Brixit – a one-night stand in political decision making? Complex political questions cannot be solved using referenda.
Posted on June 26th, 2016

Chandre Dharmawardana, Canada

The Brixit vote once again demonstrates the well understood but rarely acknowledged fact that referenda do NOT constitute a valid instrument of democracy when it comes to resolving complex questions. Most countries end up deeply divided, as also happened in Canadian French Separatist referenda.  There was potential for great anguish and violence, but fortunately this was avoided due to the leadership of French-Canadian politicians like Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretian who firmly backed unity. Their politics should be contrasted with the “state-terror” approach of the 1977-1983 period in Sri Lanka.

Many countries do not rely on a blunt instrument like a referendum, but require a 2/3 majority in a parliament for taking such major steps. A Referendum is  good for making decisions about some local project, e.g., where to put a school, or a traffic light. Only simple considerations are needed in evaluating such questions. But when big questions that defy professionals are asked from a divided nation, the referendum leaves them equally divided and much more alienated from one another than before the referendum.

The British participation in the Common Market was initiated during the time of Primer Edward Heath. The British-EU link was some 40 years old when David Cameron came on the scene. During that time the other partners and Britain had devoted major amounts of their energy and capital to accommodate Britain by the EU, and EU by Britain. Millions of jobs depended on this union. So, being able to just leave the union by a unilateral act is NOT democratic. Worse than that, such acts can trigger global instabilities, putting millions of innocent people out of jobs, and also stopping humanitarian aid to refugees running away from war-torn countries because the world economy itself begins to flounder. The cataclysmic Brixit has occurred just when the Western world is struggling with its own socio-economic problems arising from the impossible aspirations of some seven billion people inhabiting the Earth, aspiring to live like what they see on television.

Most people decide on how to cast their vote on a very limited “personal experience” view of the matter. Very few people can evaluate a 40-year political and economic process which even experts don’t understand. We go by our “gut reaction” even though we know the ‘shit’ in our gut. A fisherman may not be happy with his quota for fishing, because, say, the EU has ruled that cod stocks are dwindling, limiting cod fishing. Or they will grumble that the Spanish, defeated by Nelson are getting “more than their traditional share”! UK professionals who felt  that “immigrants” from the EU are lowering their status in society simply voted for Brixit!  It is such narrow reasons that guide individual voters.

The foolish, arrogant  politician that Cameron is, he never believed that his brinkmanship will backfire and lead to not only Britain splitting off from the EU, but also UK splitting off into independent Scotland and Ireland. The Union Jack itself will have to change into just the English flag, ending several centuries of union in the madness of an early-summer “one-night stand”. There was NO need what so ever to call for this referendum. But Cameron thought he could bully the Brixit members in his own party by engaging in brinkmanship. He should have asked how many referenda had been held in England since the Magna Carta?

One does not discard several centuries of “United Kingdom”, and 40 years of EU in one measurement of the public mood, especially on a very complex topic involving international collaboration that enables one to look after common resources like fish stock, air quality, control of insecticides and fertilizers, control of  coal-fired power plants, nuclear reactors etc. These are hard to do when requiring agreement from some three-dozen countries. But if they are already under an alliance (like the EU) all measures for the protection of the environment, as well as the consumer can be enforced and were enforced through the European parliament. Immigration, Crime and human rights can be better protected, (and this is exactly the argument why police powers etc. should not be devolved into provinces as proposed in 13A). All these good things as well as fiscal controls, health and quarantine controls,  had been  built into the European region over 40 years, and now, in one night, a mere 3% of voter majority could undo several centuries of “United” kingdom and 40 years of EU effort, because of people who don’t understand the implications of an over-crowded global village.

Politicians must give the people another chance to think and vote, just as a patient  takes several measurement of the blood pressure before s/he rushes for medication. Indeed, in the French Presidential elections, there is a “deuxiem tour” after the first round, to calm the electorate and select from  the first round lead  contestants.

The idea of independent nations which lived as they wished, doing what they wished, exploiting the environment, exercising their “self-determination”,  was valid in a world that had only 5 to 10 million people or less.  At that time messages or imperial commands taken along the silk route reached their destinations after many months or years. Even villages in a given country were relatively independent. In Ancient Lanka a village could have its own temple, tank and local citizenry living on local produce, having little contact with the outside world, except for the traveling mendicant or pilgrim parties. Today it is NOT VALID, with every part of the globe connected at the speed of electromagnetic waves.

