Brexit is a turning point in the history of western democracy. Never before has such a drastic decision been taken through so primitive a procedure – a one-round referendum based on a simple majority. Never before has the fate of a country – of an entire continent, in fact – been changed by the single swing of such a blunt axe, wielded by disenchanted and poorly informed citizens. But this is just the latest in a series of worrying blows to the health of democracy. On the surface, everything still seems fine. A few years ago, the World Values Survey, a large-scale international research project, asked more than 73,000 people in 57 countries if they believed democracy was a good way to govern a country – and nearly 92% said yes. But that same survey found that in the past 10 years, around the world, there has been a considerable increase in calls for a strong leader “who does not have to bother with parliament and elections” – and that trust in governments and political parties has reached a historical low. It would appear that people like the idea of democracy but loathe the reality. Trust in the institutions of democracy is also visibly declining. In the past five years, the European Union’s official research bureau found that less than 30% of Europeans had faith in their national parliaments and governments – some of the lowest figures in years, and an indication that almost three-quarters of people distrust their countries’ most important political institutions. Everywhere in the west, political parties – the key players in our democracies – are among the least trusted institutions in society. Although a certain scepticism is an essential component of citizenship in a free society, we are justified in asking how widespread this distrust might be and at what point healthy scepticism tips over into outright aversion.
A new Australian political party is using the virtual currency bitcoin as a model to replace what they say is an outdated political system – representative democracy – with a streamlined new polity for the information age. The Flux Party says its goal is to elect six senators. They will propose no policies and will not follow their consciences, but will support or block legislation at the direction of their members, who can swap or trade their votes on every bill online. “If they didn’t have to be senators, if they could just be software or robots they would be, because their only purpose is to do what the people want them to do,” Flux Party co-founder Max Kaye told Reuters in an interview. Australia is set to hold an election in September or October after a period of turmoil that brought five prime ministers in as many years.
Rare – and to be handled with care. That is the briefest way to describe how the European East sees referendums and direct democracy in general. Maybe that’s why the Bulgarian parliament was so wary. In the last week of July, parliamentary deputies dumped two out of three referendum questions, though supported by 570,000 signatures gathered through a petition drive and put forward by President Rosen Plevneliev. Three questions were supposed to be on the ballot for the fall local elections. They concerned the electoral code: whether a majority voting system should be merged with the existing proportional one; whether casting a ballot should be made obligatory; and whether electronic voting should be allowed. In the end, only the last survive
After years of fierce debate, the battle over whether to build casinos in Massachusetts is finally being taken to the people. Barbara Anderson is the executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, a group that has pushed to get a number of initiatives on the ballot over the years. “We go in to vote, and we have to think about is ‘is this a good idea or is this a bad idea? Legislators, they have to think about all kinds of stuff when they’re voting. How does the leadership want me to vote, how can I trade this vote with somebody else’s vote, am I raising money on this issue and what side does the money want me to vote on,” Anderson said. The power to collectively make state law is not something all American voters have. Half the states in the union allow it. Half don’t. Remarkably, here in New England, the bastion of direct democracy, Maine is the only other state where it happens. “At least the voters have a voice. In other states there’s nothing they can do about anything except elect leaders who promise they will deal with these issues.”
Editorials: Montana’s absentee voting, signature-gathering laws discourage citizen initiatives | Charles S. Johnson/Ravalli Republic
Direct democracy, a proud tradition in Montana for more than a century, fell flat on its face this year. For the first time since 1992, no initiatives sponsored by citizens, groups or corporations qualified for the November ballot in Montana. Twelve of the 18 proposed ballot issues were cleared for signature-gathering, but none got enough signatures to appear on the November ballot, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said. One factor is the growing trend of Montanans voting by absentee or mail-in ballots instead of showing up to the polls to cast their votes. In June, 68 percent of Montanans who voted in the primary did so by absentee ballot. As a result, initiative supporters no longer can count on that day to hit up large numbers of voters for signatures.
India: A Preview of India’s 2014 Election: How Will 800 Million People Choose Their Next Leader? | International Business Times
India will embark Monday on the biggest democratic election in global history with some 815 million eligible voters, more than all the people in the U.S., Russia, Japan and Nigeria combined, casting ballots in a six-week process to elect a prime minister. It’s a logistics tour de force: Voting will occur at 930,000 polling stations across India from April 7 to May 12. It’s also more complex than an election in a direct democracy. Rather, based on the British parliamentary system, Indians vote for 543 legislators who then appoint a prime minister from the party that amasses a majority of seats in the lower house of parliament, where each state in India has proportional representation, as in the U.S. House of Representatives. The independent Election Commission of India will count votes and announce results on May 16. If no one party has amassed a simple majority in parliament on that date, parties will have only a few weeks of frantic negotiations in which to form alliances and name a new prime minister.
