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Representative Democracy Is a Better Form of Government Than Direct Democracy

Many people feel that direct democracy could work to reduce voter apathy and place national and local issues directly in the hands of those they affect most. However, this system has its own problems, particularly practicality and self-interest, and may not even effectively address the political issues that many of its supporters think that it will solve.

All the Yes points:

  1. Representative democracy is far better suited to dealing with a large electorate.
  2. The complexity of many political issues would make some of them difficult for the average voter to understand.
  3. The welfare of the society would be sidelined for the needs of the individual.
  4. It’s a lot less work.

All the No points:

  1. Majority of people do not trouble to fully inform themselves on the topics
  2. One-Party System
  3. Rule for the people or of the people?

Representative democracy is far better suited to dealing with a large electorate.

Yes because…

Direct democracy may work very well among a small group of people, but the larger the group the more difficult it is to run effectively. Representative democracy eliminates this difficulty by operating on a much smaller scale the majority of the time (via elected representatives of the electorate as a whole).

No because…

Many people are upset with the choices that representatives make.

Representative democracy is not democracy at all. It is LEADERSHIP SELECTION, an entirely different concept.

People have no control over what the alleged “representatives” do. They don’t have to make binding promises on the way they will vote and due to “log rolling”, they pass laws that would never find any majority among the people (“If you vote for my law A, I’ll support your law B”).

Political alliances among parties with the intent of becoming a “ruling majority” are even worse: electors will be defrauded of any actual influence, e.g. the “Great Coalition” in Germany, where socialists and conservatives ended up “sharing power”, enacting laws that enraged the members of both electorates in a gigantic act of log rolling.

In short: representatives represent no one but themselves and their own interests. Electoral promises are worthless. Candidates are only elected based on emotional and ideological appeal, never on actual competence. Their choices wouldn’t be the choices of their electorate, were they given a chance to vote on issues (often observed in Switzerland).

The complexity of many political issues would make some of them difficult for the average voter to understand.

Yes because…

Political issues can be exceptionally complicated and take MPs a lot of time and consultation with experts to fully understand themselves, before they can be considered informed enough to vote. Educating the whole electorate on such issues would be exceptionally difficult for a number of reasons, and if an uninformed electorate were to vote on issues the results could be incredibly damaging.

No because…

That’s merely insulting and arrogant. Politicians are not smarter than the average voter. Most of the time, they understand nothing about the issue.

Politicians are expert actors, speakers and liars, they’re winners of popularity contests, not experts on any of the issues that they are supposed to make decisions on.

Hardly any politician ever reads the laws he’s supposed to vote on, because he’s too busy with fund-raising and other far more important issues (for them).

Never forget: POWER CORRUPTS (Lord Action). So even if you knew a politician once when he was young and enthusiastic and he seemed quite a nice chap, a short time in government will thoroughly corrupt him. Very few remain true. The only exception that comes to mind is Ron Paul, the senator from Texas, who has consistently voted for low taxes, individual freedom and the restriction of government power.

Trusting politicians and bureaucrats to work for the good of the country is like giving Tequila and car keys to teenagers and hope they’ll bring back your car safely (P.J. O’Rourke).

The welfare of the society would be sidelined for the needs of the individual.

Yes because…

The average individual voter would put his or her needs before those of society as a whole. This self-interest is perfectly natural, but if a law that benefits a smaller group does not benefit a larger group (for example, the protection of minority interests) then that law is not likely to be passed.

BTW, Switzerland voted for a minaret ban. They are just as susceptable to populist nonsense as anyone else.

No because…

Switzerland is the only country in the world that operates with direct democracy at all levels of government. It was the only country in Europe that NEVER fell for any populist or extremist system.

The people are far more intelligent and wise than selfish, greedy politicians, whose time horizon is just the next election.

Again and again, Swiss voters proved that they were very well informed on every issue and that they were far more tolerant than the media and politicians claimed.

