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직접민주주의/국민투표의 위험성(기사)
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날         짜 2016년 12월 06일 19시 27분 52초   [화요일] 글번호 369
국민투표에서 찬반을 위해 단순화되는 복잡한정책
영국·헝가리·태국·콜롬비아·이탈리아 등 부작용 노출
"복잡한 정책 지나친 단순화…유권자 정보 적고 인기투표 될 수도"

올해 들어 영국의 유럽연합(EU) 탈퇴, 콜롬비아의 내전 종식을 위한 평화협정, 태국과 이탈리아의 개헌, 헝가리의 난민정책 등이 국민투표를 거쳤다.
그러나 그 과정에서 정치적 혼란이 발생하고 독재가 강화되거나 사회 분열이 가중되는 등 부작용이 나타나면서 논쟁이 가열됐다.
개헌 국민투표 부결 뒤 사퇴 발표하는 마테오 렌치 이탈리아 총리[EPA=연합뉴스]
민주 국가에서 중요한 국가적 문제를 결정할 때 국민 찬반, 다수결에 모든 것을 맡기는 국민투표가 가장 민주적인 제도일까.
미국 일간 뉴욕타임스(NYT)는 국민투표에 대한 전 세계 정치학자들의 견해를 6일 두루 소개했다.
대다수 학자는 국민투표가 국민이 아닌 정치 엘리트에 의해 좌우되는 '위험한 도박'일 수 있다는 견해를 피력했다.
더블린 트리니티대의 정치학자인 마이클 마시는 국민투표가 좋은 대안이냐는 질문에 "거의 그런 적이 없다"고 잘라 말했다.
그는 "아일랜드에서도 여러 차례 국민투표가 있었지만 무의미한 것부터 위험한 것까지 있었을 뿐 좋은 것은 없었다"고 주장했다.
일각에서는 국민투표를 가장 인기 있고 단순한 통치방식으로 규정하며 민주주의에 도움이 되기보다 민주주의를 전복하는 경우가 많다고 지적하는 시각도 있다.
유권자가 정보가 거의 없는 상태에서 정치적 메시지에 의존해 결정을 내리는 까닭에 결과적으로 정치 엘리트에게 권력을 주는 효과만 낸다는 것이다.
런던정경대의 알렉산드라 시로나 연구원은 "국민투표가 위험한 도구지만 정치인은 그들이 이길 수 있다고 생각하기 때문에 계속 이용한다"고 지적했다.
그러나 계산과 달리, 결론적으로 국민투표를 시도한 정치인들은 자주 패배하며 국민투표는 정치적 문제를 해결하기보다는 새 문제를 발생시킨다.

왜 많은 전문가는 국민투표에 회의적일까.

