Bringing citizens into the political equation

Posted by David Farrell, June 5 2012

In the aftermath of the Fiscal Treaty referendum, Bruno Kaufmann reflects on the need for radical democratic reform in Ireland and also across the EU. As he puts it, the citizens need to be brought onto ‘the political stage’. Mr Kaufmann is the President of the Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe, and Chair of the Election Commission for the Swedish city government of Falun. His blog can be accessed here.

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8 thoughts on “Bringing citizens into the political equation

  1. Will there be any members of the diaspora (as in ‘ordinary people and not Dennis O’Brien types or those who have deep pockets for FG fundraising) be included in this new const convention process?

    • Indeed, will there be any “ordinary people” in the proposed Constitutional Convention and not the party political people who are present in the audiences of many TV “discussion”/political programmes?

  2. Everthing we’ve heard about e government’s plans are that they will be a ‘random selection of ordinary citizens’. That should mean exactly what it says. These will be selected from the electoral register, which would rule out the diaspora.

    • Let us see what emerges, when it emerges.
      How many people “randomly selected from ordinary citizens on the electoral register will be free/prepared to put in the time needed to participate in the Convention?
      If the first “choice” is not available, what then?

      Our governing classes have demonstrated time and time again that they act in arbitrary and whimsical ways in the default do-minimum approach they adopt to political and institutional reform.

  3. An interesting post by Bruno Kaufmann, though the shakiness of the basis for some of his contentions tends to make these contentions equally dodgy. Looking at the Irish referendum result, if one ignores the probably fairly limited changes in the composition of the electorate between 25 Feb 2011 and 31 May 2012, the drop in turnout from 70.1% to 50.1% meant that around 650,000 votes went missing. This is roughly equivalent to the difference between the total of FF, FG and Labour 1st preferences in 2011 and the referendum ‘yes’ total. The referendum ‘no’ total was just a little ahead of total of the non-FF, non-FG, non-Labour 1st preference in 2011. Obviously there was some movement around the edges, but all of this strongly suggests that around 40% of the total of FF, FG and Labour voters in 2011 sat on their hands this time; whereas the non-FF, non-FG, non-Labour voters in 2011 came out on the ‘no’ side and, with a bit of help from some defectors from the mainstream parties and, possibly, some voters who didn’t vote in 2011, increased their 2011 total a little.

    Given that about 20 – 25% of the electorate never seems to participate (though perhaps reasonably content to go along with the majority), we seem to have about 20% of the electorate in the nationalistic, unreconstructed socialistic, rejectionist camp, with 35-40% in this ‘technocratic mainstream’. I’m not sure where this leaves this democratic ‘third way’. This ‘technocratic mainstream’ has been able to suppress, smother or internalise in a manageable fashion the various inevitable conflicts between producers and consumers, between employers and workers and between those who perceive they contribute more in taxation than they receive in benefits from public expenditure and those who are on the other side of this calculation – but the entire thrust of policy and regulation favours the former over the latter in each of these conflicts. These conflicts are inevitable and healthy once they are resolved via an effective process of democratic governance. Suppressing them is unhealthy and dangerous. Dealing with these conflicts in an open and transparent manner is the key challenge.

    And I’m not sure that Ireland is looking to a profound revision of its political system via this Constitutional Convention. The Government’s intention is precisely the opposite – and it looks like it will be aided and abetted by this ‘academic advisory group’.

    Nor am I sure that the EU is ‘doomed’ to be a super-democracy. The fundamental problem, in particular when it comes to the European Commission – and underlies much of the instinctive English Europhobia, is that “We didn’t vote these bums in; and we can’t vote them out”. The European Parliament will have to be empowered to elect the Commission from among its members and MEPs should be required to account to their national parliaments in the same that national government ministers are – though perhaps not as frequently.

