Referendums in Asia

  • Masahiro Kobori


There is a paradox in the practical use of referendums. In theory, a referendum is the closest one gets to pure democracy under a general system of representative democracy. In practice, however, in developing countries, ‘referendums have been utilized primarily by authoritarian regimes’ (Marques and Smith 1984: 103). Asia is a case in point. The largest continent on Earth is, arguably, the least democratic. According to a recent count, only six of the countries in the continent were regarded as fully fledged democracies — a ‘ratio worse than the worldwide average’ (Nathan 2012: 134). It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that India and Japan, two of the most long-standing democracies on that continent, have yet to hold a nationwide referendum; and that Israel, another country with a strong — though not unblemished (Arieli-Horowitz 1993) — democratic record, falls into the same category. Asia, which ‘hosts some of the world’s most resilient authoritarian regimes’ (Nathan, ibid.), has held very few referendums, and many of those that have taken place have been held during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, in Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini and in Syria under both Bashar and Hafez al-Assad. And, yet, this pattern is not uniform. North Korea, the most authoritarian regime in Asia, has not submitted any issues to plebiscites, whereas votes have been held in Taiwan and South Korea, two of the more democratic countries in that part of the world.


Authoritarian Regime Liberal Democratic Party Direct Democracy Veto Player Comparative Politics 
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© Masahiro Kobori 2014

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  • Masahiro Kobori

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