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.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

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

——— ———

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers — and consequently the revenue we receive — we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit now to sign up.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Alistair Bushe