On 2 November 1983, the government held a referendum to gauge White opinion on the new constitution and tricameral parliament – it baulked at allowing Coloureds and Indians a vote in the referendum, anticipating a low turnout or rejection.
In the end, 76% of the 2,5 million eligible White voters cast their vote, and 66% approved the new dispensation, while 33% voted against it – setting the basis for the institutionalisation of the new tricameral parliament.
The position of prime minister was abolished in favour of a state president, and PW Botha’s accession to the new role as executive president gave him much more power than the position of prime minster made possible.
The Progressive Federal Party opposed the measures, arguing that the exclusion of African people from the new system would exacerbate tensions, and asked its supporters to vote ‘no’ to the question of whether to institute the new system. But the results showed that many of the PFP’s followers voted ‘yes’ in the referendum. Business also supported the NP, believing that an overwhelming rejection of the new dispensation would prove disastrous for business and the economy.
The 1983 constitution was enacted on 28 September 1983, and came into force on 3 September 1984.