in Participatory Democracy

What if’s about parliamentarianism

My current job for an organisation promoting new methods and tools for participation puts me in a lot of discussions about possible risks of doing new kinds of democratic processes, like participatory budgets, citizen’s proposals etcetera. Most of the objections start with a “what if…?”: “What if racist proposals win?” “What if people don’t have sufficient knowledge to make decisions?” “What if someone manages to vote twice on the digital platform?” And in almost all of the cases, those objections are not based on experiences or empirical studies, but are just worries about something new and unknown.

There is a lot of fear of new methods of participation, not just from the politicians or civil servants that might feel directly threatened by a deeper democracy, but also from people from the right to left who feel insecure by the prospect of letting “anyone” join in on the decision making.

The democratic experiment of parliamentarianism with one vote per person, that we have tried out for roughly a hundred years now, works tremendously well compared to what we had before, but it’s certainly not perfect. I would like to raise more questions about the possible democratic flaws of this current system, and keep a much more open mind to the possibilities that new methods can present. Here are a few of my “what if’s” about the current system of parliamentarianism.

  • What if the person you voted for change her/his political views during her/his four years in parliament?
  • what if you change your own views during those four years?
  • What if you really agree with one party on some issues but not on other issues?
  • What if you don’t agree with any of the political parties?
  • What if the politicians standing for election don’t represent the demographics of the population, when it comes to for example gender, age, class or ethnicity?
  • What if the professional politicians become distanced from the lives of their voters?
  • What if the politicians start representing their own interests instead of their voters?
  • What if the politicians don’t keep their promises from the election campaigns?
  • What if there are issues that the national parlament can’t control, like the international economy?
  • What if a lot of the actual decision making is made not by politicians, but unelected civil servants?
  • What if the election campaigns starts to be more about personal traits than political issues?
  • What if media starts favouring certain political parties or candidates and misrepresents others?
  • What if the political parties with the most economic resources have the best chance of winning?
  • What if established political parties have advantages over new and emerging ones?
  • What if the political parties lose a lot of their members, are they still representative of people’s opinions?
  • What if playing on people’s fear and xenophobia are used as a way of gaining votes?
  • What if the election programmes are written by a small group of people within the parties, not the actual voters?
  • What if the job as a politician attracts people more interested in power than serving the people?

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