A referendum, sometimes called a plebiscite, is a vote by all the people about a political issue.
There are two types of referendum result
- Mandatory - meaning the government must do what the result says
- Advisory - meaning the result of the vote is only to help the government make the final choice.
It usually depends on the country's history and constitution what sort of referendum is used. In Switzerland referenda are usually mandatory, because the people are seen as the source of the government's mandate (power) to govern. In the United Kingdom referenda have only been advisory, because the government say that the people elected parliament to make decisions.
An example of a recent plebiscite was the controversial decision by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to let the Greek people vote on whether or not the heavily indebted nation would accept a €130 billion bailout package from the European Union. The referendum sent a shockwave throughout euro-zone nations, as a "no" vote could mean Greece defaulting on its national debt, losing its membership in the European Union and, consequently, losing the euro as its national currency.
Another example was the voting on the European Constitution in 2005. The vote took place in some countries. France and The Netherlands had a referendum on the subject. In both states, the voters said no to the proposal. Referenda are an integral part of both indirect democracy and more so direct democracy.
The separate simultaneous referenda held on 24 April 2004 in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus on the comprehensive settlement plan of the UN Secretary-General provides yet another example of such a vote. The Plan was approved in the Turkish Cypriot referendum by 65%, while it was rejected in the Greek Cypriot referendum by 75%.
Problems with using Referendums
Many political problems can be solved by asking the people their opinion because the supporters of the argument will be forced to accept the decision of the people.
-It is feared that the electorate do not have sufficient political knowledge in order to truly understand what they are voting for