Again, I only refer to politicians in stable representative democracies.
In non-stable democracies, affected by corruption, by lack of freedom, feeble separation of power, perhaps poverty of many citizens, direct democracy will not work. For example, when a country is corrupt it corrupts most ordinary citizens too because it is almost impossible to survive otherwise. How can you switch from such situation to direct democracy! It is possible, but very difficult.
In non-democracies the situation is even worse; they have terrible guard dogs to prevent citizen power. The “politicians”, the “great leaders”, the “great party”, the “great religious regime”, do not need to listen to the people because the people of such regimes are convinced “they know better” than the people what is good for the people. They will not hesitate to imprison or kill anyone who threatens their power. It is crazy but…
Let us stick to stable representative democracies.
In representative democracies the politician always tells you: “vote for me because I am listening to your concerns”.
Well, tell them direct democracy is a better way of listening to you, the voter.
If the politician is not in power he or she will tell you: “we (our party) are different, we will really listen to you, but we need your vote to throw the rascals out”. Of course, you know what happens once you throw “the rascals out”; once the new party is in power becomes “the rascals”.
There is another problem in representative democracy; you have your ideology. It is not easy to vote for “that other party”, the party who opposes the progressive or conservative ideas and measures you support; you feel you have to be “loyal” to those ideas. Because of that you are much more likely to continue voting “your party”, even it made decisions you strongly disliked.
Direct democracy will change everything with a small change in the way politicians listen.
You see, in Switzerland, because they have direct democracy, the vast majority of decisions politicians make are supported by the people and no referendums are needed. This is so because Swiss politicians have learned to make decisions the majority support, or at least do not oppose them.
In direct democracy we ask the politicians in power to go a step beyond current listening; to let us, the voters, tell them we formally agree with their decisions when enough people want to have a vote on the decision.
Who knows?, perhaps even the politicians in “the opposition” will join you in the push for direct democracy.
Let me give you an example of how direct democracy is clear progress.
Suppose that in your village or town the local government formed by elected representatives decides to build a new road, or decides to make available for commercial or housing developments some public land.
If you do not agree with the decision, in representative democracy all you can do is call or write the mayor or the councilor who “represents” you. You can also demonstrate, get media attention (if the media is free AND independent), distribute flyers, set up billboards, etc.
But even if the majority of people “represented” by the politicians making the decision oppose their decision, there is not much the people can do to stop it because the people do not have legally the mechanism to stop the decision.
If the politicians decide your protests could hurt them at the next election, it is possible they will change their mind, but that is far from certain.
It is far from certain because they make political calculations; by the time next election comes around perhaps you have forgotten, or you have to swallow your frustration because the same politicians you were angry at, have done other things you support.
Representative democracy is a good system that needs improvement. It needs improvement because it is still a system allowing governments to make decisions that go against the wishes of the majority or that ignore what the majority thinks.
In representative democracy, once you vote them in, politicians have a lot of freedom, too much freedom between elections, and not just the government; often government and opposition parties join forces against the will of millions of voters. That does not make sense; voters should have the final say on all issues voters decide they should have the final say.
Under representative democracy governments can also count on the fact that since they are a “progressive” or “conservative”, you will vote for them because you are also progressive or conservative. In a way, ideology becomes a chain that keeps you chained to “your” political party.
In real life, moderate progressives and conservatives can have the same opinion on issues, such as building the new road or opening up more land for development. Without direct democracy they can not join efforts to control the government or parliament, even if the majority of voters want to.
Is it not much better for the citizens, the community, to have voters vote their agreement with the politicians on controversial concrete issues? It is not better also for the politicians over the long term, because such cooperation generates trust in them? The quality and stability of democracy is directly related to the trust citizens place on the people they elect.
Direct democracy is a system to make better decisions, it produces decisions that are better technically and politically. They are better because decisions are subject to more study and more rational debate.
Over the long term, direct democracy is also better for all those who now lobby representative politicians; the very rich, the large companies, and other groups on “the right” and “the left” (except the extremists on both sides). It benefits us because it promotes stability. All reasonable people want and need stability; the reasonable rich, the reasonable large and small business and their reasonable employees too.
Another important benefit of direct democracy is that it trains citizens to look more into the concrete aspects of the issues and less at ideology. This is good because ideology-based decisions are less focused on the “here and now”, when that happens people make less than optimal, or make outright bad, decisions.
Direct democracy is superior because, to their own ideas politicians can add the ideas of the people. It is not just a matter of being more inclusive, it is smarter too.
In business, more and more companies are learning they make better decisions when they learn to seek the input of employees and customers. Because of that they are better run and make more money. Such cooperative business management is superior to traditional management. Cooperation between government and voters is also superior. Direct democracy is a proven system to bring cooperation to politics.
No doubt direct democracy is one of the key factors making Switzerland the most stable country in the World.
In the next post I will describe in detail how you would go about having a binding referendum on any law the elected public representatives pass at the local, state, provincial, regional or national level.