The Slovenia Times

Slovenia to hold triple referendum with EU election

A ballot box. Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

As Slovenians head to the polls on 9 June for EU elections they will also cast their vote in a triple referendum about assisted dying, cannabis use and the introduction of a preferential vote in general elections, unless the Constitutional Court decides otherwise.

It was the Freedom Movement, the biggest party of the ruling coalition, which floated the idea to hold consultative referendums on the three issues, and to combine them with the election to the European Parliament to boost turnout.

The date was endorsed by the National Assembly on 25 April despite the Social Democrats (SD), the second largest coalition party, withholding their support through abstention.

The SD and the opposition party New Slovenia (NSi) unsuccessfully sought to have the referendum date delayed to 24 November, when a referendum on a planned new nuclear reactor is likely to be held.

Wrangling about referendum date

The opposition, who failed to win support for a series of their own referendum questions, accused the ruling party of wanting to use the referendums to mobilise its own voters for the EU election, especially as the party and the coalition opposed holding the nuclear energy referendum with the EU vote.

"It's somewhat hypocritical persuading others it is important not to hold a vote about a topic that enjoys broad political consensus together with elections, and then propose the kind of referendums you think will ... benefit ruling parties at the EU polls," said Janez Janša, the leader of the opposition Democrats (SDS).

The SD dismissed suggestions of a rift in the coalition, with the party's MP Damijan Zrim arguing the fear was that the consultative referendums would not be about content but about other arguments and about a vote against the government.

But the Freedom Movement's Borut Sajovic insisted that it was precisely the weight of these issues that warranted them being voted on as part of a larger election, while this would also save costs.

Opposition appeal to Constitutional Court

Unhappy with the outcome, the SDS and NSi asked the Constitutional Court on 26 April to review the referendums on assisted dying and on the use of cannabis, the former because they believe it violates the constitutional provision on the inviolability of human life, and the latter on procedural grounds. It is not clear yet whether their petition can derail the referendums.

The cannabis referendum question was changed considerably during the parliamentary process, from the initial proposal to inquire about support for the cultivation, processing, sale and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, to two separate questions inquiring about the voters' support for cultivation and processing of cannabis for medical purposes, and "cultivation and possession of cannabis for limited personal use".

The question was changed after the parliamentary legal service reminded the initiators that the sale and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes is allowed already, but not the cultivation.

Voters will be asked whether they want a law that would regulate the right to assistance in the voluntary ending of life after the National Assembly voted down an assisted dying bill filed by an NGO campaigning for a dignified old age.

Another attempt at preferential vote

In the least controversial question, voters will be asked whether they want the option of a preferential vote in general elections.

While voters can cast a preferential vote in elections to the European Parliament, they can only vote for a party in elections to the National Assembly.

To put such a proposal into law a two-thirds majority would be required at the national legislature, something that has so far proved elusive.

While only the Freedom Movement and the Left backed holding the triple referendum on 9 June, with the SD abstaining and the opposition SDS and NSi voting against, some MPs did not toe the party line.

Anže Logar and Eva Irgl, who were ostracised by the SDS after failing to sign a loyalty statement, voted in favour in the case of the referendum on the preferential vote.

Meanwhile, two of the Left's five MPs abstained in the vote on the assisted dying referendum. Another one has been boycotting parliamentary sessions since being excluded from all parliamentary bodies and urged to leave deputy group for misconduct.

Being consultative, the outcome of the referendums will not be binding.


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