Prime Minister David Cameron, who was in the remain camp, quit after Britons voted for Brexit. The reason he gave for resigning was that he felt that those who campaigned against him should be the ones who should oversee Britain’s exit from the EU.
Was there a need for him step down? There’s nothing in British law to say that he should resign. It was a personal decision. Yet, it was consistent with the democratic tradition of stepping down when you realise that you can’t lead a people who want different things from you.
People put leaders in positions to lead because they believe that it is in their best interests that they should lead them. When it is clear that the leader really can not lead in the way the people want, the leader with integrity would resign, as did Cameron.
If Cameron had been more interested in clinging to power, perhaps, he might not have resigned. He may have given the reasons we so often hear in Malaysia: “There’s no law to say that he must resign”, “He didn’t do anything wrong, so, he doesn’t have to resign” or “Why should he resign; it’s all a political campaign to get him out!” All of the above may be true, but, if, as a leader, you realise that you really can’t lead the people in the direction they are desiring to go, you step down.
Whatever Cameron’s real reasons, it is clear that he understood that he, really, wasn’t the person to lead Britain out of the EU. He wanted Britain to remain in the EU but there were two distinct camps and he decided on a referendum to decide if there was a majority. As the incumbent government, he could have influenced the Brexit camp to change their mind by using government resources to influence their decisions but that would have triggered a political tsunami which would have eventually caused him the premiership. Besides, the British electorate is fairly politically sophisticated and would have seen through the ruse and exposed him.
Apart from the accepted modes of campaign, such as debates and discussion and the presentation of facts, Cameron’s Tory Party left it to the voters to decide for themselves in an environment free of political manipulations. That is the point of a democracy — creating an environment where people are free to vote as they want to without being bought or pressured. It is the government’s responsibility to create such an environment. And Cameron’s government did just that. The Brexit referendum was a laudable act of democracy.
Once a precedent is set when incumbent leaders “buy votes” with timely monetary aid and promises, the practice tends to spread. Other leaders would do the same. Then, the people will longer be free to vote as they wish. Influenced by their leaders and their promises, the people will be obliged to vote in favour of these leaders. They may not like what they are doing but they may feel like they have no choice. The outcome of such a vote will not reflect the true yearnings of the people.
A democratic government will create an environment where the people will be free and unencumbered to vote as they wish. It is a political culture that needs to be nurtured and, when achieved, protected at all cost. It ensures political stability even when the vote goes contrary to the interests of the leaders.