This document expresses the scope, grounds and general characteristics of some initiatives aimed at promoting the renovation of political representation systems which have been in profound crisis for a long time, and their integration with instruments of direct democracy.
In those countries with a longer democratic tradition, the percentage of people who do not go to vote is remarkably high and constantly increasing, as is the number of those who, whilst going to vote, return a blank or invalid voting slip. This draws attention to a serious malaise of our representative democracies, namely the detachment of citizens from political forces and institutions. In order to face this problem and offer all voters a wider range of possibilities of political participation, we believe it is advisable to propose a series of initiatives which share the same principle: to offer citizens other opportunities for participation, besides delegating representation to political establishments. Without neglecting traditional representative institutions – and without excluding forms of participation which are more and more necessary – this implies some corrections and integrations, as described by the following one:
The initiative named ‘ISP – International Sortition Project’ re-establishes the ‘draw’, a modality of representative selection which was already present, together with the elections, in the ancient democracy of Athens, and later completely forgotten to make space for totally elective systems, which, however, have historically often proven to favour the creation of self-referential elites, whose priorities are different from providing urgent and effective answers to peoples’ needs. The severe crisis which has occurred in several Western countries following on from non-governed globalization and the delay with which the impact of digitalization, artificial intelligence and industry 4.0 has been managed, an impact which will probably be turbulent, is a glaring proof of it.
We propose that a minority proportion (eg. 10%) of the members of elective assemblies at various levels (Parliament, Regional Council, Town Council, etc.) should be reserved for citizens, who will be able to stand as a candidate for such roles without being part of an organised political force.
Since the most common objection to the ‘draw’ method lies in the alleged inadequacy of the common citizen who will be drawn, we propose that the candidatures should result from a draw based on an appropriately stratified sampling, and should subsequently be sifted so as to verify their compliance with requirements, which will be defined beforehand according to the different roles and cultural contexts to be occupied, yet without turning the sifter into discrimination. The requirements should not be so much different from those which are currently needed for candidates in elections.
We define the proposed method as a ‘qualified draw’, since it is based on an ancient democratic modality, though aiming at qualifying the procedure and the result. The presence of a part of ordinary citizens, even if small, within the institutions will allow for confrontation with politicians, which will yield benefits. It is to be said that there are already similar positive experiences, even if on a consultative level. A highly significant example is the Irish Commission, composed of 66 drawn citizens and 33 politicians, which proposed an extremely remarkable Constitutional revision, approved by a large majority through a referendum in 2015. This example highlights the fact that, in the process for achieving the objective above mentioned, we should consider the possible access of citizens with consultative roles into the elective assemblies, therefore with no right to vote. In order to avoid that those who have been drawn are manipulated or find themselves in other unpleasant situations, some restrictions ought to be fixed: for example, they can only be drawn once; restrictions regarding what those who have been drawn cannot do, etc.
ID intends to create proposals also in the field of direct democracy, which is currently mainly characterised by the institution of the referendum. The objective is still to bring innovations which may increase and qualify the level of citizens’ effective participation with different modalities and gradations, making also space, on issues regarding individual conscience, for forms of ‘direct decision’ through the use of electronic vote.
Another piece of innovation which we will here only hint at and which will be developed at a later time is the possibility of counting, to a certain extent, the will of those who return a blank or invalid voting slip.
Distribution and use of this document
Some Western countries in 2016 have experienced referendum and political consultations which have given unexpected results (the United Kingdom, the USA, Italy), all joined by an evident protest against the choices made by the establishment. Other countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands) will have consultations in 2017.
This note is addressed first and foremost to the leaders who hold executive power in these States, who, we presume, might be interested in our proposals. Afterwards, however, the information will be extended, within the above mentioned States, to other democratic institutions and political forces, and it will involve press services and citizens mainly through social networks. Simultaneously, contacts with bodies and people particularly interested will be developed, in order to build useful partnerships. The initiative may be extended to other countries.
We would like to specify that ID – Improving Democracy is the international branch of an Italian non-party association called ‘Le Forme della politica’ (Forms of Politics) (www.leformedellapolitica.it), whose website – currently in Italian – conceives a development of ID in English.