The effect of Brixit was immediately felt in Japan, with its stock market tanking down.

The origin of the massive refugee problem was Cameron (and Nicolas Sarkozy) becoming even more militant than US, and proceeding to bomb Libya and Syria ostensible to “install democracy” there. They became inhabitable, and the mass exodus of refugees destabilized the whole European Union. The unintended consequences of triggering rapid change in complex systems can be very great. Modern mathematical theory shows how even a butterfly wing clap in Africa can affect the weather in Mongolia (Of course this is not exactly true, because many butterflies clap their wings and there is an averaging controlled by the central-limit theorem in Statistical phenomena. But we don’t have many Brixit-type referenda averaging out each other).

Considering the Sri Lankan context, the call for a referendum to eliminate 13 A or any thing like that is equally dangerous. Referenda should NEVER be used in evaluating complex democratic processes unless ALL stakeholders are consulted in the vote which should be a timed sequence of steps involving repeats. In a Tamil separatist referendum, it is not just the people in the North and the East who are relevant, but  the views of the Southerners  as they too have to live with it. But a referendum for unity will not be accepted by those who want a separatist conclusion. So nothing will be resolved, but more violence and distrust will be sowed.

Complex matters should NEVER be determined by a referendum. It should be by a 2/3 majority in parliament where the parliament should consult expert committees. If the referendum is to be used as the final tool, then  there should be at least three time-separated referenda, and  a suitably weighted run-up  decision has to be taken.

In scientific experiments we repeat the experiment many times and even then the answer is provisional. In politics one has to act on provisional results and so it is even more important to ensure that a one-night stand of a “David Cameron” does not produce a grotesque baby that burdens the rest of the world.

Chandre Dharmawardana, Canada

8 Responses to “Brixit – a one-night stand in political decision making? Complex political questions cannot be solved using referenda.”

  1. Christie Says:

    What sacred cow shit mate? Referendum gives power to the people and majority wins. UK is run over by immigrants who are taking their jobs and Brussels make decisions for Brits.
    Look what the EU did to us in our fish exports to Europe. Pressure exerted by the Indian imperialists in UK and EU to hurt the majority people in the island.
    Hope UK send its Indians back to India and Canada follows.

    You know what Quarter Indian JR did with his 2/3 majority in introducing 13A, an Indian Imperialist Act.

    Chadre, any artificial block or union is sure to fail.

    EU was formed to resurrect the old European Imperialism and Colonialism to suck the poor countries of the world.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    To demand a Referendum is the ONLY recourse the People of Lanka have, given the circumstances here.

    A Referendum is a must. It is the Democratic way to sort out a problem affecting the entire Nation.
    What is good for Britain is good also for Sri Lanka.

    2/3 majority in Parliament will not work.
    We saw what happened to the Lanka Parliament when INDIA forced the 13-A on Lanka ! INDIA pushed JRJ to accept this illegal piece of legislation and JRJ was forced to act hard and force the 13-A through Parliament. JRJ had ready resignations of MPs who went against the 13-A, and Parliament was forced to pass it.
    Today, Lanka is stuck with the illegal 13-A !

    Forcing the Parliament to go against its will, seems easy in Democracies.
    The 2/3 majority does not work for the People when Intimidation from higher power sources forces their will on the Parliament.

    Even in the British election this time to quit the EU, the net news carried the fact that Watchdog Groups insisted that the pencils provided in the voting booths NOT be used as the pencil marks are easily tampered with. The Watchdog Groups told voters to take with them a black pen and mark their votes with a black pen.

    Democracy works ONLY when the People are vigilant.

  3. cassandra Says:

    CD makes some interesting comments including the assertion that ‘complex matters should NEVER be determined by a referendum’. But it is instructive to remember that the decision of the UK to join the EU was itself based on the result of a referendum. So, cannot it be argued that a device which was considered good enough to decide whether to join, should be equally good enough to decide whether to continue to stay?

    As for a 2/3rd majority in Parliament being a better course to follow, given recent history, many people in Sri Lanka will need a lot of convincing. Fran Diaz has already referred to how JRJ allegedly coerced his MPs to vote for 13A. More recently, we saw how MR managed after the 2005 election to secure enough MPs to cross over to give him a 2/3rd majority which he needed to amend the constitution, among other things, to allow him to run for a third term. You cannot possibly negate the result of a referendum with the same ease. Perhaps, a simple majority in the voting at a referendum is not enough – something greater, maybe, even a 2/3rd majority may be desirable.

