All the hype surrounding the referendum that took place in Slovakia on Saturday 18 September still did not deter around 1 million Slovaks from voicing their opinion about the six questions put to them.
Nobody expected a strong turnout, thanks to the efforts of opposition parties Smer-SD and SNS, which even called on their supporters not to take part. The timing of the referendum, set by President Ivan Gasparovic against the wishes of the petition committee, also did not help, as it was stuck right between the parliamentary elections and local elections set for November.
In any case, 22.84% of entitled voters took the time to utilise this instrument of democracy, which in itself is vague in Slovak legislation to say the least. Nobody could clearly say whether the results of a referendum in Slovakia have any binding character for lawmakers or not, no matter how many people vote (a minimum 50% turnout being required for it to be classed as valid).
So it seems that in a legal sense referenda here are only a form of recommendation from the public. If that is true, then the results of those who voted should be given consideration and respected. After all, the rest of the population that didn’t vote are apathetic towards the issues, or they would at least have had the courage to vote against.
The opposition parties are claiming that the referendum was a flop and a waste of public money, while parliamentary chairman Richard Sulik, whose SaS party initiated the referendum before the elections, regards the voting in the referendum as a success, and feels that politicians should be held to the recommendations made.
Those who did vote made a strong stance on all six questions, with 95.4% voting for a reduction in MP immunity, which was the main ‘referendum thorn’ for the opposition. On the issue of cutting the number of MPs by one third, 92.75% of people were in favour of the move. Some 87.24% of those who voted would like to see TV and radio licence fees cancelled, and 88.84% agreed with a cap on the cost of government service vehicles. The idea of having electronic voting in place by the next elections was favoured by 70.46% of the voters and 74.93% were against the special ‘right of reply’ afforded to public officials thanks to the current Press Act (which the government plans to change this year).
Maybe referenda results should always be classed as binding for politicians as it is a direct expression of the public’s wishes. Maybe there should be no minimum percentage of turnout either, because if people do not care enough about their affairs, they should not have the right to complain about any changes made.