Constitutional storm in a glass of water

The referendum survived! To the surprise of all those who thought that two or three rightists (Excuse me – one declares himself as a leftist, and so is the party that challenged the constitutionality of the decision to hold a referendum) can easily cause a political chaos in trying to legally destroy the project behind which, alongside the governments in Skopje and Athens, stood the whole international community with its “hardest diplomatic machinery”.

The referendum survived in the Constitutional Court and in accordance with the expectations of many that in this institution, which until recently was considered as part of the ruling power, the moral sense of the majority of judges this time will prevail in favor of state interests and the country’s strategic priorities. In the end, the outcome of the vote, however, was a kind of surprise and surpassed even the most daring expectations. Only two judges stood behind the proposal to halt the referendum and examine the constitutionality of the decision on its announcement. Contrary to the seven who were against it, thus providing not only the desired absolute majority, but also a qualified quorum to support the upcoming plebiscitary vote.

After several days of waves in the political circles, after an attempt was made to “sabotage” the referendum, given the professional “baggage” of the set of judges, it eventually came out that the storm was not capable of causing a natural disaster, but rather a storm in a glass of water. And that in the past period there have been some silent, but sudden changes in the functioning of the Constitutional Court. It is not just a matter of personnel changes, since two-thirds of the judges have more than half a decade of service in the Constitutional Court – a period in which the public was often scandalized by certain decisions of the majority in this institution, in whose premises protests were held in critical political moments, as well as counter-protests organized by the leaders of the then-government.

This time, a lot more visible than the few staffing scandals, is the change of consciousness among the constitutional judges. The only question is whether this is the result of their attempt to observe from a broader and more flexible legal perspective the capitalist political processes that are taking place right now in the country. If so, it is a position that in future can affect the credibility of the institution. If, however, the main reason for the changes in the Constitutional Court is the change of the power in the government building, then this is not the best recommendation for the judges, regardless of their recent conscientious decision on the referendum.

In the past few days, while the Constitutional Court was waiting to decide whether to stop the referendum activities or remove the set obstacle for its holding on September 30th, occurred another shift in terms of the perceptions of the agreement with Greece and its significance for the country’s Euro-Atlantic processes. This time the change was recorded in the executive power, at the very top of it, more precisely the head of state, Gjorge Ivanov.

Compared with the Constitutional Court’s decision, which was awaited with divided expectations, Ivanov’s accidental or deliberate abstention to criticize the agreement with Greece, as usual, in a statement from his meeting with US Defence Secretary James Mattis, provoked a “nationwide” surprise. Whether his unexpected abstention encouraged some of the Constitutional Court judges yesterday to oppose the proposal to freeze the referendum is still unknown. Therefore, it is a fact that the judges proposed by Ivanov were the first to say “yes” to the continuation of the referendum campaign.

However, it is good that the institution responsible for protecting the Constitution opened the debate on the referendum. This is the positive side of the initiatives that were submitted for the assessment of the constitutionality of the referendum decision, given the many uncertainties about the forthcoming voting and the speed with which it was scheduled. If nothing, the citizens at least saw that some of the judges who were ready to approve Ivanov’s collective pardon for wiretapping just a few years ago, actually knew how to make decisions in a different manner.

Aleksandra M. Mitevska