Referendum: An Agent of Direct Democracy or A Political Tool?

Just a day after dissociating itself from the European Union through a popular vote, a large section of United Kingdom is for a second referendum. No, it’s not to detach the country from other political or economic factions, but to force the government to reconsider the earlier vote, possibly after learning about the implications of Brexit.



The latest petition that currently commands over 2 million signatures was launched after “What is the EU” topped the charts on Google Trends throughout the UK, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.

So, what does this advocate? This predominantly happens when all the voters are not kept properly informed about bona fide issues under deliberation. Most vote in a capricious manner, either guided by herd mentality or out of sheer idiocy. No matter how much riveting it may pan out to be, it’s happening in a democracy as mature as the UK.

In his column titled “Brexit Ripples” in Business Standard on Saturday, veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta quintessentially articulates that the latest tumult for direct democracy through referendum materializes to be the contemporary fashion that can only shepherd to anarchy.

The absolute exercise, based on ‘uninformed’ opinion, can smoothly repudiate legislative decisions. Interestingly, the parliament is also elected by these very voters—so a question on the quality of this choice can also be raised on parallel lines.

‪It’s good that the Indian Constitution doesn’t provide referendum a legal sanctity, else insurrection could have effortlessly transpired all across the country.

After Brexit, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is now vociferously asking for a referendum in the city-state. It’s apposite to mention here that the Google trends from the UK on Brexit night clearly indicate how unlearned the people were about the factual issue and probable impact of their votes—both in political and economic terms—on the country’s future. And they agreeably voted to script history.

It’s infrequent to find an acknowledgment in history where the common masses made enlightened policy decisions which positively turned around the fate of a country. It also rings true for the State elections, as the entire voting exercise proves meaningless, even if a single voter is left ignorant about the prominent issues on which the polls are being contested. Californians provide one of the best case studies on how to bankrupt a state with referendums and propositions.

It’s pertinent here to share the famous example that Gupta, too, alluringly puts forth in his article. The oldest democracy named Vaishali, a city in old Bihar where the King used to decide every tricky situation on the basis of a popular vote, was annexed by the enemy kingdom as it couldn’t decide on time when to attack, how to attack, or whether to retaliate or not in the first place.

Captivatingly, UK Independence Party leader and pro-Brexit advocate Nigel Farage admitted his bold claim was a “mistake” right after the result was declared.

British news media quoted Farage saying that the Vote Leave campaign’s signature pledge—that leaving the European Union would allow for £350 million to be spent on the UK’s National Health Service—was a “mistake.”

If the premier leaders were under such contemptible intellectual ignorance about the central issue, the least should be expected from the blindfolded followers.

There are many instances in the history books stating how unsatisfied politicians had created issues to topple the ruling governments. They employed a robust public relations (PR) machinery to twist the media to their benefit and ensure the common man toed their political line on all sensitive issues.

This followed a popular vote. Soon the masses realized that their leader’s political decisions were inflicting more damages than accruing benefits as promised to the economy. Nevertheless, permanent damage was done by then. Only remorse followed later.

However, by no yardstick that the author here tries to claim that the ‘leave’ decision of the latest referendum is based on mere ignorant votes in comparison to the one held in 1975 when the country for the first time voted on the same issue and stayed in the European Community with a resounding 67.2 percent vote.

It’s only to conclude that enough must be done to ensure that the participatory voters are aware of the focal issue to the highest possible intellectual level.

(The Petitions Committee of the House of Commons has said it is investigating allegations of fraud in connection with a petition calling for a second EU referendum.)

Ashish Pandey

I am a business and finance journalist who is currently employed at Financial Express and previously at Zee News. My areas of interest include business and foreign policy. You can reach me on Twitter at @ashuvirgo1984 or @eFundsPlus.

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