Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Know your rights!

It is only a few days since my last post about the referendum which is due to happen on the same day as the Presidential elections, but I am forced to make another post because there are lots of incorrect views on the subject.

So let's try take the issues one by one and see what is the problem with every one of them, using reason and the information we have available from more mature democracies than Romania's.

What's the referendum about

The referendum, in this case, is about two issues:
  • reducing the number of representatives (deputies and senators)
  • transforming the Parliament from a two-chamber Parliament into a one chamber Parliament

Information on the subject

For an election such as the referendum (basically asking the population on a subject of national importance) every citizen has the right to be correctly informed about the options of the referendum, what each implies, what are the pros and cons for every option, what problems does the referendum tries to resolve.

There is no information on the subject, no videos, no spots, no fliers, nothing, just biased posters (I'll explain later).

Debate on the subject

In order to have a correct information, a clear public debate which should happen, without the pressure of a presidential campaign at the same time as the debate.

Well, we have no debate, so I guess there is no problem of overlapping (sad, but true), but on the other hand, there is no information on the subject.

Analysis of the options

Now let's analyse the two proposed measures in opposition to the current situation.

  1. reducing the number of representatives
    • pros
      • reducing costs
      • minorities have a bigger influence (they can defend their rights - see comments for explanations)
    • cons
      • easier to corrupt (obtaining a corrupt 5% in a 300 seats parliament is easier than in a 500 seats parliament)
      • minorities have a bigger influence (they are disproportionally powerful, in regard to the population they represent - see comments)
      • absence of a representative with a big vote power could allow passing an abusive law (to pass a regular law there is a need of a majority relative to the number of present representatives, not the total number), but, in a numerous parliament, the absence of a person isn't that risky (other colleagues would be present to stop the abusive initiative)
  2. one chamber instead of two
    • pros
      • faster processing of decisions
      • less bureaucratic
    • cons
      • in the current system there can be a passive vote (law passes silently if not discussed) which has just one occasion to be caught, while in the current system silent passing is allowed only in one of the chambers, but needs to be discussed in the other
      • there is a chance that one chamber might amend/catch abusive initiatives with "two chambers", but with "one chamber" there is one chance only
      • more prone to power abuse

So, there are pros and cons for all solutions, but now we can make an informed decision and know the risks for each option.

This shouldn't have been taken in haste without any public debate.

I don't want to influence anyone's vote, so I'll abstain from telling my options.

The president has the right to associate his image with one of the options.

OK, let's analyse that.

The law doesn't explicitly forbids this, but there are some recommendations from Venice on fair elections (sorry, I couldn't find the link) which say that in a vote such as the presidential elections there shouldn't be an unfair advantage for one of the candidates. Why is that relevant? Because the current president actually uses the referendum as his campaign and he's speculating people's innate hatred for political figures.

His election material is only comprised of virulent attacks at the representatives or calls to the population to vote in favour of both questions.

Why is that unfair? Because the current president is using his current position (president) as launch ramp for his campaign as a candidate.

OTOH, if the seal of the presidency was used instead his face, the problem wouldn't have been that bad.

Organisational issues

There were various rumours about how the voting will take place. Here is a list of things I heard:
  1. there will be a single list for both presidential elections and referendum and there will be a single column for signature to confirm your presence at vote
  2. there will be one paper, but two columns for signatures
  3. no matter what the list looks like, you'll be given both sets of ballots, but you can annul the one you don't want to vote on
All the variants above are incorrect from a democratic pov, but to different degrees:

  1. a single signature covering for either of the vaiants "presidential vote only", "refrendum only", "both" asks for trouble because unused ballots in "only" variants might be added later to the valid votes as if they were expressed by voters; since there is no distinct count for each of the ballots to confront that with signatures, before the counting period one could use unused ballots and vote for you on the issue you didn't want to express an opinion on
  2. informing on what to do in some cases such as "only" vote is essential to prevent fraud; e.g.: strike through the cell corresponding to the the election you don't want to express a vote on, instead of signing
  3. giving the ballot unconditionally to everybody, leaving you to decide to annul it or not is abusive, because vote is not compulsory in Romania; more than that, this artificial presence burst (even with void votes) could end up validating the referendum since a 50%+1 presence is needed to pass Constitution modification, as we have here
So, recap:
  1. favours fraud by allowing inside people to obtain untraceable/unaccounted ballots
  2. preventing fraud isn't of any concern, it seems (and could be achieved)
  3. forced voting might lead to validation of the referendum because the voting presence is sufficient, even if there are many annuled ballots
Vote validation and artificial voter presence

Since validation of a referendum on the changes on the constitution depends on sufficient voter presence (there is some mandatory threshold, but I can't find references now), it is in the interest of people wanting to promote the changes to mobilize people to vote.

By different measures the vote presence at the referendum is artificially increased raising the risk of validation, when people, in fact, wouldn't want to validate it and would, to express neutrality, will be be forced to annul the ballot.

Also, a high presence in the referendum might increase the number of voters for presidency, and the people mobilized this way may have a high chance to be biased in favour of the current president because he associates himself with the violent message against the representatives.

What does it take to implement, if referendum passes

If the referendum passes, the changes aren't immediate. The proposed changes are discussed in the Parliament and a final proposal for the constitution changes is made; after approval of the proposals by the Parliament, the ball goes back to population for final approval.

This means it will take a while to see a changed parliament.


Romania is not a true democracy yet and there are areas where individuals should know what their rights are and not let authorities fool them into buying any argument uncritically.

Romanians must learn their rights so they can't be manipulated whenever somebody wants to trick them into some scheme by knowingly omitting issues and creating insane situations.

Romanians, wake up, learn you have rights, form your own oppinion, as distinct individuals, then we might see a change.


BM said...

I seriously fail to understand how minorities will have a higher importance.

My understanding is that the number of seats will remain based on the percentage of votes they got in the election.

Please expand.

eddyp said...

@BM: the election law in Romania grants the minorities at least one seat in the parliament, for each minority, even if the candidates from that minority don't pass the minimum threshold.

In other words, each minority has at least one seat in the Parliament, even if they don't pass the minimum vote percentage threshold, to make sure their rights are represented in the parliament.

BM said...

Again in the Romanian case, beside the Roma party and the Hungarian one (and they - I believe - exceed by default the minimum threshold) is there any other minority that would benefit from it?

The corruption issue while true in theory, it is still a bit hard in practice, since we're going from ~470 to 300 parlamentarians, not 400 to 100 as you state. Thus for 5% you go from 23.5 to 15 people to bribe, not 20 -> 5 as in your estimates.

Right now I would go for less politicians per chamber, but keep the two-chambers system.

eddyp said...

UDMR (one of Hungarian parties) is way above that threshold, while all other minorities were not. That includes roma, tatar, lipovans, aromanians, bulgarians, serbs, germans.

TTBOMK there are 17 such special seats in the Parliament.

About the figures, I gave them as an example, to make my point understood, I was talking about principles and explaining via an easy to follow example.

And, yes, I agree to your conclusion on how to vote, but I wanted the article to be neutral.

nicu said...

By listing two "pro" and three "contra" for each item, you already told us your option :D

Anonymous said...

@nicu: that wasn't intentional, it just happened.

TBH, I am going to vote less+two