어떤 사안을 국민투표에 부칠 때는 전문가가 결과를 예상하는 데도 몇 년씩 걸릴 복잡하고 어려운 정책을 찬성과 반대라는 단순한 대답으로 만들어야 한다.
전문가들은 까다롭고 복잡한 문제를 지나치게 단순화하는 이 지름길에서 필연적으로 문제가 불거진다고 본다.
토론토대 명예교수인 로런스 리덕은 유권자들이 국민투표를 제안한 지도자를 좋아하면 찬성표, 싫어하면 반대표를 던지는 경향이 있다고 주장했다.
리덕 교수는 지난해 발표한 연구에서 "중요한 공공 의제에 대한 국민투표가 결국 특정 정당이나 정치인에 대한 인기투표가 되어 버리는 것"이라고 지적했다.
실제 지난 10월 치러진 콜롬비아의 평화협정 체결을 위한 국민투표 결과도 대선 당시 후안 마누엘 산토스 대통령을 향한 지지 여부와 고스란히 일치했다.
유권자들은 복잡한 사안을 기존의 이념적 믿음에 맞춰 생각하기도 한다는 의심을 받는다.
이런 현상은 사실상 거의 모든 국민투표에서, 특히 중대한 이해관계가 걸렸을 때 발생한다는 것이 전문가들의 주장이다.
지난 6월 치러진 영국의 EU 탈퇴(브렉시트) 국민투표 당시, 찬반 진영 어디에서도 EU 회원국으로서 영국이 누리는 지위를 구체적으로 설명하지 않았다.
회원국 지위를 두고 잔류 진영은 '경제적 안정', 탈퇴 진영은 '이민자 유입'을 강조했고 결국 후자가 전자보다 더 큰 힘을 발휘했다.
국민투표는 권력이 국민에게 있다는 것을 증명하는 수단이기도 하지만 정치 엘리트가 이미 결정한 사안에 합법성을 부여하는 수단으로 악용되는 게 현실이다.
런던정경대의 시로나 연구원은 "국민투표가 현실에서는 어떤 문제를 국민이 결정해야만 한다는 것과는 큰 관련이 없다"고 주장했다.
그는 "정치인이 국민에게 질문을 던짐으로써 이득을 볼 수 있느냐 없느냐의 문제와 관련이 있다"고 덧붙였다.
자신의 정치적 이익을 위해 브렉시트 국민투표를 제안했다가 나중에 반대진영으로 돌아선 데이비드 캐머런 전 영국 총리가 그 대표적 사례로 꼽힌다.
태국 역시 군부의 정치 참여를 공고히 하는 개헌을 위해 국민투표를 시행하면서 개헌안에 대한 보도를 제한했다.
NYT는 당시 개헌안이 민주주의를 위협한다는 반대 목소리는 들을 수 없었다고 보도했다.
빅토르 오르반 헝가리 총리도 자신의 정치적 입지를 강화하기 위한 수단으로 EU의 난민할당제 찬반을 묻는 국민투표를 이용했다는 평가를 받는다.
북아일랜드와 아일랜드의 평화협정처럼 정치 혼란이나 무력 충돌로 이어질 수 있는 국가적 논쟁을 해결할 때 국민투표가 좋은 수단이 된 역사도 있다.
하지만 전문가들은 이 역시 위험이 매우 크기 때문에 신중해야 한다고 지적한다.
투표율이 높고 한쪽이 압도적 지지를 받아 국민적 공감대가 형성될 때만 국민투표의 제대로 된 효력이 발휘된다는 것이다.
콜롬비아 평화협정 국민투표는 낮은 투표율에 결과 역시 찬반이 거의 반반으로 갈렸다.
브렉시트 국민투표 결과 역시 근소한 차이로 통과됐고, 이런 결과들은 또 다른 정치적 논쟁으로 이어졌다.
전문가들은 여론조사, 언론보도 행태, 정당의 지지율 등락이나 내부 갈등, 날씨 등도 일국의 거사를 결정하는 데 불순한 변수로 작용할 수 있다고 지적했다.
하버드대의 케네스 로고프 교수는 브렉시트 국민투표 후 부정적 효과를 지목하며 "민주주의가 아니라 공화국들이 자행하는 러시안룰렛"이라고 주장했다.

연합뉴스/20161206
----------------------------

Why Referendums Aren’t as Democratic as They Seem

The voters of the world have had quite a year: They rejected Colombia’s peace deal; split Britain from the European Union; endorsed a Thai Constitution that curtails democracy; and, in Hungary, backed the government’s plan to restrict refugees, but without the necessary turnout for a valid result.

Each of these moves was determined by a national referendum. Though voters upended their governments’ plans, eroded their own rights and ignited political crises, they all accomplished one thing: They demonstrated why many political scientists consider referendums messy and dangerous.

When asked whether referendums were a good idea, Michael Marsh, a political scientist at Trinity College Dublin, said, “The simple answer is almost never.”

“I’ve watched many of these in Ireland, and they really range from the pointless to the dangerous,” he added.
Continue reading the main story

Though such votes are portrayed as popular governance in its purest form, studies have found that they often subvert democracy rather than serve it. They tend to be volatile, turning not just on the merits of the decision but also on unrelated political swings or even, as may have happened in Colombia, on the weather.

Voters must make their decisions with relatively little information, forcing them to rely on political messaging — which puts power in the hands of political elites rather than those of voters.

“This is a tool that’s risky, but politicians keep using it because they think that they’ll win,” said Alexandra Cirone, a fellow at the London School of Economics. But often they do not win, and instead of resolving political problems, the referendums create new ones. Looking over the research on these votes, it becomes clear why many experts are skeptical.

‘Short cuts’ to hard answers

Voters face a problem in any referendum: They need to distill difficult policy choices down to a simple yes or no, and predict the outcome of decisions so complex that even experts might spend years struggling to understand them.

Voters typically solve this problem by finding what the political scientists Arthur Lupia and Mathew D. McCubbins have termed “short cuts.” The voters follow the guidance of trusted authority figures or fit the choice within a familiar narrative.

When a referendum is put forward by the government, people often vote in support if they like the leadership and vote in opposition if they dislike it, according to research by Lawrence LeDuc, a political scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto.

Voters around the world this year showed why many political scientists consider referendums to be messy and dangerous.

“A vote that is supposed to be about an important public issue ends up instead being about the popularity or unpopularity of a particular party or leader, the record of the government, or some set of issues or events that are not related to the subject of the referendum,” Professor LeDuc wrote in a 2015 paper.

In Colombia, for example, most regions that voted for President Juan Manuel Santos in 2014 also voted for the peace deal, and vice versa.

