July 2001

Why not ask the people?

The Finns have had two referendums during their country's independence: To end prohibition and to join the European Union. These referendums, however, were only advice-seeking and parliament made the final decision. Now a suggestion has been made to start using binding referendums in order to revitalise a tired political culture.

The regional newspaper Aamulehti (9 July 2001) reports that the suggestion has been put forward by Åbo Akademi (Turku) professors who have been participating in wide-ranging research on democracy in Sweden. The professors — Dag Anckar, Lauri Karvonen and Guy-Erik Isaksson — had the Swedish political system in mind but Aamulehti thinks that the idea could well be applied in Finland.

"The fact is that the concerns are real and common to both countries: the serious widening of the gap between the people and representative democracy, the collapse of trust in politicians and parties and low participation in elections.

"In spite of this, the Turku professors point out, citizens are not apathetic. They are interested in politics and social questions. In addition, well-educated citizens are better equipped than ever before to be active citizens.

"However, this activity needs to find new forms beause citizens are fed up with the traditional channels of representative democracy.

"The professors propose — without wanting to question representative democracy — citizens' initiatives and binding referendums."

Aamulehti says that the referendums should be held on definitive issues, not on questions of funding. This would lead to impossible auctions, the newspaper warns.

The article says that the Turku professors are adamant that referendums should be binding. Advice-seeking votes, like the EU referedum in Finland, are utter rubbish, they think.

"They give the political elite the chance to ignore the people's will and thus increase the contempt held towards the political system and politicians."

See also:

From the archive:

Teenagers snub politics

16 March 2001

New social attitudes detected in research

26 October 2000

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