Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Is a solution referendum really a good idea?

By George Koumoullis

PROMINENT academics such as sociologist Niklas Luhmann and economist Anthony Downs express doubts as to whether a democratic model in which everyone participates, such as a referendum, was a rational decision-making method.

This is absolutely valid in the case of Cyprus where we could possibly be asked to approve or reject a new constitution. Because of the specialised knowledge involved it is impossible for citizens to be fully informed. It would not a straightforward issue based on the values of the people such as for example ‘do you approve of abortions?’

I wonder sometimes, what percentage of people understand the meaning of, for example, the constitutional term ‘residual power’ to be able to take a decision that would affect not only their lives but also those of future generations.

This is why I believe the approval or rejection of an unavoidably complex constitution should be the responsibility of the House of Representatives and not of the people that do not have the necessary knowledge to thoroughly evaluate all the articles, notes, appendices of a constitution. In a democratic country, in critical times, it is parliament that leads the people and not the other way round. This is what happened in the case of membership of the EU – quite correctly it was the House that made the decision after weighing all of the pros and cons.

Luhmann and Downs cite examples in their analyses of individuals thinking of their personal and not the national interest. In the case of Cyprus, a big landowner in Limassol or Paphos would not consider the long-term national interest but his personal interest over a time period of perhaps five to 10 years in making a decision. Moneyed oligarchs have the power of influencing other citizens in a variety of ways.

There is though another worrying factor that would support not holding a referendum in the event that Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci agree to a settlement. The rejectionists, despite being the minority, control almost all the private television channels through which public opinion is shaped, undermining thus the pluralism which is the dogma of multiplicity – multiplicity of ideas, practices, values and interests.

The TV station owners in Cyprus pose a direct threat to pluralism, a problem that should concern all of us. I will restrict myself to just one example – a journalist who still believes in Enosis has a daily, morning radio show on which he does little else but disparage the bi-zonal, bi-communal federation together with his hand-picked, rejectionist guests. He performs this task very successfully. In short, the absence of pluralism renders the holding of a referendum problematic.

Another concern, with regard to a referendum, is the Church. The 2004 referendum showed that Cyprus is a state plagued by men of the cloth, obscurantism, intolerance and anti-Western hysteria. Incredible as it may seem, the Bishop of Kyrenia at the time, warned the faithful that if they voted for the Annan plan they would go to hell. The Bishop, it was obvious had an effect of the masses of the religious. A referendum in such a climate, clearly, is nothing more than a mockery of democracy and we cannot rule out similar terrorising behaviour by some priest.

Finally, would Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots be able to judge anything objectively when as a result of the relentless propaganda the level of trust on both sides is still very low? One example is the conviction of many Greek Cypriots that we cannot trust the Turkish Cypriots – they cite the violation of the Agreement of the Third Vienna, regarding the protection of the rights of the enclaved, by Rauf Denktash. I may shock a few Greek Cypriots, but the reality is that the masses of the Turkish Cypriots consider us untrustworthy and they would claim that nobody could compete with us in inconsistency and perjury.

We accepted independence, having signed and sealed the agreements and the next day we started undermining them and dreaming about Enosis. Our deputies, in July 1967, unanimously approved a resolution in support of enosis, breaking the oath they took to uphold and respect the laws of the state which expressly prohibit the union of Cyprus with any other country.

If there was a contest for untrustworthiness in the Olympic Games, we would have boasted a big collection of gold medals. Therefore – deviating from the main theme – I would recommend to Greek Cypriots, who are in the habit of disparaging Turkish Cypriots for their untrustworthiness, to keep quiet because people in glass houses should not throw stones.

At the risk of being labelled an elitist, I would strongly recommend, for the reasons I have explained above, that the legislature and not the people made the decision whether to accept or reject a settlement plan.

I recognise, of course, that our deputies do not represent the intelligentsia of our society but, at least, on such an issue they would be briefed comprehensively by the mandarins of the civil service so as to have a structured opinion on such a vital issue.

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist

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