Improving Democracy

EDITORIAL, 18 Jan 2016

#411 | Johan Galtung

Alfaz, SpainDemocracy-Logo

Democracy is rule–decision-making–by the consent of the people, the demos. There is a very good argument: the people will suffer the consequences. Hence rule of, by, and for the people.

Problem: which level dominates the decision-making? Level [4] national (government-parliament-courts); [3] regional (provinces-departments), [2] local (LAs, municipalities), level [1] individuals? In theory [1] is primary, basic, sovereign; in practice level [4]. Through elected representatives, packaged in electoral districts; representing individual preferences, packaged in party programs.

Comment, from Germany: “The sovereignty comes from the people–and never comes back” (“vom Volke raus, und kommt niemals zurück“).

The representatives kindly open a window every 4 years or so, 8-12 hours, 1-2 days, for the people to confirm or disconfirm the government. 1-2 days out 4 x 365 = 1460 (+1): around 1 per mil.

However, society has faultlines, by gender-generation-race, class, nation, territory. Only territory is built into the system through the elections by districts, the vote catchment areas.

There are increasing demands for lists of candidates also to represent genders, generations, races and nations. As opposed to only white-male-middleaged candidates, disturbingly similar on the posters. There is more than territory and programs to represent; and states are now competing especially for the highest percentage of women deputies.

However, Society=State+Capital+Civil Society; this is all State.

For the many NGOs in Civil Society, we now have the same rule: they–rotarians, priests–should also bridge faultlines, making society more representative, and in that sense more democratic.

However, in Capital CEO autocracy, it is frequent consulting with the Board, not with organized customers. A dictatorship Trojan horse; by privatization free from some democratic control of state capital.

The most democratic state in the world is Switzerland. The others are majority dictatorships (how majoritarian, it depends on the electoral system); president-, parliament-, party-, bank-ocracies (sliding from real to finance economy, using paid politicians), technocracies (leaving decisions to the executive power); “peoples”, “popular” democracies (decision-making by one more or less democratic party); oligark-ocracies (secret services), autocracies (one single person).

Switzerland “unpackages” three aspects of the standard formula:

* demos, divided into etnos–speaking German, French, Italian, Rheto-roman–so that no ethnic group can dominate by their numbers. Hence 26 democratic, ethnically relatively homogeneous cantons, and the state as a democratic federation of autonomous and democratic ethnic groups.

* territory, divided into levels: 1 state, 26 cantons, 2,300 local. The local level is so close to the individuals that direct democracy–a plaza, a stadium–is possible if that level has real power. It does.

* programs, divided into issues. The people have the right to vote directly on issues, not only on parties but also in a referendum on issues; and through an initiative to demand a referendum, at all local levels. Result: Switzerland, 1 per mil of the world population, accounts for 60% of state-wide referenda. Through federation and referenda Switzerland balances the four levels; all four levels have real power.

As the government can be overruled both by a vote in parliament and by a referendum it is responsible both to the deputies and the people. The 7 cabinet members reflect both by being divided 3+2+1+1 by the languages, and 2+3+2 by parties, left-center-right. A political and ethnic coalition government benefiting from the insights of all.

The deputies can by education understand the other languages and speak their own with dignity, respecting the others by understanding.

There is much for Spain–6 nations?–to learn from all of this. No party has monopoly on truth, no nation monopoly on communication.

But a democracy is much more than a structure of inter-level balance, and a culture of inter-level transparency. The focus of the debate should not be reduced to how to elect representatives. Much more important is how people themselves can arrive at good decisions through the state, the capital, and the civil society systems.

One answer: by asking them. A referendum is a question, and people grow by making up their minds, not having it made up for them.

Another would be for local communities with difficult problems to ask the inhabitants for good ideas, delivered “by midnight Sunday”.

Most importantly, at all levels to decide by dialogue-consensus, not only by debate-voting. There are underlying cultures of victory for debates, and of solution for dialogues, towards something new.

Creativity of-by-for the people will matter ever more because of level [5]: alliances like NATO, communities like EU, Capital as TNCs can overrule states. And most states–except the biggest in population and area, China-India-Russia-USA–absorbed into regions, are also challenged from below by LAs, non-dominant nations and NGOs. Sometimes with terrorism from below and state terrorism from above.

Shifts from politics within and among States to politics within and between Civil Society and Capital at all levels is hard on people. People will to a large extent have to fence for themselves, through Civil Society, against Capital, with networks and cooperatives against Capital, and banks buying the deputies. The best struggle is positive, like by linking NGOs and cooperatives democratically in a world chain of cooperatives promoting the basic needs of humans and nature.

People can through nonviolent struggle create and reconquer democratic decision-making. Strengthen the local level. Reflect ethnic differences. Boycott bought deputies. More referenda. More decisions through dialogue-consensus, to be continued in coalitions. More decentralization. More diversity.   And much more creativity.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

Tags: , , , , ,

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 18 Jan 2016.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Improving Democracy, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

One Response to “Improving Democracy”

  1. Majority rule could be fine, but majority rule by majority vote, majoritarianism, is inadequate.
    A collective opinion can be identified more accurately with multi-option preference voting: the option with the highest average preference. And an average, of course, involves every voter. The methodology, therefore, the Modified Borda Count, MBC, is non-majoritarian.
    Accordingly, on contentious issues in a plural democracy, there is no (further) justification for binary voting. Rather, both in national parliaments and international conferences, debates should be pluralist, so voting (if any) should also be pluralist, and decisions should be based on a verbal and/or voting consensus.
    Secondly, there is no (further) justification for majority governments, single party or coalition. Rather, not only in stable societies but especially in conflict zones, reliance should be placed on governments of national unity.
    A new book, From Majority Rule to Inclusive Politics, (Springer, 2016), critiques current practice in which open and transparent elections for a new parliament are often followed by closed and opaque discussions for a new government, and these negotiations can last for days: Germany in 2013, 67; Iraq in 2010, 291; Belgium in 2010/11, 451! So the above text advocates power-sharing not only for Bosnia, Libya, NI, Syria, Ukraine etc. etc., but for every democracy. And it explains how a newly elected parliament can elect an all-party coalition, in just one day.