Democracy. What is it? --
Can we have true democratic governance?
What is democracy?
Is it --Rule by the majority, for the majority?
Is it---Government that applies the wishes of the majority to all policies ?
Is it--Government by the people or their elected representatives?
Is it --All 3 of the above?
The key words are majority and elected. In an ideal situation every policy would have to have the approval of a majority of the population, as expressed through a secret and honest referendum.
The immediate questions have to be- do all the population get to vote? Is that a majority of the total population or a majority of those who Vote? Should voting be compulsory for those eligible to vote? How do we ensure both secret and honest poll? Is this population made up of all those residents in the nation or only legitimate citizens of that nation?
There is much debate about the age of a person to be eligible to vote, some say voting age to be reduced to 16 since voting is for policies that affect the future, the counter argument is that those so young have very little practical experience of the consequences of bad decisions and so most of them will simply vote for what appears to benefits themselves at this moment, rather than the long term good of the entire population. There are also claims that younger people are more easily misled by social media propaganda, which does not always provide a true factual and balanced representation of the issues. There is much belief that the older people get; the more “conservative” they become. That is they become more suspicious of rhetoric and dramatic calls for change. One thing is certain; older people have more experience of governmental decisions that sounded good when proposed but turn out to be wrong. They also have the experience to understand that in an interconnected global world each individual national government will probably have to react to situations outside of their control; rather than directing and controling everything. They also have the experience to recognise that no proposal can be seen in isolation, even within their own nation. Deciding to spend twice as much on education will affect future decision on how much to spend on health care, how much of each wage packet is going to be taken in Tax etc
Most nations accept that the majority who vote is the deciding factor, and this does not have to be a majority of those eligible to vote, Apathy and ignorance appears to take over very large percentages of the total electorate at every election. It can only be assumed that the non-voters do not agree with any candidate, or they do not care who wins, or they think whatever party wins it will not make any difference. On the assumption they do not care, or they think it does not matter, it is assumed the non-voters have voluntarily give up their right to vote. Thus, the first past the post or majority of those who vote is widely accepted and being democratic. Compulsory voting has the big problem of enforcement in a “free society.” The very fact that the “state” knows a person has not voted leads to suspicions that they also know who you voted for.
Government by referendum would work in nations with a relatively small number of voters, especially if voting was in permanent, secure polling stations where the voter registers their vote by first proving their eligibility to vote (by secret PIN?) then pressing a key on a data entry pad, this vote then being added to all other such votes instantly by a super secure system. When the electorate becomes measured in tens of millions this becomes more difficult, due to the sheer scale of the operation. Some decisions need to be made within a very short time and a mass referendum even with instant data input as above; would take a couple of weeks to get set up with all voter eligibilities confirmed, polling stations checked out, information about all sides of the debate made fully available to all voters, etc. There is also the very big issue of national security, making public all that is known about issues involving terrorism or even economic changes that involve other nations, could jeopardise national security.
Assume we have elected representatives who form a small “government” to make those instant decisions. Firstly, there is a need to agree how many elected representatives and how this group choose the “government.” The number of elected representatives should be dependent on the number of electors each representative represents. Obviously each one should have the same number of electors. The geographic nature and the mobility of population will affect each nations choice in this. It has the disadvantage that urban dwellers have many more elected representatives that rural dwellers, even though the geographic size of the area represented is the opposite to this. For example, in Britain it is estimated that there are 6 times the number of urban dwellers as there are rural. Since the needs and social structure of city life is so very different to that of rural life this causes many problems. While city representation is larger than the rural one (because there are more voters in cities) the city people depend on rural areas for their water, food, recreation etc and the government can then be totally out of touch with the needs and aspirations of a rural community that actually works in and owns, most of the land area of the nation. Conflict is built into this system when each candidate represents the same number of the electorate. This gets intensified when looking at areas, for example in UK population of London is larger than the population of the west country, thus the needs of city dwellers are given a disproportionate amount of attention and tax money support, compared to the west country, yet far more of food, that basic essential of life, is produced in the west country. Thus, the act of providing the essentials for life is subjugated to the interest of the city consumers. One small example of this is rules on “the right to roam.” The urban community desires to use the rural areas as recreational amenities and so demand the right to roam over areas of land that they do not own, they do not work in, nor do they have any responsibility for. Because they have a majority in government their wishes take priority over rural needs. Basically, this is an unsustainable situation in the long term. So, a dilemma is created. To have less electors per candidate in rural areas will diminish the equality among that total electorate, A basic understanding of democracy is immediately destroyed. One person one vote and all votes are equal in worth. An equitable solution to this dilemma has yet to be found.
