Opposition politicians, experts, academics and prominent leaders of the protests in Serbia support the idea of the Nedeljnik’s editor in chief Veljko Lalic to cumulatively limit the term for office holders to eight years at most. They have vowed to include this as the first clause of “The Agreement with the People”, the framework for the united opposition’s program.
Veljko Lalic first presented the idea to limit terms for presidency, vice presidency and chairman of the National assembly in his column “The Agreement with Politicians”, and later in his TV appearance on N1.
Why is the term limit necessary? How can Serbia become a role model for democracy in Europe? What did Lalic precisely say?
Angela Merkel winning her fourth term imposed a question: Is that a democracy? The first one to answer this question was Gerhard Schröder. He said it was not
People didn’t hit the streets because of Vucic, but because they can’t see an end to his rule
How did Latin America impede their share of military juntas and dictatorships with the term limits?
Would there be war and bombing if the people in Serbia knew in 1997 that Miloševic had only one year left in office?
How can we establish democracy by clinging to the laws that dictator Miloševic left to us?
What Lalic wrote:
– It is an American tradition introduced by George Washington, who refused to create a cult of personality and stood up against “the new monarchy”. Voters followed this unspoken rule until Franklin D. Roosevelt won a third term in 1940, and then a fourth term in 1944. Political elites reacted and the Congress approved the Twenty-second Amendment on March 24, 1947. The 22nd amendment limits the president to only two 4-year-terms in office.
– Latin American countries, long affected with military juntas and dictatorships, applied this system in the 80’s and early 90’s. That was the proper way to prevent potential dictators. A president can only have one term in Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay and Salvador.
– In Western Europe, term limit is formally established only in France, while in other countries, with the parliamentary democracy, the voters control the reelection, just like they did it in the USA until Roosevelt.
– However, Angela Merkel winning her fourth term imposed a question: Is that a democracy? The first one to answer was the man she defeated. Gerhard Schroder, ex-Chancellor, wants the chancellor terms to be capped – two terms.
– That is the reason people in Serbia are hitting the streets. They are not demonstrating just because of Vucic. They are standing up because they can’t see an end to his rule.
– Former communist countries in Eastern Europe have chosen the medley, almost bastard-like semi-presidential system which mocks the limitation of the presidential term, while having the informal and limitless chancellor-like system.
– Serbia has also chosen this mutant system; it was actually handpicked by the Serbian dictator Slobodan Miloševic, who had plans to rule forever.
– For the past couple of decades, we have been trying to maintain a democracy using the electoral laws written by a dictator.
– There are even bigger paradoxes. The President gives Prime minister a mandate to assemble a government, acting as a monarch of sorts. And yet, the President – with virtually no constitutional powers – is directly chosen in the presidential election and thus given the largest legitimacy to rule.
– It is precisely this system that has enabled Milo Đukanovic to switch positions and rule the Montenegro for 30 years now. The same thing is happening in Russia; there is no chance to oust Vladimir Putin, unless he suddenly decides to leave the office.
– If there had been a term limit in the 90’s, if people of Serbia in 1997 knew that Miloševic had only one year left to rule, that would have probably helped to avoid the Kosovo War and the NATO bombing of the country. Not to mention the economic self-destruction.
– How to limit terms? It is rather simple. It doesn’t even have to be a constitutional thing – although it would be a better solution because it would be more difficult to change the decision afterwards. For start, the National Assembly could pass the law to limit terms, just like the American Congress passed the 22nd Amendment.
– What is the law supposed to say? The mandate for the three most important elected offices – President, Prime Minister, Chairman of the National Assembly – shall be limited to 8 years, cumulatively.
– What would that mean for democracy in our country? Serbia would be democratized overnight. Just one law would help it become a role model in Europe.
– Isn’t that exactly what the people is requesting on the streets? Last week I wrote that people should offer the “Agreement” to politicians, and not the other way around. Now is the perfect time to test the Serbian opposition, to make them show the citizens that it’s not about the power, that it’s about the democratization of the country. We don’t need another Vucic after Vucic.
