Vying to quell public unrest and a wave of protests, French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to ask the French electorate to vote in a May referendum. Since mid-November, nationwide protests have knocked Macron off balance and upended his pro-business agenda. He’s been lambasted as the president for the rich, aloof from the everyday concerns of French people. France has a generous welfare system but still many French are frustrated with high unemployment, a stagnant economy and weak purchasing power. In response to the protests, Macron has scrapped fuel tax hikes, raised the minimum wage and opened a two-month-long nationwide debate where people can voice their concerns and solutions to France’s problems at meetings and through an online portal.
United Kingdom: Labour Party wants a general election — but a second referendum is more likely, lawmaker says | CNBC
As the world awaits U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s next move after her Brexit deal failed to obtain parliamentary approval, some politicians from the country’s biggest opposition party believe a second referendum is now increasingly likely. “The critical issue is now that she’s been defeated in the House of Commons, what does Theresa May do and I think, there’s only one way she can really go now — and that’s towards a referendum to give the people a chance to sort out this crisis,” Andrew Adonis, a Labour member of the upper house who previously served as U.K. transport minister and education minister, told CNBC on Wednesday.
Taiwanese voters participating in islandwide local elections on Nov. 24 will need to wrestle with 10 referendums, including some that may affect relations with mainland China and Japan. The flurry of ballot questions owes to legislative changes enacted by President Tsai Ing-wen’s government to carve out a larger role for the public in politics. But these pro-democratic reforms may end up hindering the government’s efforts to make policy. Revisions to the Referendum Act approved by lawmakers last December cut the number of signatures needed to put a question on the ballot to 1.5% of eligible voters from 5%. Referendums can now pass if they are supported by at least 25% of eligible voters — down from 50% — in addition to outnumbering those who oppose the proposals. One referendum asks whether Taiwan should maintain a ban on imports of food from five Japanese prefectures around the site of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
A referendum aimed at putting same-sex marriage further out of reach in Romania was invalidated Sunday after a quick tally showed too few voters cast ballots, election officials said. The weekend vote on a constitutional amendment that would have changed the definition of family to make marriage a union between a man and a woman instead of between “spouses” required voter turnout of at least 30 percent for the result to stand. Election officials said after polls closed that only 20.41 of eligible voters participated. The turnout threshold never was close to being reached all day, a trend that gay rights group Accept said showed citizens “want a Romania based upon democratic values.” “We have shown that we cannot be fooled by a political agenda that urges us to hate and polarize society,” the group said in a statement before the turnout number was final.
Romanians will be asked this weekend whether they want to redefine marriage as only being between a man and a woman rather than “two spouses”, in a referendum that LGBT activists say is fuelling homophobia. The result will have little practical effect, given that same-sex marriage is not legal in Romania, and critics of the referendum, which was brought by a conservative NGO called Coalition for the Family, say it has been seized upon by politicians as a distraction tactic. “The idea is to distract public attention from corruption allegations, and they are doing it at the expense of the LGBT community,” said Teodora Ion-Rotaru of Accept, a rights organisation. She said there had been an increase in hate speech over the past two weeks, worsening an already difficult situation for the LGBT people in a very conservative country.
Macedonia: A referendum on Macedonia’s new name fails to settle anything – One step forward, two steps back in Skopje | The Economist
IT HAD been billed as the most important vote in the region’s recent history, a referendum in favour of settling a long-standing dispute between Greece and Macedonia. Instead, voters have opened the door to instability and uncertainty. The vote, held on September 30th in Macedonia, which aimed to endorse an historic compromise agreement between the two countries over Macedonia’s name, has instead thrown the deal into question. It is on life support. But Ana Petruseva, director of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Macedonia, says “it is not dead yet.”
Tens of thousands of Catalans congregated in Barcelona on Monday to mark the first anniversary of the region’s unilateral and illegal independence referendum as groups of pro-independence activists blocked roads, motorways and a high-speed rail line and surrounded the Catalan parliament. Police in the city estimated that about 180,000 people took part in a rally in the city on Monday evening. Tensions flared between police and protesters as some hardline demonstrators jumped over barriers at the entrance to the parliament. There were similar scenes outside the Barcelona headquarters of Spain’s national police. Crowds of students filled the city’s central square on Monday afternoon, waving yellow, red and blue separatist flags and chanting “1 October, no forgiving, no forgetting”. Nearby, others let off smoke bombs and fireworks.
