Referendum quorum to be abolished, deadline for signatures to be extended from 7 to 90 days
The citizens of Serbia have so far voted in only three referendums, and there have been almost no successful citizen's initiatives. The new draft law brings a number of changes that should change precisely that
The new draft Law on Referendum and People's Initiative, which is now the subject of a public debate, brings several new solutions for the citizens, the most important being that the success of a referendum in Serbia will no longer require a turnout of more than 50 percent of all registered voters. Instead, a majority of voters who turn out will decide. At the same time, the deadline that we may be the only country in the world applying is being abolished - signature collection for a People's Initiative is extended from seven to 90 days.
Assistant Minister of State Administration and Local Self-Government Sasa Mogic told Telegraf.rs that the public debate procedure will be ongoing until November 22.
"Three roundtables have been held in three Serbian cities, while the draft was prepared by the Ministry with other relevant ministries through a working group. Essentially, this is about improving these important democratic mechanisms through this law in ways that will allow citizens to really start using the mechanisms at their disposal," Mogic tells us.
Three referendums so far
Asked how important it is for citizens to finally get involved in public governance, he says:
"It's key. For citizens to, on one hand, show an interest in all levels of government, and demand to be asked, and on the other, for politicians to listen to what the citizens' interests are so that they, too, can align their policies. Looking at our constitution, Article 2 already emphasizes that sovereignty comes from citizens, through the means of a referendum, an initiative, and only number three, from elected representatives. And we very rarely use those first two," he adds.
He said that we have had three referendums in history while almost all people's initiatives have been unsuccessful.
"Perhaps only the latest one (was successful) realized through the changes to the Criminal Code, which is that of the Tijana Juric Foundation - and this is conditional, because the foundation proposed changes to a much smaller extent. We want to change all that and for the citizens of Serbia to start using these mechanisms much better," he says.
One of the main problems in the current law is its non-alignment with the Constitution - the so-called referendum quorum, that is, a provision whereby the success of a referendum requires more than half of registered voters to turn out.
"The Constitution determines that a quorum requires a majority of the voters who TURNED OUT. We are harmonizing this law with the constitutional provision now, because if we were to call a referendum under the current law, it would not be in accordance with the constitution, because this supreme legal act identifies the decision making differently," explains Mogic.
Beside this change, the draft also sets a new deadline for submitting an initiative:
"The key elements of this process have not been determined. We have perhaps one of the shortest deadlines in the world for collecting signatures, 7 days, and the proposal is to change that to 90 days, to establish court protections. One of the novelties is that the signature for an initiative can be made electronically, that is much more comfortable and, most importantly, such signatures are not stamped. Hand signatures have to be stamped, this kind doesn't, so it also doesn't cost anything," he says.
Mogic adds that the goal is to invite citizens to express their views on what is happening around them and to articulate their will together.
Some of the key provisions of the current law in the field of referendums that are not aligned with the Constitution, or which restrict the use of this institute include:
- The law tha is in effect contains a condition that more than half of the total number of voters must turn out for a referendum to succeed,
- The legal solutions so far did not recogniue or regulate all kinds of referendums that are recognized in the new Constitution,
- There are no clearly defined deadlines or obligations of the Assembly when it comes to the referendum procedure,
- The issue of referendum campaigns, their access to mass media, financing and reporting has not been regulated,
- The judicial protection of the right to a referendum and to a people's initiative has not been fully regulated.
Changes proposed for referendums:
- Prescribing the rule that the decision in a referendum is made by the majority of the voters who turned out, without the condition that a majority of the total number of voters must turn out,
- Regulating a mandatory and optional (advisory) referendum, previous and subsequent referendums, at the request of voters or deputies/councilors,
- Extension of the circle of voters with the right to vote in a referendum to internally displaced persons and voters who declare that they will vote according to their place of residence (as well as in order to vote in general and presidential elections)
- The Assembly's position on the received initiative to hold a referendum, in order to inform the public,
- Rules on the referendum campaign and its financing - a referendum campaign can be run by any legal entity or group of citizens. For the purpose of raising funds to fund a referendum campaign, a separate account is to be opened, to which funds are raised from private sources and which cannot be used for other purposes. Financing control is carried out by the Anti-Corruption Agency,
- Deadlines are determined for the Assembly to act on the received initiative for conducting a referendum as well as on the decision taken in the referendum,
- The right to judicial protection is determined in situations where the Assembly rejects an initiative to hold a referendum,
- The obligatory nature of the decision made in a referendum is determined so that it cannot be changed within one year from the holding of the referendum,
- The decision made in a referendum must be implemented within 60 days from the day of the referendum,
- Misdemeanor provisions are also established for violations of the law regarding campaign financing or obligations towards the Anti-Corruption Agency.
Changes proposed for People's Initiatives:
- Opening up opportunities for electronic People's Initiatives,
- Determining procedure for verifying submitted voter signatures (except for electronic signatures, since they are qualified electronic signatures),
- Monitoring the status of a submitted People's Initiative,
- The deadline for collecting signatures for a People's Initiative is extended to 90 days,
- Verification of the proposal for a People's Initiative (prior checks to find out if the subject of the initiative is in accordance with the law - in order not to collect signatures in vain),
- Court protections of the right for the decision of the Assembly on the verification of the proposal for a People's Initiative,
- Collecting signatures electronically as well.
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