He wants a referendum, but he doesn't know what a referendum is

Published: July 5, 2009 at 9:45pm


Here’s one of The People demanding a referendum without knowing how a referendum actually works. Somebody please tell him that a referendum posits only two options – Yes or No – in answer to a single question.

You can never have a referendum asking people to choose between rebuilding the opera house as it was and Renzo Piano’s project (and why only those two options, anyway, while we’re about it?).

A referendum vote would have to be taken on this, for instance: Do you want the Renzo Piano project to go ahead? Yes/No

I remember this exact same debate going on six years ago, when some crackerjack brains in the Labour Party demanded to know why the referendum question didn’t offer The People a choice between ‘full membership’ and ‘partnership’.

I remember asking one of them how they imagined we could answer a question like that with a Yes or a No.

Do you want full membership or partnership? Yes. Yes what? Issa jien naf.

Maybe it’s worth pointing out yet again that a referendum gave the people of Dresden a hideous bridge that had the city stripped of its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

The Sunday Times, today

Call a referendum/Anthony Zarb Dimech, Sliema

The fairest solution as to what type of building we should build on the site of the old Opera House is to let the people decide in a referendum. People should be asked whether they want the Edward Middleton Barry design and build the Royal Opera House exactly as it was or the Renzo Piano design for a roofless arts centre. This would be a great opportunity for the government to show that it is willing to heed to the people’s wish after its recent electoral experience and not carry on regardless.

17 Comments Comment

  1. Karl says:

    According to Zarb Dimech’s absurd logic, because (he claims) Gonzi disregarded the people’s wish – consequently losing recent elections – then for fairness’ sake, and for the Maltese to have all that they desire, referendums are the solution.

    Not a bad idea to dissolve parliament, then, and let the people rule in a state of anarchy. And to make it even fairer, we should have referendums with a variety of choices. If votes are in favour of Piano, we could have another referendum on whether the theatre should have a roof or not, and then a referendum on whether parliament should be in Freedom Square or not. Then if the shops should stay or not, and another one on whether we should have a political museum. And if not, on whether we should then have a library.

    [Daphne – The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer was a satire about just this. Michael Rimmer became prime minister of Britain and then sought to become a despot. He bombarded The People with referendums and surveys on every last little thing, and connected their homes to devices through which their opinion was sought many times a day by a solicitous voice. When he judged that they had been driven to the point of despair, he surveyed their opinion one last time: do you want to continue deciding how to run the country? And the answer, of course, was a resounding No. Michael Rimmer was the new absolute ruler. thttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rise_and_Rise_of_Michael_Rimmer ]

    When we’re done with the city gate project, we’ll turn our attention to Marsa and have a referendum on whether Africans should remain in Malta, jghixu min fuq dahrna, or not.

    We elect our MPs, red or blue, because we trust them to take decisions on our behalf. We have delegated them to take those decisions on our behalf. That’s why it’s called representative democracy.

  2. John II says:

    Where did you get the bizarre notion that a referendum can only put a question requiring a yes or no answer?

    [Daphne – It’s not a bizarre notion, you tedious man. It’s the way things are. Shall we build that bridge and be stripped of our World Heritage Site status? Yes or No. Shall we join the European Union? Yes or No. Should minarets be allowed in the city? Yes or No. Should Ireland have divorce legislation? Yes or No.]

    • John II says:

      Do you want the Opera Hous to be rebuilt as it was before the war or do you prefer Piano’s Gorilla Cage? Tick the box you prefer. (Isn’t this fun?)

      Mutiple choice referendums DO exist.

      “Multiple-choice referendums
      A referendum usually offers the electorate only two choices, either to accept or reject a proposal, but this need not necessarily be the case. In Switzerland, for example, multiple choice referendums are common; two multiple choice referendums held in Sweden, in 1957 and 1980, offered voters a choice of three options; and in 1977 a referendum held in Australia to determine a new national anthem was held in which voters were presented with four choices.


