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  5. What Is Expected from Local Referendums?

2010 Vol.3
What Is Expected from Local Referendums?


In Japan, generally speaking, law has no provision for local referendums. However, people have been increasingly demanding local referendums since the 1990s in the form of direct petitions with proposals for ordinances on local referendums. This phenomenon has been observed against a backdrop of people having no proper means to control policies that are suspected to diverge from public opinion. Local referendums are sought as a last resort against this problem, but are not easily realized because the underlying motivation is an imposition of control on the system of representation-an idea that local assemblies, which have the power to vote on ordinance proposals, strongly oppose.
Despite such opposition, we recently began to witness examples of local referendums putting a break on government projects. The fact that policy implementations at odds with public opinion can be stopped is laudable. However, at the same time, some limitation has emerged: while such local referendums can reject government proposals, they do not reveal what the public truly wants. In other words, budgets and various efforts for local referendums are spent only to reject certain proposals.
What is now being reassessed is the importance of devising policies that are suited to the needs of the public in the first place. In this context, movements for local referendums can be interpreted as reflecting people’s desire for a type of assembly that requires no local referendum, not as attempts to replace the functions of assemblies with local referendums. Paradoxical as it may seem, incorporating local referendums into political systems can be considered as a measure to realize such assemblies.