Invitation and call for posters: International conference Direct Democracy v. Populism, Geneva, 17-18 May 2019

On Friday and Saturday, May 17th-18th, 2019, the university of Geneva will hold a conference on the theme of “Direct Democracy v. Populism”.

On Friday evening there will be a public meeting in French, while an academic conference in English will be held on Saturday. The program: PDF.

Registration for the workshop is free but places are limited for catering purposes. If you would like to register please contact, before 2 May 2019, alexander.geisler@unige.ch.

Call for Posters: You currently work (or have worked or are planning to work…) on a project on direct democracy, democratic theory, democratic innovations, sortition or populism? Send us your
poster proposal by 15 April. Accepted authors will be notified by 17 April. Submissions and further information: nenad.stojanovic@unige.ch.

Hind and Mills: A citizen jury visits the secret castle

Dan Hind and Tom Mills write in openDemocracy:

Entering the secret castle: A small step towards democratic public media?

Last week the BBC gave a representative audience panel control of its Brexit output for one day. Could this ‘citizens juries’ type approach begin to transform our media?

It didn’t receive much attention, but last week the BBC tried something interesting. For one day, Friday 1st March, its Brexit-related output was overseen by a representative audience panel that would, as the BBC put it, ‘control’ coverage ‘across a range of BBC News outlets’. The initiative, branded Brexit: Your Stories, was intended, the BBC said, to reflect ‘how Britain really feels about Brexit’. Kamal Ahmed, the editorial director of BBC News, was quoted as saying:

Not only will it be a very different and thought-provoking way of reporting the news that day, but it will help inform how we shape our news coverage in the future. We want our news rooms across the UK to be less a set of secret castles where, to the public, mysterious things happen. We want to open up the process and this first day is just the start.

Does this unusual step from the BBC signal a genuine interest in organisational change? Will it be a first step in democratising its output, as the statement put it? Or was Friday’s experiment more an exercise in PR?

Time will tell. But the rather narrow focus suggests a significant motivation was to help the BBC navigate the choppy waters of Brexit reporting, which has presented enormous challenges for the broadcaster.

[…]

Sortition in Madrid

An article about the political activity of Pablo Soto in Madrid is mostly devoted to a popular initiative mechanism, but the last few paragraphs deal with an allotted body:

This month Madrid plans to launch Mr Soto’s most far-reaching reform yet – an “observatory” of 57 citizens selected at random to advise the city’s 57 councillors.

Mr Soto explains that an algorithm will ensure that observatory members will be representative of Madrid’s social diversity, with a one-year mandate and access to expert assistance to reach well-informed decisions.
Image caption A selection of the citizens’ proposals (translated from Spanish) featured on the platform in early January

The concept was inspired by the ancient Athenian practice of choosing citizens to form governing committees, and by more recent examples where governments have asked the people to decide on single issues to break political deadlock.

In Australia, a “citizens’ jury” was asked about the construction of a nuclear dump.

“The idea is as old as democracy itself,” he says. “A group of people chosen at random – if they have the time and capacity to study the issues in depth – can take very representative decisions.”

The Gilets Jaunes: what are the prospects for sortition?

An article in RTL by Laure-Hélène de Vriendt and AFP (original in French, Dec. 29, 2018):

Gilets Jaunes marching in Montmartre

Perspective: Some among the Gilets Jaunes propose using citizen participation via sortition in order to create a list for the European elections.

To be used in “the great debate” by the government, proposed by some “gilets jaunes” for the European elections, citizen participation via sortition is riding high, despite some limits emphasized by researchers.

Its detractors fear a “talk-shop where legitimacy is only up to chance”, undermining the foundations of elections. Its supporters praise “the equality of chance to participate in the debate” which sortition makes possible, a specialist in democratic systems working at the Paris VIII university.

In any case, the method has the support of the government: within the framework of “the great debate”, to be held in January and February as a response to the Gilets Jaunes movement, meetings of a hundred allotted citizens in each region will be held in order to give their opinion on the grievances mounting everywhere in France.

“The idea is to make sure that the Frenchpeople who are not necessarily those most involved in public life and public conversation can give their ideas about the debate and the proposals”, explained PM Édouard Philippe last week in Haute-Vienne.

