Legitimation of the Referendum - the Standard Mechanism of Participatory Democracy


The referendum is a multidimensional instrument, attested and practiced worldwide, considered to be a compulsory feature of democracy, provided it is used under strict lawfulness. The purpose of putting it into practice is to know the sovereign will of the people, expressed by vote, on a particular issue subject to its decision-making capacity. Following the referendum process, and in the case of referendum forms, such as the legislative or decision-making process, the referendum generates the obligation for the governing authorities to implement the decision adopted by the people. It is certain that the people’s response to the referendum question materializes a decision that emanates from the people, and which benefits in this way of increased legitimacy. Legitimacy is a concept that unleashes the force of the referendum, the result of which is imposed on everyone, the minority who voted against, and the governors. Legitimacy gives an institutional sense to the referendum, being an immanent part of the entire referendum process. It comes from the principle of the sovereign will of the people, which once expressed, is imposed on all the executive factors that must apply it. Legitimacy is both an intrinsic quality of the referendum and its effect, as it gives force to the outcome and justifies any political, legislative or administrative action or inaction. If the referendum process were deprived of legitimacy, or the resulting decision would be denied of this supreme attribute, then the referendum would be an artificial institution, empty of content, virtually useless.

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  • [1] Friederich C.J., Constitutional Government and Democracy, Ginn Publishing House, Boston, 1950, p. 808

  • [2] Direct Democracy, when people are self-governed; Representative democracy, when power, which cannot be exercised directly by the people or the nation, requires representation, delegation to act in the name of the power-holder, the people; Within it, the people delegate their sovereignty to some principals, who have the capacity to decide on their behalf; Semi-representative democracy, a form of government resulting from the mitigation of the negative consequences of ultra-representativeness; semi-direct democracy, characterized by the coexistence of representative democracy with direct democracy.

  • [3] G. Sartori, The re-interpreted democracy theory, translated by D. Pop, Polirom Publishing House, 1999, p. 119

  • [4] J.-C. Cabanne, Référendum et légitimité, in “Référendum et démocratie”, Presses de l’Université des Sciences sociales de Toulouse Publishing House, Toulouse, 1998, p. 71

  • [5] Idem

  • [6] S. Belaid, Essai d’une théorie générale du référendum, in “Référendum et démocratie”, Presses de l’Université des Sciences Socieles de Toulouse Publishing House, Toulouse, 1998, p. 37

  • [7] G. Sartori, cited work., p. 122

  • [8] F. Hamon, Hamon Francis, Le référendum. Étude comparative, L.G.D.J. Publishing House, Paris, 1995, p. 15-16

  • [9] Geoffrey de Q. Walker, The People’s Law, Collingwood Publishing House, Victoria, Center for Independent Studies, 1987, p. 50

  • [10] V. Constantin, Public International Law, West University Publishing House, Timişoara, 2004, p. 18

  • [11] For details, S. Diémert, Le référendum d’initiative minoritaire dans l’art. 11, révisé, de la Constitution, in Revue française de Droit constitutionnel, 77, 2009, p. 55-97

  • [12] D. Butler, A. Ranney, Referendums. A Study in Practice and Theory, Washington DC, American Entreprise Institute, 1978, p. 226

  • [13] Vincent Auriol, President of the French Republic (1947-1954), Hier ... demain, vol. II, Charlot Publishing House, Paris, 1945, p. 202

  • [14] J. Rivero, Consensus et légitimité, in “Pouvoirs - Revue française d’études constitutionnelles et politiques”, n. 5, 1978, Paris

  • [15] André Malraux, Antimémoire, Gallimard Publishing House, Paris, 1967, p. 160

  • [16] An example of this is Chile and its famous dictator, accused of crimes against humanity, Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. The 1981 state constitution, written by Pinochet’s military junta and approved by popular referendum, stipulated that at the end of Pinochet’s 8-year term, the junta would elect a candidate and the voters would be called upon to support or reject it. Junta chose Pinochet, but the referendum of October 5, 1988 had an unexpected result: Of 92% of the participants, 55% responded with no. Pinochet accepted the outcome, and in 1989, after a democratic election, which had been disputed among several candidates, Chile had a new president

  • [17] This is the case of Belgium in 1950 on the return of King Leopold III to the throne, and the case of Great Britain in 1975 on the remaining in the European Economic Community.

  • [18] For details, É. Seizelet, Le référendum d’intérêt national en matière constitutionnelle au Japon, in Revue française de Droit constitutionnel, 85/2011, p. 53-40

  • [18] F. Esposito, Vers a nouveau pouvoir citoyen? Des référendums nationaux au référendum européen, Université de Genève, Bruulant-Académie Publishing House, Geneva, 2007, p. 96

  • [19] Épiney A., Le référendum européen, in ‘Le référendum européen: actes du colloque international de Strasbourg, 21-22 février 1997’, Andreas Auer et Jean-François Flauss (éd.); Université de Genève, Centre d ‘études et de documentation sur la démocratie directe, Institut européen [et] Université Robert Schuman de Strasbourg, Centre d’études internationales et européennes, Institut des hautes études européennes, Bruylant Publishing House, Bruxelles, 1997, p. 292

  • [20] For details, L. F. Uşvat, European Referendum, in the International Academic Conference on Law, Politics & Management, p. 92, The International Institute for Academic Development, Batumi, Georgia, 2015

  • [21] P. de Visscher, Le plébiscite international, in La participation directe du citoyen à la vie politique et administrative”, Bruylant Publishing House, Bruxelles, 1986, p. 139

  • [22] Idem

  • [23] Celotto A., Regional and Local People Consultation through Referendum, Perspectives on Federalism, Vol. 4, Issue 1, 2012, p. 12


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