A referendum on changing Macedonia’s name as part of a deal that would pave the way for NATO membership won overwhelming support Sunday, but low voter turnout highlighted the hurdles that still remain for the Balkan country to join the alliance. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev had hoped for a strong show of support in the referendum on whether to accept a June deal with Greece changing the country’s name to North Macedonia. That would help him with the next step of winning parliamentary support for the required constitutional amendments.
President Gjorge Ivanov has called for voters to boycott an upcoming referendum on Macedonia’s name change, saying the country was being asked to commit “historical suicide.” “Voting in a referendum is a right, not an obligation,” Ivanov said on September 27 in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly. Macedonians are due to go to the polls on September 30 to vote on an agreement its new Socialist government led by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev reached with Greece this year to change the country’s name to North Macedonia. The name dispute between Skopje and Athens dates back to 1991, when Macedonia peacefully broke away from Yugoslavia, declaring its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accused Russia on Monday of attempting to influence the outcome of a referendum in Macedonia on changing the country’s name that would open the way for it to join NATO and the European Union. Speaking after talks in Skopje with Macedonia’s leaders, Mattis also said the United States was looking to expand cybersecurity cooperation with the small Balkan country. Macedonians will vote on Sept. 30 on a deal reached in June with neighboring Greece that would change the country’s name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Athens insisted on the change in return for lifting its opposition to Skopje joining NATO and the EU.
Within the next 24 hours, anti-LGBTQ groups in Taiwan are expected to make a major announcement: They have reportedly collected enough signatures to put a referendum banning marriage equality on the ballot in November. Last year the Council of Grand Justices ruled that sections of the Taiwan Civil Code limiting marriage to one man and one woman violate the constitution. But unlike the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, the landmark ruling did not serve to legalize marriage equality in the self-governing Chinese territory. The court merely offered its legal opinion. Instead judges gave the legislature two years to either amend the civil code or draft a separate law allowing LGBTQ couples to wed. If the government did not act before that time, marriage equality would automatically become the law of the land.
Colombia: Colombia, the country that voted against a peace process, fails to vote against corruption | Colombia Reports
A referendum that sought to curb rampant corruption in Colombia’s congress failed on a knife’s edge on Sunday after voters failed to turn out. Of Colombia’s 36.4 million voters, less than 12 million cast votes, leaving the referendum 500 thousand votes short for it to be declared valid. The citizens who did vote, overwhelmingly approved the seven anti-corruption measures. More than 99 percent of the voters who did turn up approved the measures. Colombia’s rampant corruption is one of the most common grievances in the South American country, yet it failed to mobilize enough voters to address the problem that is bleeding the national treasury. According to the country’s Inspector General some 10 percent of the national budget gets lost through corruption every year.
An anti-corruption referendum in Colombia failed to pass on Sunday after narrowly falling short of a required one-third quorum. Nearly 11.7 million of nearly 36 million registered voters turned out to vote on seven measures designed to battle corruption and improve transparency. A threshold of 12.1 million voters was needed to make it binding. However, of those that cast a vote nearly 99 percent supported the proposals, sending a clear message to political elites that the public wants corruption to be taken seriously.
Voters in the Comoros went to the polls on Monday in a politically explosive referendum that could change the constitution and allow President Azali Assoumani to rule beyond 2021, his current term limit. Voters were scarce at several polling stations in the capital Moroni as the day began, AFP reporters witnessed. Burdened by a long history of turbulence, the Indian Ocean archipelago risks renewed unrest after Assoumani banned demonstrations and the opposition vowed to fiercely resist the proposed changes. Opposition lawmakers had demanded an “unconditional halt without delay to the arbitrary and illegal process” of the referendum, which they said they would boycott.
