President Klaus Iohannis stated on Thursday, at the start of the international conference on the interaction between the majority and the opposition, organised alongside the Council of Europe, that the “dictatorship” of the ruling power or of the opposition is not acceptable, with there being the need for loyal cooperation, warning that the majority must be aware that it too will end up in the opposition at some point.
The President reiterated the statements he made before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in January, stating that ruling majorities should not abuse their legitimate rights just because they are majorities and because they won the elections by a landslide.
“With the takeover of power, one must also undertake the special responsibilities that come with it. I can’t help but think, when speaking about these responsibilities, about the trend – ever more pronounced in the electoral process in Europe – of increasingly low voter turnout. Such a context obliges the political majority, albeit built on a large percentage, to the responsible undertaking and exercising of governance,” Iohannis said.
He emphasised that in a solid liberal democracy based on free and fair elections, “the so-called “dictatorship of the minority” is not acceptable, nor is the “dictatorship of the majority,” which would – based on the “winner takes all” view – affect pluralism, social balance and the democratic functioning of the society based on rule of law.
“The citizens are democracy’s inexhaustible legitimate source. No politician elected by the people to represent their interests can ignore the voice of the citizens. The more the ruling power and the opposition refuse to listen to what the citizens want, including when they take to the streets, the deeper the cleavage between society and the political class gets. And the consequences are dramatic for all, with long-term effects,” the Head of State added.
He also asked for the majority to exercise power with “self-imposed restraint” and with “tolerance” for the opposition’s efforts. “The majority must be aware that it too, in its own turn, will become the minority at some point,” he emphasised.
Klaus Iohannis also reiterated the call he made in January, in Strasbourg, when he said that the majority should not consider the opposition’s “normal criticism” a destructive element and should not interpret it as the refusal to accept the results of the democratic elections.
“A solid democratic society requires the observance of the principle of loyal and constructive cooperation between the state’s democratic institutions, which should mutually respect each other. It’s a valuable principle – not just in the case of political cohabitation situations – that does not contradict at all the principle – just as important – of the separations of powers,” he added.
The conference hosted by the Presidential Palace, organised alongside the Council of Europe, represents a step toward the drafting of a new Council of Europe report on the interaction between the majority and the opposition, Klaus Iohannis noting that Romania will have a “symbolic” contribution, particularly following the recent protests.
“It will be, to an equal extent, also the symbolic contribution of a Romania whose society has recently shown that it is mature and pro-European, that it is ready to efficiently defend the values of the rule of law and that it has its own powerful “antibodies” against anything that could affect the health of its democracy,” he underscored.
The international conference titled “The interaction between the political majority and the opposition in a democracy,” organised jointly with the Venice Commission, will be hosted by the Presidential Palace on April 6-7, under the aegis of the Romanian President and of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The conference started on Thursday, with speeches given by President Klaus Iohannis, Council of Europe Deputy Secretary General Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Chairman of the European Council’s Parliamentary Assembly Pedro Agramunt and Chairman of the Venice Commission Gianni Buquicchio. President Iohannis is set to hold separate meetings with foreign officials.
The conference was scheduled during President Klaus Iohannis’s visit to Strasbourg, at the Council of Europe.
The proposal to host the conference came from the Venice Commission.
“In solid, democratic society, political majority and opposition must act in public interest”
President Klaus Iohannis also declared on Thursday that in a solid democratic society, the political majority and the opposition must act in the public interest, highlighting that this commitment must always come before any other political confrontations’ stakes.
In the speech delivered at the International Conference “The interaction between the political majority and the opposition in a democracy”, carried out under the patronage of the President of Romania and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and taking place at the Cotroceni Presidential Palace, the head of state reminded that in his speech in January in the Plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, he was showing that Europe needs “solid democratic societies, in which the majorities do not take advantage of their legitimate rights just because they are a majority, only because they have won the elections with a substantial percentage, because taking hold of power, the special responsibilities arising from here must also be assumed.”
“I cannot help but thinking, when talking about these responsibilities, of the increasingly clear tendency of an ever lower voting presence in the European area electoral process. In such a context, the political majority, though built on a high percentage, oblige all the more to assuming and exercising governing with responsibility. We need, therefore, in view of recent years developments in some European countries, including the proliferation of populist and Eurosceptic behavior, to strengthen the parameters framework and to guarantee the interaction between the majority and the opposition, ” said Iohannis.
The Head of the State stressed that, “in a solid liberal democracy, based on free and fair elections, the so-called ‘dictatorship of the minority’ is not acceptable, but neither is the ‘dictatorship of the majority’, which through abuse, based on the concept ‘ the winner takes it all ‘, affects the pluralism, the social balance and the democratic functioning of the society based on the rule of law.” That is, as shown by the President, to arrive at ‘democratura’, as defined in specialized environments.
He stressed that no politician elected by the people to represent their interests can ignore the citizens’ voice.
