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Three referendums coming up

Having already cast their vote in the general election earlier this year and with the presidential and local elections coming up this month and the next, Slovenians will also be heading to the polls to decide on three government-sponsored laws after the largest opposition party collected enough signatures to hold them.

The Democrats (SDS) are seeking to defeat a law reorganizing the bodies governing the public broadcasting service RTV Slovenija, an act to reshape the government cabinet, and one deferring the long-term care act that was passed under the previous, SDS-led government.

In a post on his Twitter profile on 6 October, Janez Janša, the SDS leader and former PM, wrote that the party had collected more than 50,000 signatures for each of the referendum motions, far more than the 40,000 required. "This is by far the strongest support for direct democracy so far," he wrote.

In total, the SDS collected 157,138 voter signatures since 1 September, of which 52,669 for the referendum on RTV, 52,280 for the vote on the government act and 52,182 for the long-term care act.

The party is planning to file the signatures with the National Assembly in the coming days, after which Speaker Urška Klakočar Zupančič will set the date of the vote. Although the SDS would like the referendums to be held on one of the election days, Klakočar Zupančič and the ruling Freedom Movement had indicated in the past that a separate date would be set for all three referendums.

The presidential election is scheduled for 23 October and a likely run-off on 13 November. Local elections will be held on 20 November and the mayoral run-offs on 4 December.

One potential date given has been 27 November, however SDS official Brako Grims said this would only create unnecessary costs for taxpayers.

The date is important because of the quorum; a piece of legislation can be defeated only if a majority vote no and if that majority represents at least 20% of all eligible voters. The quorum would be much easier to attain if the vote was held together with elections.

However, Grims said that considering the voter signatures collected reaching the quorum would not be a problem, "because people feel the harmful and destructive policies of this government first-hand, and they will go to the polls and they will vote no three times".

Coming amid a continuing impasse at RTV Slovenija, the majority of whose journalists have been protesting against alleged political meddling by leadership structures appointed under the previous government, the new act aims to reorganise the broadcaster's management and governing bodies.

Under the changes, the existing programming council and the supervisory board will be replaced with a single 17-strong council in which the staff will be represented by six members and none would be appointed by the National Assembly but rather by various groups representing civil society.

In place of director general, the law would introduce a five-member management board comprising of directors of radio and TV arms, workers' director and digital contents director. The terms of incumbent decision-making bodies and officials would end when the law came into effect.

While the government argues the new law will depoliticise the public broadcaster, and the law has also been endorsed by the European Commission, the SDS says its sole purpose is to get rid of the current management and governing council and the law would spell an end to the broadcaster's independence and autonomy.

The SDS is also challenging the legislative changes allowing the new government to create three new ministries for a total of 20, arguing such a govern would be too large, inefficient and costly. The coalition argued the only reason for objection was to delay the formation of the Robert Golob government.

A third referendum initiative targets changes postponing the entry into force of the long-term care act by a year amid warnings that the act passed by the previous government was not feasible in its current form.

New Slovenia (NSi), the other opposition party, has supported the referendums on legislative changes to the RTV Slovenija act and long-term act, but not the one on the government act, arguing it is up to each prime minister to form his or her government the way they see fit.

A total of 20 referendums have been held in Slovenia so far, most recently one in which the waters act was overwhelmingly rejected in July 2021 in a painful defeat to the Janez Janša government.

The referendum season is not about to end just yet as the NSi filed a petition on 6 October to hold a referendum on its own bill to raise the tax relief for dependant family members. The government sees the motion as an attempt to delay adoption of its proposal that would in effect reverse the tax reform passed under the previous government.

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