society

The Value Of The Referendum

This essay has been in the works for weeks. Then I read the news again and I became angry (, see the hangover post).  This essay is about the referendum, its value and how fragile it is.

What ever you may think of the popular vote, there is no denying its potential influence. The referendum for the European Constitution (Treaty of Lisbon) for instance had a profound effect. The most recent pro- or anti-E.U. referendum put in motion by then UK prime minister David Cameron demonstrated how shaky the E.U. (European Union) was and still is.

So yeah this essay is about the referendum. In short its value if it even has one depending on your perspective. You see political systems and decisions-making processes are fascinating phenomena. How a society makes political decisions demonstrates how refined that society is.

Recently the Turkish president Erdogan held his referendum to gain more power. With a “yes” outcome he could stay president until 2029, basically for life. A “no” would result in him facing competitors, new elections and public scrutiny for his past political decisions. He won the referendum so you can almost call him a sultan now.

The thing with popular votes a.k.a. referenda is that the voters say “yes” or “no” and that vote tends to be final. The political system and its representatives risk losing control at a potential colossal cost. Read about the British exit a.k.a. “Brexit” from the E.U. and it will give you headaches. (David Cameron should be ashamed, wish Theresa May well.)

Politicians set up a referendum. Every eligible person allowed to vote by law can vote. The outcome tends to be a final “yes” or “no” and nuance is often overlooked. This premise can be a recipe for disaster while the variables keep adding up.

First variable, simple the politicians behind the referendum. Politicians first and foremost are people who want to attain power for some agenda and/or reward. What are the agendas, goals and financial rewards? Yes I distrust politicians a priori.

Second variable, well we have the voters. You see the average voter can be intelligent and look for nuance or go with gut feelings and say “fuck it” because emotions are an important factor. It is even possible that the average voter is intelligent yet emotionally swayed. People are people, wrong them and they can turn against who or what ever angered them. This makes democracies very fickle.

Third variable, the media enter to inform or to misguide their audience. There is this expression “don’t shoot the messenger” and I agree because you need to look for the owner. Who owns a media channel decides its agenda. Thus I never fully trust only one source.

Fourth variable the lobbies. Lobbies come in all kind of sizes with all kind of persuasions to secure deals with politicians. The idea of a lobby influencing the political process is not a matter of good or bad. It all depends on how the deals are secured and how transparent these deals are. In recent times a man running for president stated that he would “drain the swamp” in Washington. This “swamp” was never properly defined. Of course you can excuse his statement because of his inexperience in politics. (Thing is Donald Trump is a professional salesman, so think again.)

Thing is, it is difficult to measure and define how influential the lobbies are in the political process are. Choose your categories and hope they match your research findings: profit  versus non-profit, corporate versus n.g.o. or public versus private versus other. The more influential lobbies are, the more corrupt the connected politicians potentially can be.

I can add more variables. But to be honest the list will become endless and overlapping. Think of the financial backers, the (political) movements and celebrities to begin with. This topic is complicated enough as it is.

In general a referendum can be a valuable measure. It pits politicians against voters and indicates in which state a society is. For societies in question can be well-informed and stay reasonable. At the same time society can be ill-informed and moody. Everything can happen with consequences that have profound effects.

Ask me about this topic and my answer is “it depends.” Some things look simple until you start doing research. A priori I distrust politicians and I do not fully trust the average voter nor the media. I am even aware of my own biases regarding certain topics, politicians and organisations. I must be.

The value of the referendum? Given recent developments who cares? Check the agendas, available information and follow the financial rewards. Look up who set the referendum in motion and you have a good indications of who actually benefits.

When the referendum is over, a decision is made and the consequences will affect you no matter what. Brexit, new guy in the White House or some politicians who wants more power. Deal with it and use your vote wisely…