Referendums, democracy and reality shows

Two referendums have generated much buzz in the media as well as social media recently. The first was the referendum on the peace deal with a left-wing “revolutionary” group of yesteryears in Colombia and the other was a referendum on EU-mandated migrant quota in Hungary. The former met with rejection of the motion, and the latter with approval. To what extent did the results of these referendums reflect popular opinion in these countries?

Voters in Colombia have rejected a landmark peace deal with Farc rebels in a shock referendum result, with 50.2% voting against it.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban has declared victory in a referendum on mandatory EU migrant quotas……

Nearly 98% of those who took part supported the government’s call to reject the EU plan.

In the former case, the rejection is barely perceptible, while in the latter the approval seems to be overwhelming. However, there are caveats. In Colombia’s case:

Turnout was low with fewer than 38% of voters casting their votes.

The difference with 98.98% of the votes counted was less than 54,000 votes out of almost 13 million ballots.

In Hungary’s case:

But only 40.4% cast valid ballots – short of the required 50% threshold.

In Colombia’s case, the turnout may have been negatively influenced by weather – a hurricane that hit some parts of the country the day before forced evacuations in many places. In Hungary’s case the cause for low turnout is less clear. So, the question again arises: what do these results tell us? In Colombia they tell us that for the low percentage of people that did turn up to cast their votes, the amount of opposition to the so-called peace deal is nearly the same as that of support for it. But 62% is a lot that is left unaccounted for. Even half of those people voting might have changed the verdict dramatically. The same cannot perhaps be said of the Hungarian referendum, but again, 60% is a lot of people, and their votes might have changed the result, or reduced the margin, if nothing else.  Technically, however, the referendum results are invalid because less than half of the population eligible to vote turned up at the booths. Continue reading “Referendums, democracy and reality shows”