11 Arguments against Referendum – Explained!



Generally, the following arguments are advanced against referendum:

(1) Evils of party-system increase:

In referendum the parties carry on extensive propaganda in order to seek votes in their favour and for this purpose they employ paid workers. Thus the evil of party-system increases in referendum.

(2) A stumbling block in the way to progressive legislation:

Common people are orthodox and they become a stumbling block in the way to progressive legislation. This has happened in Switzerland many times. Dr. Finer is of the opinion that unintelligent and illiterate people have generally destroyed the progressive laws. Bryce is also of the opinion that the main objection against referendum is that it proves a stumbling block in the way to political and socio­economic progress of a country.

(3) Prestige of the Legislature suffers:

Referendum lowers the prestige of the legislature, because the final power of law-making is not in the hands of the legislature, but in the hands of the people. The members of the legislature do not take any interest in legislation because they know that their decisions can be altered by the people.

If the people give approval to the laws enacted by the legislature, through referendum the credit goes to the people. But if the people do not give approval to the laws passed by the legislature, the discredit goes to the latter. Bryce, while explaining the influence of Direct Legislation on the legislature has said that it reduced the responsibility of the legislature and sometimes it passes laws which are not liked by it. Sometimes, because of the fear of the opposition of public opinion, it passes laws which are not considered necessary.

(4) Unnecessary Delay:

Referendum causes delay in the final passage of a Bill. C.F. Strong writes, "If it is used in a large country, this will probably cause such a great delay in the passage of a law, that the society shall not be benefitted by it and thereby cause such evils which were to be eradicated through it".

(5) A Costly System:

This is an expensive system. The government incurs unnecessary expenditure on it.

(6) Referendum is not a true expression of popular will:

An argument generally advanced against referendum is that it is not the true expression of the popular will, because the people are ignorant about the tactics of politicians. They cast their votes in favour of one party or the other under the influence of fiery speeches of political leaders.

Bryce has rightly said, "The results of a popular vote cannot be always deemed true expression of popular mind which is often captured by phrases, led astray by irrelevant issues, perplexed by the number of- distinct points which a Bill may contain and thus moved by its dislike to someone point to reject a measure which is taken as a whole, it would approve".

(7) It is beyond the comprehension of the common man to give a sound verdict on the laws:

Laws are made by the legislature after full consideration, because very able representatives of the people are in the legislature and the government receives the help of experts. A common man is not fully conversed with the complexities of the laws. How can a farmer or a labourer or a shepherd know about the Income Tax laws? Thus it is possible that the common people may not be in a position to give a correct decision about the law or the constitution.

(8) Negative contribution of the people:

In referendum the people can say 'yes' or 'no' about any law, but they cannot give 'useful' suggestions for their reforms, and they cannot reject a part of any Bill. Thus the contribution of the people in referendum is not positive but it is negative.

(9) Unsuitable for large States:

Switzerland is i small country and there is no need for any arrangement for referendum in that country. But it cannot prove useful in big countries like India, U.S.A. and Soviet Russia. Giving his arguments against referendum in the United Kingdom, A.B. Keith once said in the House of Lords that, "it is unsuited to large areas as the United Kingdom, for different parts may require different legislations".

(10) Ordinary or common votes do not show keen interest in the referendum:

When referendum takes place repeatedly, the people do not show much interest in it. Sometimes the number of people taking part in referendum in Switzerland is quite small, in spite of the fact that minor matters are not put to referendum in that country.

(11) Its moral efficacy can be challenged:

The Bills which are passed by the legislature with a big or small majority are accepted by the people without any criticism. But in referendum, if a Bill passed with a small majority, the people criticise it bitterly. For instance, Swiss Penal Code was passed by 53 per cent votes in 1938 and those who voted against it were very much upset.