      [Daphne – Not in our system. Also, you have bent over backwards and come up with nothing but exceptions which prove the rule. I have another question for your multiple choice referendum, if original buildings are your bugbear: do you want Barry’s opera house or the building which was destroyed so that Barry’s opera house could be built instead? The only reason people are ‘nostalgic’ about Barry’s thing is because they have seen photographs of it, but haven’t a clue what the previous building looked like. The opera house is not within our living memory, unless we are pushing 80. It was destroyed 66 years ago. Now toddle along and write that press release for Astrid. She’s having trouble with it.]

      • John II says:

        You mean we have never had one yet. But there is nothing in out laws ot constitution that says we we cannot.

        [Daphne – Try harder, John II.]

  3. John II says:

    If I were you, I would be careful how I use the Dresedn analogy:

    “The cause was a new bridge over the Elbe River, Deutsche Welle reports. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said the bridge would ruin the city’s historic core along the river, rebuilt after the war.”

    Which is exactly what the Piano project would do to Valletta.


    [Daphne – John II, do please stop demonstrating your horrendous ignorance and inability to think rationally. UNESCO is not going to strip Valletta of its World Heritage Site status because of a Renzo Piano project. UNESCO adores Renzo Piano and his projects and will deem Valletta to have been enhanced and not diminished by one. Do please visit the UNESCO site and see what they have to say about Piano, including the fact that he is working on Valletta.. By any chance, do you have one of those baroque studies diplomas that Astrid does – you know, the one that led her to identify a baroque house near Stella Maris Church in Sliema? I’m beginning to wonder. You seem like one of those ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ people.]

  4. Karl says:

    And by the way. Shop owners will either be given alternative accomodation or compensated financially. How’s that for fairness?. Mhux veru mela li Gonzi u Gatt jghaddu min fuq in-nies qishom romblu jewwilla.

  5. Fanny says:

    Daphne this might clear up misunderstandings on the part of John II. The questions are always yes or no. There can be two referendums on the same day but never a multiple choice answer.

    Main article: Voting in Switzerland (From wikipedia)

    Swiss citizens are subject to three legal jurisdictions: the commune, canton and federal levels. The 1848 federal constitution defines a system of direct democracy (sometimes called half-direct or representative direct democracy since it is added by the more commonplace institutions of a parliamentary democracy). The instruments of Swiss direct democracy at the federal level, known as civil rights (Volksrechte, droits civiques), include the right to submit a constitutional initiative and a referendum, both of which may overturn parliamentary decisions.

    By calling a federal referendum a group of citizens may challenge a law that has been passed by Parliament, if they can gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days. If so, a national vote is scheduled where voters decide by a simple majority whether to accept or reject the law. Eight cantons together can also call a referendum on a federal law.

    Similarly, the federal constitutional initiative allows citizens to put a constitutional amendment to a national vote, if they can get 100,000 voters to sign the proposed amendment within 18 months. Parliament can supplement the proposed amendment with a counter-proposal, with voters having to indicate a preference on the ballot in case both proposals are accepted. Constitutional amendments, whether introduced by initiative or in Parliament, must be accepted by a double majority of both the national popular vote and a majority of the cantonal popular votes.

    There is also the Lansgemeinde still practised in one or two Swiss German cantons where voting takes place in public by a show of hands. Everybody can see how you vote. That might go down well in Malta?!

    [Daphne – Thank you, Fanny. John II, Fanny lives in Switzerland, land of the referendum.]

  6. r pace bonello says:

    I do not see why the Maltese taxpayer should have to offer compensation to a tenant whose lease is up. No need for alternative accommodation, either. These shop owners had a contract which has expired and that should be the end of the story. They will now blame the government for ruining their business and that, regretfully, they will have to lay off their workers. What they should have done was to plan ahead once their tenancy was over. Must we always expect the government to solve all of our problems?

