This is part 2 of my “Achieving True Democracy: A New Breed of Party as Realistic Next Step” articles. Here you can find part 1, the introduction for the article series.
As long as we don’t fix the political system itself, the system will not represent us. Therefore, democracy itself needs an upgrade. Urgently!
If we are serious about strengthening democracy within the next years and achieve true representation, we must rethink the political party as a vehicle for representing democratic interests. The new breed of political party shouldn’t impose its political will on its members but only assist them to form their individual political will and represent this as accurately as possible. It will not force a decision by majority vote but truly represent the breadth of decisions its members reached after consideration of the topic.
Why do I call this new type of party “Proxy Party?”
Those familiar with information technology are certainly familiar with the word ‘proxy’ (server), that passes on information without changing it. In other words: it offers the best representation of the originator’s message.
Assisting its members to form their individual political will
Some argue that direct democracy is a bad idea as simply leaving the decision to ill-informed party members wouldn’t lead to better results. Actually, they have a point that this would put us at risk of rash decisions and oppression by the majority and partisan media as conductor of (often) constructed pictures and emotions.
To have a truly better solution we need to add fact-checking and deliberation. Only well balanced and structured input combined with a deliberative process enables a sound basis for thoughtful decisions that don’t simply tap into our political reflexes and can lead to better results.
Thus, the Proxy Party also needs to facilitate the process of forming the individual political will. It can:
… draw on the wisdom of crowds and specialists to structure the topic and bring in the relevant facts (with a clear distinction between facts and opinions),
… check the facts and their originations,
…create a short well-balanced overview paper of the topic (with references) as a decision basis,
…create a culture to separate facts from their interpretation (facts first, discussion later) and
…create a culture of thoughtful deliberation with a focus on mutual respect, common ground and interests instead of the rhetoric of demonization
Deliver proof that the party can be trusted
As trust in political parties has been mostly squandered in the last decades, it is not enough to promise to be different. The new party has to be able to prove that it is different and act very transparently to be able to convince voters. The party should go beyond the normal and should be able to prove (internally and externally) that it adhered to processes of fact gathering, discussion, and representation. It should be able to exceed expectations and provide evidence of maintaining the integrity of the processes and of the results.
Information processes to ensure a sound decision basis:
- correctness of the provided basis data incl. source checking
- completeness of the most important facts and arguments (90:10 approach as you will not be able to achieve 100%)
- well-balanced input and comparison of arguments
Publish results of information processes and democratic processes:
Audited content input
+ Checked compliance of adherence to the processes
+ Non-modifiable publication of test of contents and results
= Verifiable safeguarding of decision documents
Grassroot democratic yet efficient
Some argue that a grassroots democratic organization will be fully occupied wasting time internally and will never be able to act effectively as a representative of its members. Looking at historic examples, they are mostly right.
Being a grassroots democratic organization and being effective or even efficient is an oxymoron. When everybody wants to discuss everything with everybody, discussions will not end. Even if a consensus is reached, new members will want to reopen topics and discuss them again.
The simple solution: only the party’s program and the candidates need to be discussed and agreed on by all of its members. Afterward, the party should act as a normal party with ‘direct democracy as exception.’
I argue that the members should let their appointed representatives work and should only interfere:
…when the representatives’ decisions can’t be deducted from the program or
…when they think that the proposed decisions of their representatives don’t represent the spirit of the party program.
I further argue that this ‘direct democracy by exception’ needs a qualifier and propose a 5% hurdle of votes of all members that must be achieved to take the voting in the hands of the members. Of cause, this presupposes that members are timely informed about the decisions of their representatives before the vote in parliament. Technology will then be required to safely and efficiently collect the votes.
I argue that the party’s program should be split into two parts:
- The core program should be concerned with the core topics of the party: democracy and transparency. It should also contain the other fundamental values of the party.
- The extended part of the program should be concerned with everything else the members agree on.
I will discuss the reasons for this proposal, and why it increases the effectiveness and efficiency of the proxy party, later in the book.
Furthermore, the Proxy Party must be very focused on its culture and processes.
- focused on facts and results
- providing high-quality well-balanced overview decision papers
- civilized respectful deliberation but no restricting ‘political correctness’
- aiming to reach consensus on common interests
- grassroots democratic creation and amendment of the party’s program
- strict adherence to processes of gathering data, checking data, deliberation, and decision
- most accurate representation of its members voting ratio in parliament
Overview: The three pillars of the Proxy Party
As described and further detailed in the coming chapters of this short book, the party officials would be able to act as efficient as ‘normal’ party officials. The only difference would be that they have to provide their decisions upfront to their members. This is where the ‘direct democracy by exception’ comes in.
Procedures can indeed become somewhat more complex than in a conventional party, as elected representatives have the additional burden of informing their members in advance of their vote. But I would also argue that they will be far more effective to represent their members as they constantly touch base and seek input from them.
You could describe the main democratic process of the Proxy Party in the following three steps:
1. The members are able to take voting in their own hands with a 5% takeover vote to transfer the topic to the party internal structured deliberation process.
2. The topic specialists and facilitators will provide a sound basis for well-informed deliberation and decision. The topic specialists will gather and check facts and provide a well-balanced input paper. The facilitators will oversee a civilized added-value focused respectful deliberation process.
3. The best possible representation of the members base by a 1:1 transfer to parliament: the elected representatives will vote according to the voting ratio of the members. If 80% of the members vote for YES and 20% for NO, eight of 10 representatives will vote for YES and two of 10 representatives will vote for NO, no representative will abstain.
The People’s Participation Party
The role for the party member will change from handing out blank checks for complete policy package deals to having a real say in each decision and truly is the sovereign. The new system offers a change from a one-time act of democracy every few years to a constant option to take back control.
Citizens who want to get politically involved can do so in a targeted manner in the new Proxy Party. This is not a matter of joining the ‘conventional political tour’ and through party obedience, but rather of one’s own competence in the subject matter and convincing argumentation. In the proxy party it is not the rank of a person that counts, but the power of the argument.
Citizens who don’t want to actively involve themselves but would like to have a say in the decision-making process can do this far better than in any other party. Together with others, they can vote to take a decision at the member level. They can trust the preparatory information to be accurate and well-balanced as it is based on secured processes.