Op-Ed/Who are afraid of the referendums?

Op-Ed/Who are afraid of the referendums?

Athens, August 9, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Spiros Sideris

The Supreme Court of Italy, just yesterday gave the green light to the government to proceed with a referendum on the revision of the Italian Constitution. Something normal considering that on such major changes the people should have the first and last word.

Although for many countries a referendum is common practice, in Greece it seems to be a taboo. In the almost 200 years of independence of the Greek State, there have been six referendums, the first five, 1920, 1924, 1935, 1946, 1974 were on whether the polity would be monarchy or not, while the sixth was a year ago, with the people asked to accept or refuse (YES/NO) the draft agreement submitted by the institutions for the aid program in Greece.

Alexis Tsipras, opening the debate on the institutional changes which he considers necessary for Greece, did not rule out the possibility of resorting to referendums in relation with the establishment of simple proportional representation in the elections, the constitutional recognition of public control of energy and waters and changes in the jurisdiction of the President of the Republic.

One would expect that the readiness to resort to a referendum, ie direct popular verdict on such important issues, would find all political parties of the democratic arc in agreement. But the reality was completely different.

The main opposition party noted that the constitutional review has a specific process and passed through the House, while stressed that the will of the people – including the constitutional review – will be expressed in the next elections, after the positions of the parties are made known on the issue.

Similar views expressed both the Democratic Coalition and The River, noting that referendums are divisive for the people, bringing as an example both the referendum of July 2015, and the British on staying/leaving the EU.

But why this aversion of most Greek parties to referenda? What really scares them?

The results of both the Greek and the British referendum showed that manipulation of the voters is now very difficult and their vote is judged by entirely different criteria than those that plan or think the communicators and party staffs.

In July ’15, with all the media in favor of the YES, with blatant propaganda and the attempt of the opposition parties, in all ways to intimidate voters, even going as far as to tamper with the referendum question, the people sent a resounding message with 62% voting NO.

6 out of 10 Greeks who voted NO, were not afraid, neither of the EU threats, neither of political parties nor the media. They voted only based on their own common sense and the need to articulate their own political voice, which as it seemed was against any attempt of forgery.

Something similar happened with the referendum in Great Britain, perhaps with different specific characteristics. But the result recorded shows that the party political leaders have lost contact with society, the ordinary citizen, common sense.

A possible integration of the referendum in the political life of the country, might perhaps bring the parties closer to the citizens and citizens. As long as political parties remain locked in their offices the distance that separates them from society grows and electoral surprises will become a continuous phenomenon.