“A much more diverse representation”
For prof. Loïc Blondiaux, a specialist in those matters in Paris I university, “it is a response to the crisis of representation”. Sortition “guarantees a much more diverse representation” because “if we look at the social makeup of Parliament, there are very few workers and wage earners, as opposed to the Gilets Jaunes and to the future assembly members of the “great debate”, emphasizes the researcher. “The representatives will not speak instead of the citizens but as citizens, it is a different voice”, he asserts.

Until now, civic participation via sortition never went above the local level in France. After an experiment during the summer with a national debate for the 5-year energy plan, it “reaches for the first time the national level, with the demand coming from below”, emphasizes Yves Sintomer.

Although citizens councils and participative budgeting using sorititon already exist in municipalities, he observes, “the only institutionalization of sortition at the national level is in trial juries”, going back to the revolution.
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Le Figaro: Allotted French-people to participate in the national debate

Le Figaro (Dec. 21st, 2018) [original in French]:

“The Yellow Vests”: Allotted French-people to particpate in the national debate

The government wishes to have French-people selected via sortition participate in each region in meetings organized in the framework of the great debate promised as a response to the “Yellow Vests” crisis, announced [French PM] Edouard Philippe today. On the eve of a sixth Sunday of mobilization in France, the government and the coalition are hoping that emergency measures being adopted and the promise of this great debate will allow to diffuse the crisis.

“We believe that it would be wise to proceed with the appointment, the selection, the meetings which, in each one of the regions, could bring together about 100 French citizens chosen by lot, at random, which will discuss the result of this debate and participate in some way in this debate”, said the Prime Minister during a visit to Haute-Vienne.

“The idea is to have within those group some French-people which are not necessarily those most involved in public life, in the public debate, being able to give their opinions in the debate and to give their opinions regarding the proposals”, he added.

The DNC to allot primary debate slots

The Democratic party has announced its planned schedule for primary debates for the 2020 presidential race. To handle the possibility of there being many candidates, the DNC plans, if necessary, to split the field into two groups, and having those groups debate in two consecutive nights. The split will be at random:

If necessary, depending on the number of candidates who meet the threshold, the DNC is prepared to split the first two debates in June and July into consecutive nights, said DNC Chairman Tom Perez. If that happens, the lineup will be determined by random selection, which will take place publicly.

“It’s conceivable that we have a double-digit field,” Perez told reporters on a conference call. “That is why we are planning for that contingency.”

Pacific Standard magazine gives some background and analysis:
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“When I was allotted, I was honored to participate in the process. But I was very quickly disillusioned.”

These are excerpts from an interview with an allotted member of the electoral committee of La France insoumise which appeared in Liberation in July [original in French, my translation].

The list of La France Insoumise for the European elections: “Everything was fixed by the directorate to favor little deals between friends”

By Maïté Darnault, reporter in Lyon

An activist in Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s movement, who participated in the debates of the electoral committee for appointing the candidates for the upcoming European elections, says she witnessed “scandalous” appointment methods and calls on activists to reject the list presented this Wednesday.

Lilian Guefli, an activist in La France insoumise (LFI), a member of the electoral committee which has just presented the movement’s list for the European elections, denounces “unhealthy procedures”, an atmosphere “of suspicion” within the committee, and says that Manuel Bompard (national secretary of the Left Party and campaign director for Jean-Luc Mélenchon) and his associates dominate the eligible positions.

You were on the electoral committee of LFI. What was your role?

I was allotted in April to participate in the electoral committee. For the European elections list we examined more than 600 candidates. 70 names were eventually selected. After a phase of comment by activists – we received more than 800 comments – we proceeded to the decide on the ordering. This ranking is the most important part because the European elections use proportional representation, and the ranking therefore determines who may realistically be elected.

What is it that you protest?

A deliberate, orchestrated manipulation. When I was allotted, I was honored to participate in the process. But I was very quickly disillusioned when I saw that in fact everything was already fixed by the directorate to favor little deals between friends and cliques which have already divided up the top positions on the list in advance. A list of names of members of the Left Party that are to be promoted was given to us by a member of the directorate. One candidate was installed in a top position without debate, so that she did not appear on the list of 70. I protest that Manuel Bompard, the “head” of the movement who has no real legitimacy with the base, is a member of the electoral committee and controls it. Being himself a candidate, he is at the same time judge and judged. That poses a real problem of independence for the committee.
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