A referendum can be a proper instrument of direct democracy. But if applied improperly, it may devalue the cause it was meant to advance. This is the case with the vote on 16 March 2014 announced by Crimea’s authorities, who – following the takeover of the peninsula by Russia’s armed forces – seek a result that would make Crimea part of the Russian Federation. The most straightforward objection is constitutional. The constitution of Ukraine, of which Crimea is an integral and recognised part, says that Ukraine’s borders can be altered only via an all-Ukrainian referendum. This is why the Crimean initiative (formally proposed and passed by the parliament of Crimea, an autonomous republic within Ukraine) is anti-constitutional. This makes it bad for Ukraine as a whole, but this “separatist” plebiscite could also prove counterproductive for Russians in Crimea, a majority of the population, and for the Russian Federation.
A proper referendum in Crimea, according to Ukraine’s constitution, would require prior agreement between Kiev and Simferopol on its goals, legitimacy and the question to be asked (several recent and current examples confirm this, most notably the forthcoming referendum over Scotland’s independence). In such a case of conflict between centre and region, the way to proceed is to undertake negotiations; to involve different interest-groups within the region; and to examine all the possible repercussions (political, economic and social) of any change of statehood. All this may take years to achieve, since the stakes are extremely high for both parties.
A peaceful process and outcome also require that both sides agree on procedural fundamentals. All laws and formalities must be in place, with central government and regional authorities sharing a clear vision of the steps to be taken up to the vote and afterwards, whatever the result. Real partnerships require time and genuine effort – unlike shady decisions taken by one side backed by superior force that suited elites in both Kyiv and Simferopl that have dominated for a couple of decades. None of this is true in the case of Crimea.
Full Article: Crimea’s referendum: four dangers | openDemocracy.