Café Riche: The ides of February
Rethinking the Presidency after Lunam’s election
The frigid air of Tor Pendente doesn’t seem to dent James Lunam’s mood one bit. He’s been upbeat since his Inauguration Speech on Radio St.Charlie and its positive acceptance by the vast majority of St.Charlians. His enthusiasm is contagious and we’re both in high spirits when we sit down for a very hot cappuccino with extra cream.
First of all, congratulations! It is an honour to get to chat to our new president. How are you feeling?
I’m very good, thank you. Firstly, I’ve very happy that members of the General Assembly from both parties supported me, and secondly, I’m very happy to take part in my first interview since my carrier in St.Charlie.
Great. Let’s get straight to business. I’ve asked a few people who they’d have voted for in the election. The main point in your favour seems to be activity: Cassidy wasn’t terribly present during her mandate. The most common grievance is that although you have an impressive CV as St.Charlie’s longest serving top diplomat, Fabiana Gallo della Loggia appears to have more contacts, even on a personal level, with foreign micronationalists. Do you agree with this interpretation?
Hmm, I must admit it isn’t completely off the mark, but I think some clarification is in order. I will surely be more active than President Cassidy with regards to the “online” dimension of our micronation. With regards to the “real” dimension, I will strive be very active on the ground, wherever possible, just like my predecessor was.
Moving onto the second part of your question, the choice between Ms. Gallo della Loggia and I was a very hard one for members of Parliament to make. It is true that I don’t have many personal contacts with foreign micronationalists, but I do not believe that this will in any way be an obstacle to the fulfilment of my institutional duties. In any case, I have much respect for the Justice Minister [Gallo della Loggia] and I am sure I will be able to rely on her for help, should I require direct contacts with foreign micronationalists.
What do you see as the most important duty you have as President?
I don’t think there are some duties which are more important than others; they are all of the same degree of significance. Scrutinizing and improving our laws and Constitution, and being the guardian of National and Federal Unity are probably the most visible ones; however I think that a good President should also be a guide, a beacon for all citizens, both of the Federal Republic and of the Commonwealth.
In your speech you mentioned shaking St.Charlie from its inactivity and also working towards rebuilding a sense of cooperation between St.Charlie’s fractious political forces. How do you intend to implement this?
I think it is absolutely necessary to return, at least in part, to the previous parliamentary regulations, which allowed ministers who did not sit in Parliament to freely present bills. From personal experience, I can say it is at times necessary to be very rapid in writing and proposing a bill, and having to find a Member of Parliament to jointly present it with is certainly does not speed up the whole process. I admit that I initially hoped that this would be resolved through the new ‘Ministerial Decrees’, but because they cannot amend previous parliamentary legislation regarding a ministry, they are effectively of little use to anyone wishing to truly innovate a ministry.
It would also be a great possibility if I too, as Federal President, could somehow give a contribution in presenting bills; just as truly ‘popular’ laws would be a very interesting development. Although one could claim that this could somehow usurp Parliament’s authority in legislative matters, I wish to stress that Parliament would and will always remain the institution in which every law of our Republic would be adequately discussed and freely voted upon by its members. Therefore initiatives such as those listed above would not damage the founding principles of our democracy – on the other hand, it would probably make it stronger. Leaving this brief aside to rest, when I talk about cooperation between political factions I envisage more frequent parliamentary debates with more members participating.
In the past, there has been a feeling that you haven’t made much of an effort to promote the Commonwealth, but in your speech you mentioned a will to develop it. How do you plan to do this?
Alongside the Prime Minister I believe the man that must and will bring glory upon our Commonwealth will be the man who has succeeded me as First Ambassador. I recognize that few have a good opinion of Ambassador Alvisi in the community, however I have already had the pleasure to witness and appreciate his work at the head of the Ambassadorial Council, and I am confident that alongside Governor Puchowski and the Governors of the micronations that have requested membership Alvisi will finalize the Commonwealth Charter, whose foundations were laid months ago along with Landashir and Tiana. Now our new First Ambassador must simply get his game on and work tirelessly for the Commonwealth and the Charter.
At your inauguration you also stressed how the Commonwealth should not shun its national, St.Charlian roots, or worst be rid of them. What are your thoughts on the view that only by becoming more like the federalist Nemkhav Federation can the Commonwealth survive?
I’m afraid I don’t agree at all. I hold Nemkhavia in the highest esteem, but my vision of the Commonwealth is an organization similar British Commonwealth of Nations, although obviously we don’t share its colonial origins and past. I believe it is cultural exchanges, a university open to all the Commonwealth and in particular constructive debate between micronations that must guide us the development of our Commonwealth.