Having the right to decide on issues means that people feel concerned by them and they will pay attention. People are only uninformed and ignorant in countries where they feel that their opinion doesn’t matter anyway.

The people who pay the bill are also far more likely to have a real long-term interest in making good decisions.

It’s a lot less work.

Yes because…

Most people do not really want to vote all the time on political issues that don’t always affect them, or may require a lot of understanding in order to cast a meaningful vote. Switzerland requires about 10 referenda per year. This is the main criticism of direct democracy from people subject to it.

Voting for a representative who agrees with you takes less effort, doesn’t require you to do anything about issues that don’t concern you and does not require you to learn about complex issues. Complex issues can be sorted out by professionals.

No because…

Majority of people do not trouble to fully inform themselves on the topics

No because…

The complexities of modern government require careful consideration of all the facts available, reports from all sides, scientific and rational analysis, a lack of knee jerk reaction and a willingness to consider the long term solution and to not put self-interest first.

The majority of people do not have the time, or the inclination, to make a rational well considered judgement.

Yes because…

Point is repeated above and for rather than against. Should be deleted

One-Party System

No because…

Direct Democracy in its truest form must necessarily be a one-party system. This party would be a neutral party, whose only policies are to do what benefits the majority of people, be it through their own ideas or those of others.

Before any policy is implemented, it will be scrutinised by the public, and they will vote for it via the polling station/postal service. If the majority of people say yes, then it is made law and, if no, then it isn’t. The government will always provide the choice between various policies on these forms, including the option of “none of the above”. This is the only way to ensure that people get what they want.

However, this direct democracy needs an intelligent and well informed public to make the correct decisions for the whole of society. Much of society is like this. However, if the public wish something to be made law or a certain policy to be seen through, but that it would be truly detrimental to the country, it must be stopped by the government. This leads us into a grey area whereby we cannot know where to draw the line. However, the line is far easier to draw here along with the system being far more democratic than what it is like under a representative democracy.

Representative democracy functions on the premise that differnet parties have different ways of doing things, along with different wants and opinions. The idea that people have to choose between these parties is surely wrong for a democracy. It is not the parties that should be making the policy suggestions, it is the people (In a true democracy). Therefore representative democracy is not really a part of this, for it channels certain views and opinions into a particular party/candidate. This party/candidate then acts on the voters’ behalf (or is supposed to) but it rarely takes heed to what the country has to say. Representative democracy allows the personal agenda of the ruling classes to cloud the agenda of what is right for the citizens of this country.

Yes because…

Rule for the people or of the people?

No because…

It could not be argued that representative democracy is better than direct democracy as a form of democracy. Democratic government begins in ancient Greece where people were deciding for themselves regarding war and peace and other public issues. If there were direct democracy today, the UK might not have participated in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. There is a great difference between technical issues and fundamental moral and political choices which should not be the prerogative of politicians. If we understand democracy as the rule of the people we must support the establishment of more direct forms of participation.Direct democracy does not mean that we completely abandon representation since this is simple impossible within modern states or the EU.

Yes because…

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6 years ago

Having dual nationality and having lived for long periods in both a representative democracy and a direct democracy, I have to say that the direct democracy wins hands down.

There is growing citizen dissatisfaction within many of the leading indirect democracies and in several instances sheer frustration has led to protest swings towards increasingly populist governments. The main grievances include among others, elitism within political parties and governments, disregard for the opinions and job needs of citizens, outright corruption in some cases, and promotion of policies, which increase inequality through the blatant transfer of wealth from the middle and poorer sectors to elites.

Citizens in indirect democracies essentially have very little say in government other than to vote for one of two or perhaps three hardly distinguishable entities, which will rule largely autocratically and frequently squabble amongst themselves for the next four or five years. A general loss of confidence in government and political institutions is becoming more widespread and this is being exacerbated by unlimited access to the internet and social media which are exposing the comings and goings of the political classes and elites unfavourably.