The passions have cooled from Minnesota’s direct democracy trial of 2012, when the hot issues of gay marriage and voter ID were put to voters, and some legislators are now taking a critical look at the machinery that allowed that to happen. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and veteran Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, want to make it harder for the Legislature to run to the voters with partisan, emotional issues, and risk permanently enshrining today’s popular opinion into the state Constitution. “I feel very strongly about it,” said Bakk, a former union official who worries that a right-to-work policy, which unions see as a threat to the standard of living, could be pushed into the Constitution by a future GOP-controlled Legislature. “To the extent that I can put something in the way to make it a little more difficult for one party to put something on the ballot, it will make me more comfortable when I leave,” Bakk said.
Czech party politics used to be boring. The 2013 parliamentary election, however, highlights the transformation of the party system, the arrival of new entrants and the woes faced by the long-established parties. The Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) won the election, but the margin of victory was slender. When the centre-right government under Prime Minister Petr Necas collapsed in a scandal involving sex, lies and spies in June, CSSD looked on course to win 30 percent of the vote. The only question seemed to be whether they would strike a deal with the Communists or not. The party, however, managed just 20.45 percent in October’s election, throwing the party into turmoil. Tensions between the different wings of the party re-emerged and within hours the knives were out for party leader Bohuslav Sobotka. The explanation for the failure of CSSD may lie with Sobotka’s lack of charisma and a lackluster campaign full of rather bland promises such a “well-functioning state”, but it is worth recalling that the party garnered almost the same level of support it got in the previous election in 2010. The key to CSSD’s weakness lies in the inability to integrate the forces of the left in the way that Robert Fico has managed in Slovakia.
The recent failed effort to repeal a new state law limiting the duties of the state superintendent of public instruction reiterated a long-held belief: Wyoming’s referendum laws are among the most stringent in the nation. State lawmakers should consider whether the laws are too stringent. At the same time, let’s not go too far. California’s proposition system is a prime example of direct democracy run amok, where, as a result of unintended consequences, public power has often rendered the state’s Legislature ineffective. Wyoming’s is a republican form of government in which we elect — and therefore trust — our citizen Legislature to make decisions for us. This isn’t a pure democracy where we get a say on every issue. Imagine how messy state government would become if every issue were put to a vote. Trouble is: Where do we begin to ease the restrictions? It appears to be the proverbial chicken-and-egg issue.
Several hundred of people Saturday demanded that the Czech centre-right government of Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) resign and the political system be changed, demanding more direct democracy. The so-called Big Assembly protest meeting in Prague’s centre called for a direct election of lower house members, mayors and regional governors. Only members of the upper house (senators) are elected directly. The Czechs will also elect their president for the first time next week. Until now, the two houses of parliament chose the president. Some of the speakers said a presidential system should be introduced in the Czech Republic, replacing the parliamentary one, and that people should have the power to dismiss politicians in a referendum.
Massachusetts: Challenges to Direct Democracy: The Massachusetts Right to Repair Ballot Question | State of Elections
In an exercise of their democratic freedoms under state law, Massachusetts residents successfully petitioned to have three distinct initiatives posed to voters on November 6th. Of those three ballot questions, two received widespread media attention: (1) the legalization of medical marijuana, which ultimately passed by a wide margin, and (2) the legalization of prescribing medication to end life, which, after passionate debate, was defeated by a relatively small percentage of voters. Meanwhile, results for the third ballot initiative regarding the availability of motor vehicle repair information for independent repair shop owners, more commonly referred to as the “right to repair,” were not so much as acknowledged by major news organizations. However, after receiving strong voter support on Election Day, the right to repair initiative has begun to gain some media attention.
A century ago, on October 10, 1911, Californians adopted a legislative referendum that created the initiative (and referendum) in California. Critics today bemoan the fact that direct legislation in California is big business. Special interests have used the process to pass countless propositions. In recent years, Californians have approved statewide citizen-initiated ballot measures reducing property taxes, giving citizens the right to vote on local taxes, banning social services for illegal immigrants and gay marriage, ending affirmative action and bilingual education programs in the public schools, increasing the tobacco surtax for state and county childhood education and health programs, permitting gaming on Indian reservations, allowing the prescription of medical marijuana, bolstering the minimum wage, limiting the term limits of government officials, and restricting campaign contributions. Of the 24 states that permit the initiative, California had the second most initiatives on the ballot over the past hundred years, trailing only Oregon.
The political reform movement that began in 1998 has significantly transformed the democratic atmosphere in Indonesia through amendments to the 1945 Constitution. One of the fundamental changes relates to the electoral mechanism for regional leaders.
We used to have indirect elections where governors, mayors and regents were chosen by members of local legislative councils. A year after the enactment of the 2004 Law on Regional Administration, regional leaders were elected directly through a “one man, one vote” mechanism.