Referendums votes create controversial, unseen outcomes

CCTV News

2016 saw a whirlwind of referendums. But some of the uncertainty they bring may explain why some countries – like the US – don’t really embrace such national polls.

There’s an argument that popular referendums are the most direct form democracy and allowing a country’s citizens to determine for themselves the outcome of a given issue.

But they are not ubiquitous in democratic systems. And some argue that they actually undermine democracy.

CCTV America’s Roee Ruttenberg reports.

Referendums votes create controversial, unseen outcomes

Referendums votes create controversial, unseen outcomes

2016 saw a whirlwind of referendums. But some of the uncertainty they bring may explain why some countries - like the US - don't really embrace such national polls. There's an argument that popular referendums are the most direct form democracy and allowing a country's citizens to determine for themselves the outcome of a given issue. But they are not ubiquitous in democratic systems. And some argue that they actually undermine democracy. CCTV America's Roee Ruttenberg reports.

It was the scene in Florence, Italy, earlier this month, as protesters opposed to a referendum scheduled for December, clashed with police in a vocal, visual and an unusually violent which is sign of their opposition.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is hoping a “yes” vote will trim down the Senate, and streamline the Lower House. The move is largely seen as an attack on the country’s Regional powers. An already unpopular Renzi has vowed to resign if the initiative fails.

Nearby in Hungary last week, MPs narrowly defeated a government-backed anti-migrant bill. It was introduced by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party following a national referendum on refugee quotas that failed because less than half of eligible voters cast a ballot. But those who did overwhelmingly favored blocking EU quotas.

This collision of power between people and parliaments is being seen in London, too, where some said only British lawmakers can decide if, how and when to Brexit a referendum-coined term used to describe the U.K. severing its political union with the rest of Europe. That’s despite a narrow “leave” win early this year in a widely-watched and hotly-contest national referendum.

Meanwhile, last month, voters in Colombia shocked the world by narrowly rejecting a peace deal between the government and leftist FARC guerillas. It would have ended 50 years of civil war that’s left thousands of Colombians dead. But a politically charged “no” campaign led by a former president, Alvaro Uribe, ultimately managed to edge ahead by a slim margin. Days later, Uribe’s successor – the current President Juan Manual Santos, whose government reached the deal – was awarded the Noble Peace Prize.

In August, a majority of voters in Thailand approved a new constitution. It was written by the military, which has been ruling the country for more than two years. The “yes” vote effectively ensured the Generals’ continued political influence, in that Senate’s seats would be exclusively appointed, and the body would yield veto power over the elected lower-house.

While some may see them as the purest form of popular governance, others said the referendum process can often subvert democracy reflecting at any given moment the changing winds, wherever they may be blowing.


Professor Stephen Tierney on significance of the Italy referendum

For more on the significance of this Italy referendum and how it gives momentum to the populist movement, CCTV America’s Elaine Reyes spoke to Stephen Tierney, Professor of Constitutional Theory and Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law.