Aug 3, 2011

The Legitimacy of Referendums

One of the most mis-informed notions about democracy is the term 'participatory' . Much of the literature that you would see on politics / democratic society uses this term to say that citizens / electorate should have a say in every decision that Government takes. And, to this basis, many Governments / media / someone else often calls for referendums to decide on a crucial decision.

The Lokpal referendums happening in India is a classic example..The main problem with this referendum process is that often, the electorate is mis-informed / does not think about the real implications while exercising their votes. For eg:, If you do a referendum in India on whether income tax should be abolished or not, you are quite likely to get a 95% + vote on the affirmative side..
Similarly, if someone floats a referendum on whether India should attack Pakistan, the answer is likely to be on the affirmative side more often... But the point is that, such decisions have quite a lot of other implications.

The idea that collective wisdom of a large crowd is superior  , is in-fact preposterous to a parliamentary democracy.. A certain manifestation of the wish of people has resulted in the elected Government. But extending this logic of collective thinking beyond a certain manageable & legitimate group has far reaching consequences & in-fact detrimental to the smooth functioning of Government.

As fundamentally I'm opposed to Lokpal, I havn't really read through the latest versions really well. Regardless of the merits / demerits of the version that Government has proposed, its totally illogical & incorrect to do referendums in the process of formulation of laws. If that was the principle, India being a federal system would have had laws supporting honor killings , child marriages & many other ridiculous stuff in different parts of the country

The law formulation is best left to the law makers even if they do it inefficiently. Because, the institutional decay of democracy that will come into place through referendums is much more harmful.
Fundamentally, not all decisions of a democratic government can be taken in a participatory manner.. And anyone who has been in a representative position for a decent amount of time would vouch for that.

PS:- For people who would like to read further on these,  is a good book

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