Ireland began voting on Friday in an abortion referendum that could be a milestone on a path of change in a country that, only two decades ago, was one of Europe’s most socially conservative. Polls suggest Irish voters are set to overturn one of the world’s strictest bans on terminations. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, in favour of change, has called the referendum a “once-in-a-generation” chance. Voters in the once deeply Catholic nation will be asked if they wish to scrap a prohibition that was enshrined in the constitution by referendum 35 year ago, and partly lifted in 2013 only for cases where the mother’s life is in danger.
The leader of a Burundian opposition coalition said Saturday they would not accept the outcome of a referendum on extending the president’s time in office, calling the vote undemocratic and marred by intimidation. As the East African nation awaited the electoral commission’s announcement of the results of Thursday’s vote, Agathon Rwasa said the opposition had proof of arrests of perceived opponents and threats of assassination against those who voted against changing the constitution. “It is a parody. We will not accept the outcome of this referendum because it is a fantasy,” the former rebel leader told The Associated Press, calling on the electoral commission to redo the vote in a way that is free and fair.
Ireland: As polls narrow before the abortion vote, is rural Ireland setting up a Brexit moment? | The Guardian
The polls have narrowed so much that a result once nearly taken for granted now hangs in the balance; the media are under fierce attack for bias; and questions are swirling about foreign influence and online ads. As Ireland heads into the last week of campaigning for its historic referendum on abortion, the long shadow of two recent surprise election results – the Brexit referendum across the Irish sea, and Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential poll – is hanging over Irish voters. They will decide on Friday whether to repeal an amendment dating back to the 1980s that enshrined in the constitution a near-total ban on abortion. The controls are the strictest in any western democracy, meaning that the battle has been closely watched by anti-abortion activists across the world.
Google has banned all adverts relating to the Irish abortion referendum from its platform, amid fears of overseas organisations taking advantage of loopholes in campaign funding laws to target voters before polling day. The decision will mean an end to advertisements relating to the referendum appearing alongside Google results and on YouTube during the final fortnight of the campaign. “Following our update around election integrity efforts globally, we have decided to pause all ads related to the Irish referendum on the eighth amendment,” a spokesperson said.
There are far more than three billboards outside Roscommon, and their opposing messages indicate an intensifying battle for undecided voters in the historic referendum on abortion this month. On the roads into this quiet town in the middle of rural Ireland, it is impossible to miss the laminated placards fixed to lamp-posts. Some have one from each camp, vying for the attention of passersby in a polarised campaign in which voters have to make a binary choice between yes and no. A few hoardings have been torn down in the night, in a sign of strongly held beliefs. But mostly, the people of Roscommon are holding their views close, unwilling to discuss with each other – let alone a stranger – where they will place their cross on 25 May.
A Canadian organisation is seeking to fundraise 7,000 Canadian dollars (€4,500) to send up to 24 independent electoral observers to Ireland for the referendum campaign to assess whether both sides “play fair” in the process. Non-governmental organisation SDAI-ADID says it is interested in “supporting and strengthening democracy through election observation” and that it wants to observe whether the electoral process adheres to “international standards of free, fair and transparent elections”.
Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, has set May 17 as the referendum date for a controversial constitutional reform, according to a presidential decree signed on Sunday March 18. The election could allow President Nkurunziza, 54, who has been in office since 2005, to remain in power until 2034. The decree specifies that the reform will be adopted if the proportion of favorable votes is 50% plus one vote, and that parties or individuals wishing to participate in the campaign for or against this reform must register with the Independent National Electoral Commission ( CENI) between March 23 and April 6.
Guatemalans voted Sunday in a referendum that could take the country a step closer to resolving a longstanding territorial dispute with neighboring Belize. The ballot asked whether voters agree to send the issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, for a binding ruling. However, Belize has yet to hold its own referendum as stipulated under a 2008 agreement with Guatemala, under which both countries would ask the court to take up the matter. Guatemala claims some 4,200 square miles (11,000 square kilometers) of terrain administered by Belize — essentially the country’s entire southern half.
The result of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment could be undermined if a legal challenge about voting rights for Irish citizens in Northern Ireland is not decided beforehand, the High Court has heard. Lawyers for a Belfast student who wants to bring a legal challenge to the exclusion of people in Northern Ireland from voting in the May referendum say the case must be heard beforehand or risk invalidating the result. Roisin Morelli is seeking permission from the High Court to bring the challenge. She says citizens of Northern Ireland have a constitutional right to vote in such referendums.
