I will start by stating two quotes of the British icon Winston Churchill, former prime minister of the United Kingdom: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” It means that if democracy is the worst, then other forms of government are even worse. So, democracy is still better than other governing systems.
The second quote is: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” It means that most voters are basing their vote decisions on some ignorant foundation, which makes using these votes for any decision very risky.
Democracy is the rule of the majority of the people, not the rule of each individual in a population. Majorities can be simple (where the highest percentage wins, even though it might not exceed 50%), or absolute (where the winners need to achieve a 50% + 1 of the votes).
But there are always those who blame democracy for any wrong decision taken by the majority of citizens, without considering the institutional arrangements on which the democracy is built. Whoever wrongly uses democratic mechanisms is ultimately wrong, but that does not mean that democracy is necessarily at fault.
There are issues that are naturally highly complex. If those are introduced to people in an unclear, vague manner, they will judge those issues based on emotions, fears, and feelings, as opposed to information, calculations, and objective estimates. An example for that would be the question of where to situate a nuclear power plant. This is not a decision that should be made by everyone, but rather by the parliament, after consulting experts on the matter.
I claim that Britain’s prime minister David Cameron was at fault when he decided to hold a referendum on such a complex issue, which could enforce an adversity of negative consequences on Britain’s society and Europe as a whole. This institutional arrangement and democratic mechanism should not have been used with such frivolity.
But there is another democratic institutional arrangement that could rectify the prime minister’s mistake. What is needed are more than 2.5 million people that sign a petition to run another referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EU or not, after the first referendum ended with the Brexit.
That way, the parliament would be forced to discuss the petition, since any petition with more than 100,000 signatures must go through the parliament.
52% of voters chose to leave the European Union (EU), while 48% voted to remain. The majority of voters in London, Scotland, and Northern Ireland voted to remain.
One petition states the following: “We, the undersigned, ask the government to implement the law that calls for the repetition of the Britain/EU referendum in case of a remain-vote that falls below 60% and a voter participation of less than 75%. This calls for another referendum.”
A house of commons spokesperson said the petition website had temporarily crashed after an “exceptionally large amount of users tried to sign the same petition at the same time – traffic on the website was higher than ever before”.
The parliamentary petitions system is overseen by the petitions committee, which evaluates whether petitions that receive more than 100,000 signatures should be raised to the house of commons for debate.
The committee is supposed to meet again on Tuesday.
In a different petition, more than 100,000 people have called on the mayor of London to declare sovereignty of the English capital, and apply to join the EU.
A British friend of mine told me: “We did not think we would be the majority.” He meant that he did not imagine that most of the votes would rule in favour of leaving the EU.
The British were probably wrong about their decision, but what is even more important is for them to have a structured, constitutional, and peaceful approach to correct their mistake, because this is what consolidated democracies excel at. Regarding developing democracies, that is another story.