Direct vs. Representative Democracy
Is direct democracy preferable to representative democracy?
You can also add to the debate by leaving your comment at the end of the page.
Direct democracy gives power back to the people. Getting to vote only once every 4 years (for examp...
Direct democracy gives power back to the people. Getting to vote only once every 4 years (for example) gives citizens very little power to affect their government. Direct democracy would allow people to change laws and their political system whenever they wanted. This would be much more democratic.
Elections might only happen once every few years, but governments are still very concerned with what people think in the meantime because know that they will have to be elected again. Also, any changes in the economy, laws or government services often take many years to show the benefits (or problems). Four or five year gaps between elections give us the time to see how good governments really are. Holding referendums all the time will lead to policy switching to and fro with the popular mood, to no good effect.
Direct democracy would speed up political processes. If urgent action were needed, decisions could ...
Direct democracy would speed up political processes. If urgent action were needed, decisions could be made much more quickly (particularly with electronic voting) without the issue getting bogged down by political parties fighting one another, scoring points and trying to slow down the system.
Slow political processes are often vital to make sure that laws are properly written. Debate and strong political opposition means that legislation must be well written, balanced and clearly explained. Slower processes also remove the risk of over-reaction by people. For example, support for the death penalty often rises suddenly after news about terrible crimes, but then returns to lower levels soon after. If people could change laws instantly, then some very extreme proposals might be accepted.
People today are apathetic and distrustful about politics, which is very unhealthy for a democracy. ...
People today are apathetic and distrustful about politics, which is very unhealthy for a democracy. Low turnouts in elections mean that governments today lack moral authority. Giving people more direct control would create more interest in politics, and get more people educated and active about the issues that affect them.
If people are uninterested or uninformed about politics, then it is not clear that giving them more control over it is a good idea. People may be easily swayed by clever media or advertising campaigns, even if the law in question is not good for them. Just as people can be persuaded to smoke even though it is unhealthy, they could be persuaded to vote for laws which might not be in their interests. In a direct democracy, the owners of big media companies would end up with too much influence.
Direct democracy gives power to people by by-passing other organisations. Governments are constantl...
Direct democracy gives power to people by by-passing other organisations. Governments are constantly 'lobbied' by businesses, trade unions and other groups, which means that they get special consideration when it comes to writing laws. Ordinary people don't have this kind of access to politicians, and so giving them direct control would level the playing field.
Businesses, unions and charities, etc. may not be 'citizens' as such but their opinions are still very important. Ordinary voters can never understand as much as they do about the economy or social issues. And also, very often what is good for these organisations is good for the whole of society. As they cannot vote, it would be damaging to exclude them from politics altogether. In any case, those organisations with enough money to buy political advertising would have too much power in a direct democracy.
In a democracy, everyone's opinion should be equal, because there are no right or wrong beliefs abou...
In a democracy, everyone's opinion should be equal, because there are no right or wrong beliefs about how society should work. Yet the opinions of politicians are treated as far more important right now, and they are able to make decisions that a majority of people would be against. This should never happen in a true democracy.
It is important that politicians sometimes follow their own opinions. Firstly, this shows us what kind of opinions they truly hold. If they just followed the crowd, how would we ever know what they stood for? Secondly, politicians often know more, and can call on greater resources (such as researchers) to decide about issues. And they have time to hear a range of viewpoints and carefully consider the consequences of new laws. There may not be right and wrong answers to political questions, but there are certainly more and less informed ones.
Direct democracy would lead to better decision-making than we get under representative democracy. E...
Direct democracy would lead to better decision-making than we get under representative democracy. Elected politicians are almost all well-off professionals with little experience of life for ordinary people. They think alike and do not understand the impact of the laws they pass. But referendums draw on the experience and views of the whole of society, allowing political decision-making to benefit from the “wisdom of crowds”.
Direct democracy would lead to worse decision-making and could harm many people in our society. Deciding laws simply on majority vote could lead to minority groups being picked on. Worse, referendums may have such low turnouts that laws could be passed by minority groups who care a lot about the issue in question, and get their way because most people cared less and didn’t bother to vote.
Using Representative Democracy is the only way of ensuring the rights of minorities
One of the most essential duties of the state is to guarantee the rights of minorities. Under the model of direct democracy the rights of minorities might never be ensured. In conservative societies around the world we see how, for example religious minorities are sidelined from main stream society and are not granted their fundamental rights. This is because under direct democracy, the majority will rule and will not grant basic rights to minorities just because they can do so. This Is a very crucial issue in modern world, where minorities are oppressed just because the majority is able to discriminate against them.
Under such circumstances, the role of the state becomes more important then ever. The state is responsible for ensuring that all its people are given all their rights regardless of their religion, caste, color, creed or sexuality. Even if the minorities are oppressed, it is essentially the role of the state to make sure they are provided security, along with their basic rights as well as equal opportunity in all spheres of life. The only way all these rights will be fulfilled will be through representative democracy. Some might argue that even democratically chosen representatives might discriminate against minorities, but for that there are already safety mechanisms in place, for example we can rely on the international community to exert pressure on such representatives and to overturn such policies which discriminate against minorities.
