Tomislav Karamarko’s proposal for changes in parliamentary procedure provoke criticism.
Ahead of the 100th day in office for the new government, First Deputy Prime Minister and HDZ president Tomislav Karamarko has been more and more often expressing hostility toward questions posed to him. The latest question which made him angry was the one about his personal friendship with Jozo Petrović, who together with former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader testified in London in the arbitration proceedings between Croatia and MOL. He replied to journalists that he does not ask their editors who their friends are, reports Slobodna Dalmacija on April 21, 2016.
Just a few days earlier, in an interview with a daily newspaper, Karamarko announced plans for a major communication change in parliamentary procedure: he wants to make Questions to the Government more civilized. Saying that it should be urgently arranged for the MP’s questions to ministers and the Prime Minister to be sent only in writing, HDZ president added that it was unacceptable that politicians in Parliament were only concerned with trying to catch each other unprepared.
“The purpose of all SDP questions during the most recent session was to humiliate me and make me become radical”, said Karamarko openly explaining his personal motivation for the proposed changes.
Communication expert Krešimir Macan says that the proposal is a clear attempt to censor and restrict the ability of MPs to verbally surprise and substantially question the work of the Prime Minister and ministers.
Typically for rightwing parties, Karamarko wants maximum control over both the message and the messenger, claims Macan, even if that means less media freedom and reducing the level of democracy. It is up to the opposition to vehemently oppose the proposal, because this is definitely the most interesting part of each parliamentary session. The first inclination for reducing MPs rights during the Questions to the Government, according to Macan’s memory, was demonstrated by Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, unlike previous PM Ivica Račan who allowed to be relentlessly questioned by MPs.
Zoran Milanović used these opportunities mainly to demonstrate his personal verbal dominance over the opposition and to arrogantly assert, in the style of Henry Kissinger, that no one has good enough questions for his answers, says Macan.
Political scientist and professor at the Faculty of Law in Zagreb Ivan Rimac says that Karamarko’s proposal may be motivated by the inability of the current Prime Minister Tihomir Orešković to effectively engage in parliamentary communication in Croatian language.
The fact is that written MP questions would make it easier for him and the rest of the government to communicate and allow for better preparation, but the verbal style of parliamentary communication as it has been defined in Croatia is also present in most other democratic countries, especially those that are considered to be the cradles of parliamentarism, such as the United Kingdom. The word “parliament” itself, after all, comes from the word “to speak”, explains Rimac.
By limiting questions to written submissions, MPs would certainly be subjected to selection in receiving timely responses. The quality of discussion is indeed low, says Rimac, but both the government and the opposition contribute to that. However, if there are MPs who do not respect the rules of decency and reasoned debate, the principles of democratic dialogue should not be abolished. Rather, Parliament should work toward raising the standards of communication.
For Karamarko’s idea to be implemented, it would be necessary to amend parliamentary rules of procedure. However, it seems that there will not be enough support for this initiative, at least not until there is a reshuffle of the parliamentary majority. MOST has expressed its strong disagreement with the proposal, saying that it is firmly against changes to the current model of communication between MPs and members of the government, as well as against proposals to abolish Question to the Government completely. According to MOST leaders, Questions to the Government is a key venue for strengthening Croatian democratic processes and the role of Parliament in Croatian society.