“The more the power and the opposition refuse to listen to what citizens want, including when taking to the streets, the more it deepens the rift between society and the political class. And the consequences are dramatic for all with long lasting effects. But the majority, precisely because it is a majority, should know to act in the exertion of power with a necessary self-imposed restraint and with tolerance towards the opposition’s efforts, in an inclusive and transparent manner. Because the majority must be aware that in turn, it will once become a minority, ” said the head of the state.
He reiterated that in a democratic society, the normal criticism exercised by the opposition cannot be seen as a destructive element and cannot be interpreted as a lack of acceptance of the democratic
CoE Deputy Secretary General Battaini-Dragoni affirms support for political dialogue in Romania
Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni said on Thursday that the institution she represents strongly supports political dialogue in Romania, adding that the way the majority generally interacts with the opposition is fundamental to the overall health of democracies, to their credibility and stability.
“The way in which majorities and oppositions interact is not a dry or academic topic: it relates directly to the health of our democracies – to their credibility and stability. It is an extremely pertinent issue here in Romania, given the current political situation, which we see is now being addressed through political dialogue – a process we strongly support,” and more broadly, it is a pertinent issue for Europe too, Battaini-Dragoni told the conference “Interaction between the political majority and the opposition in a democracy” organized at the Cotroceni Presidential Palace.
Battaini-Dragoni pointed out that certain basic features need to be shared by all stable and resilient democracies.
“The first is independent judiciaries: people must trust their courts. Where they do not, instability usually follows. The second is freedom of expression: so that we may hold the powerful to account, and prevent stagnation in our societies through the freeflow of ideas. Democratic security also requires freedom of assembly and association: to allow all members of a society to express their identities, and to challenge authority. It needs inclusive societies: in order to build tolerance and respect between people. And – and this is the most relevant aspect of democratic security for our purposes today: stable democracies need well-functioning institutions. Legitimate. Trusted. Transparent. Accountable. Governed by the rule of law. And able to represent, lead and unite their societies,” said the Council of Europe high official.
In her view, the way in which political majorities and opposition forces engage with one another is central to the functioning of democratic institutions.
Battaini-Dragoni admitted that one should not expect political opponents to be the best of friends “and that they are locked in a competition,” which, however is not a war.
“No matter what their differences, all elected politicians – and indeed all those who seek election – are duty-bound, first and foremost, to wider society. They have a responsibility to avoid deadlocks and keep the wheels of democracy turning, so that political programmes can be delivered. They have a responsibility to respect legitimate election results and fulfil their different roles. (…) And both sides have a responsibility to seek out their common ground, where it exists, so that they may work together for citizens. Where differences cannot be bridged each side must, at the very least, respect the rule of law, established democratic processes and agreed standards,” underscored the Council of Europe Deputy Secretary General.
She also warned that political deadlocks and stand-offs are not only divisive for societies, but also create a fertile ground for populism.
PACE President: In a democracy, majority is bound to the rule of law
President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Pedro Agramunt said on Thursday that in a democracy the majority must respect the rule of law, pointing also out that the opposition’s systematic recourse to parliamentary boycott could deteriorate the political climate.
“In any democracy, the majority is still bound to the rule of law. In fact, in a well-functioning democracy, governments that enjoy a large majority ensure the inclusiveness of the political process, engage in political dialogue with the opposition and try to find commonly-agreed solutions whenever possible. (…) Democracy is not the absolute rule of the majority. It is neither a matter of mathematics nor of scoring points against another team,” the PACE president told the conference “Interaction between the political majority and the opposition in a democracy” organized at the Cotroceni Presidential Palace.
He also cautioned that the opposition should not systematically recourse to parliamentary boycott.
“Whereas the majority has the right – and the responsibility – to govern, one should never forget the crucial role of the parliamentary opposition. Through its oversight, it reinforces the system of checks and balances and contributes to the transparency of the political process. It also allows for a richer political debate and offers the prospect of an alternative government in the future. (…) The opposition has the right to oppose the government’s views but the systematic recourse to parliamentary boycott deprives the country of a functioning legislative power and is bound to deteriorate the political climate,” argued Pedro Agramunt.
The PACE President went on to say that the majority and the opposition should refrain from delegitimising each other in the eyes of the electorate.
“Only the majority and the opposition working together can counter the feeling of disenchantment, frustration and anger which is increasingly widespread amongst our citizens. Only in this way can they build trust in the political system,” he underscored.
Pedro Agramunt also advocated the need for strong democracies in the current context.
“In our troubled times we need strong democracies, well equipped to tackle the momentous challenges that confront us: the rise of populism – from the right and the left of the political spectrum; the threat of terrorism; the need to find a viable response to migratory flows, in line with Europe’s humanitarian tradition and human rights standards; and the loss of momentum of the European project to the advantage of insularity and nationalism. The interaction between majority and opposition in parliament is the litmus test of the good functioning of a democracy,” the PACE President concluded.