An alternative to elections

This is a brief extract from an article entitled “Why elections are bad for democracy” by  David Van Reybrouck published in The Guardian.


“Referendums and elections are both arcane instruments of public deliberation. If we refuse to update our democratic technology, we may find the system is beyond repair; 2016 already risks becoming the worst year for democracy since 1933. We may find, even after the folly of Brexit, that Donald Trump wins the American presidency later this year. But this may have less to do with Trump himself, or the oddities of the American political system, than with a dangerous road that all western democracies have taken: reducing democracy to voting”

In the article, Van Reybrouck argues that elections and voting generally may be an outmoded tool for effective functioning of democracy particularly as questions that people are voting on are often too important to to be decided at a once and only ballot. He also argues that a more considered and possibly more time-consuming process would be appropriate.

Another element of his argument is that elections commit a country to a group of politicians for the term of the parliament and the electorate may want to be able to make more nuanced responses to a government during its parliamentary term.

Van Reybrouck agues for  a sortition, where ….” you draft a random sample of the population and make sure they come to the grips with the subject matter in order to take a sensible decision. A cross-section of society that is informed can act more coherently than an entire society that is uninformed.”

This random sample can be selected by a lottery process, supported by all manner of experts and its deliberations kept public and transparent.

Reform of democratic processes is exceptionally difficult because it requires politicians to reform the processes and they have a vested interest in keeping the system which has brought them to power in place.

Australia’s recent flirtation with reform of voting processes in the Senate issued exactly the opposite of what its architects have intended although not the opposite of all many people had predicted. Nonetheless, it may have cured our current crop of politicians of any information for reform for quite some time.

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