When citizens in a democracy are deprived of the right to a referendum, a pseudo-democratic system will take root and ultimately erode people’s rights and lead to tyranny. Equally, some others will argue that direct democracy in essence embodies the tyranny of the majority! Both sides of the argument certainly offer valid observations. However, logic reflects that referendums in actual fact provide the only means of checks & balances of ill-conceived government policies that may harm the state or the constitution. In principle – and in almost all cases – the referendum exists solely as complement to the system of representative democracy in which most major decisions are made by an elected legislature.
In Switzerland referendums have extensively been used since 1848 and are a pinnacle to its political system – a system, principally based on direct democracy! Under certain legal prerequisites people have the right to initiate a referendum, which does not require the government’s consent but it’s a procedure that offers citizens the right to decide on crucial issues affecting the country’s integrity, constitution or changes to its demographic character. Most importantly, the result of a “yes” or “no” vote carries the day and becomes legally binding; in theory, no government can ignore the people’s decision!
Still, in some cases – but especially when it pertains to EU integration matters – this “golden rule” has been totally abused: as in the case of Ireland where the government ignored the results of peoples referendum not to ratify the EU Nice and Lisbon Treaties. In both cases, the proposition was re-submitted twice until it received the desired “yes” by a slim majority vote. This was certainly an undemocratic act and an abuse of power, which caused serious controversy across Europe. On the other hand, it set a precedent that, referendum results are not carved in stone as envisioned, but can be manipulated and ignored by governments! Denmark, in 1992 also abused the rule of law and correspondingly behaved in a similar scandalous manner.
Advocates of the referendum principle, argue that, certain decisions are best taken out of the hands of representatives and be determined directly by the people. Most governments will not support this argument but for political expediency, they will oblige and make use of referendums to avoid making controversial decisions – predominantly on constitutional and sovereignty matters! It’s one way to exonerate them from any political responsibility and costs at the ballot box!
In fact, referendums help to provide citizens political and social stability knowing their vote cannot be misused by political party shenanigans behind closed doors. It is also a powerful tool to oust bad governments or presidents and stop them from taking decisions against the interests of the country.
To use the words of Britain’s foremost constitutional authority AV Dicey: “the main use of the referendum is to prevent the passing of any important act which does not command the sanction of the electorate. The referendum supplies the best, if not the only possible check upon ill-considered alterations in the fundamental institutions of the country”.
Where Cyprus is concerned, the idea of even discussing to alter the demographic character of the island and establish a Bi-zonal, Bi-communal Federation on the basis of ethnicity is one of those ill-considered fundamental issues that command the sanction of the electorate. A Referendum Act could be passed through parliament ensuring people’s inherent right to decide on such a fundamental constitutional change; it must not be left in the hands of a government or temporary politicians who may not be around in five years’ time.
Actually, a referendum is none other than a “people’s veto” acting as a “political sentinel” to ensure the government complies with people’s wishes affecting their country. It can also act as a political barrier to put a stop to the formation of elected dictatorship.
In Cyprus, government policies are not so transparent! There were two referendums ever offered to the people on the island: the 1950 Enosis referendum and the 2004 Annan-Plan referendum – staunchly campaigned for adoption by Mr Anastasiades the current president, and Mr Kasoulides his foreign minister! This Plan was principally shaped on similar grounds as the BBF and it was overwhelmingly rejected by 76% of the electorate!
In fact, people in Cyprus are certainly not consulted on matters of national importance. Decisions in the past, which played a major role to transform the nation’s character (and without public consent), were: the 1960’s Zurich Agreement that sealed the fate of Cyprus; the 1963 proposed amendment to the Constitution – which prompted the Turkish Cypriot side to split from the government; the EU integration membership was another “de-facto” decision by politicians and also the EU IMF-Troika Agreement, which destroyed the nation’s economy and triggered mass unemployment.
To spin the truth is a great art and political party propagandists on the island have learned the art of public deception big time. At the present, there is an ongoing government spin in full force to convince Cypriots that there are positive signs close at hand to resolve the Cyprus issue based on this mythical Bi-zonal, Bi-communal Federation, which does not exist elsewhere in the world. It is not by co-incidence that the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated recently that he can “solve the Cyprus issue in three months”. Such public statements made by prominent leaders, certainly raises suspicions.
If so, then it is only right that the proposition of BBF be put to the vote (“yes” or “no”) in a referendum well in advance and before the impending negotiations begin. This way, the people can then decide if they are in agreement to start negotiating the fragmentations of their country or not!
Most importantly, the leadership must act responsibly and explain with absolute transparency to both citizens of the divide what this Bi-zonal, Bi-communal Federation will actually entail and how will it affect the country and the people in general. So far, this has not been done or publicly debated beforehand; people to this day are kept in the dark! Once the full facts are provided complete with unbiased information, then citizens will make a well-informed decision by either accepting or rejecting the proposal. They will then tell the leadership what to do and not the other way around!
However, a de-facto referendum with opportunities for misinterpretation must be avoided at all costs and the wording of such a referendum is pivotal – an independent judiciary may well play a major role on this! Supported by a Referendum Act it will then provide citizens the opportunity to decide for themselves without any spin or political pressure. Owing to a bad political record of the past, Cypriots are now doubtful about any government decision-making; in fact, they display grave concerns what will happen to them next!
Under the government’s zealous pro-EU fascination, it is “more likely” that in the foreseeable future there is a possibility that Cypriots may live under a Bi-Zonal, Bi-Communal Federated State, which in fact, will not guarantee the democratic principle of “one-man-one-vote” or a single citizenship void of ethnic or racial barriers. If adopted, it is “more than likely” to produce further uncertainty in the future.
Without a doubt, Greek and Turkish Cypriots should be given the right to determine their own destiny and not be pressured to accept a pacifying political agreement brewed under a shroud of secrecy by transient politicians; for they can no longer be trusted by the people!
When citizens finally make up their choice under their own free will (good or bad), they will then share the responsibility of their own actions! That is the beauty of direct democracy supported by the right to a referendum and enshrined into the constitution…