Todays Date
November 19, 2018

Conscience vs loyalty

Writes: Aleksandar Krzalovski

 

The vote in the Parliament on 19.10 for the start of the Constitutional Changes procedure, in addition to the one of a kind catharsis that it brought with the suspension of the uncertainty of ensuring the minimum of 80 needed votes for these changes to occur, probably, as never before, resurfaced the dilemma about voting in accordance with the party’s opinion or contrary to it.

I do not know if the title Conscience vs (versus = against) Loyalty, in order to address this dilemma, is most appropriate, but this (the call of conscience, especially to the MPs of the opposition coalition, led by VMRO-DPMNE) was the most used phrase in that period, both in the media and in the fellow MPs from the ruling majority. On the other side of the dilemma was loyalty to the party (or party position, or as they often emphasized – to the voters that have elected them or towards those who did not vote on the referendum). It is probably not the most appropriate title, because there were calls to the conscience of the MPs from the majority (not to “give” the name, that they didn’t get a mandate to change the constitution, etc.), but also an expectation from them all to be loyal to the Government/party/coalition/campaign position “In favour of a European Macedonia” and vote For! But it is already a philosophical debate.

 

In the end, we saw what happened – 80 MPs voted “in favour”, which approved the proposal for the start of the constitutional changes procedure, including the votes of eight MPs from the opposition. The consequence for seven of them was exclusion from party membership (VMRO-DPMNE), followed by a request for their resignations from the parliamentary function, and as it has already (unfortunately) become commonplace – and labelling as “traitors”. The disappointment of the opposition party was openly large, expressed on the same evening by its president, and especially that came a few hours after their press conference during which they called for a vote – with the assurance that there would not be enough (80) MPs ready to vote “in favour” . In truth, they probably did not have 80 votes “in favour” at that moment, otherwise the session would have started when it was initially scheduled (11 a.m. and then after 3 p.m.). What really happened that day (and the few previous ones) and why some MPs who even publicly stated that they would not vote “in favour” changed their mind, we will probably find out soon – until the final vote for the constitutional changes. For some of them, it may remain unclear even then, and for some maybe we will never know the reasons for such a vote. In any case – all 120 (i.e. 119 present at the session) MPs (will) claim to have voted in accordance with their conscience and conviction.

 

This disclosure of the reasons for voting “in favour” is not the intention of this article, as there is no ambition to resolve the dilemma of the title. This and for the reason that this is not possible, because the dilemma is and will be present at every vote (and for anything) in the Assembly (and certainly not only in ours). One of the goals, however, is to learn from what happened, among other things, about the connection between the electoral model, the connection of the MPs with the citizens (voters) and the process of forming candidate lists in the parties. While the Constitution stipulates that MPs vote according to their own conviction, it is obvious that the party’s expectations are to follow the party’s attitude and to vote, that is, to be loyal to the party (and even when it is contrary to the personal position on a particular issue). The question is how to ensure and guarantee this loyalty, especially when it is needed (as in the particular case, a clear differentiation and a final polarization of the issue between the two major parties), and if nothing else, this vote is likely to demolish a stereotype – the MPs signed bill of exchange for money indebtedness (which would be activated by the party in the case of voting of the MP contrary to the party’s position). So they either did not sign such a thing or got a bigger “cover”:

 

But let’s see what is the situation is this in more developed democracies, such as the American one, for example. During the summer, while we were dealing with the referendum, and then with the proceedings in the Assembly, in the United States, one of the main concerns of the public was the Senate debate on appointing a new judge to the Supreme Court – the candidate Brett Cavanaugh. When one of the nine seats in the court got vacated in July, because of the retirement of one of the judges (this post in the United States is lifelong, that is, until the judge himself decides to withdraw), President Trump proposed the Judge Cavanaugh and his easy election was expected given the majority of the Republican Party (51 senators, versus 49 of the Democratic Party including 2 independent ones who most often vote the same as the Democrats). But after 30 years, it would have lead to a majority of conservative (conditionally said-Republican) judges in the Supreme Court, so the Democrats tried to postpone the procedure at least until November, hoping that in the upcoming elections (today, November 6th) they will win majority in the Senate and thereby prevent the appointment of Cavanaugh, and will manage to elect a more suitable candidate. In the whole case, a woman’s assertion about a sexual assault by Judge Cavanaugh appeared in their student days (36 years ago), joined by the allegations of two other women, which opened the issue of the conscience of senators, that is, similarly to our case, an expectation for some of the republican senators to vote “against”. While most senators publicly and quite early in the process expressed themselves on how they would vote, three of them (2 Republicans and 1 Democrat) did not say that until the day of voting, so it was uncertain what the outcome would be. In the end, 1 senator was absent and 1 was abstained (both Republican), and all three who did not declare themselves have decided to vote “in favour” which contributed to Cavanaugh being elected as a Supreme Judge with exactly 50 votes in favour (and 48 “against”) … as the republican majority preferred. It turned out that the key was that 1 vote of the Democratic Party senator (all Republican senators voted “in favour”, and all democratic, except one, voted “against”, that is, the vote was exceptionally according to the party opinion, more precisely 97-99%). Was he the one senator (or all) voting according to his own conscience? Was it according to the opinion of the majority in the Senate? Or the majority of citizens? Or maybe of personal interest? Will this “in favour” vote bring him re-election in his federal state (which we will know tonight) in which the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, won the election, and was it crucial to his conscience?

As I have stated above, one cannot generally solve this dilemma, whether to follow the party’s position, or sometimes to withdraw from it, even in critical voting (regarding important things for the party and/or the state). In the United States, voting is mostly party influenced (almost all senators in more than 70% of cases, and more than half and in over 90% of cases vote according to the party’s position), but some of them are against the party’s position on certain issues (for example, there is one decision from last month that has not passed due to 2 “cast” votes, including some of the most important issues/projects for the party (e.g. against the abolition of President Barack Obama’s health program, the so-called Obamacare).

But what is certainly better resolved in the older (Western) democracies is the connection of the elected representatives with the citizens themselves, that is, the “base” (electoral), or as they themselves call it (and we do not have a proper word) the constituents. Namely, in most of these countries (of course, with the United States and Great Britain, for example), the MP (Senator, Congressman, etc.) is directly connected with the electoral unit (local community, municipality, district, city, state). Thus, the representation is clearer and easier to consult (and non-partisan) with dilemmas about how to vote for something. Of course, many other interests have an impact on all those decision-making processes, but in the end – if they want re-election (and most of them dedicate their careers to such functions) – they must take care of the “voice of the people”, especially in the environments in which they have been elected… and for the majority of moods there (and not only for members of their party).

Perhaps this should be applied in the next revision of the electoral model and thus contribute first to a greater democratization of the political parties and then to the entire society. This would reduce (or completely prevent) such “surprises” during the voting, and even when they happen they will not be perceived so tragically (or euphorically).

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