– What would it mean in practice? If politicians knew they had only eight years to serve in power, they would act differently; as things stand, they believe everything starts and ends with them. They keep coming to power and trying to change things only in the first year of their term, and then, when they get the sense, they are irreplaceable, they stop thinking about the consequences of the policies they are pushing.
– Could there still be a misuse of the term limit? Of course. Politicians with tendencies to authoritarianism would try to bypass the limitations, but it would be difficult for them to do it. And that is the purpose of a good law.
– On the other hand, you don’t give an office to your brother nowadays, maybe just to your wife, like it was the case in Argentina, and just testing in USA. You pass the crown to your children, and the office should be to the people. So, it would be ideal to implementing the term limit into “The Agreement with the People” opposition proposed.
Among the first to support Lalic’s idea was one of the most prominent professors of the Faculty of the Political Sciences, Cedomir Cupic. He was also one of the first speakers at the street protests in Serbia.
“I absolutely support the idea and I am going to propose it to the opposition. It should become a part of the customary law, as it is the case in countries with strong democracy and political culture. I support the idea of two 4-year terms at the most”, professor Cupic says.
Vesna Rakic Vodinelic, professor of the Faculty of Law at University “Union”, the president of the Council of Nova stranka and one of the most prominent lawyers in Serbia, says the idea of limiting the terms is good and healthy, because unlimited terms in our country made new kind of caste of old politicians.
“On the political stage there are the same people taking turns for two decades”, she says.
Rakic Vodinelic believes that the idea of limiting the terms should be part of “The Agreement with the People”, which Nova stranka also signed.
The idea is also supported by Vuk Jeremic, leader of the Narodna stranka, former president of the United Nations General Assembly and current chairman of the biggest opposition block in Serbia, “Savez za Srbiju” (An Alliance for Serbia). He is also adamant that the idea should be part of “The Agreement”.
“Personally, I am not interested in office. I’ve had them enough in the past. That’s why I think it would be a success and my personal contribution to the democracy in Serbia if someone new could take the office after two terms. I consider the idea very beneficial.”
Sergej Trifunovic, leader of the Pokret slobodnih gradjana(The Movement of Free people) and one of the leaders of the demonstrations in Serbia also said he “absolutely agrees with this idea”.
“It is the amendment I have personally proposed to the opposition”, says Trifunovic.
Boris Tadic, who served as President of Serbia for eight years, says it is a good thing that the debate on limiting terms is being initiated.
“It is a good thing we are discussing the ways to prevent the formation and survival of these authoritarian regimes”, Tadic says.
Former judge of the Constitutional Court Zoran Ivosevic also supported the idea of limiting the terms, because it is “suitable for this country”.
“Considering the systems across the world, I wholeheartedly support this idea”, Ivoševic says.
He explains this idea should be part of the Constitution.
“Two 4-year terms and that’s it”, Ivosevic adds.
Historian and professor of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade Cedomir Antic says there should be a stipulation that not a single citizen of Serbia can be elected to serve in higher office more than twice.
He considers the idea rightful, because 70 percent of Serbian population has strong socio-radical tendencies, which is the reason Serbia, he argues, is a collectivist society.
“For a long time, everything has been done to smother and mock the democratic traditions in Serbia. We have also lived in the totalitarianism for a long time. We are a monarchist society, and since we don’t have traditional modern monarchy that the countries in the Northern Europe have, there is a big risk of having the monarchy we have today, when forming a new government depends solely on the President who formally doesn’t have the constitutional power. Therefore, there is a big need for limiting the terms. If we should be first ones in the world to do it, we should do it”, Antic says.
Professor Dusan Teodorovic, member of Serbian Academy of Science and Arts, is also supporting the proposal. He says, “the society in Serbia is insomuch destroyed by the rule of Aleksandar Vucic that it is necessary to limit the number of terms in order to establish new political order and develop truly democratic relations”.
“The participation of a more people in executive and legislative bodies can only contribute to the development of the democracy in Serbia”, Teodorovic says.
Many other public figures, actors, demonstration and opposition leaders have also supported the idea of the Nedeljnik’s editor-in-chief Veljko Lalic. Now let’s see what the government thinks of it; and whether it will truly become an integral part of the document the opposition is planning to offer to citizens.