What is Proper Constitutional Role of the President?

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ZAGREB, November 26, 2018 – A round table on the constitutional role of the President of the Republic in public and political life in Croatia was held in Zagreb on Monday, featuring former presidents Stjepan Mesić and Ivo Josipović, as well as the leader of the opposition Civic Liberal Alliance (GLAS), Anka Mrak Taritaš.

Mrak Taritaš said that the incumbent President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović had turned out to be “fake news”. “At the time of the election, she appeared quite democratic, while today she is completely different. We have to draw a lesson from this,” the GLAS leader said, adding that the current president had only seen her own role through approval ratings and had been campaigning since the start of her term in office.

Mrak Taritaš said that whenever Grabar-Kitarović went on a trip somewhere, she was “ashamed for her”, because, unlike her predecessors Josipović and Mesić, the decisions she made were “leading Croatia backwards.”

The GLAS leader said it was vitally important that the opposition field a joint candidate for the next presidential election a year from now “to stand up to this madness of populism.” For her, the best candidate would be someone from the political centre, “neither from the far left nor from the far right, with political eros and a clear personality to stop the presidential role being reduced to the level of show-business, which has been introduced by Grabar-Kitarović.”

Mrak-Taritaš said that the opposition candidate should be a man to avoid the campaign turning into a “who has a better dress or longer eyelashes” contest. “There are important, crucial moments, and I think this is one such moment, when one should put one’s ego aside and concentrate on the goal of winning the presidential election,” she said.

Mesić and Josipović spoke of their experience during their presidential terms, with Mesić saying that the most difficult decision he had made was when he sent 12 generals into retirement after they presented “a political pamphlet” in the media. “The gist of that pamphlet was: ‘We have successfully defended Croatia, we will decide what will happen in it.’ That’s why I had to react by ordering their retirement and I think I did the right thing,” Mesić said.

Josipović said that his most difficult task was to mend relations with neighbours, because when he took office relations with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were very bad. He recalled that his first official trip abroad was to Bosnia and Herzegovina where he managed to take representatives of the country’s main ethnic groups, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, to war crimes sites to pay respects to the victims.

When Josipović returned to Zagreb, he encountered the dissatisfaction of the government and generals, but an opinion poll showed that 75 percent of the public supported his speech in Sarajevo. Soon, he also managed to establish good relations with Serbian president Boris Tadić, even though Tadić had refused to attend Josipović’s inauguration over Croatia’s recognition of Kosovo.

“Unfortunately, it has turned out that something done in one term in office is not forever. I think that Croatia’s present policy towards neighbours is wrong,” Josipović said, noting that he was not considering running for president again.

Josipović said he was strongly opposed to the idea of the President of the Republic being elected in parliament. “It’s very important not to keep all eggs in the same basket, especially in our cryptopresidential system. We have an almighty prime minister who decides about everything. The President should not be given new powers, but should operationalise the existing ones. In times of crisis, it is important for the President to be independent, and that is possible only if he or she is elected directly,” he said.

Josipović said that if he were the President, he would go to the Marrakesh conference next month, adding that he could not see why Croatia was afraid of taking in refugees. He said that those were “the fears of the narrow-minded nationalist right.”

Mesić said that he, too, thought that the President should not be elected directly for some time, because if he or she were elected by parliament, the ruling parties would be able to dictate how the President should use his or her powers.

“We need a President, but not one in a checkerboard jersey. Imagine if I had barged into a women’s locker room, everyone would have said they I have gone mad,” Mesić said. He criticised the current president’s policy of dislocating her office to different towns as nonsense.

Mesić called for putting a stop to the glorification of fascism and WWII-era Ustasha ideology in the country. “Antifascist monuments are being knocked down, while government ministers are attending funerals for Ustashas with honours. They are currying favour with Ustasha sympathisers to win elections. We are the only nation in the world that wants to join the losers’ camp.”

For more on the Croatian politics, click here.


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