By Florangel Rosario Braid
My piece today was triggered by talks about the imposition of Martial Law which I believe is not likely to happen. It is because of what we are now witnessing in the form of three irreversible forces which are demographic, political, and technological. These trends are happening here and throughout the world today and are gradually fueling what is described as direct democracy.
This is a trend where people, through the vote or consensus on policy initiatives, have direct participation in decision-making on vital issues that affect their lives. It is different from representative democracy where people participate indirectly, which is what we have in the country, in the United States, and in many other countries in the world.
The various forms of direct democracy include the town meeting, constitutional amendments, power of initiative and recall, and the referendum.
International IDEA, the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance explains that the demographic trend, shown in a better educated populace, access to communication technology, and the tendency of representatives to become disconnected from their electors, appear to be the critical factors that are forcing people to turn to direct democratic modes of decision-making.
Today, citizens are able to communicate directly with their elected leaders through online petitions, blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts. And as we have seen in several country cases, these information technologies have become powerful tools in mobilizing communities towards political change.
Where the political party system is weak, there is a greater likelihood that people would want to exercise direct democracy. In fact, the people power movement is a form of direct democracy. But even in the United States where the two-party system is strong, the referendum and initiative processes are being practiced in most states on some high-profile issues such as affirmative action, illegal immigration, lotteries and casinos, medical marijuana, school vouchers, tax limits, and term limits of officials.
Brexit in the United Kingdom, is an illustration of the growing desire of the people to exercise direct democracy on an important national concern. Similar citizen-initiated mechanisms have been used in countries like Uruguay, Uganda, Iran, and other countries.
Direct democracy appears to be the solution to problems of unemployment, failing wages, terrorism, illegal drugs, human trafficking which are often blamed on globalization, and the failure of the ruling elite to address these problems.
But even while acknowledging these important functions, analysts state that at best, direct democracy is a useful tool when it is used to help us understand democratic will and to enhance the accountability of elected representatives.
Direct democracy has limitations. It is most effective as a complement to representative democratic governance. Among the limitations are that it requires of the population a high level of commitment. It may be difficult to sustain it within a large population and where there exists apathy and complex social and economic problems. Among the dangers are low voter turnout, the presence of special interest groups, and lobbyists who may bankroll direct democracy initiatives. While citizens must have a say, they are merely partners and cannot replace the work of the legislature. There also exists a belief among some states that there is danger in the tyranny of the majority.
This is why modern citizenship lawmaking (statute referendum and constitutional amendment initiative) which started in the cantons of Switzerland in the 13th century was known to have been quite successful because of the smaller population. The earliest known democracy is the Athenian democracy which was not, however, inclusive as it excluded women, foreigners, and slaves.
Quo vadis? Direct democracy is here to stay – and as partner of representative democracy.
My e-mail, Florangel.firstname.lastname@example.org