It seemed ungracious of John Key to dismiss the now-confirmed asset sales referendum as an ‘utter waste of money’ while, in effect, describing it as pointless, because, in his words, ‘We've had a referendum—it was called a general election, and National won that election on the back of this major policy plank with an overwhelming majority—the biggest result we've received in MMP history. So it isn't like this is something that wasn't fully debated.’
Key is on flimsy ground if he thinks that an election win justifies everything subsequently done by the election winner on the basis that issue A or issue B was a ‘major policy plank.’ Let me quote a recent Economist editorial that cautions against what it calls majoritarianism —the belief that ‘electoral might always makes you right.’ Voting is an important democratic right, the editorial says, but ‘it is not the only one. And winning an election does not entitle a leader to disregard all checks on his power.’
The Economist was not referring to New Zealand and John Key; it was referring to the abuse of democracy by the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The fact is that 327,224 New Zealanders have signed the petition for a referendum—nearly a third of the number of those who party-voted National in 2011, ie, it’s by no means a negligible figure and it ought to be respected for that alone. But above all it ought to be respected, and not treated churlishly, as an authentic expression of public opinion expressed en masse. The Prime Minister is perfectly entitled to disagree with the views of the petitioners but to dismiss them so cheaply degrades him and his office, and runs the risk of fostering what the Economist calls zombie democracy—something that 'has the outward shape of the real thing' but lacks the heart.