In representative democracies, the elites are not the problem, we, the people, are the problem because we do not act.

I am sure you hear more and more people in the media, academia, even the political elites, say that the people are becoming disillusioned with representative democracy.

The disillusion arises because most voters feel  politicians govern for the “donors” to their campaigns; some “donors” “donate” money, others “donate” voters.

To improve representative democracy, you might have heard of “deliberative democracy”, “participatory democracy”, “democracy of proximity”, “people budgets”, etc., perhaps there are others.

All those ideas can not work because they do not take the bull by the horns, they want to improve representative democracy but they do not want the people to have decision-making power over the politicians, which is what we need, and  what direct democracy does. If that happens, the politicians will govern for the people; it is in our hands to change the system.

Because millions of people are getting very frustrated, we have populist leaders in the Left and the Right. In a direct democracy, the people decide, they do not need leaders or parties with “messianic” solutions to “deliver us from this valley of tears”.

But, as long as most of us, ordinary citizens, continue to blame the politicians for the problem of weak, even fake, representation and representative democracy will continue to deteriorate, the final consequence is anybody’s guess.

What is obvious is that problems will not be solved if we expect the current system to solve them. It will not happen because the solution requires a rebalance of power.

We, the people, need to stop blaming; “less talk and more action”. The actions we need do not require riots or other violence; in representative democracies there is freedom of expression, at least there still is. What citizens need to do is to visibly act, speak, write, demonstrate. We must do it over and over, until the politicians are, individually and collectively, overwhelmed and surrender their key decision-making powers to us, to the voters.

It is essential to push the politicians to accept that the final decision on any law, policy, budget, treaty, etc., will no longer be in their hands but in the hands of voters. The voters will decide the issues they want to decide.

This is not a “Left” or “Right” issue; it is a universal issue. It is as relevant to all citizens as when we demanded and won the right to vote and elect the rulers.

Now we want the next step, we need the right to have decision-making power over those we elect, to ensure that they really serve the people.

Some people say: “It is not practical if the people have to decide everything”. In a direct democracy, the people do not have to do that, all that direct democracy requires is that the people have the power to prevail over the decisions taken by the elected representatives. This means that the people will use their power only when they decide they need to use it.

The elective representatives will still elaborate most laws, treaties, etc; what they do will stand if the citizens do not object.

The Swiss, the only people to have a solid, established, direct democracy, seldom challenge the decisions of their elected representatives, they do not need to; Swiss politicians know they have to govern for the people.

This means that in most issues, a direct democracy works in ways fairly similar to a representative democracy; the politicians still govern but with a big difference in trust levels; in a direct democracy the citizens trust the politicians will govern for the people, not for “donors”, the lobbies, etc., it is a huge change.

There is another important factor the people must demand;  the mechanisms to enable people to exercise their power must be simple and straightforward.

The Swiss, again, show us the way on that.  If between 0,5% and 1% of voters (depending on the issue and place) sign up, any issue will go to popular vote for the people to decide; any law, treaty, policy, budget, etc., will be decided by the voters.

The people must also be given ample time to gather the signatures; between 100 days and 18 months, depending in the issue, from the time they initiate the process of collecting signatures.

It goes without saying; the results of popular votes in Switzerland are mandatory for the government, they are not plebiscites or consultative referendums initiated by governments; the people initiate and the government obeys. That is what democracy is, that is what the Ancient Gree.ks invented. To the Greeks, representative democracy would make no sense

It is important also that in Switzerland any individual, formal or informal group, can start the process of gathering signatures; no need to be a political party, no need to have representation in parliament, no need to be a union, etc., although those can also use the provisions of direct democracy.

The nature of the Swiss process is deliberate, relatively slow, calm, controlled; there is no room for the “hot air”, polarizing, often irrational-emotional, political style prevalent in representative democracies.

If you want to fix the democracy in your country, no other system compares to direct democracy, but you have do act and stop complaining.

Victor Lopez

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