Down with Elections! Part 2


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Direct Democracy

One possible alternative to representative democracy is “direct democracy”. In this, every citizen votes on every decision. This happens in clubs and associations of course, where it works quite well. When members vote on which candidates should fill an office (Honorary President, Secretary etc), they generally know the candidates personally, and so are well able to judge their capabilities, and in any case the responsibilities and powers mandated are very limited, both in scope and in time (annual elections are the rule). Moreover, club members very often vote directly on practical issues, and these are almost always on matters well understood by the members. Further, they are free to propose amendments, and so when the matter comes to the vote, they are voting on the question which they want to decide, and not on some ambiguous question which a party in power can interpret to suit itself. They are also free to put matters on the agenda, and to call for a vote of no-confidence in office-bearers.

Direct democracy also occurs occasionally in representative democracy in the form of a referendum, where its use is often much more dubious. A lot depends on the way in which the choice is framed: a party in power may put it in such a way as to split the opposition. The matter may be technical; often the full ramifications of the choice are not made clear to the public; they cannot propose amendments, or discuss it beforehand on an equal basis, because debate is largely controlled by the media or the government. The referendum in France on the proposed European Constitution in 2007 exemplified these problems: the public was presented with a long and incomprehensible (at least to non-specialists) document whose implications were not at all clear. An irritated public voted against it (mostly in order to spite President Chirac), and in doing so pointed out another defect of referenda: the voters’ verdict is not necessarily given on the question that is officially posed.

Proponents of direct democracy would extend the principle to every decision made by the community, and some of them suggest that only measures passed unanimously should be implemented. To the obvious objection that this is impractical in a large modern state of tens or hundreds of millions, the true believers reply that the state should be abolished, to be replaced by small autonomous communities of a few thousand.
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