Todays Date
December 7, 2021

THERE ARE ALWAYS OTHER OPTIONS

By Aleksandar Krzalovski

 

In two of the last articles (“Brexit or not” and “British parallels”) I referred to the similarities and differences between the British exit from the European Union (commonly known as Brexit), the path of our Prespa Agreement with Greece, especially in referendums and voting in parliament (in the British case of the EU agreement on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, and in our case for constitutional changes).

In the meantime, last week there was the vote in the British Parliament, so there is something to compare for third time. Both the previous two articles and this are aimed at learning something from their much longer tradition of parliamentary democracy. The British Parliament in its current form has existed since 1707, that is, since the formation of the Union of Great Britain, with merging of the then parliaments of England and Scotland. The foundations of parliamentary democracy in Britain date from 1215, from the time of the creation of the Magna Carta (the Charter of Fundamental Rights), and somewhat later, in 1265, the creation of the Parliament of England with both houses (Lords and Commons) as it is now.

The vote in the British Parliament, unlike ours (where by 81 votes, only 1 more than the required 2/3 the constitutional changes were brought), did not pass according to the expectations and wishes of the government there and Prime Minister Theresa May. Namely, out of 650 members of Parliament (the House of Commons), 634 voted, of which only 202 were “for” the government’s proposal, while 432 were “against”, thus the EU agreement on Britain’s withdrawal from the Union was not adopted. In other words, lawmakers have urged the government that the agreement is not good enough and that they should have done it better (and get) in the negotiations with the European Union (i.e. the remaining 27 member states).

Of course, in Britain, as in our country, the government, that is, the ruling coalition, has a majority in Parliament – the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Theresa May has 317 lawmakers, and the smaller partner Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland has 10, so it should be expected that the PM would easily “pass” the treaty, but that did not happen. In fact, immediately afterwards, the opposition demanded a no confidence vote for the Government, and the majority was confirmed (19 MPs more voted “for” the government’s confidence), that is, the ruling coalition did not allow May’s government to fall, although in the vote on the Brexit deal it had the most difficult defeat in the country’s parliamentary history. But during that vote, as many as 118 MPs from its Conservative Party voted “against” the deal. Of course, the majority of those who voted “for” the deal come from her party (196 out of 202), and interestingly, 3 MPs from the opposition Labor Party and 3 independent MPs voted “for”.

By the way, none of the MPs was excluded from his party because of the manner in which he voted for the deal (not that it is an unknown mechanism there, but exclusions from the party or resignations of MPs are happening for quite other things – such as corruption, investigations for unethical or criminal behavior or ideological disagreements for relatively specific things and cases, but not for voting for a particular question)!

Why is this so and what can we learn from the British parliamentary democracy? In my opinion, the two key differences are integrity (or, in other words – freedom to think and decide with your own head) and responsibility (the direct link with voters) of the British MPs.

Let’s start with the latter because it is a systemic question and it concerns the electoral model. Namely, a majority system is used in Britain (or as they are call it first-past-the-post, that is, the first is elected, which will get the majority of votes, that is, the candidate with the most votes). In addition, the entire territory of the country is divided into 650 constituencies and it is precisely known which MP is elected in which place. Most often, MPs themselves come from that place, and given the tradition and practice of re-election (many of them are MPs in several mandates, and in the last elections in 2017, over 80% retained their parliamentary seats, that is, were re-elected in their environments), they largely personally know their voters (this and given that the average size of the constituencies there is about 70,000 people, 35-40 thousand go to vote, and for the winning candidate vote among 10 and 20 thousand of them).

In this way, the connection of MPs with their constituents (the people from the electoral unit they are elected from, especially those who voted, and even more those whose votes they are elected with) is very direct and allows regular and frequent consultations in the preparation for voting in Parliament, as well as additional/specific consultations as needed when it is about important or controversial issues. Also, the motivation is to monitor and listen to what the voters think, because the re-election (again) depends on them, and so – the representation is more appropriate, that is, the MPs really represent the citizens who have elected them, and that is the primary, and the membership in the party comes as secondary. Unfortunately, in our country there is no such direct connection, it happens the MPs to be nominated in the electoral units they have nothing to do with, and even they are from there – it is not clear (given that we have only 6 units with around 300,000 voters) whom they represent, so loyalty is primarily to the party that has proposed them for candidates on their electoral lists.

The second thing is integrity, that is, application of constitutional law and the principle of voting according to one’s own conviction, or as I stated above – although it may sound a bit harsh – thinking and deciding with their own head. As it turned out in the British case, lawmakers have, feel and apply that freedom – because citizens have elected them (or “the people” as our politicians prefer to say) and among other things they are obliged to hold the government responsible! This happened, with the vote against the Brexit agreement, when lawmakers told the government that it was not responsible enough, had not made a good agreement with the EU, that is, it had not adequately defended the interests of Britain. In doing so, they also gave a three-day deadline to prepare Plan B and debate it (it is happening this week).

Quite the opposite, in our country it is usually voted the way the party says (both the government and the opposition), and no one is surprised at the qualifications that the Parliament is the only voting machine of the ruling party/coalition. There are rarely some MPs who challenge their party’s positions, and even rarer votes “against”. In that sense, no one has been asked in the public why all MPs from the ruling coalition voted “for” the Prespa Agreement. There were some questions and open calls to the opposition MPs to think out and vote “for”, and we saw what happened to those who decided on such a step in October – immediately (7 out of 8) were excluded from the party already the next day. In the meantime, in those three months from the beginning of the process of constitutional changes (October 19) until their election (January 11), only one MP decided to change his opinion (the MP from the opposition coalition voted “for” the Agreement).

We have much more to learn from more advanced democracies, and we have a lot more to do to get at their level, so it is worthwhile to think about the necessary steps to get there. The change of the electoral model should be easier (although in the current constellation of party relations and with such a way of thinking and behavior, it does not seem very feasible), and for the latter – it is in the minds of those who are running (or agree to be nominated) for MPs, their ethics, morals and basic human values.

 

*The text is written exclusively for the purposes of Inbox 7. For each republishing, a consent by the editors must be obtained. Inbox 7 does not always agree with the opinions and views of the authors in the debate section.