Once the representatives have been chosen, they can elect the “government” for the duration of the electoral period- 4 or 5 years seems a usual choice. This all sounds simple and basically it would be If every elected representative was an “independent” but political ideology gets in the way. People with similar political belief, gather together and form a “party” with the aim of ensuing their beliefs get to control the future. They raise money and select fellow believers to replace the independent candidates, they use the money they raise to promote the candidacy of their selected candidate. Once this reaches a certain level of media spending it becomes very difficult for any independent candidate to gain election. The election becomes a conflict between the various “parties” and then only those polarised views and policies of the few wealthy parties, have any realistic hope of election Once the election is complete the party with most successful candidates then selects its own followers to form the government . But the choices offered to the electorate have been limited to what the money laden political parties offer. Other alternative policies, how every worthy, just do not get the publicity needed to make change. Some advocate a change to how votes are counted and allocated to candidates, the proportional representation system, or the single transferable vote system. The advocates of these claim a greater degree of “fairness” by which they mean candidates from unpopular political parties have more chance of being elected. The rational being that it is unfair that a party can form a government because they have the greater number of elected members while the total of all votes cast shows a different picture. For example, In a 100 constituencies each with 100 voters; party A wins 51 seats each with a majority of say 10 while the party B gets 49 seats but each with a majority of 20 so A gets a total of 3060 votes but B gets 3620 total votes So be got more votes but lost the election. In practice things are a great deal more complicated and the urban against rural situation gets even more emphasised. It seems that, despite great efforts to change things, the majority of voters distrust complexities and want to keep things simple.
Much of the frustration that builds up in a democratically governed nation, is caused by the conflict that gets set up when a new government freshly installed and mandated to cause change, fails to get that change into operation, they may pass the necessary laws, but nothing seems to get changed. Two things cause this: one is the government operates through a bureaucracy and this may be managed by people who do not accept a democratic decision to change. The other cause is existing laws especially, where international laws overlap and intrude into the domestic laws that the new government wish to change. Judges may be like the bureaucracy and not agree with the democratic decision to change, then aided by lawyers paid to carry out extended legal arguments, rather than see the will of the voters enacted; they obstruct, delay, and frustrate the government decisions. In Britain it is usually these two institutions (judiciary and bureaucracy) working together that frustrates the efforts of the elected government. This can lead to such voter frustration that it brings about a change of government. The new body may promise to solve the problems, but they face exactly the same anti-democratic forces. How can this problem be solved? It will take a huge shift; the historic independence of judiciary and administration ( designed to curb the excesses of any overzealous political party) has to be ended. If they frustrate the will of the people, they- the institutions -have to be disbanded and new institutions created. This becomes a double-edged weapon because the next new government may then change judiciary and administration to one controlled by extremist factions of the governing party. This is a pathway to an end of democracy. It sets in motion the creation of state control over everything, a dictatorship in all but name.
Democracy in principle is desirable but the shortcomings and difficulties have to be dealt with. Much is made at the start of the twenty first century about the “rights” of minorities. So many people get so aggressively driven to support rights for any particular group, who are not large enough to succeed in gaining a majority in a free and fair ballot. Demanding that the will of the majority is overturned in order that any specific minority is given “special treatment” is anti-democratic. Yet persecution of any minority simply because of a recognisable difference from the majority, has become a huge issue for many powerful people. This can cause attempts to frustrate the democratic government and to use compulsion as a means of overturning a majority held view. This again is unsustainable. It can only lead to government by force, Anarchy. The majority may agree that no person be discriminated against because of race, colour, religion, or gender but if a religious belief or practice, goes against those laws that restrict the behaviour of the majority, what is to be done? Should the law be changed for everyone, to suit the rules of the minority? That is not democracy. Should the minority be forced to obey the rules accepted by the majority? That is democracy at work but in our modern fractious and splintered society it can only lead to the establishment of a destabilising section of that society, who consider themselves oppressed. Because they consider they are the oppressed, they move to believing the laws, which establish an acceptable code of behaviour, do not apply to themselves. They become terrorists in that they use acts of violence to try and change the rules governing the majority. These acts of violence are counterproductive, since while they make persuade a few, millions of others will turn against them simply because of the violence and with no regard for the social issue involved. Protest is a freedom but coercion of others to a specific point of view, is not freedom and cannot be acceptable in a free society
What can be done? Certainly, the actual voting procedures need to be modernised, that would be a start. Voter identity and entitlement to vote being proven at the point of entering a vote is necessary. Use of sealed computer voting where a vote is by pressing a key which automatically adds that vote to others for same candidate or proposal, would enable faster election but also facilitate greater use of referendums. Local referendums in each constituency, to advise the local representative may help. Allowing protest and encouraging non coercive ways to persuade others, is desirable but attempts to coerce, (by force, threats of violence, or deliberate lies,) the public can never be acceptable in a democracy. Protestors who become frustrated by their inability to persuade the majority to their own views, have to accept that in a democracy they have the right to offer those views at a public poll, but they have no right at all to use any form of violence to further their aims. If they resort to any coercion, they become anti-democratic terrorists and forfeit all rights to protection.
It is hard to see anyway of dismantling the “party” system but may be a severe restriction on spending in the media, on party political propaganda, may encourage more independent candidates to stand. This will not be popular with the media or the present political parties.