When do we have full, real direct democracy in a country? Part II.

In the last post I wrote about full, real, direct democracy. We also saw how in Switzerland the Swiss people have more power than the politicians. This is a key aspect of direct democracy.

Swiss voters are not in the situation you and I are; they have more power than us, much more. They can prevent politicians from executing decisions if the decision does not have the support of most voters.

I envy the Swiss. I like their democracy even more than their chocolate, cheese or watches. I don’t know about you.

In our representative democracies it is very different, politicians can pass laws and make decisions that even most of us dislike. Sadly,  we can do nothing other than remember till the next election or take to the streets. But we know, our memory is brief. Our elected representatives know it also. They also know how to throw at us new goodies to help us forget.

Not only that, in representative democracy, elected politicians sometimes even do the opposite of what they promised, because there is no way to stop them, other than taking to the streets again.

Here is a good example of promise violation; the Republican President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, said during his election campaign: “Read my lips, no new taxes”, but once elected he signed a law that raised taxes.

In fairness to Mr. Bush, he did not want to raise taxes. He felt it was necessary because of changes in the economy and because the Democrats, who controlled Congress, forced him to.

The betrayal looks like it was not forgotten by voters; Mr. Bush was a one-term president.

In Switzerland voters would have stopped the law. Swiss voters would have overridden the President AND Congress.

The “Brexit” referendum is another example of lack of people power. In Switzerland the referendum would not have been called by Prime Minister Cameron. In Switzerland the law automatically, or the citizens, would have called for the referendum, and not on Mr. Cameron’s timing either.

Something almost humorous, but in my opinion worse, happened with other referendums in several European countries. Let us just take one; the Danish government held a referendum on the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty, a kind of EU Constitution.

The Danish people voted “no” to the treaty, but the government did not agree with the result, the government then held a second referendum on the same issue. This time the government liked the result.

In effect, the Danish government told the EU after the first vote, don’t worry, be happy, Denmark will approve the treaty because we will hold referendums until “the people get it right”. It is unbelievable this could happen in a country that in so many other respects is one of the best run societies in the World.

Other European countries did not even bother with referendums, they just ignored the people. We are not talking about banana republics here, these countries are serious democracies.

Such shenanigans undermine trust in governments, in politicians and in democracy itself.

Speaking of trust; another of the positive effects of direct democracy (if seriously executed) is that it generates more trust in government. For example, 82% of the Swiss trust their government. In the US the figure is 30%. In Japan it is 35%, just a little better. Even in countries like Canada, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands the figure is only about 60%.

But it is logical the Swiss trust their politicians, government and parliament. They do so because Swiss politicians can not do anything of importance if the voters do not back them up.

I am sure Swiss politicians also have learned to govern very aware of what they can and can not do. This also helps develop trust.

In Switzerland they have political parties, but their power is much less than in representative democracies. Because of that, politicians have learned to put forward measures that will be supported by the voters.

Furthermore, Swiss minority parties can initiate the process of collecting signatures to have a referendum. This also helps keep governing parties from approving unpopular measures.

A very interesting aspect of fully developed direct democracy is that it does not need professional politicians. Even Switzerland is not there yet. In full direct democracy ordinary citizens vote AND govern. They do so only once and for a short period. This helps prevent creating a political establishment.

Another effect of not having professional politicians; political parties are not necessary. They are not necessary because, in full direct democracy, people serving in government do not need the support of any organization to get elected.

An important benefit of direct democracy is that politics is centered more on issues, less on politics and politicians. This is quite noticeable in Switzerland.

To have direct democracy it is also essential that neither the government nor parliament have the power to decide what issues should go to referendum or when will the referendum take place.

This is very important because if governments, or  parliaments, can decide on what to have a referendum and when, you and I know politicians would be looking at polls; “let us wait”, etc. They would also do many things to make voters happy right up to voting day, to fool us once more.

Conclusion: we have direct democracy when the people have the power to control all significant decisions of the elected representatives.

This must happen at the national level and in the smallest village. Direct democracy requires a culture of direct democracy, at all levels of government.

Your input is always welcomed.

Victor Lopez

 

 

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