In Switzerland where direct democracy is practiced, the Minaret Ban discriminated against minority Muslims by prohibiting them from building minarets in mosque buildings [[http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2009/11/2009112915164769444.html]]
So in essence, under representative democracy, the rights of the minorities will be ensured and even in case the representatives themselves indulge in discriminatory behavior against minorities, there are already mechanisms in place to deal with that.
Representative democracy better caters to a bigger electorate
In countries like China which spread out to hundreds of kilometers, it is virtually impossible to conduct referendums for the sake of direct democracy on a regular basis. Whenever a public vote has to be taken on an issue, the real problem is ensuring a fair vote in the whole country.
Since direct democracy works by taking the views of the majority on every major policy decision, it involves ensuring a fair poll which makes the process very difficult. Not only will this be a challenge in bigger countries but it will also require significant financial resources, apart from that a large workforce will have to be employed at polling stations, a government holiday will also has to be declared for such polls, even after paying a huge price a fair vote cannot be ensured. Countries who are currently struggling with their finances will never be able to follow such an approach as it would heavily strain their resources and bring down the overall productivity in the country.
Under the status quo, direct democracy is not used often because it is very difficult to ensure a fair vote, in which all the people can express their views on a certain policy, it is much more efficient and convenient to elect representatives and have them express the views of the population as in representative democracy.
Another underlying assumption with direct democracy is how people assume the population of a country will be willing to participate in the voting process on a regular basis at the expense of the their own personal resources. In countries like Japan where people work for long hours every day ,just to earn a living, they would be content having to elect a representative with strong values they agree to , as present in his/ her manifesto every 4-5 years, than to be a part of the polling process on a regular basis.
Even when elections for choosing representatives take place, we see how voter turnout is constantly declining which proves how impractical having polls on a regular basis is.
Representative democracy forms a more stable set up
Under the model of representative democracy, an elected individual or a group of individuals are made responsible for the affairs of the state. This means that the elected representatives are responsible for making the policies, as well as for the outcomes of all such decisions.
In contrast under direct democracy, the general population of a country is responsible for all policy making. This means that according to the changing views of the general population, policies may be changed or altered frequently which would take a toll on the overall stability of the state.
Further substantiating the matter, for example if the people of a country like China agree to change their export and investment policies, it would drastically affect the economy, if they decide to overturn such policies again, it would push the country’s economy into long term decline as such frequent policy shifts will cause the investors to be more cautious.
Under representative democracy, the elected individuals will be responsible for making policies which will be more stable and consistent and would hence be beneficial to the people.
While this shows how policies would be consistent, it’s important not to confuse this idea with dictatorship as there are mechanisms in place to impeach a representative who doesn’t work according to the will of the people.
Representative democracy ensures the long-term betterment of a country
In a representative democracy it is in the government's interest to make decisions and take measures that ensure the long term prosperity of the people even if it means less favourable economic or social conditions enjoyed by the populace in the near future. Indeed, many a time such measures might be against the wishes of a significant majority of the population since the populace is likely to oppose any possible reduction in the short term gratification of its wants.
Austerity measures being introduced all over Europe and more specifically Greece and the widespread often violent opposition they have received are an excellent example of this phenomenon. The government in Greece understands that if these measures are not enforced, the Greek economy and thus the Greek population would suffer in the long run. However, the measures, if taken, would result in reduced economic benefits/remuneration for the Greek population in the short run and thus are opposed , often to the extent of violence, by the vast majority of Greek population. Indeed in a recent survey by the ALCO 75% [[http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2011/05/28/public-poll-75-greeks-say-governmentausterity-measures-wrong/]] of the Greek population are against the imposition of the austerity measures. The government however understands that if it does implement these measures, even against the immediate opinion of the population, it stands to gain significant political ground in the long term, since it will be held responsible for the economic prosperity these measures bring later on; it will gain significant public favour in the next elections or the ones after that, and thus will introduce these measures.
Thus under a representative democracy the people’s long term interests are looked after and preserved by the government in a responsible manner.
Representative democracy leads to national unity
Under the model of representative democracy, the democratically elected representatives are determined to maintain their popularity in the masses by gaining the support of different segments of society in their policies. To maintain their popularity they make policies which are generally acceptable to all of society. In the process of doing so, they try to find common ground between different parties in case of a conflict among the people and this leads to unity in society. This is the very basic concept of leadership which unites people with different views in a country.
The reason democratically elected representatives can be relied on to fulfill this duty is the mere fact that they must maintain their popularity in all different communities in a society. They must resolve any difference of opinion and hence follow the path of reconciliation between two parties to resolve a conflict in order to come up with a unifying policy acceptable to all sides and stakeholders.
What do you think?