13, 2018

Now that official election results are known, the Opening Session of the National Assembly is expected to take place on June 22 when the new president of the National Assembly should be elected. For the vice-presidents however, the Assembly will first have to wait to get a new government, which many experts believe will not be an easy job for anyone to complete.

President Borut Pahor has already announced he will first offer the mandate to form the government to the Social Democratic Party (SDS) of Janez Janša.

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In a recent interview for the SDS- (and Hungary-) aligned Nova TV24, Janez Janša refused to take any responsibility in such case that his coalition attempts fail, and pointed to several “uncooperative” scapegoats instead:

“It is not in the people’s interest to have a government without the SDS, since what they voted for on Sunday is to have a government which would govern and start solving problems as soon as possible. But now as an alternative to the government which is supposed to be formed by a winner we are being presented with some sort of a grouping that has just fallen apart, which is why we had to have early elections in the first place. [To avoid snap elections] the SDS will do everything in its power to form a stable government and will invite everyone to negotiate, including those who say they wouldn’t come.”

These alternative groupings supposedly undermining Janša’s efforts to form a stable government refer to the talks the second-placed Party of Marjan Šarec are having with the Centre and Centre-left leaning parties after Janša blew his chances of getting Šarec into his coalition by humiliating him on national TV three days ahead of the elections.

In the concluding question of the show the participants were asked to name parties they would be willing or unwilling to join a coalition with. The left-leaning parties, most of them even running their campaigns against SDS, were quite clear in their answers, being firmly against joining Janša’s party, while the right leaning one were less forceful. Centrist Šarec (LMŠ) had until then managed to keep his door half open for a possible cooperation with the SDS, while at the same time struggling to prevent the flight of his left-leaning supporters in case this potential cooperation with the so-called “Prince of Darkness” of Slovene politics became too evident.

When Bojan Požar, a right leaning journalist and a minor party leader, then accused Marjan Šarec of rejecting all cooperation with the SDS while secretly meeting with their leader, Šarec dismissed his claims. However, the last in the line to talk, Janez Janša, then stated, with a smile on his face, that he didn’t understand “why Marjan Šarec is ashamed of admitting” that they “had talks even during the time of his (Šarec’) presidential campaign”, and that he really “doesn’t know what ends are being served by this (denial)”.

Šarec later described this as a betrayal of his trust, while about a week later, at the press conference  following his first meeting with President Borut Pahor, Janez Janša, now seen as the winner of the elections, addressed the issue of any coalition talks in the following fashion: “all the rest of the talks are informal and shall not be publically discussed. The worst thing is if coalitions are being formed in front of the TV cameras. Thank you for understanding.”

Now as the left-leaning parties of the SD (10 seats), SMC (10 seats), The Left (9 seats), SAB (5 seats) and DeSUS (5 seats), with 39 seats altogether, were loud and clear as to having no interest in forming a coalition with the SDS, and there is no reason for us to believe they would not keep their promise, Janša’s move against the relatively unbiased Marjan Šarec Party with13 seats, was puzzling, given his pledge to do “anything in [his] power to form a stable government”. With SDS’ own 25 seats, NSi’s seven and four from the nationalist SNS, Janša is still about 10 seats shy of a parliamentary majority.

So, was that pre-election public humiliation of Šarec a mistake, a miscalculation on Janša’s side? This author believes it was in fact intentional, as Janša’s interests do not lie in forming a “weak” government, but rather in proving that Slovenia is hampered by political instability caused by the system of proportional elections, which thus needs to be replaced.

Making chaos, calling for order.

The aforementioned handling of Šarec is not the only recent display of Janša’s political skills. In a 2016 gathering organized by the right-leaning parties that turned into an anti-immigrant rally, Ljudmila Novak, then still the NSi leader, had to speak in front of fanatical Janša supporters who booed her calls for a right-wing coalition to be democratic and compassionate, which marked the beginning of the NSi-SDS split. The relations between the parties were mended by Novak’s recent replacement by Tonin, which she took stoically, perhaps hoping to escape to Brussels in next year’s European elections.

This inability or unwillingness to engage in power sharing has been often expressed by Janez Janša in his critiques of the proportional system itself, which he has claimed to be dysfunctional and unjust since 1995. In 1996 a referendum was held to change the Election Act and replace it with a two-round majority system – the same as the Hungarian electoral system that provided Viktor Orban with a constitutional majority in 2010, which he then used to change the election system further towards the winner takes all side of the spectrum in 2012.

The proportional electoral system was eventually enshrined into the constitution by the Slovenian Parliament in 2000, which became another in the long line of alleged injustices for Janša to complain about.

At the press conference following the after-election meeting with President Pahor on June 7 this year, Janša didn’t forget to mention what has bothered him for over two decades. The fact that nine parties crossed the 4% threshold needed to enter Parliament occurred “due to the distorted proportional electoral system”. Furthermore, he stated for Nova24 TV  two days earlier that electoral system will, “by the way, also be one of the topics in (coalition) talks with the parliamentary parties”.

