It’s clear that the former is better than the latter. But, recent developments in global democracy reveal a contradictory picture; Concentration of power, reduced or strongly hindered checks and balances in the USA, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Turkey and others are all a result of “democratic” elections. At the same time, the number of referenda and participatory processes from the local to the international level is strongly increasing.
These (too) powerful leaders are recognizing this wish and offering consulting referenda from above: The issues on which to be decided, the wording of the questions, and the timing is completely in the hands of the ruling few, and the many are simply expected to justify and legitimate these decisions.
Another approach to handling the growing demand for more democracy is the introduction of more consultative, non-binding participatory processes, which would offer a valve for the growing democratic pressure. Unfortunately, these processes are often limited to the local level, keeping important national decisions on contested topics like rescuing banks with taxpayers’ money, budgets, and military and security decisions out of the hands of the people.
But, there is hope that the growing demand for real direct democracy by the many, the sovereign, the people, will have its breakthrough. More and more politicians are willing to help this movement, and government representatives might fear to lose elections if they reject real democracy. It is our responsibility as direct democracy advocates and experts to guide and support this movement with competence and precise proposals.
The combination of deliberative citizens’ assemblies and binding referenda is crucial for this movement. Citizens’ assemblies offer the possibility for randomly-selected everyday citizens to receive relevant and neutral information and to form their opinion on a topic. Binding referenda, initiated by the people, are the other important side of the democracy coin. In both instruments, the people must have the possibility to initiate the process, to choose the topics, to define the wording of the recommendations and the referendum question and to determine the timing of the political process along these decisions.
We have recently seen promising examples of this in British Columbia, Canada and in Ireland, but implementation of the proposals resulting from these citizen’s assemblies lags behind due to high hurdles. Therefore, as we launch the discussion on introducing citizens’ assemblies in Austria and Germany, the first citizens’ assembly should concentrate on the question: who really takes the final decision on certain proposals made by the people?
Board Member, Democracy International Spokesperson for Mehr Demokratie Austria.
<There are some promising citizen participation projects in the works in Europe. More info. HERE>
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