Monday, 20 August 2018

HN: New bill to decide on whether Czexit referendum can be held

ČTK |
9 February 2018

Prague, Feb 8 (CTK) - The final shape of the general referendum bill that is now being discussed by Czech political parties will decide on whether a referendum will be held on Prague's departure from the EU, daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) wrote on Thursday.

Negotiations about the shape of a general referendum bill have been held by the ANO movement, the Pirates, the Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) and the Communists (KSCM), which are the first, third, fourth and fifth strongest parties, together commanding 137 seats in the 200-seat Chamber of Deputies, HN writes.

A general referendum bill that would enable to hold a referendum on Czexit has been promoted by Tomio Okamura's SPD together with the KSCM.

The Pirates would nod to this, but only if the departure from the EU required support from a high share of those participating in the referendum., HN writes.

ANO, the strongest party in parliament, rejects the possibility of a referendum on Czexit, the paper writes.

"For the time being, I say that this is ruled out on the part of ANO, but the ANO deputies' group is yet to meet for a debate," ANO MP Helena Valkova said after the four-party negotiations earlier this week.

General referendums are nothing unusual in the EU, only Belgium does not have any. In Germany, people's voting across all federal lands is impossible

Nevertheless, countries differ in what issues their referendums can apply to, who can initiate a referendum and what voter quorum is needed for it to be valid, HN writes.

"An unlimited general referendum exists nowhere in Europe," the Parliament Institute, a centre providing background information for Czech parliament, said in a study comparing referenda in individual EU countries, cited by HN.

In spite of the Government Legislative Council's negative position, the outgoing single-party cabinet of Andrej Babis (ANO) in January did not reject the SPD-proposed shape of a general referendum bill that enables to stage a referendum on Czexit, the daily continues.

The SPD's bill enables the Czech people to vote on almost anything except for proposals aiming to curtail democracy or fundamental rights and freedoms, the daily writes.

According to the bill, a referendum could be provoked by a petition with 100,000 signatories and its result would be valid regardless of voter turnout, the daily writes.

The Parliament Institute's analysis shows that so benevolent referendum rules would make the Czech Republic a rarity in Europe.

In western countries, it is far from usual for a referendum to be initiated from below. If initiated by parliament, the quorum (the necessary minimum turnout) can be low or nil.

In the East, on the contrary, a petition with a certain number of signatures is enough to provoke a referendum, but its results are valid only if a certain voter quorum is reached, HN says.

"It would be extremely exotic [for the Czech Republic] to have no quorum and to be simultaneously able to call a referendum based on a petition," the paper quotes constitutional lawyer Marek Antos as saying.

For now, the ANO movement has spoken of the need of 700 to 800 thousands of petition signatories and suggest that the quorum be set at 35 percent.

"I personally would consider 35 percent the lowest reasonable limit," Antos said.

The Pirates consider it suitable to introduce direct democracy elements gradually so that people can learn to use them.

The Pirates have proposed two types of national referenda. In a common referendum, people would decide on domestic political issues such as smoking in restaurants and the dismissal of the president.

Constitutional referenda could apply to changing constitutional laws and international relations such as the Czech membership of the EU. Such a referendum's result would be binding only if supported by 60 percent of those participating in it.

The referendum quorum should not be excessive and it should be counted only based on the "yes" votes, the Pirates say.

"This would make it clear to the people who are against [the relevant proposal], that they should turn up and vote against. It would prevent 'stay at home' campaigns," Pirate MP Mikulas Ferjencik said.

The latter situation is well known by the neighbouring Slovakia, where seven national referendums have taken place since 1989, but only one saw a turnout over 50 percent and thus became valid, HN writes.

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