In this same interview Janša also offers an example which provides us with a sense of the electoral “injustice” he is fighting to “fix”, which also gives us with some understanding with regard to the following question:

What does Janša want?

(This section is rather technical, and less interested readers should perhaps jump to the next, Justice according to Janša)

“On Sunday evening”, explains Janša in the interview  “I met one of our candidates, who was running in (the electoral district) Vič and he said to me ‘look, I am practically a ‘no name’, nobody knows me, but I beat the Prime Minister Cerar in Murgle (home to the leftist-elite of Ljubljana).’ But then, the results came in and this same candidate said ‘look, I had won in this district, I got many more votes than Cerar, and he got elected and I did not.’ And this is all to the merit of this distorted proportional electoral system. (…) Now you go and explain this electoral system to the people and persuade them that (this is how) democracy actually works. It is distorted. We wanted to change it, we will have to change it, or else eight years from now we will have a 30, 20% turnout.”

The story Janša is referring to above, is the story of the electoral district Vič-Rudnik III, one of the 11 electoral districts belonging to the electoral unit of Ljubljana-Centre. There are eight such electoral units in Slovenia, each one of them produces 11 parliamentary seats which are distributed among the parties according to share of votes they received in a specific electoral unit.

In the electoral unit of Ljubljana-Centre, Janša’s SDS won 22.57% of all votes and earned three parliamentary seats, The Left won 13.57% of the votes and won one seat, Marjan Šarec Party got 12.42% of the votes and won two seats, the SMC with 11.66% got two seats as well, while the SD, NSi and SAB won one seat each, eleven seats altogether.

The discrepancies between the amount of votes per unit and seats taken arise from the national seats distribution mechanism, which is explained in more detail here. In short, however, the overall system makes sure that the number of seats taken stays proportional to the relative number of votes each party has gained at the national level.

So, seats are produced at the level of electoral unit, not at the level of the electoral district, as suggested by Janez Janša in the story above. What is the function of an electoral district then?

In electoral districts voters cast votes, one vote per ballot, for their favoured party through one single party representative. If a party wants to compete in all eleven districts of a unit, it needs to come up with eleven representatives, one for each district. If a party wins, say three seats in an electoral unit, these three seats will go to those party representatives who won the highest shares within each of their districts. This means that the competition for seats doesn’t take place between representatives of different parties inside one district, but rather between the same party representatives within one unit.

Back to the “injustice” that occurred with regard to Janša’s SDS candidate in the electoral district of Vič-Rudnik III. The SDS candidate Zvone Čadež (the person Janez Janša must have met that Sunday) gathered 18.10% of all votes in that district, while Miro Cerar ended second with 16.87%. As already stated, Miro Cerar got in, while Zvone Čadež did not. In fact, this electoral district produced two parliamentary seats, the second one taken by an SAB candidate with 7.58% of the vote. How can this be?

Again, at the electoral unit Ljubljana-Centre (with Vič-Rudnik III being one of its 11 electoral districts), the SDS won three seats by gathering 22.57% of all votes, the SMC two seats with 11.66%, the SAB one seat with 5.91%, and so on. If we now compare the 22.57% average percentage of the votes gathered for the SDS in this unit and compare it to the 18.19% Mr. Zvone Čadež got in his district, we see that compared to other SDS candidates that ran in other districts, Čadež underperformed and the three seats the SDS earned in this unit went to other, more successful candidates.

Miro Cerar, on the other hand, gathering 16.87% of votes in his district, outperformed other SMC candidates in this unit, who on average won 11.66% of the votes per district, which secured him one of the two seats SMC party got in that electoral unit. Same goes for the SAB candidate.

So what sort of justice is Janez Janša advocating for by claiming that this system, is unjust, as it doesn’t allow relative district winners to take the parliamentary seats? What kind of system should replace the existing one so that, according to Janša, justice would be served?

Justice according to Janša

Since we are asked to believe that it is unjust that a relative winner at the district level is denied a seat in Parliament, we could therefore conclude that granting a relative winner of an electoral district a seat would serve justice much better.

What we get out of this is that electoral units are needed no more, as each of the 88 districts already automatically produces one Member of Parliament. This is the candidate with most votes, in our case of Vič-Rudnik III, Mr. Zvone Čadež.

Such a system has a name, First-Past-The-Post (FPTP), also introduced in Hungary (as one of the two parallel electoral systems) following Viktor Orban’s 2012 constitutional changes.

So let us take a look at the recent election results and imagine that the existing proportional system were replaced with FPTP.

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State Election Commission: relative victor per district

Out of 88 electoral districts, the winner in 75 of them would be SDS, The Left would take 6, LMŠ 4, and SD would take three of the remaining seats. This means that with 24.92% of all valid votes received at the national level, SDS would have gained a 85% majority to rule, much more than the constitutional 67% majority.

Of course, there might be much more detail to what Janša wants, however we nevertheless believe that the general idea behind the man’s efforts to form “a stable government” has been explained clearly enough for anyone struggling to see whether there is indeed a clear strategy behind what appear to be his inconsistent actions.

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