Basic Question: Is representative democracy the best governance system, or is there something better, especially more direct forms of democracy?
As many people know, I often advocate for more democratic, open and free systems. When I’m covering events in a country, I often evaluate it based on how democratic it appears to me. Democracy means power coming from the people. In voting, that usually implies the universal right to vote for all people over a certain age, such as 18.
Many people immediately know what I mean, when they think of the voting process which they have in their own country, or perhaps in another country they know about.
But actually democracy can potentially be much more than just voting for candidates in elections dominated by political parties, and their high scale campaigns.
As many people know, the original Greek democracy, which is credited with being one of the earliest organized democracies, eligible voters voted directly on a variety of measures. That means, the Greek voters voted directly themselves each individual on laws or proposals for Athens.
So why can’t we do that now? Well, Athens was much smaller than most modern countries are. Until recently, it would have been very difficult to conduct regular votes- it just would have been impractical to organize so many elections, count all the votes, etc. And the practicalities of government required that many pieces of legislation to be passed.
In addition, at the time that democracy came into existence in some Western countries, the idea even of representative democracy was very progressive*. At that time, most governments were monarchies or perhaps dictatorships. So representative democracy was quite a step in the right direction at that time. To expect full direct participatory democracy at that time would have been too idealistic, and politically impossible.
So usually in the media and in international discourse, we’re sucked into this idea that democracy is exactly what we usually see in existing representative democracies in the world, of which there are many. We are seduced into thinking that democracy only means political parties, political campaigns, and single vote elections. In many countries, people only get to vote one time in 5 or 6 years! But this is “democracy”.
Hey don’t get me wrong. Even a little democracy (or power to the people) is better than nothing. Many times periodic, single vote elections are the first step on a long (or not so long) path to a better, healthier democracy. Now many countries, which just 20 years ago were not democratic, have since become reasonably functional representative democracies.
But there are some flaws to representative democracy, which a few people have noted, such as:
~ I realized that representative democracy actually may increase conflict in society, as all the candidates are mostly fighting all the time. It adds a conflictual dynamic to society and the politicians of different parties do not work together to accomplish something, they just fight.
~ The politicians are often not people that are liked by the average person. There may be a reason for that. In many countries, at least some politicians are corrupt, and misuse their power and position.
~ Another BIG problem with representative democracy is that it often caters to the candidates with the most money. When individual spending by candidates in elections must be very high to win, this is a bad sign for that country’s democracy. This means the candidates will often need to cater to powerful economic interests, rich people and big businesses. In fact, it can make democracy favor the rich and the class interest of the powerful.
~ Representative democracy, in many situations, actually gives somewhat little real voting power and control over their politicians. The politicians are not really influenced by the opinion of the electorate, because the politicians know when they get into power, its a long time before the people will vote again. Imperfect access to information (which exists in most societies vis a vis their government) means people often know little with regards to the actions of government in between elections.
So what I propose is introducing a system where at least some direct lawmaking decision, (and in more progressive systems even more decisions) is taken by ALL THE PEOPLE in that country/ jurisdiction. (By all the people, I mean all the legally registered voters.) This could be in the form of referendums on a regular basis, (say two to four (2-4) times per year). The referendums would be for key decisions to be made in society, which the registered voters asked for the right to vote on.
Even many poor countries could afford to have a full popular referendum at least once per year.
Before the vote, different groups in society would have the opportunity to comment on the law and campaign for or against it (or the package of initiatives). Of course, I do think some limit should be put on the monetary influence of powerful interests/ the rich, because an issue should be considered on its merit, not on how much money one side has.
Ok, I will soon be continuing this post soon. Please leave some comment if you have any initial thoughts. Stay tuned…
* Progressive is a term often used in political discussions to describe things that were/ are forward thinking for their time. For example, people who promoted ideas that were advanced socially in terms of power relations, equality, race, class, gender, etc., etc. The idea of what is “progressive” is very subjective, and there may be disagreements about what it means.