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January 21, 2021

President Iohannis welcomes Venice Commission’s adopting parameters on relationship between majority, opposition

Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis welcomes the adoption by the Venice Commission of “Parameters on the relationship between the parliamentary majority and the opposition in a democracy: a checklist,” according to a press statement released by the Presidential Administration.

The Presidential Administration shows that this document adopted by the Venice Commission on June 21 provides general principles that should govern the relationship between the parliamentary majority and the opposition in a democracy and a checklist of criteria that include standards to be followed to ensure correct application of these principles for the preservation of genuine political pluralism and the role of parliamentary opposition as a countervailing power and a viable alternative to the government in place.

According to the cited source, the development of these parameters was motivated by some worrying trends in a number of European countries where democracy and the rule of law were affected by abusive political behavior of the majority by removing the democratic control system represented by checks and balances restraining the power of the parliamentary majority, through the hasty adoption of legislation without genuine and transparent political debate, through single-handed appointments and dismissals of independent agency officials or judges. All this has led to democracy getting vulnerable and curtailed and tensions arising between the majority and the opposition.

“There is a growing need to strengthen the framework of parameters and safeguards regarding the interaction between the majority and the opposition. In the absence of such safeguards for the opposition, the constitutional democracy may turn into an authoritarian regime,” reads the official document. A democratic state, it says, should respect values of pluralism and freedom; in a democratic society, the criticism by the opposition cannot be seen as a destructive element and cannot be interpreted as a lack of acceptance of the results of democratic elections; the voice of the opposition (…) must be audible, and its opinions must be treated with respect; a democratic state cannot exist without checks and balances amongst different state institutions – the checks and balances in the wider sense include also non-state actors (such as the civil society of the free press) which contributes to preventing an excessive concentration of power in one institution; loyal and constructive cooperation amongst state bodies – checks and balances require constructive cooperation in order to achieve the public interest; shared responsibility of the majority and opposition towards society, or the principle of political solidarity, which should transcend party divisions. Both the majority and the opposition have to act based on the same joint and responsible commitment to the public interest of the citizens, who are the legitimate source of democratic power – the majority, precisely because it is a majority, has to act in the exercise of power with self-restraint and with respect towards the opposition, in an inclusive and transparent manner, having in mind that probably in the future it will become, in accordance with the democratic rules, an opposition group.

Also included among the principles is the idea that measures taken by the majority should not affect the rule of law and should not be aimed at changing the rules of a democratic “game,” which ultimately means the possibility of alternation in power through free and fair elections. The majority should not abuse its powers to make it impossible (or very difficult) for the minority to become the majority. If the rules of the democratic “game” need to be changed, this should not be too easy to do, should be transparent and preceded by proper public consultation and by negotiations with the opposition, should not be aimed at undermining the basics of the democratic system and of the Rule of Law and should respect the rights of the minority. The system should allow for efficient decision-making; The interaction between the majority and the opposition should always respect the imperative of ensuring a fair balance between the legitimate interests of the majority and those of the opposition, with both having a political duty of loyal and constructive cooperation.

According to the statement, the drawing up and adoption of this very important reference document of the Venice Commission was supported by Romania, including by the Presidential Administration and the Venice Commission, with support from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, holding in Bucharest, April 6-7, 2017, an international conference on the interaction between the parliamentary majority and the opposition in a democracy, under the aegis of the president of Romania and the secretary general of the Council of Europe.

Iohannis voiced support for the Venice Commission’s action in a January 2017 speech to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

“We need solid democracies where majorities do not abuse their legitimate rights simply because they are a majority, democracies where the principle of loyal and constructive co-operation amongst democratic institutions works perfectly. In a democracy, normal criticism of the opposition cannot be seen as a destructive element and cannot be interpreted as a lack of acceptance of the results of democratic elections. It is just a part – as legitimate as the effort and activity of the majority – of a sound democratic liberal system, which we all need if we want to successfully manage the ongoing challenges of the present,” said Iohannis at the time.

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