The Falklands referendum is almost here. We have already discussed some of the issues related to any referendum by reviewing the case of Kashmir. In addition to this, we focused on the question that the Falkland islanders will have to answer and the possible problems such kind of question may present.
It is time now to have a look at other “available options” that the Falkland islanders could have in the future. In fact, the options we are going to see could be applied to any referendum in a sovereignty dispute.
Coming back to Kashmir and the poll that was conducted there years ago, respondents were asked if they were given the choice in a vote tomorrow, which ONE option would they vote for:
a) Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) to become independent?
b) To join India?
c) To join Pakistan?
d) The LoC to be made an international border?
e) India and Pakistan to have joint sovereignty over Kashmir?
f) No change in the status quo?
At first glance, it is easy to see that not only did the respondents have more options than in the Falklands referendum but also the options were all clearly mentioned.
Although it may seem a better way of dealing with a referendum, there is still a subtle issue. The questions envisaged, which proposed a plebiscite, is still restricted in relation to the choice. And the results of the actual poll support the already widespread view that the plebiscite options are likely to offer no solution to the dispute. The same would happen in the case of the Falklands islands.
Why is there a problem even though the options are clearly mentioned? It is correct to understand that this kind of question is better formulated than the one proposed in the Falklands referendum only because it does include other “possible alternatives” expressely. However, there is still a problem: uncertainty. And in the case of the question with multiple choices the uncertainty is given by the fact that the options are indeed clearly stated but not explained at all. Additionally, their consequences are not made clear to the respondents.
What would it mean for the Falkland islanders to be independent in terms of, for example, defence? How would it be to move under Argentinean sovereignty in relation to law? Are joint sovereignty and shared sovereignty the same institution? More important, do they havce the same consequences?
Once again, more questions than answers. More uncertainty.
The referendum is an important tool for internal and international democracy. Like any tool, its utility depends on the way it is used. Not to give importance to a referendum is simply to go against democratic values. However, that does not mean that every referendum is useful in achieving what it is supposed to be its aim. The Falklands referendum is a first of many “baby steps” in solving a long standing sovereignty conflict. Let’s hope it is followed by a coherent and more robust solution.