In a representative democracy, once the election is over, democracy is over too until the next election

In representative democracies, you still have freedom to criticise the elected politicians. You can take to the streets and write letters to your elected representatives.

You can also go to the traditional media and make thousands or millions aware of whatever issue concerns you, but that will help only if the media decides to give you air time. As you know, the media does not have to do that. Besides, given the massive politicisation of most traditional media, chances are they will only air your cause if it aligns with their editorial line.

This means that, in most cases, your cause has to be considered progressive or conservative. It has to align with the major parties. Your chances of air time are very close to zero if criticze of the conservative or progressive established parties, or all of them. If the conservative media give you air time it is enough for progressive media to write you off, likewise in the opposite case.

But even if they give you air time, there is air time, and there is air time.

They can give you air time to shoot down your position and try to discredit it. This means they give you air time to discredit you, not to give you unbiased air time. Or they give you air time once, which is a drop in the bucket.

You know than when the media wants to push an issue, a cause, a group, a party or candidate, they give them air time all the time in the hope of “shaping” public opinion.

For example, chances are that if they gave you some air time to speak about direct democracy, most media today, on the left and the right, will try to convey to the audience that the idea is not practical, that it makes little sense for the country, that direct democracy is a scary idea, etc.

Nobody will tell you: “you know, direct democracy just makes me think that if Germany had a direct democracy, Hitler would have never happened because the German people would not have fallen for a demagogue when they say representative democracy was not working.”

If the German people could have voted to decide, they would not have voted for the extermination of the Jews and others. They would not have voted to invade France, Czekoslovakia, Poland or declare war to Russia, either.

It would not have happened because when the people are in control and know they are responsible for the fate of others and of themselves, they are far more prudent than the politicians, not just demagogues like Hitler, but also in representative democracies. For example, do you have any doubt that if the American people had to decide to go to war in Irak against Sadam, they would have said “NO”?

The people only would vote to go to war if the country is being attacked or strangled economically. The reason is obvious; it is likely they or their children will die.

So, it unlikely your host, eitor, etc., will be support direct democracy because direct democracy diminishes the power of the parties, the lobbies and the media but increases the power of ordinary voters.

As for printed media, it is basically the same as other traditional media, most of them are just as politicised.

Unfortunately, your issue is now as important as the media decides. The chances of you issue receiving air time or space in a newspaper, if it is critical of the major parties or proposes something that gives voters power over the parties and over the economic and political establishment, giving you enough air time or space in page to have an impact on voter during election and between electiuons, is almost zero.

No wonder in representative democracies they have lots of aggressive demonstrations even riots. I do not enter into if Black LIves Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the Yellow Jackets in France, the “Indignados” (furiously angry) in Spain and others are “right” or “wrong”, but they are positive proof politicians do not listen to them, and that they do not have the mechanisms to orgamize a binding referendum to let people decide if there should be an independent judicial investigation of the banks, of police departments, of the influence of the rich, of business and professional lobbies, of the media, of unions, etc., in the development of laws or policies, in elections, etc.

Diversity is in fashion, but not for ideas critical of the establishment of the Right or the Left.

Luckily, we have Internet now, that is why I use Internet. Internet helps but there are barriers there too.

In Internet it is possible to reach the public, but it is not easy. You might find somebody with a podcast who has millions of viewers and who finds your topic interesting, but most podcasters position themselves as progressive or conservative; in this respect you are back to the situation we have with traditional media.

You can set up a website, post videos, etc. With skill and luck you can create a large audience. But no matter how large your audience, you audience has no mechanism to force a popular vote, even less with results that would be binding on the issue and force the politiciamns to stop or to starte doing somthing.

In the Internet platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It is clear they censor speech. They may do it with the best of interntions. They do it when they consider the ideas can mislead public opinion or are “dangerous”. In itself, tolabel ideas dangerous is tha same as saying “we do not trust the viewers, readers or listeners”.

Perhaps they do not trust the public because they believe the public is gullible, that the public lacks a clear idea of what is right or wrong. To me, besides being unfair to those censored, it not rational to belive so many citizens are incapable of telling right from wrong.

It is obvious, such platforms can deprive the users of their freedom to hear different opinions. They might do it with the best of intentions, but they censor. Fortunately, direct democracy does not fall into the group of censored issues. Still, no matter how many people watch or listen to your podcasts, they have no power to force a binding referendum on anything.

In short, if people can speak and write but the vast majority can not hear them or read them, how meaningful is that freedom? And, even if they are heard and read by thousands or millions, if those thousands or millions can not force a popular vote with binding results, what good does it do to have millions of followers? Having many followers influences elected politicians, but does not force them to do anything. In some cases, often another political party, challenges a law or an executive decision in court, but ordinary people lack the means to do that, thay might not even have legal standing.