  4. sena Says:

    Pure democracy is as dangerous as pure dictatorship – a British politician.

  5. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Chandre Dharmawardana
    Thank you very much for your point of view on referendum which is purely drawn from your experience in Canada.
    But our views in England are diagonally opposing to yours. England is located in the proximity of many economically backward countries that British people legitimately thought that there is a high chance of people from these countries can be flooded into England causing great inconvenience to the locals in the fields of Education, Health Services and social benefits.
    I have been living in London from 1974 even before UK entered to the European Union. I could see clearly problems we have faced since 1975. Since there was no other option in the horizon, people of UK had taken a somewhat a bold decision to vote for Brexit even though they have anticipated some economic instability for some time knowing well that it is the risk that worthwhile to take.
    There are so many reasons that most of the English people were convinced to vote for Brexit. Among them the following are the most important.
    1. British judiciary is considered to be the most independent justice system in the world. Yet under EU, British judiciary can be over ridden by EU regulations. A British judge said recently: “We must beware. It would be a sad day if the home of the common law lost its standing as a common law authority. “Are we becoming so focused on Strasbourg and the Convention [European Convention on Human Rights] that instead of incorporating Convention principles within and developing the common law accordingly as a single coherent unit, we are allowing the Convention to assume an unspoken priority over the common law?” What I respectfully suggest is that statute ensures that the final word does not rest with Strasbourg, but with our Supreme Court,”
    2. Unhindered open Immigration from Eastern Europen EU countries causing loss of job opportunities and training facilities for the locals.
    3. Contribution of £350million weekly from the UK taxpayers to the EU budget is considered to be too much contribution to support the poor members of EU while local facilities like national health, public transport and education are suffering from lack of funds.
    4. With Unhindered open Immigration from Eastern European EU countries, criminals are free to move looking for easy targets. More than 13,000 foreign criminals are awaiting deportation from the UK, including thousands of European citizens, according to a report by MPs, which warns that the failure to remove a population “the size of a small town” could undermine public confidence in the UK’s EU membership. It was “deeply concerning” that 5,789 overseas criminals were free in the UK, more than any time since 2012, MPs said. The top three nationalities among the offenders were Polish, Irish and Romanian – all EU nations – they said. Petty thefts are so common these days, even your front garden flower pots are not safe in suburban houses in London.

  6. Fran Diaz Says:


    I can see that you have written up the warning signs to those in Lanka. Thank you.


    What has happened to UK will happen even more so in Lanka with the Yahap proposed tie up with INDIA, which country is equivalent to the EU, as far as Lanka is concerned.

    The proposed ETCA; the Sea Tunnel to Tamil Nadu (over 15 Million Tamil Dalits there with Dalit status on their birth certificates); 5,000 acres on 99 yr leases to foreigners; and the New Constitution (what might that bring re Lanka’s Unitary status ?), spells warning signs.

    Ranil’s UNP which leads the Yahap, seems to want to hand over Lanka to foreign sources. Is that because he does not know how to manage the affairs of the country ?

  7. Ananda-USA Says:

    I agree with NMY, and oppose Chandre Dharmawardene’s thesis that all of the people of a nation are somehow not qualified to vote and decide on crucial issues that affect their nation.

    As we well know, Members of Parliament are not endowed with some superior ability in decision making, but very often are influenced by perks and privileges that they derive from their political affiliations external to the community that voted them into office. In effect, they become prostituted to the power structure they have joined, and often act contrary to the national interest. I can give many examples of this corrupting influence upon elected officials once they gain access to the corridors of power, not only in Sri Lanka, but also in many Western nations such as the UK, USA, Canada, France and elsewhere.

    No, a REFERENDUM narrowly tailored to precisely determine the wishes of the citizenry on CRITICAL NATIONAL ISSUES is far better, in my view, than the collective “wisdom” of its corrupted representatives in Parliament. Let the corrupt deal with the routine less-important daily issues, but let the entire citizenry make the really CRITICAL DECISIONS that will determine their very survival!

  8. Ananda-USA Says:

    Fran Diaz has also argued cogently above why a 2/3 majority in parliament may not accurately reflect the will of the majority of the citizens of a country. I agree strongly with Fran’s comments.

    Very well said, Fran!

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