Crude political tool
As the acrimonious and seemingly never-ending divorce of Great Britain from the EU shows, referendum is a crude political tool. Britons voted to leave the EU despite oodles of evidence that such a separation would hurt the British economy, increase joblessness, and dent the country’s international standing. It may even break the UK apart. But Brexiteers wanted to take the country back to the glory days of the empire, when the world revolved around Great Britain. In the changed world order, this was an impossible dream. Yet the majority let nostalgia trump their better sense.
The 2017 referendum on the independence motion of the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia was even more fraught. While most people always vote with their hearts, it is even more the case on the kind of emotive issues that referendums evoke. Those who voted for Britain’s exit from the EU ignored all credible economic data to confirm their bias.
In Nepal too the issue of referendum comes up frequently. The one time it was held, back in 1980, people voted in favor of retaining the Panchayat system. Now General Secretary of NC Shashank Koirala wants a referendum on the country’s federal, republican and secular status. Meanwhile, despite his recent agreement with the government, CK Raut is still for a referendum to determine if Madhes should remain a part of Nepal.
In either case, the winners of such referendums are likely to be chest-thumping populists rather than those who offer dry logic. Once a referendum is declared, it takes its own momentum, and there is plenty of room for manipulation. Now, seemingly, even ex-king Gyanendra is looking to make a comeback via such a referendum, and the monarchists in Congress and various hues of RPP have his back.
While independence for Madhes is out of question under the current constitution, decisions on referendums on the kind of issues Koirala raises should not be taken flippantly either. Rather than saddle the country with another prolonged and costly transition, which such referendums will result in, the effort of all democratic forces should be directed at preserving the post- 2006 gains and helping the country along on its path of peace and prosperity. Koirala conveniently ignores that it was his party under the redoubtable GPK which had taken the lead in establishing the new order. With their desire to turn the clock back, Koirala and his ilk do great harm to their party and country.
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