On 17th March 1992, “White South Africa” voted overwhelmingly in a Referendum, to scrap apartheid and to negotiate a new inclusive constitution. In a turnout of 85 % of the registered voters, 69% voted for the proposed negotiations (ie to scrap apartheid) and 31% voted against the proposal.
We believe that this reflected the overwhelming sentiment of the majority of the white population which had prevailed for decades, probably ever since the introduction of apartheid following the 1948 general elections, which delivered a parliamentary majority to white South African nationalists.
On 25th May 2018 the Irish people voted overwhelmingly in a Referendum, to scrap the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution, which in a referendum in 1983, driven largely by the Catholic Church in the guise of a visit to Ireland by the Pope, largely banned abortion in Ireland under most circumstances. This time around, some 35 years later, in a 64% turnout, 66% voted in favour of scrapping the eighth amendment and 34% voted against the proposal.
As part of the Irish ballot, the question was asked for how long had the sentiment expressed in the vote cast existed. Many answered, for decades.
And then, of course, there was Brexit! Yet another example of the will of the people expressed in an act of direct democracy in 2016 which went counter to the wishes, expectations and hopes of the establishment.
The point of this is to illustrate the power of voters exerted in the direct expression of their democratic will by means of a referendum, by the application of direct democracy. Few parliamentary elections generate such high voter turnout and fewer still deliver parliamentary results which express the will of the people so directly and so accurately and very few parliamentary elections deliver such landslide results, except in totalitarian stares where opposition opinion is excluded from the process.
Without the application of the will of the people expressed in acts of direct democracy, apartheid in South Africa and the almost blanket ban on abortion in Ireland and Britain’s membership of the EU, could well have continued ad nauseum.
What these three examples ably demonstrate is that the world’s parliamentary systems are not always aligned with the wishes of their voters so much as being aligned with the will of the prevailing establishment. This does need to change, here in South Africa, and elsewhere.
It can and will be argued that direct democracy also demonstrates the fickleness of the voter population. But we would argue that it is perfectly legitimate for a voter population to try out a particular political strategy or process and when finding the strategy or process to be wanting, to ditch it. That is not being fickle, that is being responsible.
The establishment are largely in fear of direct democracy because they fear populist government and they are less able to control the outcomes of political sentiment expressed by direct democracy, than by influencing the party political system, by various means, including but not limited to the buying of political favour in political parties.
The Direct Democracy Forum’s sentiment is illustrated by the proposed application of direct democracy in the DDF’s proposed SENATE and MUNICIPAL FORUMS and in the use of referendums to resolve political deadlocks, much like occurred in South Africa in the apartheid years and in Ireland since 1983 and in Britain since the 1970s.