  7. Nigel says:

    The Barry Opera House was a structure that was past it’s use by date.
    Luckily or unkuckily it was demolished by a bomb during World War II.
    It would have been very unlucky for us if this bomb fell on some other majestic building which was built by the geniuses who built Valletta, e.g St. Jonh’s Co-Cathedral for instance.
    The Barry ruins should have been dealt with as such by Piano and removed. What is being proposed is neither baroque nor most probably practical. The Translucent screens and poles that are going to hold them will look like a clove of garlic on a sherry trifle. Sorry but it clashes with the surroundings.
    If we do not have the funds to finish a complete project then we should have just started on the City Gate, and a rethink done on the rest.

    [Daphne – “a clove of garlic on a sherry trifle”: translated literally from Kenneth’s article on the subject. It is a complete project. It looks incomplete to you in the same way that a Lucien Freud would seem to you unfinished.]

    • Milone says:

      Why are so many people allergic to the notion of an outdoor theatre? What other sort of theatre do they go to at this time of year – if at all? Not the Catholic Institute, I would imagine, or even the Manoel Theatre, for that matter.

      • Nigel says:

        A clove of garlic on a sherry trifle means “unsuitable and totally out of place.

        [Daphne – No, Nigel: it’s an old-fashioned expression once used by the bourgeoisie of Sliema and Valletta, the sort who actually had the wherewithal to make and eat English sherry trifles but who called them souffles instead, especially if their background was particularly Italianate and/or reactionary.]

        Daphne, sure you can see that this is so.

        [Daphne – No, I can’t, because it’s not ‘so’. And secondly, even if I did think as you do, I would assume that it is my judgement which is iimpaired and not Renzo Piano’s. To assume that I know better than Piano is one of two things: the most phenomenal arrogance or the most phenomenal stupidity.]

        I am not deriding Piano, because he was only following the brief that was given to him viz: “Renz, we do not have any money to finish off anything spectacular. Just give us something to close some mouths. Our Daph, will see to it that any dissidents will be dealt with” .

        [Daphne – Renzo Piano needs neither money nor briefs. People in that position do not take on briefs with which they are not in agreement.]

        Lucian Freud, a German-born British painter, whose paintings are associated with surrealism which feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non-sequitor – which due to its apparent lack of meaning relative to what follows seems absurd. [Daphne – Googled him, did you?] Just like the Barry/Piano open air theatre maybe? [Daphne – You do realise that Lucian Freud is one of the most highly acclaimed masters of our time? So yes, the comparison is appropriate.]

  8. jomar says:

    Rebuilding the Barry opera house would be a repetition of a colonial imposition, but this time ‘imposed’ by the same people who condemned British colonialism.

    The predominant definition of ‘referendum’ is as follows: ‘The submission of a proposed public measure or law that has been passed by a legislature or convention to a vote of the people for ratification or rejection’.

    Referendum(s) are usually reserved for Constitutional matters and are binding on the legislature while a vote to determine the popularity of a project, or the preferred choice of multiple alternatives, is not usually binding on the legislative body and may be simply regarded as an advisory tool.

    The Piano project does not have any Constitutional implications and holding a referendum in this case is not binding on the government, therefore it would be a waste of money and precious time.

  9. Not only is my comment NOT Absurd in its logic but in a circumstance such as this where since 1942 our nation cannot decide on the fate of a building of national pride, importance and identity the situation is an extraordinary one that calls for a Referendum to it.

    Intead of hitting below the belt and mud-sling each other which we are famous for, we should try and be imaginative in a constructive sense and show our unity as a Maltese nation. Divde and rule has destroyed many national treasures among them our reason in times of uncertainity and crises.

    The Swiss are wise in using the Referenda system and we should copy their example. You hardly hear of any national crises in Switzerland. We should copy ‘wise’ ideas.

    Also I only stated the facts all the way in my letter, where I made reference to giving the people a choice in the matter. Yes, given the size of the population and the advanced techonoogy in doing opinion polls and surveys, the pulse of the people must be taken into accoung. The time is ticking and all we have done are reports, reports and …….reports, talking, talking…….and talking since 1942. Come on MAN!

  10. As a last point to my comment, the government had passed the Abrogatory Referendum Bill that allows the people even to decide through Referenda whether a law that has alrady been enacted and implemented should be done away with or not. Come on MEN AND WOMEN, let the people decide.

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