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A referendum, very similar, but not the same, as 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 a referendum is usually mandatory, because the people are seen as the source of the government's mandate (power) to govern. In the United Kingdom referendums have only been advisory, because the government say that the people elected parliament to make decisions.

An example of a proposed plebiscite was the 2011 decision by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to let the Greek people vote on whether the heavily indebted nation would accept a €130 billion bailout package from the European Union. The idea shocked eurozone nations, as a "no" vote could mean Greece defaulting on its national debt, and leaving the European Union and the eurozone. However, the vote was cancelled.

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. Referendums are an integral part of both indirect democracy and more so direct democracy.

The separate simultaneous referendums 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

-Philosophers Plato and Madison put forward the argument that voters are too easily persuaded by their own internal feelings of a matter instead of focusing on the good of the nation.