Yes-No votes suit the will of the ruler, rather than the will of the people

A letter from Peter Emerson:

Friday, 4th June 2021, 9:00 am
A student briefly stops the Chinese Army in Tiān’ānmén Square in Beijing in 1989, shortly before the authorities carried out a massacre of the pro reform protestors

Today, June 4, marks the 32nd anniversary of the deaths of hundreds, maybe thousands, of pro-democracy students in Tiān’ānmén Square in Beijing.

The decision on military intervention was taken by the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee, it is said, by majority vote, approved by a margin of just one member.

As happens so often in politics, of all hues, the leaders choose the question, a vote is held ... and on most occasions, the question is the answer.

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Letter to the editor

Thus it was with Napoléon in his three referendums; Hitler had four such plebiscites; David Cameron’s third was the Brexit referendum, which failed of course; while Boris Johnson had his ‘get Brexit done’ majority vote in the Commons.

Such top-down politics often has little to do with “the will of the people” or the will of parliament, more with the will of the ruler.

It’s time we reformed the 2,500-year-old binary vote.

After all, when choosing our representatives, we would not want a North Korean type of election, “Candidate X, yes-or-no?”

Both in parliaments and in referendums, however, decision-making is binary: “Option X, yes-or-no?” or at best, “Option X or option Y?”

But just as multi-candidate elections are possible under a range of voting procedures, so too decisions can be taken in multi-option and even preferential ballots.

Pluralism is possible.

Peter Emerson, Director, the de Borda Institute, Belfast BT14

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