GRSJ224/Democracy

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Direct Democracy;

Overview

Direct Democracy, also known as pure democracy, requires citizens' direct participation in the democratic decision-making process. It operates through the means of referendum and initiatives or via an assembly of citizens. Individuals have direct influence rather than having to go through intermediaries. This form of democracy diverges from the idea of a representative democracy which is more commonly adopted around the world and requires citizens to vote for candidates or parties to represent them.  

Semi-direct democracies are another form of democracy in which the day to day activities are governed by the representative administer. However, the citizens remain sovereign, allowing three forms of popular action. These include Initiative, referendum and recall. Referendum and initiatives are examples of direct legislations while recall allows the citizens to remove elected officials from office before their term end. As of 2019, thirty countries allowed for referendums initiated by the population on the national level.   

Countries that follow a Direct democracy

Switzerland

Switzerland is a rare example of a country that adopts certain features of direct democracy. It does so at the cantons, municipalities, and federal state levels. This is in stark contrast to other countries that follow the representative system and in the Swiss case, citizens have more power and influence.

The Swiss citizens have the right to demand an optional referendum regarding any law voted on by the cantonal, municipal legislative and/or federal body. They can also use popular initiative to suggest modifications to their constitution. A group of at least 7 people (the initiative committee) is required to launch this initiative. Any citizen who is eligible to vote can sign this popular initiative. However, before the voting begins, the initiative committee must collect 100,000 signatures within 18 months.   

Historically, putting so much power in the people’s hands can produce some unexpected results. For example, in Switzerland, there was a proposal for all the cars to banned from roads on Sundays and a Veto on the building of minarets   

Ancient Athens

Athens was the first notable democracy established around 600 BC. At the time, it had a direct democracy, allowing it citizens to vote on all laws, legislations and bills. Rather than appointing representatives the citizens were entitled to individual votes. Comic poets, political satire and the theatre had a major role in influencing the public opinion of the voters   

The government created by Solon in ancient Greece was a democracy, where people had the ability to rule the polis(city). The citizens of Athens acted as lawmakers, this differentiated them from nations that had elected representatives.   

A boule, which was a council mainly consisting of adult males born in Athens. The boule manages daily affairs of the polis. The members of the boule were randomly selected rather than elected. This gave every qualified person an equal opportunity to serve in the council.

Athens was the first notable democracy established around 600 BC. At the time, it had a direct democracy, allowing it citizens to vote on all laws, legislations and bills. Rather than appointing representatives, the citizens were entitled to individual votes. Comic poets, political satire and the theatre had a major role in influencing the public opinion of the voters   

The government created by Solon in ancient Greece was a democracy, where people had the ability to rule the polis (city). The citizens of Athens acted as lawmakers, and this differentiated them from nations that had elected representatives.   

A boule, which was a council mainly consisting of adult males born in Athens, manages daily affairs of the polis. The members of the boule were selected at random rather than being elected. This gave every qualified person an equal opportunity to serve in the council.   

How to vote

1) Referendum and initiatives

-> Referendum - may be obligatory or optional. A popular vote has to be approved or rejected by the classes of legislative action under the obligatory referendum. For example, In the United states, under the legislatures, most states are subject to an obligatory referendum..

-> Optional ( facultative ) - When petitioned by a specific number of voters, a legislature could require to be petitioned. In this case, the legislatures action can be overruled in the case of a popular vote.   

Advantages

1) Each vote carries the same weight - Other forms of democracy face the problem of individual votes carrying different weight. For example, during the 2016 USA Presidential election, citizens who voted in Wyoming had 3.6 times more influence than voters in California because of the structure of the election.

2) Complete transparency - Due to the open lines of communication and the government being controlled at the local level, no information is hidden from the public. There is total transparency of information and laws between the government and citizens in a country that has a direct democracy.

3) Increased accountability. - There is no way to hold people accountable for their actions without the presence of a direct democracy. Rather than having a recall process, people would be asked what they wanted to do. Policies would be implemented to achieve those outcomes.   

Disadvantages

1) High costs - To participate in a direct democracy, people must take time out of their day. Over $500 million is spent to accommodate voting rights. Additionally, vote counting, ballots and the distribution of information are costly and a referendum can cost $2 billion or more. These necessary costs would limit the amount of meetings being held which, in turn, would limit the amount of progress being made.   

2) A threat of vote manipulation - People with higher socioeconomic status tend to have more influence than those with lower socioeconomic status/lesser resources. In this form of democracy, every decision is up for debate. As a result, this could manipulate how voters see policy information during its release.

3) Each voter must be up to date and fully informed - A country that is governed by a direct democracy must have informed and self-disciplined citizens that can understand the impact of current events. If this is not the case, an undesirable bill/legislation could be passed due to a lack of knowledge or inability to evaluate an idea.

References

  1. https://www.britannica.com/topic/referendum
  2. https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/car-free-sundays-head-for-the-scrapyard/3316860
  3. https://www.mrdowling.com/701-athens.html
  4. https://www.ucpublicaffairs.com/home/2019/9/17/lpbuuwy07bfrpu96qk1z23vb6ghass
  5. https://www.direct-democracy-navigator.org/democratic_instruments/popular-or-citizens-initiative/legal_designs
  6. https://futureofworking.com/6-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-direct-democracy/
  7. Qvortrup, Matt. Direct Democracy: A Comparative Study of the Theory and Practice of Government by the People. Manchester University Press, 2013. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt18mvkph.