Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida
For a long time I wanted to reflect publicly on the relationship of referenda with democracy. If I have not done it before, it was because of the fear that my words would be interpreted in terms of Catalan politics and reduced to the self-determination referendum. However, my progressive concern for the health of democracy and the threat of those who stand as representatives of the people confront it with the institutions and with the law has encouraged me to overcome my contention and share in this forum some considerations about referenda.
I confess, at the outset, my concern about the plebiscitary fever that I see on the political horizon endorsed by the most recent past. And I don’t mean just the exercise of the so-called direct democracy at the state level. In the local sphere, clouds are also available, willing to download doses of populism around the idea that the referendum is the perfection of democracy. I will not be the one who contradicts those who think that the referendum, after the corresponding debate in the institutions, can be a good end point of a decision-making process. But I share above all the position of those who believe that, far from considering it the panacea of democracy, it is often an instrument of demagogy.
Far from being the panacea of democracy, the referendum is often an instrument of demagogy.
Characters like Trump, Farage, Le Pen, Salvini …, presenting politics as a tremendously simple thing, argue – and it’s not true – that the great mass of ordinary people instinctively know what needs to be done. The appeal to the voice of the people is presented as the essence of democracy. With this desire they even evoke the agora of Athens as their supreme perfection (by the way, Aristotle or Diogenes could never participate because they never met the strict criteria of citizenship). I disagree with the opinion of the apostles of populism, among other things because in the majority of cases the referendum is the expression of the cynical exercise of making people believe that they can rule with the purpose of staying in power themselves