What I write today, and everything in my blog, applies to stable representative democracies anywhere in the World. Unstable representative democracies are not ready for direct democracy, but exceptions are always possible.
Nations which are not even representative democracies, such as nations where only one party, person, one religion governs, are not ready at all for direct democracy.
Even in stable representative democracies, whoever wins has too much power over the people. Even if the party in power changes, all that changes are the policies; those new in power will continue to have much more power than the people, that violates the spirit of democracy and has to be corrected soon, before representative democracy becomes even weaker and people become tempted by dictatorship, by people with “authority”; it happened in Germany and brought Hitler to power.
Direct democracy is necessary to prevent that degeneration. We need to invert the power pyramid, we need to put the people at the top. To make people the real final decision-makers, not just to vote and decide who will govern, but to decide issues.
The people need to have power over anything the politicians want to do; be it a policy, a law, or a change to the constitution. The people do not need to exercise their power over the politicians on everything, what the people need are the tools to exercise that power whenever they decide a democratic decision by the people is necessary.
The system has to make it practical for citizens to force the government to run a free and fair binding referendum.
In addition, the people must also have the power to propose new laws, new policies and changes to the constitution, and have the electorate decide.
The people must also be able to organise the referendums without the support of the government, even if the executive and parliament oppose the referendum, even if all parties and all parliamentarians oppose it.
It is also essential that the results of the referendums be binding on governments. The binding referendum is necessary for the people to be, and feel, responsible for their decisions, for what happens to their country, town, province or village.
If the people do not feel responsible for what happens it is because they do not decide anything other than at election time. When voters have decision-making power, voters know they are responsible and behave responsibly.
In representative democracies, voters have no direct responsibility to deal with issues, they can not because they do not decide, the politicians decide.
Democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, how can it be democracy if the people are not responsible for any decision, other than electing the politicians?, it makes no sense.
Direct democracy is essential at all levels of government; only in this way it is possible to have a generalised culture of direct democracy, of the people being the final decision-makers, of feeling and knowing they are responsible. You can not have direct democracy at the local or regional level but not at the national level; it is a bit like being pregnant…
Direct democracy is genuine progress; it is about expanding the rights, and the responsibilities, of voters.
Setting up a direct democracy requires a minimum of political maturity among voters, the practice of direct democracy develops the political maturity of voters, nothing can be better for a country, town or village.
But we do not have to “reinvent the wheel”; we have one country that practices direct democracy, and does it at the local, regional and national levels. That country is Switzerland.
Switzerland can improve, but others can catch up and surpass it; a good way to advance is to start is to know, understand, adapt, adopt what the Swiss people do and have proven it works; that is why Switzerland is the most stable, better organised, most prosperous democracy.
Introducing direct democracy does not require we get rid of politicians, no need for revolution; peaceful transition is possible, the Swiss did it, so can the rest of us.
In a direct democracy, politicians will continue to propose and execute most policies and laws. This is so because, most of the time, most of the people will agree with what they do, or at least will not disagree with them so strongly as to force a referendum to try stop them.
But even if an issue goes to referendum, it is very good for the country, the city or village; if what the politicians propose prevails in the referendum, they have won the legitimacy that only a democratic decision by the people has.
Likewise, the people will also seldom have to call a referendum to propose new policies or laws. This happens because, with the people having that power, politicians know they have to do what the people expect them to do.
This is one of the decisive advantages over representative democracy that the power of the people to call referendums brings; it forces politicians to govern in tune with the will of the people. This means the end of riots, of violent protests, etc. No “yellow jackets”, no “occupy Wall Street”, etc., in Switzerland they are unnecessary.
When governments do what the people want, the people also trust government; Switzerland has the highest level of trust in government.
As the Swiss put it, direct democracy is the great tool the people have to “put the brake and stop politicians or to push the accelerator to get politicians to act.”
Tomorrow I will discuss territorial organisation of a country and the decision-making powers of the various levels of government, so that direct democracy can take root in our representative democracies.