With regards to my statement about not eliminating the Commonwealth’s St.Charlian roots, I believe my thoughts can be thus summarized:
– Our Republic has a duty to be a beacon for Permanent Territories;
– It is necessary for each micronation to maintain its independence with regards to domestic and foreign policy
– The Supreme Protector of the Commonwealth must be the St.Charlian Federal President, but he or she must also be confirmed by Commonwealth representatives. Indeed my vision of reform envisages the possibility of Governors of each Permanent Territory to vote in Presidential Elections along members of the Parliament.
Right now, I’d describe your post as “the ambiguous presidency”. The Constitution styles you as Commander in Chief of the SCAF and implicitly defines your duties as the appointment of the Prime Minister and the dissolution of Parliament. However, the wording of several articles allow for extraordinary power such as hiring and firing ministers and controlling all government activity. Some feel this is too much for what is meant to be a ceremonial position. Do you agree?
Well, in practice this procedure has never been used in St.Charlie, given that it has always been the Prime Minister who proposed the government’s ministers, and not the President. However, if we take a look at article 9 of the current electoral law, it is clearly stated that names of potential ministers must be deposited at the Office of the Federal President by the Secretary-General of the majority party.
It is true that there is little clarity with regards to amended or abrogated articles of the Constitution or of previously approved laws, and it is necessary to change this, even through a new Constitution based on the current one but making treasure of the Acts passed by Parliament in the past legislatures. On this topic, I can reveal that for the past few months Prime Minister Reinhardt, First Ambassador Alvisi, Secretary of the Treasury Strauss and I have been drafting a new Constitution based on the present St.Charlian one, but also taking inspiration from the Italian and German constitutions. In any case, the effective powers of the Federal President at the moment do not justify the theory of a “Presidential Republic” – my position is still very much “ceremonial”.
The Constitution states that Presidential decrees must be signed by the Prime Minister to be valid. However, there are no constraints on what these decrees might involve. There are serious concerns that the Presidency can easily usurp the Government’s role as the executive branch. A recent example is Cassidy’s decision to refuse Landashir a vote, even though she herself acknowledged she had no legal basis to do so. Would you agree that Presidential decrees are unnecessary, given recent legislation on ministerial decrees, and should be struck off?
This issue requires a detailed analysis, but let’s go in order starting with the event at hand. I believe that many have misinterpreted the former President’s words. What she meant was that it was not possible to amend the existing legislation because the voting was already open and neither would it have been possible to issue an ad hoc Presidential Decree. However, what is the difference between this case and the decree concerning elections and the federal capital? The answer is that in that instance, the President did not change a pre-existing law, but rather extended the dates of the general elections so that the citizens of every federation (especially those of Greater Ridgeway, Caroline Charlotte and New Branson) could freely vote in time and bestowed the title of Federal Capital on the City of Tor Pendente because, if I’m not mistaken, St.Charlie had been without one since November 25th. [Editor’s note: The Presidential Decree of 29/11/11 did in fact amend Article 8 of the Lunam-Schneider Election Act 2010, which lays down a clear timetable for General Elections]
Obviously both these decisions were taken after deep reflection with other personalities of the St.Charlian political sphere, including Prime Minister Reinhardt and myself. Essentially, there was a situation of absolute emergency that Parliament could not have resolved because it was already sciolto. The situation with the Presidential Elections was completely different, although that too was obviously an emergency. I hope you would agree with me that allowing an ad hoc Presidential Decree or Parliamentary Bill to modify the relevant article of the Constitution (which states that the Federal President is to be elected solely by members of Parliament) while the voting was already taking place would have set a dangerous precedent for our nation.
In any case, turning back to the understandable preoccupation, I can calmly assert that the Government will in no way be usurped of its legitimate powers since a Presidential Decree still requires the signature of the Prime Minister before it is considered effective. To answer your question directly, no I don’t think they are useless. This is because, as we’ve seen, they can be used as an instrument of last resort in an emergency, although they could be made useless by an improvement of current legislation. Could they be regulated better? Yes they could be, but I wish to reaffirm my view that Presidential Decrees are more circolari rather than proper laws.
Finally, Let’s travel in time to February 2014. What is the St.Charlie you would like to see after your mandate?
A St.Charlie that has evolved but is always launched towards the future. A St.Charlian Commonwealth renovated in its institutions and made up of new micronations that firmly believe in this multinational cultural community.
As I sip the last drops of my drink, I come to the conclusion that Parliament has made the right decision. From James’s responses, I can tell there will be heated debate on constitutional reform in the next few months, and I can also tell we will be on opposite barricades. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that with President Lunam, St.Charlie’s future looks brighter than it ever did under Cassidy.