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Binding Referenda

We live in a democracy which means that the people are supposed to have the real power, but how far should that concept be taken? This is the question effectively being asked with the debate on citizen initiated referenda which is happening in New Zealand at the moment.

A CIR must be run if a petition gains a certain number of votes (I can’t remember how many it is but its a fairly respectable number). Everyone on the electoral roll in New Zealand gets to vote on the issue so it costs quite a lot to run, but the final outcome isn’t binding on the government. Even if everyone voted in favour of something the government is under no obligation to carry out that wish. The question is then: should they be?

Personally I don’t think so although the poll run on the Herald web site today suggests I’m in the minority because 75% of the participants there voted that referendum results should be binding.

The problem with referenda is that they are generally meaningless. In the ones which I recall the questions have been so poorly worded that the outcome really means nothing. The current referendum poses this question: “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” Its a silly question designed to elicit a particular response and I remember previous questions about crime and punishment being equally worthless.

As I blogged about on 2009-06-18 in an entry titled “Ask a Silly Question” I don’t intend to vote one way or the other. Instead I will record a complaint about the process itself and send the paper back.

So do people really think that votes on questions posed in such emotive, biased and illogical terms should be binding? I certainly hope that if people really stopped to think about it they would realise that this is not a process we should be following. I’m afraid the greatest extent that the people should gain true power is through who they vote for at each general election, and I’m not even sure they are responsible enough to even do that!

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