Saturday, 25 November 2017

HN: Babiš's plans go counter to representative democracy

ČTK |
26 October 2017

Prague, Oct 25 (CTK) - The series of changes Czech ANO leader Andrej Babis outlined in his new book would reduce the principles of representative democracy in the country, if implemented after ANO's sweeping victory in the October 20-21 general election, Tomas Lebeda writes in Hospodarske noviny (HN) Wednesday.

Babis thoroughly described his idea of numerous constitutional reforms in his book "What I Dream About When I Happen to be Sleeping," which appeared earlier this year, Lebeda, political analyst from the Olomouc university, writes.

First, Babis proposed that the 200-member Chamber of Deputies be halved to contain 101 members.

This would markedly hamper the work of parliamentary committees and reduce small parties' chance of representation in the committees, but it would not lead to a constitutional collapse alone, Lebeda writes.

However, the proposal is dangerous in combination with another plan of Babis, which is the abolition of the Senate, the upper house of parliament, he writes, citing Babis's comments on the Senate as a body that is ineffective, redundant and unwanted by voters.

In the Czech Republic, a country with a weak political culture and unpredictable political elites, the abolition of the upper house would pose a big risk, Lebeda writes.

Arguments citing Scandinavian countries are unacceptable, because the high level of democracy and political culture in these countries does not require so many constitutional safeguards as the young Czech democracy, he writes.

The Babis-planned parliament "reform" peaks with his proposal to introduce the majority election system of the British type, similar to the system the Czech Civic Democrats (ODS) unsuccessfully promoted in the 1990s to secure their permanent domination of the domestic scene, Lebeda writes.

Compared with the proportional system valid in the Czech Republic, the majority system markedly deforms the election results in favour of strong parties, ousts small parties from the game and cements this trend as long-lasting, Lebeda writes.

In his book, Babis further proposes the abolition of the representative bodies on the regional level, Lebeda continues.

"I think it would be worth discussing whether we really need regions and their self-rule bodies," Babis writes and adds that two representative institutions would be enough - the state and municipalities.

However, in an interview that Lidove noviny (LN) daily published on July 2, Babis admitted that he does not reckon with elected town councils either, but only with directly elected mayors, Lebeda writes.

Parallels with some of Babis's above proposals can be found in Western democracies. However, more of them accumulate nowhere, and there is no country to have introduced them all together, Lebeda writes.

If implemented all, it would bring about an unprecedented swing of power on all levels in favour of the executive power, and a fatal deconstruction of liberal representative democracy, Lebeda writes.

It would strictly reduce both the horizontal (the state, regions, town) and the vertical division of power (legislative, executive, judicial). This would mean a restriction of the principles securing the preservation of democracy, Lebeda says.

True, most of the Babis-planned changes would require changes to the constitution, which is far from easy. Nevertheless, his book outlines a way to solve the problem.

"All such changes must be approved in parliament by a constitutional majority of votes. Or better, all of us should decide on them in a referendum," Babis wrote, cited by Lebeda.

This is how the decline of liberal democracy may start. Babis would only need to find the required majority in the two houses of parliament to push through a law on general referendum, Lebeda writes.

This is no longer an unfeasible goal. In the new Chamber of Deputies, it would be backed by Tomio Okamura's Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) movement, and other parties might add their support, Lebeda writes.

If it made through, parliament would not discuss any constitutional changes any more. It would be enough [for politicians] to persuade the Czech people, Lebeda writes, adding that history offers many examples of referendums supporting a restriction of democracy.

The more important would be the Senate's role as a safeguard of democracy. But the Senate itself will face a pressure for a change to the election system and thereby also to its own political composition, Lebeda writes.

He writes he is "trying hard" to believe that Babis's political goals are different, that he did not mean his reform ideas quite seriously and that it is his zealous aides, not him personally, who might have created them.

"Nevertheless, the content of the ideas is too serious for us to keep silent on them. And Andrej Babis has not taken a clear position on his dangerous constitutional visions," Lebeda concludes.

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