This means that in representative democracies, once the election is over, it is not possible for many causes to be heard, even if most people support, or would support, your cause. Much less can the people do force the politicians to act.

If the people have no established mechanisms to stop the policies, laws and regulations politicians put in place, even if most of the people oppose what the politicians do, then the country is not behaving as a democracy. Democracy means “government by the people”. It is not “government by the people” if the people can not stop political decisions or tell the politicians what to do.

It is not “government by the people” either if the people, once the election is over, can not force the politicians to pass a new law concerning an issue the majority wants addressed.

In representative democracies, the people can not set in motion changes to the constitution and can not make te changes themselves either.

It is obvious then that, between elections, representative democracies are not democracies because they lack the formal mechanisms for the will of the people to prevail.

One of the strong points of a direct democracy is that between elections, any person, any group, even a small political party without elected representatives, any union, any association of environmentalists, literally anyone, can put before the people for the people to decide, any issue, stop any law or policy, force politicians to make laws or policies. In representative democracies, the people can not change the constitution either. At most, they can approve or reject the changes prepared by the politicians.

All anyone or any group has to do in a direct democracy, to force a vote on any issue, is collect a small number of signatures. Such number must be small enough so that not too many signatures are necessary. It can not be so small that a frivolous issue could be put to a formal vote; voting is expensive in time and money.

It requires time because citizens have to invest time discussing the issue because they know thay are responsible for the consequences of the decision, not the politicians. In a direct democracy is not like in a representative democracy where you “vote, forget and hope for the best”.

It is also costly because of all the people, media materials, debates, vote counting, etc., involved in a referendum.

In Switzerland, our only established direct democracy, about 0.5 to 1% is the number of eligible voters who must sign to have a referendum on any issue. For some issues, the people who want a referendum must collect 50 000 signatures (it represents 0.5 % of the population, but it is a higher percentage of voters) within 100 days. On other issues, they must collect 100000 signatures within 18 months.

But the process is not fast; it is not like the politicians do something and next day a referendum is held. Even if technically that became possible, it is obvious the voters need to be exposed to the many opinions for or against the proposed referendum. They need time to digest the implications because in a direct democracy, the voters can not blame the politicians like voters have to do in representative democracies because they do nothing else, other than protest.

This means that, not only a direct democracy is much more democratic than a representative democracy because the people really decide what government can or must do, and even change the constitution, it produces better and more solid decisions than a representative democracy.

It does because they debate the issues for a longer period and the voters hear more opinions from experts inside and outside government, for and against the proposed referendum.

There are other crucial advantages; voters do not have to worry about being elected at the next election. This means that in their decision does not enter: “if we pass this law, implement this policy, how will it affect the next election?, what will this business or professional lobby, this union, this rich donor will do?

Ordinary voters do not have to worry about being supported with the money, or the votes, politicians need to get elected.

Voters are less dependant on the media  because the referendum is amply discussed in many forums. I suppose, most media also want audience and in Switzerland, so far, it seems the media are not as partisan as in representative democracies. Perhaps because the system of direct democracy centers the discussion more on issues and less on “conservative-progressive” ideology, “Right-Left”. They want to reach a large audience which is less focused on ideology and more on the issue at hand. The media know that a partisan strategy, like we often see in the media of representative democracies, in direct democracy is a bad idea for the business.

Because they are directly responsible, voters in a direct democracy are not dominated by ideologies (that in representative democracies are almost like religions, in a direct democracy voters have to think harder abaout the consequences of their vote

Because people see growing problems with representative democracy, they propose improvements. Listen to them, butt their “improvements” change nothing of substance because they do not address the root weakness of representative democracy.

For example, some people speak of “deliberative democracy”, “participatory democracy”, “proportional representation” and other concepts to improve representative democracy. I believe they do improve representative democracy, but such improvements do nothing to address the root problem; the voters have no executive and legislative power over the people they elect.

They are like improvements to the gasoline engine; it will still burn hydrocarbons. To really address CO2 emissions, you have to go to a new engine, the electric “engine”; we keep the four wheels but what moves the car is radically new.

None of the proposed improvements addresses the key weakness of representative democracy; between elections the politicians hold all the executive and legislative power and the people have zero formal power. They can not stop the politicians from doing anything they want, nor they can they tell them what they must do on this or that issue and, just as important, at no time do people have the power to change the constitution by themselves, independently of the executive, the legislative of the judiciary.

In a direct democracy, the people are truly “sovereign” because “they posses the supreme political power”, not the politicians, nor the judges.

So, if you want democracy to continue once the election is over in your country, your state, your province, your region, your city, town or village, direct democracy is the answer.

Victor Lopez

 

 

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