- Delegated democracy: using information technology for better governance
Break between the citizen and the world of politics
For some time now, we observe a break between the citizen and the politicians. Apparently, a crisis is required for decision-makers to ask themselves some serious questions: for instance, when so-called “extremist” political parties become ever more popular. What kind of catastrophe is required for parliaments (in general) to change the democratic model? In the 1930’s, everyone realized that the rise of Nazism represented a danger for peace and democracy, but how many politicians were prepared to draw the necessary conclusions?
In Belgium, the extremely small degree of power which a voter has – to express his/her preference for one or other of the candidates – is neutralized by the devolving effect of list voting which favours the candidate at the top of the list.
At the time of his November 21, 2016 lecture at the Free University of Brussels, Mr Yves Leterme noted that the kind of democracy which had taken root in our countries was no longer in tune with modern thinking : “We tackle 21st century problems with procedures used in the 20th century and within an ideological context of the 19th century”.
Some procedures date from the 20th century …. BC ! At that time, one was already able to gather physically an assembly and to count a manual vote. When will we start using real digital technology in the service of democracy?
Delegated democracy in 10 points
Representative democracy is frequently considered in contrast with direct democracy. There is, however, a solution that combines the advantages of both these models, thought of as being antagonists: we call it “delegated democracy”:
Vote (B) is the same as an irrevocable mandate in favour of the party or candidate of choice and valid until the next elections. The voter can vote for several parties and/or candidates, including by mixing and matching candidates. In this case, the parties and/or candidates will each be given a share of the mandate.
Compared with the technologies which have, for instance, been introduced to manage bank accounts, a far simpler system is required in the present case.
WeCitizen’s Political Atlas (or other similar initiatives) allows all candidates to make themselves known and to provide information as to their position regarding the political questions of interest to citizens. The Electoral GPS or the Political Atlas’ “advanced search” function allows the citizen-voter to readily find those candidates with whom he/she shares the greatest political affinity.
In order to facilitate “access to the profession”, the threshold could be lower in the first years. Entry into (or exit from) parliament does not necessarily have to take place at the electoral terms (B). The number of parliamentarians (MPs) can vary at any time.
Such transfers allow the pooling together of the mandates held by candidates who do not achieve the required threshold for access to parliament. The law prohibits rewarding these transfers, but allows the ceding candidate to receive reimbursement of any campaign expenses, within legal limits.
The possibility of entering parliament without depending on a political party changes the relationship between the MP and the party. The MPs are no longer just simple “executants” of decisions taken by their party. The parties may differ according to the level of voting discipline required of their members, the party’s ethical code, etc.
The law determines who has the right to take part in the vote : for instance, only the residents of the Brussels-Capital Region may take part in the elections for the Brussels Parliament.
The parties may submit several « regional » lists: for instance, one list for each province in the federal elections. However, the voter may cast his/her vote for any candidate on any of the regional lists.
This dispenses with complicated calculations (such as the d’Hondt method) involving the transfer from one constituency to another of the votes for one and the same party.
This ensures a strong government, able to take coherent decisions, even if these are unpopular.
Comparison with traditional representative democracy
Delegated democracy keeps the important advantages of representative democracy. Parliament is made up of professional politicians who have the time to follow the work carried out by parliament and to deal competently with highly complex questions. The MPs join parties, which in turn allows for a clear majority to arise in order to form a government.
Delegated democracy affords a degree of protection against “partitocracy”. The parties’ excessive level of political power arises because no one can carry out his/her political career without being subjected to a political party’s authority. The parties have confiscated what little power the “ordinary” citizen enjoyed. It is they who decide who is eligible (in the top of the electoral lists). They obstruct all forms of the citizens’ deliberative participation in the political process.
In a delegated democracy, the candidates may collect mandates and transfer them to whoever in order to enable one of them to enter parliament… and so it has become possible to enter parliament without the support of a political party.
Comparison with direct democracy
The proposed solution retains the main advantage of direct democracy: the citizen’s vote (A) cannot be used to vote contrary to his/her wishes.
In the event tomorrow of a vote on a subject close to my heart and my representative not defending my point of view, I can withdraw the mandate I gave him/her and can give it to another MP.
This permanent power given to citizens (who have chosen method A) can help to energize the political landscape. Today, citizens are aware of the fact that they have hardly any political power and are consequently turning their backs on politics. When and if they are able to influence the legislative process, this would motivate them to set up pressure groups. The civil society organisations will warn their members, should they need to intervene.
Comparison with « fluid democracy »
« Fluid democracy », as promoted by the Pirate Party, is the model closest to the one being put forward. “Fluid democracy” is more complex in that it allows the appointment of one representative per subject, e.g. one for taxation, another for sustainable development, etc. It does not require a threshold in order to access parliament. One disadvantage is its instability because the “direct democracy” effect would generate incoherent decisions caused by election campaigns, which involve the heart rather than the mind. The fact of having a different delegate for each specific political field does sometimes prevent decisions from being taken which integrate a general view of the whole. Delegated democracy remedies this thanks to its “filter”, i.e. the professional politician.
Jean-Paul Pinon, February 14, 2017.