Referendums – Personally I like the idea of referendums as they are the closest thing to actual democracy that exists in modern times – which explains was governments world wide, with the exception of Switzerland (who regularly have referendums), seem to shy away from them.
With no arbitrary lines drawn on maps to massage the number of voters likely to vote one way or another, and thus insure a parliamentary majority through moving constituency borders – a regular game in the UK – and no electoral colleges able to skew a vote as in the USA for example – referendums really do come down to the popular choice of the public – or at least the public that bother to take part in any referendum.
Hence nobody in politics really likes them as they are not particularly “manageable” and the outcome not necessarily predictable either – especially so when the bigger percentage of what may be a very small turnout, can bind a nation to what seems a dire course.
On occasion, a referendum may give a result that really screws up the grand plan, of recent note, the first Irish referendum result that blocked the EU Lisbon Treaty, thus causing the Irish to hold a second referendum after extreme pressure from the EU to provide the “right” referendum result.
Soon we will possibly have referendums in Scotland over leaving the UK and in the UK over leaving the EU.
Ukraine has a fairly new referendum law too. It came into force on 27th November 2012 and thus is naturally untried. The Ukrainian referendum law, like many such laws across much of Europe, is binding on the government and with no required turnout number to make it binding. The result is the result even if a very low percentage of the population bother to take part. (Nations like Bulgaria have set a minimum participation percentage to make any referendum binding – Ukraine did not.)
It also provides a mechanism that allows for changing the constitution, no longer requiring 300 MPs to vote in favour of any notion prior to taking matters to public referendum. That may or may not be a good idea given that it is almost impossible to garner that many votes in favour of anything in a traditionally partisan RADA.
That is not to say it is necessarily easy to call for a referendum for those not in politics. Whilst it seems politicians no longer hold the only key to calling one in Ukraine, the new law allows any citizens and organisations to do so as well, it qualifies this with a requirement of diverse regional support – thus insuring western Ukraine cannot force a referendum without some support from eastern Ukraine and vice versa.
All Ukrainians are allowed to participate in any referendum, and those who do not are automatically assumed to have given their mandate to those who bother.
All of that said, the Ukrainian political elite, like their European and global counterparts, will not been keen to call any referendum unless the result is almost guaranteed to be the one they favour. Why hold a referendum when you can hide behind the tired cliché of “popular mandate” for anything you do in office most of the time – and get your way?
It is probably the fact there are so few referendums held (outside Switzerland) that I am actually quite keen on them – unpredictability, democracy and all that!