In a democracy if only a minority of people want ’empowerment’ should they have it?
Most people vote in New Zealand, but probably most people care little or not at all about politics and government most of the time. Is that fine in a representative democracy? Or should something be done to try and change it?
From The Opportunities Party policy on democracy:
3. Empowerment of People
While at a national level power has become more and more concentrated in the Cabinet, to the extent that parliament is pretty much neutered – there’s a strong case to suggest that the empowerment of citizens is also required if we are to rediscover our belief in democracy. There are three aspects to this process that we propose;
(a) Further devolution
The idea of community-led initiatives, that central and local governments facilitate and support, is one that is not just central to the Maori concept of rangatiratanga, but also finds support in the non-Maori world. The idea is that communities sort out what’s best for their interests and so long as their plans fit within an overall national framework, then regional or community variation is fine. Electricity trusts, school and health services (so long as national minimum standards are met) enable more participation by communities in self-determination. Such an approach would de-emphasise the influence from national politicians who often have no appreciation of community differences and certainly are not able to accommodate them in their decision-making.
The risk with devolution is definitely that it comes with higher costs (replication of resourcing). But what we have seen in New Zealand of late is an almost worst of all worlds – where responsibility is devolved but no resourcing is provided so small communities are incapable of exercising their mandates. The RMA, the freshwater guidelines, requirements for local bodies to comply with Treaty of Waitangi principles – are all examples of initiatives that some communities really struggle to fulfil competently.
So devolution is fine in theory but it must be adequately resourced otherwise it is little more than buck-passing by central government. And the result of that is that people are alienated from what nominally is a democratic, empowering process.
(b) Deliberative democracy
We also need to remodel the way we engage citizens in democracies. Modern technology means people are more suited to continuous interaction, and less suited to queuing up at a polling booth once every 3 years. There is also (thankfully) a blurring of traditional, tribal approaches to party alignment. The old two-party left-right ways are obsolete. This is a challenge to the current model, but opens the way for more thoughtful and deliberative democracy, if it is well designed.
If elected, TOP intends to make strong use of deliberative democracy such as collaborative software, participatory budgeting and citizen’s juries/assemblies. To walk the talk in the mean time, once our TOP 7 policies are released we will be trialling some of these deliberative democracy approaches amongst TOP members to determine our policy in areas where we don’t have a position. Our members have already given a strong signal that they would like the first cab off the ranks to be drug law reform.
Of course the problem with deliberative democracy, as we have seen with various referendums, is that the public is capable of choosing contradictory positions. In California for example people have voted for more spending on education as well as for tax cuts. You can’t run government that way, so more sophisticated methods are needed to ensure the public has a say but in a way that is informed. TOP is committed to learning from experiments overseas, such as in Taiwan, and developing models of deliberative democracy that work in the New Zealand context.
(c) Civics education
As well as getting a short, crisp Constitution in place, one that means something to everyone, introduction of civics education is a prerequisite for democracy reset. If New Zealanders aren’t acutely aware of their rights and, equally important, their duties – then we are vulnerable to the influence of elites that reflect the preferences of just one sector of society, not the whole. That education needs to begin in school, so that by the time they are entitled to vote, New Zealanders are acutely aware of their rights and will staunchly defend them.
Finally with all the above in place we see no reason why compulsory voting is not introduced, albeit with an option “None of the Above”.