Parties a step closer to agreeing bill on general referendums

Illustrative photo: geralt / Pixabay, CC0

The Czech Republic is a small step closer to a bill on general referendums after four parties in the Chamber of Deputies agreed they will back a proposal by Freedom and Direct Democracy in a first reading. The parties in negotiations, including ANO, have a constitutional majority necessary to make changes. However they remain at odds over what form these will take.

Illustrative photo: geralt / Pixabay,  CC0
ANO, Freedom and Direct Democracy, the Pirate Party and the Communists are strange bedfellows given their slew of differences on numerous issues but one thing they have agreed on, at least in principal, is to try and pass a bill on general referenda. Government party ANO and other three want the public to be able to call referendums on important issues but, as usual, the devil in the details. These will now have to be hammered out.

What has been agreed so far is that the results of referendums should be binding. Not just a recommendation.

The next question is how many public signatures (a quorum) would be needed to initiate a public referendum. Freedom and Direct Democracy, headed by Tomio Okamura, has proposed 100,000 signatures but ANO, which heads the current minority government, is looking at a much higher number, around 10 percent of eligible voters or 800,000. Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Freedom and Democracy leader Tomio Okamura said made clear he would be happier if the number was lower.

Tomio Okamura,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“I think the most common average under discussion was a minimum of 500,000 to 700,000, which of course seems high to us.”

The number of voters who would need to take part for a referendum to be valid also remains unresolved: the parties discussed between 0 and 35 percent but there is a caveat, at least for the Pirate Party, that the minimum would be far higher, a qualified majority of 60 percent, in matters of international importance, such as whether to leave or stay in the European Union.

ANO rejects that a new bill on referenda would allow a plebiscite on EU or NATO membership at all, while Freedom and Direct Democracy and the Communists are seeking just that: a referendum on EU membership – the so called Czexit – and on NATO. Membership in NATO has been in a stick in the eye for the Communist Party from day one. But party leader Vojtěch Filip indicated he would accept an alternative if a a consensus there was not accepted:

Vojtěch Filip,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“We are not of course excluding bills on special referenda, if there is no political will to include the possibility in the bill on general referendums.”

Negotiations are expected to continue next week: reaching a consensus could go some way in determining whether ANO leader Andrej Babš is more successful in his second attempt at forming a government. The bill on general referendums is seen as a key ingredient for parties to give his cabinet backing the second time around. In his first attempt, in January, Mr Babiš put together a minority government made up of ANO MPs and experts which fell well short of securing a majority in the lower house.