Representative democracy has run its course

The heading of today’s blog has nothing to do with “right”, “left”, “progressive” or “conservative”, it is about the power of the people, no matter who governs.

Today in the US, most Republican voters believe the presidential election has been stolen by the Democrats and their allies. Most Democrats feel that it has not.

No democracy can be stable and function in that situation.

The root problem is that elections, in the US and, to a lesser extent in other representative democracies, are too important for the politicians. This is because politicians have too much power. Citizens are becoming aware that politicians do not really govern for the people; they govern for themselves, for their big money supporters, for pressure groups and allies, often they do not govern for those who voted them in.

Sure, there are limits to power in a representative democracy. For example, the power of the US President is checked, somewhat, by the Legislature.

In the Legislature, the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate check each other’s power. There are areas where the President can act unilaterally. The US Supreme Court can also “legislate” with its decisions. The politicians “check and balance” the Supreme Court because they appoint the judges.

There are “checks and balances” (highly politicized) among the three powers, but the people can not check and balance any of the three, or the power of the three together. The people can not limit their power, stop their decisions, or propose to their fellow citizens’ laws or changes to the constitution, but the Swiss can.

But that power did not come to the Swiss from Heaven; over one century ago, the Swiss people took to the streets and said: “enough!”, and they stripped politicians and Supreme Court Judges of much of their power. They did it in an orderly, peaceful manner, but they did it.

The Swiss people, for decades, have now been the final decision-makers on anything of importance nationally, at the canton (state-province) level, and also locally. Swiss judges can not overturn decisions by the people, nor can they make law by deciding politically charged cases.

Another benefit of direct democracy is that the people can, but normally do not, challenge or protest proposed laws and decisions by the politicians. This happens because the politicians in Switzerland know that if they make a decision, or pass a law, that is not in tune with the will of the people, the people will reverse their decision, and even propose a new law, a new decision, etc.

The Swiss Supreme Court judges have very limited powers too. For example, they are forbidden by the Swiss Constitution to evaluate the “constitutionality” of any law.

The Swiss Supreme Court can not overturn the results of a referendum either by saying, for example, that what the people approved is not constitutional.

The interesting and surprising thing about Swiss Supreme Court Judges is that they are members of political parties, and need party support to get elected or re-elected. On paper, that sounds worse than the US.

Most Swiss may agree that is not right, but the power of the Court is so severely limited that it is not a serious issue, so far.

We should also keep in mind that, because Swiss politicians know they have to govern for the people, the four major political parties, representing 70% to 80% of the voters, govern in a multi-party coalition. They have been doing it for decades. No doubt such  cooperative governance is also reflected in the Swiss Supreme Court.

Issues decided in the US by the Supreme Court, in Switzerland are decided by the people, and nobody can take a decision by the people to the Swiss Supreme Court.

In Switzerland; the people, democratically, deliberately, rationally,  decide practically anything; if gay marriage will be legal, if marihuana will be decriminalized, if there will be a minimum wage, if health care will be universal, if the air force will get more planes, or if Swiss companies will be liable for the violation of human rights laws and environmental laws outside Switzerland, etc. The politicians and the judges do not decide any of that.

When the people have more power than the politicians and the Supreme Court Judges, there are also fewer incentives for pressure groups to influence politicians and also to push for this or that judge. This helps keep politics less polarized.

Another good thing is that in a direct democracy, the people have the power to make sure the electoral process has credibility, that the people of all parties trust the results of elections and referendums The current situation in the US is unimaginable in today’s Switzerland. No wonder the Swiss are the nation that most trusts its institutions.

What is happening in the US now is highly publicized for many reasons, but in all representative democracies, politicians and judges have excessive power. It is time for the people to have more formal and real power than them, much more.

I believe the US can not straighten itself out without direct democracy. To me, it is obvious representative democracy carries within the poison that will weaken and even kill it. The poison is too little power for the people and too much power for the politicians and other institutions. This allows those in power to make decisions that do not consider the concerns of the people; that is not democracy.

As time passes, the politicians also use their excessive power to accumulate more power; that is why government grows. In the US, it does not matter if the Republicans or the Democrats govern. The same phenomenon happens in the rest of representative democracies.

If you want less politicization, if you want to make sure politicians carry out the will of the people, not just promise to carry it out, if you want democracy in your country to be “by the people”, if you want it to be really stable; direct democracy is the leap forward, we need to take.

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