MPs Changing Parties, Undermining Trust in Democracy

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ZAGREB, November 13, 2018 – The GONG NGO, which monitors election processes, said on Tuesday that the flood of MPs who are changing parties and, by doing so, maintaining the parliamentary majority for Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, undermines the election result and trust in the election process and democracy.

The NGO called on citizens to consider whether they will again place their trust in those who “have changed their jersey” in the next election or punish them. “GONG is concerned about the low level of democratic political culture in Croatia as evidenced by the way the parliamentary majority is being maintained, which was not seen before the term of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković. Parliament is losing citizens’ trust because the majority is not being formed based on the election platforms that citizens voted for but is being maintained thanks to political bartering and a flood of defectors who make actions by such an unprincipled coalition possible,” GONG said in a press release.

It recalled that during the term of the current, ninth parliament, 22 MPs have opted for changing parties. “Prime Minister Plenković is being helped in maintaining the parliamentary majority by the people who, until yesterday, were his opponents, which undermines the election results and ruins trust in the election process and democracy,” GONG said.

GONG underscores that a parliamentary seat belongs to a member of parliament and not their party or caucus. “However, the large number of lawmakers switching sides to join their political opponents… reflects the contempt some lawmakers feel toward the political will of citizens,” GONG said. “Actions like that lead to suspicion of political corruption and reflect a low level of the democratic political culture and political responsibility of individual politicians,” GONG concluded.

Croatian People’s Party (HNS) leader Ivan Vrdoljak commented on Tuesday on former Social Democrat member of parliament Mario Habek joining the HNS parliamentary group, saying that he supported political transfers if they were motivated by the wish to have better conditions for one’s political work and that such changes must not be motivated by personal benefits. “We have offered Habek our party logistics in Ivanec, Varaždin County… so that he can continue his work,” Vrdoljak said.

Habek, a former Social Democrat, left the SDP a month ago, saying that he would continue working as an independent MP and would not join any other party.

Commenting on Habek’s transfer to the HNS, Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) said that he was glad “that the number of MPs supporting this government’s good work is growing.” Reporters also asked Kuščević if transfers like Habek’s were good for democracy and voter trust given that Habek had been a staunch opponent of the HDZ’s policies, and was now its partner.

“I am not familiar with his personal motives, but the most important thing about the right to an opinion is the right to change your opinion. In this case, the change of opinion was a right one because the government really is doing a good job … the party which Habek has left evidently has no future… and he has joined a party that offers concrete solutions,” Kuščević said.

Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) whip Branko Bačić said on Tuesday that the parliamentary majority had been stable for a year and a half and that individual opposition lawmakers’ joining it meant that they appreciated the work of the government led by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković. “The fact that opposition MPs are joining parties that make up the parliamentary majority is evidence that they appreciate what the Andrej Plenković government has been doing,” Bačić told reporters.

He noted that the defecting MPs were obviously dissatisfied with their parties’ policies or their status in their own parties.

Asked if this made his job easier, given that he had to take care of the quorum and ensure sufficient support for the adoption of laws, Bačić said that the latest transfers did not change anything significantly because the parliamentary groups of the HDZ and other parties performed their duties on a regular basis. “I still count on 77 hands that have been certain since the first day, and I have no special comment on individual MPs crossing the floor,” Bačić said.

Asked if he considered such transfers to be the cheating of voters, Bačić said that political transfers had always happened and would probably happen in the future as well. “If there are any indications of corruption, I’m in favour of investigating it. I’m absolutely against transfers that are a result of political trade-offs,” he said, adding that such practice should be prosecuted.

The HDZ has nothing with such transfers, our parliamentary group functions very well, and we have nothing against transfers if they are due to individual MPs’ dissatisfaction with the situation in their own parties, said Bačić.

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