Voters may also cope with complex issues by shoehorning them into existing ideological beliefs.
This dynamic plays out in virtually every referendum — especially those with higher stakes.

Imposing a narrative

Politicians or other powerful actors will often reframe the referendum into simplistic, straightforward narratives. The result is that votes become less about the actual policy question than about contests between abstract values, or between which narrative voters find more appealing.

In Britain’s debate over whether to leave the European Union, or “Brexit,” neither side emphasized the specifics of membership in the bloc, instead framing the vote as a choice about which values to emphasize. The “Remain” campaign presented membership as a matter of economic stability. The “Leave” campaign emphasized immigration.

It worked. People who voted to remain expressed great concern about the economy, but not much about immigrants. People who voted to leave said they were very concerned about immigration, and less so about the economy.

In Colombia, Mr. Santos presented the referendum as a vote on peace, but the opposition presented it as a decision on whether the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, was entitled to leniency. Neither narrative fully portrayed the question of whether the peace deal would be worthwhile.

Colombia, Ms. Cirone said, also highlighted that “in contexts where the referendum addresses a historical political issue, it may be hard for voters to separate past experiences with what is best for the country in the future.”

In Thailand, the military-led government held a referendum in August to approve a new Constitution that would entrench its power and curtail elements of democracy. But the military also promised elections only after the Constitution passed, in effect selling an anti-democratic document as the pro-elections choice. The measure passed.

Democracy as a tool for the powerful

Though presented as putting power in the hands of the people, referendums are often intended to put a stamp of popular legitimacy on something leaders have already decided to do.

“It doesn’t have a lot to do with whether this should be decided by the people,” Ms. Cirone said. “It has to do with whether a politician can gain an advantage from putting a question to the people.”

For example, David Cameron, until July the British prime minister, held the vote on whether to depart the European Union expecting that it would bolster his decision to stay in the bloc and would thus silence British politicians who wanted to leave.

The Thai military restricted news coverage of the draft Constitution, ensuring that there was no counternarrative that might portray it as a threat to democracy. By giving the appearance of popular input, the military in fact dampened it.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary most likely devised his country’s referendum — on whether to reject European Union requirements for accepting refugees — to pre-empt inevitable objections in the bloc to his anti-migrant policies and to bolster his political standing at home. In both cases, it was about using the vote as an instrument to strengthen himself.

High-risk, high-reward votes for peace

This stamp of popular legitimacy, though, can sometimes be a good thing, settling contentious national disputes that might otherwise lead to political turmoil or even to armed conflict. But it is precisely because the stakes are so high that the risks are, as well.

Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace deal in 1998 was followed by two referendums, one in Northern Ireland and one in the Republic of Ireland. That gave communities a sense of having been included, and marginalized anyone who wanted to keep fighting, making a relapse into conflict less likely.

This shows an important way referendums are different from regular elections: They succeed only when the nation perceives the vote as reflecting popular will. That works best if turnout is high and one side wins in a landslide, as happened in Northern Ireland’s 1998 vote.

But in Colombia, turnout was just 38 percent, and the vote was split almost perfectly down the middle, meaning a few thousand people swung the outcome. Even if the referendum had passed, it would have failed to give the peace deal popular legitimacy.

That problem can be solved by requiring high turnout and a landslide victory for a referendum to be binding, Ms. Cirone said. But in a puzzling decision, neither Colombia nor Britain required more than 50 percent of the vote for either side to win.

A low-turnout, close result like Colombia’s can risk deepening political disputes rather than bridging them. Leaders have to choose whether to accept a result that does not demonstrably reflect popular will, or reject the result and risk a political backlash or a constitutional crisis.

‘Russian roulette for republics’

National referendums can also be extremely volatile, driven by factors unrelated to the issue’s merits and outside anyone’s control.

Opinion polls are often misleading because people do not form their opinions until immediately before the vote. Tellingly, they often abandon those views just as quickly.

Professor Marsh of Trinity College Dublin said he had found, in some cases, that “most people can’t remember any arguments for — this is about a week later — they can’t remember any arguments against, and they’re not really quite sure why they voted yes or no.”

He added, “That doesn’t inspire me, really, with referendums.”

The ambient noise of politics can also distort popular will: Whether one party is up or down in the polls, whether intraparty infighting over the vote spills into public, and how the news media portrays related issues all play a role.

Votes are also subject to random factors, including the weather. In Colombia, turnout for the referendum may have been depressed by a hurricane that hit the day before, forcing evacuations in some areas.

“The idea that somehow any decision reached anytime by majority rule is necessarily ‘democratic’ is a perversion of the term,” Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard, wrote after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

“This isn’t democracy; it is Russian roulette for republics,” he added.

By AMANDA TAUB and MAX FISHER OCT. 4, 2016. NYT



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