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Referendum

Vote on a proposition put to the electorate as a whole.

Common in Switzerland, California and some other US states.

Occasionally used in France for constitutional change.

In the form of a Plebiscite it has been used as an apparently democratic cover for the actions of a dictator. Napoleon the third was a pioneer of the plebiscite with a question to which there was only one possible answer: Do you agree to Napoleon becoming Emperor? Plebiscites have a bad reputation as they tend to be manipulated by the secret police, or the votes to be tampered with. (see Giuseppe de Lampedusa - The Leopard) This is a reason for being suspicious of referendums, as, like an American presidential election, they often give the voters no real choice. On the other hand they can be used to demonstrate that people do support a policy, such as the transfer of a district from one country to another. (Teschen 1936; Saarland 1954) Probably Kashmir ought to have had one in 1948.

Last revised 10/12/08


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