Referendum

As I started looking at my project as a referendum system after the discussion with Vinay, I looked into what exactly referendums are, how they work, what are the pros and cons of it. This post will be mainly focusing on these things. Following is the short description of referendums from Wikipedia: A referendum (also known as a plebiscite or a vote on a ballot question) is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal, usually a piece of legislation which has been passed into law by the local legislative body and was signed by the pertinent executive official(s). This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of direct democracy. There are three ways by which a referendum can be initiated: Mandatory : Some referendums are mandatory and are directed by law to be conducted in some cases. Facultative :  These referendums are initiated at the will of a public authority. Petitions :  These referendums are initiated at the will of the citizens. Referendums can be divided by nature of their effect: Binding : The results of a binding referendum has to be respected by the government and actions are to be taken according to them. Non-binding :  A non-binding referendum is merely consultative or advisory. It is left to the government or legislature to interpret the results of a non-binding referendum and it may even choose to ignore them. There are different types of referendums mentioned on Wikipedia: Foreign policy-oriented Independence (also known as Political statusdevolutionsovereignty, etc.) - a referendum which is held to determine how a jurisdiction relates to either an incumbent outside nation-state or to other nation-states. Treaty (also known as Accessionmembership) - a referendum to approve the proposed accession of the nation-state to a treaty or intergovernmental relationship Domestic policy-oriented Constitutional (or charter) - a referendum which is held to ratify a proposed constitution or constitutional amendment Prohibition - a referendum which is held to prohibit an action by private parties in a jurisdiction Rights - a referendum to determine the status of a class of people within a jurisdiction Then there are criteria by which the results are decided to be positive or negative. Usually when their is multiple choice voting it is the plurality that decides the winner rather than majority. But since we are looking at simple Yes and No referendum there are various types of majorities that are used to determine the results. Simple majority :  If more than 50% of the people who voted in favor of a proposition then it is considered a simple majority. This does not consider the people who are absent or did not agree to vote. Absolute majority : It requires that more than half of all the members of a body (including those absent and those present but not voting) to vote in favor of a proposition in order for it to be passed. Super majority : It is a requirement for a proposal to gain a specified greater level of support than a 50% simple majority. Usually it is 3/5 majority or 2/3 majority. These can as well be simple or absolute depending on the nature of the proposal. Double majority : It is the vote which requires a majority of votes according to two separate criteria. The mechanism is usually used to require strong support for any measure considered to be of great importance. For example, Chalisgaon has 33 wards of different sizes having different population. If the decision has to be taken on city level using double majority then more than 50% of the voting population has to be in the favor of the proposition as well as more than 50% of the wards should be in favor of the proposition depending on their individual majority. This helps in a way that the wards with smaller population still stand a chance in conveying their preference. Now I will discuss some pros and cons of the referendum system in general and later I will mention what are the challenges in Indian context. Pros Referendums provide a political mechanism to ensure that citizens' voices can provide a counterbalance to a legislature unresponsive to peoples' interests. They are instruments of direct democracy in which people vote directly on issues of policy and lawmaking. [source] A referendum will also facilitate ‘political education' of the people. They can be educated about the pros and cons of a particular issue and will decide what is right for the country. [source] It’s about consultation not revolution; governments don’t fall or resign if they lose a referendum, they just start looking for a new compromise to keep the voters happy. [source] Cons Certain minimum turn-out of the electorate is required in order for the result of a referendum to be considered valid. This is intended to ensure that the result is representative of the will of the electorate. But usually turnouts of these referendums are very low (around 40%).  [source] Voters are not sufficiently informed to make decisions on complicated or technical issues. [source] Voters could be swayed by strong personalities, propaganda and expensive advertising campaigns. [source] Never-end-um : In some circumstances, the democratic spirit of the referendum may be flouted by the repeated submission to the referendum of a proposal until it is eventually endorsed, perhaps due to a low turn-out or public fatigue with the issue. [source] Democracy is the "tyranny of the majority." - by James Madison [source] Being asked to make decisions often clearly brings on voter fatigue  -  turnout is usually around the 40% mark. And most voter-instigated referendums fail – only about 20% get a majority. [source] Challenges in Indian context Even today politicians at large are selected and in turn elected on basis of clan, religion, caste and creed, rather than issues, to influence the constituency [source] False and influenced voting. There has been an increasing trend of use of money and liquor for voting. [source] Participation of educated class is recent elections is alarming and scary. Without participation of this group which is expected to debate the most, I&R will not be effective. [source] How to make a nation of 1.2 billion vote for every referendum and initiative ? [source] Most modern proposals to incorporate referendums as a way of life usually propose a modified version, often called e-democracy, which depends on near-universal rates of literacy as well as access to online voting. Quite clearly, India is a long way away from considering that option seriously. [source] About old-fashioned physical referendums; The key issue, of course, is logistics. Referendums are no different from elections — with all the concomitant bandobast, campaigning, and expenses — except that they are usually on a single issue. Considering all that it entails in India, it might be just as well to have elections instead. [source] Who will ensure that people understand what is there in referendum and initiative (R&I)? We are not completely literate a country yet. So, educating people on policy issues is a big challenge. One way could be to structure the R&I language is simpler term. [source] What if R&I become funded by foreign hands and MNCs? This would make us pawns of the rich nations. This would, clearly, enslave us yet again, rather than liberating. [source] Do you think laws against honor killing, dowry, communal violence, etc. would ever get passed, if there was a provision of R&I. Our case is a bit different. Our society has unique flaws of its own. [source]   So, there are many challenges but I think I will try my best possible to address all these and see if it can work out. The other thing to keep in mind is that I am creating a system for referendums as they currently exist but a new type of referendums which I will discuss in another post. Below are the links to the sources of the information above. Wikipedia article about referendum Choosing between reform and referendum by Baijayant Panda in The Hindu Constitution for Free Bharat (India), 2000 : Drafted for nationwide debate and adoption through referendum with next national election Direct democracy : Switzerland's referendums All you need to know about Switzerland : referendum by Diccon Bewes Give referendum a chance by Ashish Tripathi in The Times of India Initiatives and referendums by Prashant Bhushan and Atishi Marlena in Economic & Political weekly Team Anna's demand for referendum and initiatives not so practical by Team Halabol



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