Referendums are becoming increasingly popular in Europe. They are also controversial, as they offer only binary choices on complex questions, weakening accountability (“when everybody is responsible, nobody is”), and they may be abused for interests unrelated to the referendum question.
Ukraine has its own history of divisive referendums, which have often been used by presidents to ride roughshod over constitutional institutions, resulting in destabilising consequences. Yet, the major risk poses the current Law on All-Ukrainian Referendum of 2012 that has significant shortcomings. The Law provides for insufficient guarantees for equal treatment of the supporters and opponents of referendum, impartial administration of referendums, and for clear wording of referendum questions. Furthermore, it allows the Ukrainian public to demand a referendum on practically any subject, including changes to the Constitution.
The briefing paper looks in-depth into the current legal framework for national referendums in Ukraine in light of international standards. It explains the urgency to reform it and touches upon the guarantees against abusive, destabilising national voting. The publication also concludes that adoption of a new draft law on referendums that was proposed in June 2015 could represent a real progress towards rule of law.