chapter  8
23 Pages

Croatian parliamentary elites: toward professionalization and homogenization

ByVLASTA ILIŠIN, GORAN ČULAR

The Croatian parliament: the mythological past and the harsh present The real history of the Croatian parliament began in 1990, even though the Sabor, as a form of political decision-making of the aristocracy, had been present since the early Middle Ages. Although the Sabor had been set up as a permanent state assembly (with limited legislative, administrative, and judicial functions), it was only founded as a modern civil parliament in 1848 (albeit with limited national sovereignty and only certain elements of the representation of the estates). However, crucial for the valorization of the role of the Croatian Sabor from the Middle Ages to 1990 was the fact that Croatia was not an independent state. Thus the Sabor, with minor interruptions, operated within the Habsburg and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In short, despite the relatively long existence of the Sabor as a political institution, its lack of autonomy and the non-existence of democratic traditions clearly indicate that the parliamentary tradition in Croatian political life before 1990 was rather rudimentary. After the first multi-party elections in the spring of 1990, the Sabor inherited the tricameral structure from the socialist era: the Social-Political Council (serving as the first house of the parliament); the Municipality Council (the territorial principle of representation); and the Associated Labor Council (the labor principle of representation). Simultaneously, the December 1990 constitution stipulated that the Sabor was to be bicameral: the House of Representatives as the lower chamber and the House of Counties as the upper chamber. The upper house of the Sabor was instituted after the 1993 elections to represent the regions (although Croatia is constituted as a unitary state), and throughout its eight years of existence there were constant discussions about its functions and the justification for its existence. Finally, the 2001 constitutional changes abolished the House of Counties, transforming the Sabor into a unicameral body allowed by the constitution to have between 100 and 160 representatives. The constitution contains provisions on the incompatibility of both the President of the Republic and the Constitutional Court judges holding simultaneous

parliamentary mandates, while the Electoral Law of 1999 envisaged the incompatibility of holding seats in parliament in conjunction with a number of executive, judiciary, and other public functions – as for instance with any ministerial function, county prefect and deputy prefect, the mayor of the capital Zagreb, his or her deputies, and various other high managerial functions in public sector. Electoral law provides that representatives may put their mandates on hold if they wish to undertake or resume performing one of the incompatible duties, with the provision that during a single mandate they may do this only once. Such a representative will be replaced in the Sabor by a substitute from the party list and not necessarily in the order of succession. During any given parliamentary term, 10-20 percent of the elected parliamentary members are substituted because the parties attempt to attract voters by nominating highly ranked individuals or those who are expected to hold a high executive position in the case of an electoral victory. According to the constitution, parliamentary mandates are free representational mandates and the representative function is professional. The duration of a parliamentary term is four years and the regular session during a calendar year lasts nine months. The Sabor representatives are organized into parliamentary party groups (PPGs), each with at least three members. Such PPGs can be established by one or more parties, the representatives of national minorities and by independent members. The organizational structure and the work of the Sabor demonstrate that Croatian parliamentarians have inadequate expert support in proportion to their needs and in comparison with the situation in most other countries (Zakošek 2002; Budimir 2007).