Of Demagogues and Dictators? The Redemption of Constitutional Referenda in New Zealand
65 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2018 Last revised: 16 May 2018
Date Written: April 2, 2018
Referenda have been strongly criticised in recent years. Western liberal democracies are fixated on representative democracy, with elections as the pinnacle of democratic participation. However, political apathy and voter dissatisfaction are pressing problems. This paper argues that referenda can be a democratically legitimate method for major constitutional change. The problems canvassed in the literature and witnessed in recent examples, such as “Brexit”, are merely problems of practice not principle. To redeem constitutional referenda, a comparative approach is adopted to analyse the referendum methods used in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. From this assessment, a model provision is developed that should guide the process for any major constitutional referendum in New Zealand. It injects a dose of direct, participatory and deliberative democracy into our representative system, thereby improving the democratic legitimacy of constitutional referenda.
Keywords: referenda, constitutional referendum, democracy, legitimacy, constitutional change
JEL Classification: K00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation