Real government by the people, not what we have!

“Government by the people”.
 
This is the second part of Lincoln’s famous words at Gettysburg: “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.
 
Well, representative democracy is not “government by the people”. Those elected by the people govern, the people do not govern.
 
Some say that because those who represent the people come from among the people, then the people govern, makes no sense to me.
 
It is like saying that the shareholders of a company run the company. It is obvious the top executives and their teams run companies.
 
In my last blog I wrote about how, even if the elected representatives formally are ordinary citizens, in reality they are not. You can look at that post to see why I say so.
 
The people do not govern; the professional politicians and career public employees ARE the government, not the people.
 
Even in Switzerland, who are closer to “government by the people”, they are not doing that.
 
You could say the Swiss people govern because the people have authority over the elected representatives. Indirectly, they also have authority over the civil service.
 
The Swiss people directly decide. They decide what laws can become laws, building a public swimming pool, universal income, treaties, etc.
 
The Swiss do this at the local, regional and national level. This is critical to create a culture of decision making by the people. What the Swiss do is far ahead of the rest, still, it is not government by the people. It is more “government controlled by the people”. Not bad at all.
 
Only the ancient Greeks had government by the people.
 
In ancient Greece the people served in government. Yes, ordinary citizens run the government. I know, we are so used to being the other way around. We are used to government running the lives of citizens. We are so used to it that most people need to think hard to see it is logical to go back the Greeks.
 
The people should be the boss, not the politicians or the civil servants.
 
The ancient Greeks did it in a way similar to how people serve on juries.
 
Citizens were selected by lot to serve. After that they had to pass a screening. Ordinary citizens did the screening. The panel or assembly to do the screening can also be selected by lot. The assembly must be large enough to be representative of citizens..
 
Overall, government by the people, means citizens of all walks of life would be randomly called to serve in government. Very different to what we have now, isn’t it?
 
We would have to prevent absurd situations, like in any system. Selection by lot would not mean any citizen can serve in any job, screening is necessary.
 
The selection panels, or assemblies, would be large enough to be representative of the citizens. Among them there would be men, women, young, old, most professions, etc. People would be called to serve in the selection assembly by lot.
 
Because the assembly is large enough, it will be representative of the people.
 
The people selected to run the government and selected to the selection assemblies would do their jobs for a limited period of time. It may not even be a full time assignment. This will help them stay in touch with reality outside government.
 
After they serve in government, the people would return to their professions. They would not go back to government, or would do so after 15 or 20 years. This would prevent creating undesirable networks.
 
There would be career civil servants, but with very limited and specific functions.
 
If we do the above we would could say we have government by the people.
 
Of course, many other details have to be worked out.
 
We could start with pilot projects at the local, regional and national levels. We could start with one department or ministry, etc.
 
The key lies in the majority of citizens agreeing that ordinary citizens should run government.
 
Getting the people involved in running government has huge benefits. The people would be directly responsible for what government does, no more blaming “the politicians”. Citizens will no longer be in the passive role representative democracy places them in. The people will understand government, they will know what can and cannot be done, they will prevent government distancing from citizens, etc.
 
For example, if ordinary citizens run police departments we would not have crazy incidents like the murder triggering the current protests and riots in the US and elsewhere.
 
We wouldn’t have the riots either because ordinary citizen would bring to the police the awareness to personnel selection, training, and policing procedures that will prevent the tragic systemic failures we regularly see.
 
In the next post I will write about the last part of Lincoln’s words.
 
As always, your comments are valuable.
 
Victor Lopez

Is representative democracy another oxymoron?

OK, representative democracy is light years ahead of any dictatorship or authoritarian regime, of one person, one party or one religion.

Representative democracy satisfies a basic human desire; ordinary people should be the ones deciding who rules. Not the “divine” king, the prophet, the priest, a self-appointed leader, a religion or a political party.

But representative democracy has some shortcomings. The mayor one is that it is not representative enough. We know this from multiple surveys.

Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg address summarized well what democracy should be about:

“government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

Ancient Greek democracy was that:

“government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

Unfortunately, the concept of “people” for the Greeks left out women and slaves. But I am sure that if Greek democracy had survived, Greeks would have figured out centuries ago that slavery was wrong and that women must vote.

The Greek Stoics, a very important school of thought, were the first humans anywhere to condemn slavery. Stoicism started 2400 years ago within Greek democracy.

As for women, even earlier, Plato states they are equal to men.

Slavery survived all over the World for many centuries in many human societies. Even in modern democracies until very recently. So it seems the shortcomings of Greek democracy were not unique.

All major religions accepted slavery and the back seat role for women, for more the 2200 years after the collapse of Greek democracy. Some current religions still look the other way on slavery and are explicitly against women’s equality.

Women started to have the right to vote late in the 19th century. In some surprising places, like France, women could not vote until 1944, 1944, that’s right. In Switzerland, the most democratic modern country, women had to wait till 1971!

Now that we have left behind the shortcomings on slavery and women of ancient Greek democracy, and of modern democracies too. it is time to catch with  Ancient Greek democracy in other areas.

Yes, we have to catch up. The Ancient Greeks were closer to fulfill Abraham Lincoln’s words about democracy.

Let us look at the first part: “government of the people.. “.

Representative democracy, even Swiss semi-direct democracy is behind the Greeks in this regard.

Let ur look at how that happens.

Representative democracy is “government of the people” to the extent that the a number of elected representatives are common people. Unfortunately in many representative democracies, many those elected are not common people.

For the most part, elected politicians come from above average socio economic levels. Furthermore, once they are elected, most of them become even better off and in so doing they dis distance themselves even more.

In part this happens because elected politicians are often very well paid, and have all sorts of costly benefits payed by ordinary taxpayers.

Also interesting is that most taxpayer make a lot less money and have a lot less benefits than the politicians they elect.

Difficult to see how this is “government of the people”.

We also know political campaigns in most representative democracies require a lot of money.  Often that money comes from rich individuals, corporation and various lobbies. Logically, those elected, even if they are common people, end up representing non-common people and their interests. This means elected representatives are nos as representative as they should.

Those are not the only problems.

To be a candidate it is almost essential to belong to a political party. This means that those who become candidates are people promoted and controlled by the professionals who run the parties. Only those who belong to political parties can get elected.

So, the “government of the people” affirmation is not happening and has to be corrected.

To correct it ordinary people like you will have to actively fight for it. It is not going to be corrected by current politicians, their parties and the lobbies because they are the establishment. Establishments to not like change.

In the next post I will look at the second part of what Lincoln said: “government by the people”.

Your comments, for or against 2 I see are welcomed.

Why is it that in Switzerland is where citizens trust government the most?

I do think it is the result of direct democracy.

In direct democracy the citizens control the executive branch and also the parliament.

In effect, the Swiss citizen is the boss; government and parliament has to listen to the people because if they do not the people will stop dead the laws and policies they propose, right then and there, no need to wait till next election.

The logical result of the power citizens have is that they trust government and parliament. They do because the citizens know government and parliament do not stray far from the will of the people.

In fact, direct democracy reduces the role of politicians to that of managers of the will of the people. In Switzerland they do not have or need “visionary” or “charismatic” leaders; what two irrational concepts!

The Swiss have reduced the role of political positions so much that even the role of President of the country rotates yearly among the four major political parties. The President is one of the seven people who run the Swiss federal government.

The President of Switzerland is first among equals. It is a collective consensus-based leadership.

It is also interesting to note that Swiss voters do not elect the President, or any of the seven Councilors. The Federal Council members are elected by the Swiss Parliament.

Many would think that to place such power in the hands of parliament would be a sure way for all sorts of horse trading and deals in backrooms, and ignoring the people.  Direct democracy keeps that in check.

No wonder more than 80% of the Swiss trust their government.

Compare that with the next best countries, Norway and Canada. They are in the 60% level.

I want to mention Denmark too, because I compared Denmark and Switzerland in a previous post. Trust in government in Denmark is about half of what it is in Switzerland.

Although Denmark is a fairly well run country and government seems to listen to the people, there is something there that undermines trust in government. Perhaps it is the sensation of being listened to but not having the power to control that the Swiss do have.

Also very interesting is that the trust of the Swiss in their governments has been increasing year after year. No other country has done that.

Because at the regional (canton) and local level, Swiss citizens have as much or more control than at the national level over government and politicians, it is reasonable to assume the level of trust is high also at the local and regional levels.

Because in Switzerland the will of the citizens controls governments and politicians, the Swiss have no need to march on the streets against or for this or that decision or policy. The Swiss get signatures and everybody decides in a local, regional or national referendum.

No need in Switzerland for politicians promising grandiose this and that. No point doing that because the people decide, not the politician.

If the United States had direct democracy the polarization between Republicans, Democrats, etc., would not exist because the power of referendums would have forced them to negotiate.

Perhaps proportional representation would also produce more major parties who would govern together by consensus.

The current riots in the would not be taking place because the politicians would have listened and forced to listen.

For example, the people would have imposed much better selection and training of the people who run police forces and police officers. No crazy policemen of any colour, like the nut who killed George Floyd would have made it to policeman or training would have “civilized” him.

Another effect of direct democracy is that the “superhuman” image of the President, even Senators, governors and other positions would be cut down to human size.

If you do not hear your politicians promote direct democracy it is easy to guess why. If you want orderly citizen power you have to help spread the idea and the superior facts of direct democracy.

Your comments are appreciated.

Victor López

If direct democracy is superior, why Denmark, a representative democracy, does almost as well as Switzerland?

Switzerland and Denmark are among the best countries we have on Earth. For that to happen, there must be something else besides the system of democracy to explain why Denmark with its representative democracy system does so well.

Let us first look at some basic facts about each country.

They are both small; 8.3 million people in Switzerland and 5.8 million in Denmark.

Denmark is a Monarchy. It is also and a unitary state. In Denmark, Danish is the native language of almost all Danes.

Switzerland is a federal republic. It has four native cultures and four official languages. Most Danes are Protestant. In Switzerland, Catholics are slightly more numerous than Protestants. An interesting fact is the Swiss had a war between Catholics and Protestants.

Taxes are much higher in Denmark, but Switzerland citizens have to pay for many services out of their own pocked. This happens, for example, with health care. Both countries have universal health care but the Swiss people personally pay the premiums. Because the premiums can be high, Swiss governments give money to people who need assistance to pay the premiums. In the end the result is the same; universal health care.

Swiss and Danes trust their governments and their politicians, although the Swiss trust their governments more.

Both countries have low corruption, but Denmark has a little less than Switzerland.

Politically, the Danish have the interesting “habit” of not electing majority governments. This means parties have to negotiate to pass laws. The result is laws acceptable to most voters. But I am sure this also happens because of good Danish common sense. In many other countries coalition government are not possible, or do not work.

In Switzerland, the mandatory and voluntary referendums have taught politicians they must pass laws acceptable to most voters. Like in Denmark, in Switzerland the major parties govern in coalition.

I believe Swiss and Danish politicians have one very important thing in common, they listen to the people and act accordingly. In Switzerland they may listen because it makes sense for the well-being of the country and also because the law gives them no choice. In Denmark they listen because it makes sense for the well-being of the country.

The ability to listen explains why Denmark and Switzerland function quite well. Switzerland may have the edge because of direct democracy.  I have little doubt that if the Danish decide to adopt direct democracy it will work there very well too. Perhaps even better than in Switzerland because Denmark is a more homogeneous society.

To conclude:

A representative democracy can work well when the elected representatives listen to the people.

However in representative democracies it is not as easy for the people to control politicians when the politicians “go astray”.

Representative democracy is more vulnerable to lobbies, etc., because politicians can pass laws people do not support.

The only regulated option voters have in representative democracy is to elect another party at the next election, in the hope the new government will repeal the law. They can also demonstrate, etc. That is what people often do in representative democracies.

Representative democracy is also less “representative” than direct democracy because the voters do not have to explicitly say: “yes, we support the new law”. The system does not make voters “stand up and be counted”.

In direct democracy the situation is very different; politicians have to listen to the people. They can not do anything the people do not want them to do. This is so because, as soon as the politicians pass a new law, it may be mandatory to get voters to approve the law, or voters can force a referendum to stop the law dead.

Direct democracy puts voters in charge. They too are responsible for what the country does, as it should be. That is the big difference between direct democracy and representative democracy.

One great advantage of direct democracy is that it makes politicians and the people co-responsible.

In direct democracy those who pay are in charge, not their “employees”.

Switzerland can also serve as an example for another important reason; to successfully and democratically manage a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-language society.

Honestly, I do not know if direct democracy has made diverse Switzerland possible as a country or if it is diversity that made direct democracy possible, perhaps even necessary.

Thank you for your opinions.

 

 

Did you know the Swiss lost direct democracy once?

The Swiss had to fight to get direct democracy, and when they lost it they had to fight again to get it back.

There is something special the Swiss did to get to where they are today; the most democratic and developed country in the whole World. Switzerland was not always so.

It helped the Swiss their tradition in towns and villages to decide by a show of hands. They do that since the Middle Ages. But deciding by a show of hands in the town’s square is not unique to Switzerland. For example, in the early American colonies of New England the people made decisions the same way.

Keep also in mind another fact about Switzerland; far from the extraordinary country it is today, in 1848 the Swiss had a civil war. And it was not an “ordinary” civil war. In the Swiss war, Catholics fought against Protestants, ugly stuff. Notice this is almost 100 years after the American War of Independence! Not a model of stability.

Switzerland’s civil war was very far from the current consensus politics the Swiss now practice like nobody else.

Such evolution shows you countries can grow. Sometimes countries “grow” backwards too.

The 1848 Civil War did not give Swiss voters the right to have the final say on laws and the constitution. They have such right now because they worked to get it, nobody gave it to them.

In Switzerland they did not have referendums until 1874. Let us remember also; referendums in Switzerland take place when the people decide or the laws prescribes, not when the government wants to. Referendums allow the citizens to reject laws approved by their elected representatives.

The right Swiss citizens have to change the constitution came even later, in 1891.

You may not know the Swiss people lost direct democracy during WW II, but they did, and almost forever, and not because of Hitler.

They lost direct democracy because of the war. The Swiss government was granted special powers. After the War was over, neither the government nor the parliamentarians wanted to go back to direct democracy. I suppose they enjoyed the power, or perhaps I am being too cynical.

To get direct democracy back, the Swiss people had to protest and protest. The citizens launched a movement in 1946; “Return to direct democracy”. 3 years later they were able to have a referendum. They voted, and it passed, but just by a 0.7% margin! This means direct democracy almost went back into oblivion. That is where it was for millennia since the collapse of Greek direct democracy.

Fighting for direct democracy is to be expected. For example, in a recent post I wrote about the people of Taiwan and how they had to organize demonstrations to bring direct democracy into their country.

Often happens that elected representatives are not interested in direct democracy. It could be because they lose power, or it could be because they believe representative democracy is better.

Politicians and others may say “direct democracy does not work because…”, “Switzerland is too different from us”, and other reasons we listed in a previous post.

We know ordinary citizens are interested in direct democracy. We know this because many surveys show it.

Although the people of Switzerland can stop any local, cantonal or national law that the politicians have approved, 90% the laws passed by Swiss parliaments are not challenged by citizens in referendums.

I believe that is because the Swiss governments and parliamentarians are attuned to what voters want, precisely because of the “threat” of a referendum.

To wrap it up; Switzerland practices direct democracy because they fought and continue to fight for it. It is not because some special factor has made Switzerland innately predisposed towards direct democracy.

Everyone has to start at the beginning. Perhaps you can attend meetings at the local municipality and learn first hand how the current system works, start a local direct democracy group, etc.

“Words are not facts”; in direct democracy, like in everything else. 

It is easy to write into any Constitution impressive words. The challenge is turning them into laws that work.

Direct democracy is just one case of “words are not facts”.

If the constitution of your country contains beautiful statements about direct democracy, it is good, but not enough. Do not be satisfied.

Do not be satisfied either if the elected representatives pass a law about referendums.

I say this because in Taiwan they went through the process of “words are not facts”. They succeeded because they complained a lot and they complained intelligently. 

Because Taiwan’s constitution mentions popular referendums and the Taiwanese legislature also passed in 2003 the Referendum Act, there should be lots of referendums in Taiwan. Unfortunately no referendum took place because the following factors made it difficult to transition from words to facts:

Organizers had to persuade 0.5% of the eligible voters of Taiwan to sign the proposal for the referendum.

Because in Taiwan there are 18 million voters, organizers needed to collect 90 000 signatures. It was not an unreasonable figure. The problem was that this was just to present the proposal to the Referendum Review Commission.

The Referendum Review Commission was run by politicians. This gave the governing party the power to kill referendums in the bud. If the Commission said “no”, that was it, no referendum took place.

But even if the Commission said yes, the people needed to do a lot more work. They needed to collect signatures from 5% of registered voters. 5% of the voters of Taiwan means 900 000 signatures.

The law also required the government to apply the results of the referendum only if 50% of the voters took part in the referendum.

The people did not like this situation. They demonstrated over and over. They did it over nuclear energy (I referred to it in the previous post). The pressure forced the politicians to change the referendum law.

In 2017 they changed it. Now only 0.01% of the electorate needs to sign the proposal, just 1800 eligible voters.

The law also dropped the rule to sign up 5% (900 000) eligible voters to carry out the referendum. The new requirement was reduced to 1.5%. This means that instead of 900 000 eligible voters, only 270 000 needed to sign.

The need to have 50% voter participation was also dropped. Now only 25% voter participation is enough.

They disbanded the Referendum Review Commission. Referendum proposals are now presented to the Central Election Commission. Politicians have no longer the power to accept or reject proposals.

This is why Taiwan now has referendums. A “few” years had to pass to go from words to facts, but the Taiwanese did it!

A limitation in Taiwan’s law is that referendums can be held only every two years. This is one important difference with Switzerland.

The Swiss vote in referendums and initiatives 4 times per year. It is a lot of voting. I believe this is why Swiss voters have more control over politicians.

Frequent voting requires being informed,  but it beats being spectators, or getting angry at politicians because of what they decide, doesn’t it?

Do not worry about “voter fatigue”; over the course of year, 80% of the Swiss vote in referendums.

People do not get tired of voting if they know they count. It is like looking after the common house. People do not get tired of maintaining their houses because they own them. Frequent referendums on what is important for voters convey ownership of what happens to your country.

I welcome your positive or critical comments. Thank you

Victor

 

Oh, no! direct democracy, “Made in China” too?

In the last blog I wrote about the canton of Zurich, Switzerland. We showed how the people of Zurich have the power to decide on so many issues. Today we travel 9 000 km Eastbound from Zurich.

“Made in China” direct democracy? I am serious. The people of Taiwan have decided; “Confucius can be a direct democrat too!”

We know some “dismiss” Switzerland’s direct democracy. They say things like “they are very different”, “they are a small country”, blah, blah. What will they say when you tell them: how about Taiwan’s direct democracy?

If the people of Taiwan, who differ greatly from the Swiss, can decide directly on many things via referendums, why can’t you?

For example, in 2018 the people of Taiwan decided by referendum the following questions:

      1. Do you agree “To reduce by 1% year by year” the electricity production of thermal power plants?”
      2. Do you agree to the establishment of an energy policy to “Stop construction and expansion of any coal-fired thermal power plants or generator units?
      3. Do you agree that the government should maintain the prohibition of agricultural imports and food from areas affected by the Fukushima March 11, disaster?
      4. Specifically, those from Fukushima proper and the 4 surrounding districts and cities of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, and Chiba?
      5. Do you agree that marriage defined in the Civil Code should be restricted to the union between one man and one woman?
      6. Do you agree that the Ministry of Education should not implement the Enforcement Rules of the Gender Equality Education Act in elementary and middle schools?
      7. Do you agree to the protection of the rights of same-sex couples in co-habitation on a permanent basis in ways other than changing of the Civil Code?
      8. Do you agree to the use of “Taiwan” (instead of Republic of China) when participating in all international sport competitions, including the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
      9. Do you agree to the protection of same-sex marital rights with marriage as defined in the Civil Code?
      10. Do you agree in accordance with the Gender Equality Education Act that national education of all levels should educate students on the importance of gender equality, emotional education, sex education, and same-sex education?
      11. Do you agree to repeal Article 95 Paragraph 1 of the Electricity Act: “Should Nuclear-energy-based power generating facilities shall stop running by 2025”?

Why can’t you and your fellow citizens? What is the matter?

Who knows? in a few years, the Taiwanese, or perhaps your country, may surpass Switzerland’s direct democracy.

The people of Taiwan are amazing. They decided to become a democracy in the early 1990s. Then in 2003 they pressed for direct democracy. In 23 years from dictatorship to direct democracy. They are the Usain Bolt of speedy political change, and without firing a shot.

They did it because they became tired of politicians passing unpopular laws and making unpopular decisions… and hoping voters would forget by the next election.

One day they said, enough! when the party in government went back on its word not to build more nuclear power stations.

Thousands of citizens demonstrated against the betrayal.

During one of the protests the demonstrators projected the word 全民公决!(Referendum!) on the wall of the presidential building.

The pressure forced the government to accept the power of the people to directly decide, not just to elect representatives.

The Constitution of the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) states: “the people shall have the right of election, recall, initiative and referendum and that the exercise of the rights of initiative and referendum shall be prescribed by law”.

So, perhaps your country also has provisions for direct democracy in its constitution, or in its oral or written traditions. But even if it does not, the people of Taiwan have shown you how you it can be done.

There is lots of information in the Web about the events that triggered Taiwan’s change.

In some ways, Taiwan is a more relevant role model for most of the people of the World than Switzerland. The reason is obvious, few are close to Switzerland’s tradition of democracy.

Taiwan shows that any country can become a direct democracy, IF it has the will AND the skills to make it work.

What will be the “enough!” factor in your country, city, town, village or region, to push for direct democracy?

Your comments are very important. The critical ones are even more important! Thanks.

Victor

 

Why voters in the Swiss canton of Zurich, population of 1.5 million, can do all this, but you can’t?

I use Zurich as an example. Other Swiss cantons function in similar ways but they all differ because each canton, even each municipality, can do its own thing; political diversity at work.

Here are the powers of the people:

  1. The power to launch initiatives.

Citizens of the Canton of Zurich can launch an initiative at any time. Just with the signature of 6000 voters, the initiative gets going.

Initiatives can deal with the total or partial modification of the constitution of the Canton of Zurich. They can also deal with decisions and laws passed by the parliament of the Canton and also with international or inter-canton agreements.

Some initiatives may be very detailed, others are more general

Initiatives at the cantonal level must deal only with one subject. They can not be contrary to national laws either.

Voting on an initiative must take place within 18 or 30 months.

The Parliament of Zurich can present a counterproposal to a citizen’s initiative. In this way the voters can vote for an alternative proposal. Would be nice if the same thing could be done wherever you are.

Initiatives deal only with the constitution. For other issues, they have mandatory referendums and voluntary referendums.

  1. The mandatory referendums which the government must carry out, by law.

Mandatory referendums happen automatically, no need to collect signatures.

A referendum is necessary if the government wants to change the constitution of the Canton of Zurich. The people must approve. The government has no option.

A mandatory referendum is also necessary if any agreement between the Canton and other jurisdictions touches upon the constitution of the Canton.

It is also interesting to note that if the people have presented a detailed initiative but the parliament of the canton rejects it, then the initiative becomes a mandatory referendum. This is actual people power; “you (the politicians) don’t like what we propose?, then everyone must vote, you can not shelve it”

Also have to go to a mandatory referendum any changes to Zurich cantonal tax laws that increase taxes or add a new tax. Wouldn’t that be nice too if you could do that?

  1. The power of the people-initiated, optional or voluntary referendum.

This is optional in the sense that the people call these referendums. They are not optional for the government.

Changing or repealing any law of the Canton of Zurich can be done using the voluntary referendum mechanism.

The people can also force a referendum for any expense over 6 million Swiss Francs, about 6 million US Dollars. If an expense happens every year and is of over 600 000 UD Dollars the citizens can also force a referendum.

Voluntary referendums need the support of 3000 voters (the population of the Canton of 1.5 million). It should not be difficult to get 3000 to back something that concerns many.

A referendum can also be triggered if requested by 12 municipalities of the Canton of Zurich (there are 162 municipalities in the Canton), the city of Zurich, the city of Winterthur (because they are relatively large big), or 45 members of the cantonal parliament (the Parliament of Zurich has 180 elected representatives).

How do they handle urgent issues?

Referendums take time, although new technologies can radically speed up the process. You might be wondering, how do the people of the Canton of Zurich, or Switzerland in general, manage if they need a new law urgently?  For example in the case of the Wuhan virus.

What they do is parliament passes the law but the people may call a referendum, as long as they do not wait more than 6 months since the law was passed.

Examples of what the people control.

There are examples at the canton level, but also at the municipal and national level. The philosophy of direct democracy covers all levels of legislation but each jurisdiction is free to do things their way.

At the canton level the people decide on taxes at all levels, business opening hours, if kindergarten should be mandatory, construction of a new school or university building, and many issues related to cantonal legislation.

At the municipal level people decide things like the building of a new public swimming pool, what will be the authority of the local police, covering a station, and most issues related to local legislation.

At the national level voters decide on things like gay marriage, treatment of animals, gun control, minimum wage, universal income, mandatory army service, whether Swiss laws should prevail over international law, and most issues related to national legislation.

The Swiss people do not decide everything but they decide on most anything they want to decide. You should be able to do the same or even better.

Your critical and positive comments are necessary!

Thank you!

 

Participatory Democracy and Deliberative Democracy fall short of Direct Democracy

Representative democracy is feeling the pressure; too many citizens do not feel well represented.

This situation has stimulated thinkers to suggest “refinements” to representative democracy.

One of them is “Participatory democracy”; the other is “Deliberative democracy”. Both can work with first past the post and with proportional representation.

“Participatory democracy” seeks citizen input to develop laws, pass budgets and major projects. The idea is: citizen input will influence policy making.

Such influence will improve the quality decisions and also their acceptability. Another benefit is more legitimacy to politicians and institutions.

Unfortunately, participatory democracy does not give more power to the people. It gives more voice, but not more power. Voice is not power, power is power.

“Participatory democracy” is an improvement, but not the improvement we need because the people still do not decide.

Another idea to improve representative democracy is “Deliberative democracy”.

Like “Participatory democracy”, it can work with first past the post and with proportional representation.

The idea is to involve many citizens before passing new laws or making major decisions.

But managing large numbers of people is difficult.

To fix this, some propose to select a representative sample of citizens,

But the problem persists; the people still can not stop laws or propose laws, approve budgets or projects.

In short, participatory democracy and deliberative democracy will improve representative democracy, but fall short of direct democracy.

For you to decide you need direct democracy.

But for direct democracy to work, most citizens must have the common sense and the values direct democracy needs.

Those criteria are essential, but they are not enough. 

Other important considerations are:

Requesting a referendum must not require too many citizens requesting the referendum.

The Swiss experience shows 1-2% of the population works well. Perhaps it can be lower if Internet makes it much easier to hold referendums.

That the people should be able to change the referendum requirements is also important. 

Even better than the people petitioning, is the mandatory referendum. In the mandatory referendum the government must hold the referendum because the law says so; no need for the citizens to lift a finger.

In such system all laws and major decisions must be decided by referendum, no need for petitions.

In referendums it should not matter how many people turn out to vote. As long all potential voters have had sufficient time and information.

Low voter turn out can be because people are not interested in the issue. For example, they may not be interested in the law controlling speed in highways, or building a new sports centre, or providing free drugs to addicts, etc.

When this happens, it is not a problem if a minority of voters decides.

It is critical that the decision by the people be obeyed by the government. I know, it is basic, but it happens that if a government does not like the decision of the people, sometimes they resort to stalling, manipulation, etc.

No need to say that consultative referendums have nothing to do with direct democracy. If the people do not decide, it is not direct democracy. It is not direct democracy either if the government decides on what issues to hold referendums, even if the result is mandatory.

Direct democracy is not about consulting the people; it is about the people deciding. This is a real, down to earth, revolution and the future for everybody,  starting with stable representative democracies to show the way.

Your comments, pro AND against are welcomed.

Cheers!

 

Do not kid yourself; proportional representation will not give you the power you need.

In fact, many countries have proportional representation. I do not doubt many people in those countries feel they are better represented than in first past the post systems.

Unfortunately, when it comes to decision making, the voters in those countries feel ignored by the executives and the legislators in towns, cities, regions and at the national level.

More and more people are fighting for proportional representation, you may have noticed it. They argue it is a fairer system than first past the post (winner takes all). But even if it is better, proportional representation does not address the key issue.

The key issue is lack of people’s power. One symptom is that too many voters do not trust their politicians.

Proportional representation is not the remedy to close the trust gap. It can not be because it is about better representation, not about power.

The mistrust happens because the people do not have power. If the people have power, the politicians cannot do things that the people do not support. This would end the mistrust.

I also think  “first past the post” vs. “proportional representation” distracts from the real issue of power.

Many honestly believe proportional representation is the answer representative democracies need. I do not think it can be..

Others promote proportional representation to distract people from the actual problem of lack of citizen power. Here it is not about such people being wrong, it is about something less defensible.

I have no quarrel with first past the post or with proportional representation. I see no point in getting involved in a discussion which does not tackle the genuine problem.

If you want to learn more about first past the post and proportional representation, all you have to do is enter those terms in your computer or phone.

But let me bring a little of Switzerland into the conversation once more. Let us look at some facts.

Decades ago, Switzerland also had a first past the post system. At some point it switched. Now it has proportional representation. First past the post persists, but on a small scale.

The switch from first past the post to proportional representation was an important change for the Swiss. More important though, was the switch introducing referendums for almost anything. This meant the people had the final say on many issues; taxes, roads, education, etc.

Most Swiss agree that what gives Swiss citizens power is the mandatory referendum.

They have another referendum, one that the people themselves call if enough of them demand it. They call it “voluntary referendum”. This is also helpful. Helpful too are the popular initiatives.

All these tools give Swiss people proper control over how their cities, towns, cantons, and the entire country, run.

For the Swiss it is no longer only about, who to vote for? But about, do we approve this budget, this road, this tax, this fee, etc.?

Direct democracy turns around the usual situation in representative democracy. In representative democracy the elected representatives can “override”, or ignore,  the will of the voters. In direct democracy, the people can override decisions made by their elected representatives.

Because the people have power, the politicians no longer do “whatever they want” between elections.

In view of this, it is easy to understand why many representative politicians are not keen on direct democracy. The reason is obvious, for them it means less power.

Yes, Swiss politicians have a lot less power than politicians in representative democracies. But I suspect they have come to see how that is better for their towns, cities, regions and country, and for themselves and their children too.

No Swiss politician would be foolish enough to try to do away with direct democracy. I am sure this does not surprise you.

But we must not be too rigid about direct democracy. It is unusual, but it is possible; a stable representative democracy can achieve several of the benefits of direct democracy.

This can happen when the political culture of a society has “taught” those in government to listen to the citizens.

Unfortunately, that is rare. It happens in some Northern European countries, such as Denmark.

Denmark is a representative democracy but they also have referendums for particular situations.

But not even Denmark comes close to Switzerland in citizen power. The Swiss have far more say on how their towns, cities and country run than the Danes.

Switzerland is also the democracy with the highest trust in government. It may have something to do with the control that citizens have of government. In Switzerland, governments do not stray far from citizen sentiment.

This blog is about adopting direct democracy to improve stable representative democracies. It does not matter if they use first past the post or proportional representation.

If a democracy is not stable, it can not make direct democracy work. There are too many frictions, too many ill feelings, too much mistrust. If it is not a democracy… then forget about bringing in direct democracy.

The blog is not to promote direct democracy as the “grand solution”. We must be practical, there are no “grand solutions”, for anything.

But you can take small steps anywhere. Even if your country is a dictatorship, it may be possible to gradually bring in direct democracy at the local level. In time it may spread to the whole country.

If the society you live in is a stable democracy, it is easier to introduce direct democracy. But that will only happen if you spread the word about its benefits.

Fortunately, many citizens are receptive to direct democracy now. They understand it as the best way to fix serious problems in representative democracy.

There is growing interest around the World in direct democracy. Practically in each country that is relatively free there is an organization promoting direct democracy. You may have one in your country, or you can start it.

Your comments positive or critical are always useful.

Cheers!

Victor