EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

The Sociological Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences recently published a study about Czech attitudes towards direct democracy. A striking 82% majority of those surveyed think that important questions regarding foreign affairs should be decided by their elected representatives rather than in general referenda.

After last year´s general elections, the political elite of the Czech Republic provoked a renewed discussion about the adoption of a constitutional law enacting the instrument of a general referendum. According to the Article 2 (2) of the Czech Constitution, plebiscites are a legitimate tool for policy-making.

Czech lawmakers, however, never approved any implementing regulation based on this article, which, in turn, effectively blocked any attempts to stage referenda.

Pundits and legislators wrangled over quorum requirements (the minimal turnout to accept the validity of a referendum), or over the number of citizens that were needed to initiate the voting.

The fiercest discussions revolved around the types of questions a referendum could address: should citizens be allowed to decide about major issues regarding foreign affairs, or should they even be permitted to make constitutional changes/amendments? Many experts and part of the public have opposed this notion, arguing that such a provision could be misused to change the democratic character of the Czech Republic, or its membership in the transatlantic community.

As the findings of the study have shown, the Czech public is not interested in having the right to decide about important domestic and foreign issues. On the contrary, most people expect their elected representatives to make these fundamental decisions based on their expertise.

The results are striking insofar as they confirm the trend of widespread consensus – the numbers have not significantly varied over the years. Between 75-86% of the Czech population think that referenda should not address important issues regarding foreign affairs and 62-76% are convinced that major laws should be enacted exclusively by the parliament. On the other hand, opinions are split into two halves as to whether plebiscites on major social issues should be implemented.

Here we have to ask – why do Czech politicians devote so much energy to wrangle over referenda if the Czechs are simply not interested. If there are to be referenda, they would probably only revolve around ordinary domestic issues.

Plebiscites about constitutional amendments or major international issues do not make any sense; Czechs simply do not want them.

Vít Havelka

 

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