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Call for stronger rules on conducting referendums

 PACE has called for stronger guidelines on conducting referendums – including that any question put should be “as clear as possible” and voters should have access to “balanced and quality information”.

In a resolution based on a report by Dame Cheryl Gillan (United Kingdom, EC), the Assembly set out a series of principles to be included in a revision to a 2007 Code of Good Practice on Referendums being prepared by the Council of Europe’s body of legal experts, the Venice Commission.

The parliamentarians called for “rigorous independent press regulation and impartial fact-checking” to tackle misinformation during referendum campaigns as well as regulation of all media sectors, including social media, in relation to electoral processes.

They also urged improved transparency on the sources of campaign funds and how they are spent. Spending or donation limits should be encouraged, and foreign donations banned, with fines for breaches of the rules.

The Assembly said that, where possible, referendums should be post-legislative. However, where this is not possible “a process should be set out requiring two referendums if the first referendum does not allow voters to choose between the options that are ultimately available”.

Questions requiring replies other than “yes” or “no”, including multi-option questions, should be allowed if they give voters a clearer choice.

PACE also said an independent body should check any proposed referendum question to ensure it is “clear, accessible and unbiased”, provide neutral information, oversee the campaign and supervise voting.

Venice Commission President Gianni Buquicchio took part in the debate, presenting the Commission’s work to revise the existing Code of Good Practice.