Direct Democracy: The Only Way To Break The Political Cartels?

  • Mark Angelides
  • Nov 12, 2017 9:02AM

People on all parts of the political spectrum are becoming disaffected with the lack of change being enacted by the “legacy parties.” The First Past the Post system that operates in most parliamentary democracies creates what is touted as a “stable” government, but shuts out new ideas and more importantly, new parties. It is this political lockout that has led to the growing popularity of Direct Democracy.

When two main parties have a stranglehold on the electorate, people who join or support smaller parties that are interested in changing the system are underrepresented. It is, in fact, a rarity for a smaller party to win more than one or two seats.

Representative Democracy

The British Green party, for example, began in 1979 (under a different name) and has thus far managed to obtain one seat in parliament. The United Kingdom Independence Party managed two seats, which were swiftly lost. And the Liberal Democrats who managed to form the smaller part of a coalition government in 2010 hit their peak with over 50 Members of Parliament, only to lose the vast majority of them in the next general election.

With Representative Democracy, the individual is only represented if they support one of the two main parties. In a system of Direct Democracy, each person’s voice and opinion would count for something (no matter how small).

Direct Democracy

The main advantage of Direct Democracy (DD) is that it does not transfer the democracy owned by the people to elected representatives; it therefore gives each individual a say in what happens. When a representative is elected to “hold” the individual’s democracy (or “borrow” as it is known), they are only beholden so far and are not legally obliged to carry out the manifesto or platform on which they campaigned. Under the Direct form, the power is not delegated or loaned.

Traditionally, DD has occurred when governments hold referenda that are binding (as in the case of the Brexit Referendum) or advisory. Yet a new system coming to the forefront of British politics is one that involves computer systems in which voters can make their choices known, leaving parliamentarians as administrators. Former UKIP leadership candidate, Jonathon Rees Evans, campaigned on this idea; after losing the election by around 2,000 votes, he has since joined the Affinity Party who aim to make DD the standard.

The MP’s Role

At present, a member of parliament is elected based on a manifesto that is presented to the public. There are no guarantees that either:

  • Your choice of parliamentarian will win.
  • If they do win, they will honor the manifesto.
  • If they win that their party also does.
  • If they win, and their party wins, that they will possess a large enough majority to ensure anything gets achieved.
  • If they and their party win, but have to form a coalition, and therefore drop most of the manifesto.
  • If they and their party win a majority, but decide not to implement key parts of the manifesto.

Essentially, the voter is loaning their democratic powers to someone who can do what they want with it, and the only recourse is to wait five years until the next parliament is voted in.

With DD, the MPs would serve in a deliberative capacity, which would involve the public being asked to consider the debates that the representatives put forward and then casting their vote based on who they feel is more credible.

Concurrences of Representative and Direct Democracy are actually used in some form already. The UK government has a system whereby if more than 100,000 people sign a petition, the government is obliged to debate it in the House of Commons. This however falls far short of enacting the public’s will; as a discussion does not necessarily lead to a vote.

A real DD system would allow members of the public to not only suggest, but to drive legislation through the Houses.

The Use of Computers

Athenian Democracy is believed to have worked on the system of DD; though only males were allowed to participate. It was made possible because there were only around 30,000 males of suitable age to get involved, and as such, each year thousands would do their civic duty by helping shape their nation. Today this would be impossible based on the sheer number of people…Unless there were a reliable method of connecting people through technology.

To have each member of the voting public capable of advising, submitting ideas on policy, and taking a direct role in the choices that are made for a nation would only work with the use of technology that is openly and freely available to all. And while there are chances that computers could be hacked and data could be misrepresented, an open system would surely be better than one that is closed off to the people as soon as the electoral votes are counted.