How Direct Democracy Makes Representative Democracy More Representative

There are many new opportunities for making representative more representative – by tools of direct democracy. This was the main message of a series of panels and workshops during the first day of the 2016 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, summarizes Suresh Nautiyal.

The conversation in one of the main sessions on the seconrd day e today of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy (GFMDD) convention here in Spain’s San Sebastian, the cultural capital of Europe this year, concluded that the Representative Democracy and the Direct Democracy were twins and that their co-existence for each other´s growth and progress was essential in all modern societies.

Here in San Sebastian at the Miramar Palace, there were identical expressions and variations on the theme of Direct Democracy in today´s opening session on "Modern Direct Democracy and the Role of Local Government", which was chaired by Mr Joe Mathews, Co-President of GFMDD; and in the following session on "Direct Democracy as a Human Right", chaired by Ms Dunike Agirrezabalaga, a prominent Democracy activist in San Sebastian.

All the panel discussions drew several prominent speakers from mayors of several European and other cities to the political and Direct Democracy activists from US, Canada, Austria, France, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, to South Korea, Taiwan and Chile.

The focal point of discussion was how Representative Democracy and Direct Democracy could complement each other and what was the relationship between the two? What we mean by when we say Direct Democracy and what were its strength and weaknesses? And, does Democracy need to be democratised further and whether it is process or a goal? These were the issues that drew focus during the discussions. The strength and weaknesses of the Direct Democracy at the local level were also discussed and mayors of several cities shared their democracy stories with the people coming from several parts of the world.

"In Direct Democracy, there is new future"

Mr Eneko Goia, mayor of Donostia-San Sebastian, said that every citizen has a role in a democratic set up in a shared way and there was no option to the hard work to realise the dreams in a democracy. He described the Direct Democracy as the hallmark of the democratic values and practices. Fernando Pindado, a senior official of the Barcelona City Council, said that the Direct Democracy was a very good channel for the citizens to exercise their rights like referendum and initiative. Mr Park Won-Soon, mayor of Seoul and a leading politician of South Korea, said in a video message that the international cooperation and actions were required to go beyond the countries to promote the Direct Democracy tools. He appreciated the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy for its consistent global work on Direct Democracy and opined that more and more such conventions were needed to familiarise the common people about the Direct Democracy concept and its tools.

"In Direct Democracy, there is new future", he stressed. Mr Park said, there was a need to address the new challenges borne of the issues like environmental pollution, energy, employment in an innovative way. He said that the mayors can change their cities to a great extent if they desired to do so. "Only innovations can change the quality of life in a positive way", he pointed out, adding that collaborative efforts by the governments and the citizens were the only way out.

The other speakers re-echoed the view that local democracy has become a path to ensuring global existence, as citizens like local communities work with the transnational challenges such as migration, health and economy.

The panelists in a discussion on Modern Direct Democracy, chaired by the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy Co-President Bruno Kaufmann, included prominent Direct Democracy leaders like David Altman (Chile), Cindy Hanson (Canada), Michael Salerno (US), Adrian Schmid (Switzerland) and Juan Jose Alvarez (Basque Country). Were largely of the view that the Direct Democracy existed with the Representative Democracy and therefore they were entwined and interwoven. "Without healthy Representative Democracy, there cannot be Direct Democracy", said David Altman from Chile, adding that the Direct Democracy was the real window to the democratic world.

The Local Participation Story

Sharing his Californian experiences of Direct Democracy, Michael Salerno said that real engagement of the people was the assurance for real rdemocracy. He said that the Swedish model of Direct Democracy was the best model available and globaly was tyo be replicated. "For better policies, greater citizens´ participation was need of the hour", said Mr Salerno.

In his concluding remark, Bruno Kaufmann, chair of the panel discussion, said that the Direct Democracy has the capacity and capability to make the Representative Democracy more representative.

In the panel discussion on the Local Participation Story, chaired by Juan Carlos Alonso, the speakers like Maria Vassilakou (Austria), Grace Liu (US), Rabea Willers (France) and Dunike Agirrezabalaga (Spain) said that sustained dialogues were necessary for the local participation in the decision and policy-making and implementation of the policies.

Ms Vassilakou (Austria) said that making public opinion was very important before resorting to a referendum or initiative. She gave an example of Vienna in this regard and added that creating a public opinion beforehand was instrumental in the success of the referendum.

Ms Agirrezabalaga said that proper communication among the people was essential to overcome the hurdles in good governance. It was also felt that there was a need for more democracy in the urban areas as cities around the world have become the most common places for people to live, work and innovate and that the local democratic developments were shaping the majority of the globe.

The second day of the convention also saw engaging discussions in different workshops. Some of the workshops like "The Route of Donostia on Direct Democracy Over the Past 20 years", "Social Movements Turning to Political Power", "The Direct Democracy Storytelling Workshop", "From Tunis to Donostia: Beyond the Arab Spring" and a round-table discussion on the European Challenges for More Democracy, etc., were equally enlightening.

Nicolas K Blanchard, a young mathematician from the Institute de Recherche en Informatique Fondamentale Paris, introduced a random sampling voting experiment, which he described as simple, easy and low cost voting system to bring in transparency in the elections.

Yesterday, the Democracy activists were also taken to the main cultural and historical places to familiarise them with the cultural and historical nuances with the purpose of connecting them to the processes of human evolution and to let them know how culture can be used as a tool to overcome violence.

The four-day Democracy Conclave on the Modern Direct Democracy that opened here yesterday will conclude on 19th of November. It is to be reminded that the first Global Forum had taken place in Aarau (Switzerland) in 2008 and after that, there was no looking back. Since then, the Global Forum has travelled to several parts of the world - with its editions in Seoul (South Korea- 2009), San Francisco (US-2010), Montevideo (Uruguay-2012) and Tunis (Tunisia-2015). This year´s Forum is taking place in Donostia-San Sebastian, the capital of the Basque country.

Suresh Nautiyal works with the United News of India (UNI), the second largest and only multi-lingual news agency of the country.