What would real democracy look like?

Norwegian social ecologist Camilla Hansen, a member of the New Compass publishing collective, has posted an exceptionally comprehensive overview of current models of direct democracy that are in use today around the world.  Camilla offers a clear analysis of the potentialities of each model, the obstacles to their fullest realization, and the need for a more systemic approach.

The full paper appears at http://new-compass.net/articles/what-would-real-democracy-look, and was re-posted by ZNet and ROAR Magazine. Here’s a brief excerpt that helps convey its overall outlook:

real democracy, [in contrast to elite-dominated representative systems], is a direct and participatory democracy, in which all citizens have the possibility and the right to participate in the decisions that affect our lives and our communities. While the powers that be and mainstream media and pundits argue that such a citizen-based democracy is not possible or even desirable, there exist in fact a range of new institutions and experiments — as well as some old ones — that show that a direct and participatory democracy is both possible and feasible today. These democratic innovations, however scattered and limited, could — if improved, strengthened and spread — become the tools for a radical democratization of society. In this article I will take a look at some of these democratic institutions and mechanisms, discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and explore their potentials.


2 Replies to “What would real democracy look like?”


    The essay written by Camilla Hansen presents us with the crisis of representative democracy and the need to change the political system to promote democratic societies.
    Her analysis indicates that an essential feature of ‘democracy’ is that the votes by the citizens should embody ‘political power’. It is direct, participatory, and gives voters the right to decide, and for their decisions to become laws and rules; priorities and policies.
    At the moment, current systems of democracy allow some citizens to vote for others so as to empower them to represent their demands and act on their behalf.
    In many places, the only form of direct ‘democracy’ has been the mass street protests whereby protesters have organized themselves to take votes as in a referendum, about key issues such as finance, austerity, poverty, wages, elections. The biggest street protests involving up to 30million people have been witnessed in Egypt during which support was openly given to the military against the president.
    Other forms of direct democracy, identified by Camilla, developed from popular assemblies in Venezuela, Brazil, Turkey and elsewhere that enable citizens to meet, to discuss, to vote, and decide. Municipal assemblies and neighbourhood assemblies and communal councils are designed for residents to participate in meetings, to discuss, to vote on the priorities of budgeting. In all these forms, the ‘votes’ of citizens are the expression of political power as transferred to them in their neighbourhoods from the central government. The citizens make the decisions and the governments carry out the projects.
    These forms of democracy have emerged. But they are in opposition to other changes to political systems. Recent events across the world have shown that political systems are undergoing change, but not necessarily in any desired direction nor with any known consequences.
    Mass street protests as in Egypt did not resolve anything other than to confront citizens with armed forces and conflict on the streets and the death of hundreds of citizens. If they are to facilitate votes on priorities and projects, street protests need to be organized as decision-making events.
    In contrast, the combination of a ruling minority group and military power in Syria has rendered elections, votes, any form of democracy, beyond the pale.
    In Greece, the results of national elections, and national bankruptcy, produced a regime that can rule only according to the demands of international agencies such as the IMF, the World Bank, the European Central Bank, and the EU. The demands of the citizens are ignored. What is worse, any action by the citizens to resolve the crisis is regarded by the government as rebellion or terrorism!
    In Egypt, presidential elections have been disregarded by ‘the military’, and the elected president has been removed. The wishes of the electorate have been ignored. Any form of democracy can be rejected by the military junta. A state of emergency has been the normal state of political life.
    A number of countries are subject to military controls, and democracy is not accepted. With the expulsion of the president, Egypt has returned to military rule, to join Fiji, North Korea, Burma, Morocco, Mauritania, Central African Republic.
    While the demands for participatory democracy have increased, it has become normal practice for international institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, NATO along with the USA, the EU to oversee the government of failing countries. Direct participatory democracy is suspect, as likely to encourage opposition and turmoil
    These changes that have given rise to the organization of international agencies represent the emergence of specific bureaucracies designed to rule and administer countries that have asked for help or are deemed to be in need of support. In these situations the organization of local assemblies is considered to be undesirable by those in power.
    We have to confront the different demands for local democracy by local citizens, and the consequences of the mediation of diplomats and military forces in countries under stress and subject to international supervision by the UN or NATO.
    At the moment, it seems that the pressures for changes in global political systems are operating in different directions: local and global.

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