    However, apart from all this (which may emerge as the better-governed EU creditor nations seek to develop arrangements to save the Euro project), Ireland still faces a huge challenge to re-establish an effective system of representative governance at both the central and local level. But, of course, Official Ireland has no interest in this – and those academics who might highlight the deficiencies and outline the remedies waffle on about ‘participatory democracy’.

    • “Ireland still faces a huge challenge to re-establish an effective system of representative governance at both the central and local level. ”
      Yes- indeed.
      Where does one begin the work of re-establishment?

      “But, of course, Official Ireland has no interest in this”
      What kinds of events/forces would get ‘Official Ireland’ to take an interest?

      “those academics who might highlight the deficiencies and outline the remedies waffle on about ‘participatory democracy’.”
      Given that representative governance can be one expression of ‘participatory democracy’, why limit the imagination and possible emergence of groups by being so dismissive?

      Is this more of “the first item on the agenda is the split”?
      Or the best being the enemy of the good?

  4. @Donal, O’Brolchain,

    I suspect you realise I have no desire to limit the imagination, but my consistent focus has been on, first, fix that which is broken and, then, it will be possible to assess what, in addition, might be required. Many people are understandably disgruntled with the current functioning of representative democracy and this encourages consideration of novel, supplementary procedures and mechanisms. But they are really disgruntled with the current perversion, subversion and distortion of representative democracy, not with representative democracy per se. It is similar to those on the left who excoriate markets and assert the virtues of the state when they are looking at the perversion, subversion and distortion of markets.

    Once again, first fix the process of representative democracy. All voters are equal when they grasp the pencil in the polling booth. And many voters are rightly suspicious of the various ginger groups whose novel ideas might undermine the limited functionality of the current system of representative democracy.

    It was refreshing today to see Conor O’Mahony, an academic from my alma mater, capturing the futility of this Constitutional Convention:
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/0607/1224317441958.html

    We need a bit more of this. And it would be wonderful if those 66 citizens selected at random were to decide that they had far better things to do than to participate in this charade, because I expect many of the academics are jockeying for position to be included in the ‘expert advisory group’.

    And to broaden the context a little further to examine how governance is actually conducted in this ‘representative democracy’, the Government has just issued a wonderful document on ‘Our Sustainable Future’:
    http://www.environ.ie/en/PublicationsDocuments/FileDownLoad,30452,en.pdf

    This is the over-arching narrative – fresh, green, wholesome, environment-friendly, nuclear-rejecting, fossil fuel-reducing, anti-fracking, sustainable, planet-saving, internationally co-operative, ‘black baby’-saving – that is designed to give people a warm and fuzzy feeling and to tug at the heart-strings so that all sorts of costly, inefficient nonsense may be implemented without any effective scrutiny or accountability.

    The Marxist-Leninist ideologues in the Kremlin during the ’70s and early ’80s would have been immensely proud of the projection of this optical illusion. Pity anyone in the private sector with a genuinely good and potentially commercial offering who has to deal with this plethora of departments and agencies – and this only hints at the number of actual ‘implementation’ agencies that will be involved. But, of course, it sustains employment and endless activity for a legion of public officials and an army of assorted academics and consultants. It will be a paradise for subsidy junkies and rent-seekers – adept at filling forms, finding loop-holes and bending regulations.

    Welcome to the fantasy land created by Official Ireland where they will survive and thrive and everyone else ouside these charmed circles will simply have to pay up to keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed or move on.

  5. Once again, first fix the process of representative democracy.

    Quite correct, but first have someone define what exactly it is we mean by democracy. Following the recent Yes vote in the Fiscal treaty why is it we did not hear the same excuses we heard following the first rounds of Nice and Lisbon ?. I for one did not hear the government say the turnout was too low, we did not have a representative cross section of the electorate. the people we not properly informed etc, They grabbed the Yes vote and ran shouting through the streets. The No side have had to live with the outcome . Until such time as our Government begin to respect the democratic process then how can they expect the people to take it seriously.

    I hope I live to see the day when we no longer have the “Judas Sheep” approach shown by our current breed of politicians.

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