The Irish government has agreed the wording of a national referendum on abortion to be held by the end of May which could radically transform the lives of thousands of women and signal a further loosening of the grip of the Catholic church. The cabinet, meeting on International Women’s Day, approved a bill on Thursday allowing the long-anticipated referendum to go ahead. Voters will be asked if they want to repeal article 40.3.3 – known as the eighth amendment – which since 1983 has given unborn foetuses and pregnant women an equal right to life, effectively enshrining a ban on abortion in the country’s constitution. If Ireland votes in favour of repeal, the government has said it will introduce legislation permitting unrestricted abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
In 1983, Ailbhe Smyth was spat at and denounced as a “baby murderer” in the street as she campaigned for Irish women to have the right to abortion. Thirty-five years later, the activist is still at the heart of Ireland’s abortion battle, fighting for her daughter, granddaughter and other women to get control over their bodies. This time, she is hopeful that the country’s prohibition of abortion, even in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormality, which is enshrined in the constitution, may be overturned in a referendum expected to be held on 25 May.
With a fresh victory in hand, Ecuadoreans will be looking for President Lenin Moreno to move beyond the political duel with his domineering predecessor and focus his attention on the nation’s stagnant economy. Ecuadoreans voted by a landslide in a nationwide referendum Sunday to limit presidents to just one re-election, barring three-time former President Rafael Correa from returning to power. The measure was approved by an almost 2-to-1 margin, sending the strongest signal yet that the Andean nation is ready to shift gears away from Correa, the leftist strongman who has dominated the nation’s politics over the last decade. But how far Moreno will diverge from Correa’s agenda remains to be seen.
The eighth amendment of the Irish constitution makes Ireland, depending on your point of view, either a unique beacon of humanity in a godless world or a superstitious hamlet determined not to enter into the 21st century. The amendment was signed into law in October 1983 after two-thirds of the electorate voted in a referendum to accord equal status to the life of a child growing in the womb with that of its mother. As a result, only in extreme circumstances can an abortion take place. Pointing out that no one under the age of 52 had ever voted on the issue, the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, last week announced that a referendum would take place by the end of May to repeal the amendment.
The election campaign for the popular referendum to be held in Ecuador on Feb. 4 began on Wednesday with 40 registered citizens’ organizations, most of them favoring the “yes” vote for the seven questions to be asked of the public by the government of Lenin Moreno. Just four social organizations, of the 40 approved by the National Electoral Council (CNE), will campaign for the “no” option to certain questions on the referendum dealing with issues such as corruption, re-election, capital gains, citizenship, mining and sexual crimes against minors. The CNE reiterated on Wednesday that the election campaign will last until midnight on Feb. 1, when a moratorium on proselytizing will be instituted to give the citizenry time to reflect on how they intend to vote.
Vote Leave is under investigation by the Electoral Commission over whether it breached the £7m EU referendum spending limit, with allegations being made that it channelled funds for a social Brexit media campaign via £625,000 in donations to a student. The watchdog said that the new information meant it had “reasonable grounds to suspect an offence may have been committed” and said it would examine if the Boris Johnson and Michael Gove-fronted campaign had filed its returns correctly. Its unexpected intervention came as the commission was facing a legal challenge from remain grassroots campaigners, unhappy that it had dropped a previous investigation into the spending of Vote Leave and satellite Brexit campaigns that are accused of not being properly independent of it.
A solid majority of Australians voted in favor of same-sex marriage in a historic survey that, while not binding, paves the way for Parliament to legally recognize the unions of gay and lesbian couples. Of 12.7 million Australians who took part in the government survey, 61.6 percent voted yes and 38.4 percent voted no, officials announced on Wednesday morning. Participation was high, with 79.5 percent of voting-age Australians sending back their postal ballots. “The Australian people have spoken, and they have voted overwhelmingly ‘yes’ for marriage equality,” said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who called the survey in a move described by advocates as a delay tactic devised to appease his party’s far-right faction. “They voted ‘yes’ for fairness, they voted ‘yes’ for commitment, they voted ‘yes’ for love.”