Voting Every Day - Not Once Every Four Years (13)
Considering that technology has transformed society into a modern village and that secure channels of electronic voting exist, Maaleht journalist Alo Lõhmus asks why Estonia isn't moving toward direct democracy.
The alarm clock rings. It's a new morning. As you enjoy your first cup of coffee, you unlock your phone and check the news, emails and social media notifications. It's a typical morning for many people already today.
But on this imagined morning, you open another app. It's a voting module that displays a draft legislation with a voting deadline on that very day.
You browse the list and make your choice.
Let's say you're not interested in the Draft Amendments to the Customs Act, Penal Code and Export and Import of Antiquities Act, so you don't register as a voter for these ones. But you have a clear view on sending Estonian troops to the Republic of Oceania and you have have been following the issue. You register as a voter on that ballot.
You go down the line for all the bills. You make another cup of aromatic coffee, gather your thoughts and then start voting. In a few minutes, you're done and you can go on to the rest of your daily activities.
I wasn't describing a morning in your future life as a teleworking member of Parliament. I hope I was describing a morning in the near future for all citizens, urbanites and rural dwellers in a direct democratic society.
Our democratic ideal is still ancient Athenian direct democracy, which allowed all free citizens (a flaw being that it was confined only to men) to have a say on the running of the country. The current representative democracy - where free citizens do not vote on the laws themselves but delegate a proxy or council to do so - was an inevitable compromise between the ideal and actual conditions, where it wasn't possible for all eligible citizens to take part in the process.
But mobile Internet, smart devices and trustworthy authentication tools have made direct democracy possible. Technically all of us - free men and women - already today and at the latest tomorrow can decide on matters of state.
Perhaps it is because we already instinctively sense this possibility that we feel a deepening estrangement from parliamentary politics. Maybe that is why the "e-involvement" methods proposed seem so hollow.
We want full-fledged voting every day - not just once every four years. And we know it's an attainable goal.
Parliament would evolve into a kind of elected editing committee that would put together the draft laws for direct public voting. Maybe it would be reasonable to keep Parliament in charge of appointing the Cabinet, too.
The transition to direct democracy would significantly limit the power of party back offices over affairs of state. Those back-room decisions - binding for current MPs - would not in any way impact the voting preferences of the public. Parties themselves would not go anywhere if they weren't simply power structures similar to the Soviet Communist Party, but instead associations of the like-minded. They would have to finally start interacting with the people again, as an equal. They would no longer have any "safe votes" to peddle.
Of course, giving the people direct democratic power to decide their own destiny would be a nightmare for many officials. With their endless "official" intelligence they can currently hard-sell and sweet-talk partisan ministers and cabinets, but in a direct democracy they would have to submit to the people. There is no other way, though: ultimately this is a government of and by the people, not officials.
The most important question remains: are the people actually ready for direct democracy? Are they competent enough? During the last presidential elections, one opinion leader said the people were not mature even for direct presidential elections. Could we handle everyday governance?
I believe we could. The people were sufficiently mature to win the War of Independence, build a democracy, restore it, adopt a constitution and elect parliaments. As political experience increases and education improves, the people would undoubtedly get on splendidly with their own self-governance as well.
(Originally published on uudised.err.ee based on a Vikerraadio comment segment.)