The key problem with indirect democracy is the concentration of power within a relatively small elite through „winner takes all“ electoral structures. Humans being humans, over time these systems are open to corrosion and become increasingly subject to corrupting elements such as corporate influence, lobby groups, big financial donors and „wannabee kings and dictators“ leading to legislative bias and power abuse to the detriment of the hapless electorate. Without effective external controls that maintain fairness and balance, voter apathy sets in because people are not stupid and don‘t waste time voting when they know that this will have limited or no effect whatsoever.

In contrast, in a direct democracy power is disseminated and the electorate plays a controlling and corrective role. Federal or central government authority is very much reduced and regional and local governments have substantial independence and authority. These tend to be largely self governing and self financing with much of the decision making undertaken by citizens through quarterly referendums that are carried out electronically or by post. Citizens participate nationally, regionally and locally on matters such as finance, tax rates and tax policy, retirement and pensions, medical insurances, education, and military spending, and setting of regional and community budgets. When government is doing the right thing, it is not necessary for citizens to vote on each and every issue, but when government steps out of line or is not dealing with something which it should, the citizens are able to intervene and do it themselves if necessary.

Some may recoil in horror at such politically incorrect „populism“, but in Switzerland the benefits are seen in stable, efficient and cost effective government, good social systems, business friendliness and relatively low tax rates. Legislation tends to be fair, pragmatic and understandable, because the knowledge that citizens can overturn new legislation or propose alternative legislation tends to focus the minds of law makers accordingly.

Where citizens have the ongoing right to participate meaningfully in government, they actually behave pretty sensibly. When deciding about their future and that of their children and grand children, the electorate becomes remarkably pragmatic and reasonable. So in Switzerland many seductive initiatives by unions and other parties to shorten the working week, reduce retirement age, increase minimum wages, unemployment benefits and pensions, or disadvantage minorities or join the European Union have been soundly thrown out by the electorate. At the same time government spending and borrowing are closely controlled and, in contrast to most other countries, the country has negligible debt.

An important benefit of direct democracy is that regular and active participation in government leads to an electorate which is politically astute and less likely to be swayed by politically emotive or personality cult issues. This can be seen in the run up to referendums where early polls will often show high scores on emotional issues, but as the referendum draws closer and more information, debate and open discussion on repercussions and impacts takes place, the polls often show a reversal towards a less emotive but more pragmatic viewpoint. This kind of electoral participation leads to sound and more representative decisions and greater confidence in systems, institutions and government.

All in all, the direct democracy system in Switzerland has played a role in turning one of the poorest countries in Europe with hardly any natural resources into one of the wealthiest and most progressive. It consistently scores among the World‘s best in surveys on economic competitiveness, equality, happiness of citizens, quality of life, citizen net assets, education, innovation, low unemployment and very importantly, low corruption.

Rather than getting bogged down with all the old worn out and misleading arguments against direct democracy, those who are interested in finding solutions to the current democracy issues should look a little more closely at how a successful, working, direct democracy operates. It has a number of innovative and eloquent approaches to government which have developed as a result of having freedom and authority to be politically creative and these could be usefully applied in many other countries and systems as well.

7 years ago

Of course direct democracy is superior. In fact, representative democracy is poor quality democracy because time and again the politicians betray voters.

Representative democracy’s flaw is that is not under the inmediate direct control of voters. Rep. democracy is an elitist form of government. The representatives spend most of their time scheming to fool voters.

Even Switzrland’s can be more direct. The UK, and the anglo and nordic countries democracies are a step below but of course far ahead of most other democracies and light year ahead of the unfree and messy societies of most of the World.

Spain, Israel, Italy and similar are a clear step below the UK and the Nordics and WAY BELOW, WAY BELOW, Switzerland.

But most people can nont understand Swiss democracy, this is why so many believe “representative democracy” is better. They just lack education on the issue.

Tom cotter
7 years ago

Representing democracy is no democracy particularly if you have an unelected upper chamber it becomes jobs for the boys

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