It’s clear in many countries, particularly since 2016 events, that democracy itself is under threat. It’s clear why it is under threat. It is not clear what can be done to restore democracy. Here are some proposals for what we can do personally and in groups to restore democracy to being a trusted institutional fraemwork we can rely on.
Why is Democracy Under Threat?
Democracy is about government for all the people.. A quick summary of the key current problems include:
– Lobby groups and rich individuals are increasingly influencing – behind closed doors – country decisionmaking to benefit organisations and the wealthy.
– Lack of transparency of these processes and the slow reporting of large political donations means it is very difficult to stop, since the decisions have been made and often passed into law before the influencers and their processes are discovered.
– The acceptance of lies – let’s call ‘fake news’ what it is – and their frequent repetition without sanctions or consequences mean that people are either increasingly uncertain what the ‘truth’ is, or are certain that the lies they are fed are actually true.
– The emergence of social media, with its many channels and its 24/7 mean that ‘news’ is now very fragmented, not shared, not checked, and can disappear very quickly without being challenged.
– A side effect is that most people – you and me too – only read news sources they agree with. We don’t read other views and assume that our sources are ‘true’.
– The rising inequality of wealth. For those left behind, the anger, isolation, frustration, depression and lack of a clear future results in a very different view of the context and the ‘truth’ than for those with education, jobs, wealth and choices.
– Politicians are increasingly seeing politics as a career, rather than as a public service, something to enter once you have experience of the world through work. In politics, hanging on to power and position has become key, regardless of the issues.
– Weekly polling further results in a short term perspective for politicians. Long term vision, leadership and education on hard issues seems to have gone.
– The politicisation of the public service, where the top jobs are now contract positions appointed by the minister, effectively outside public sector terms and conditions. ‘Public servants’ no longer serve the public. The great advice and experience within the public sector is no longer seen. It has become often a crime for public servants to speak about the evidential truth of an issue and instead must defend and support their minister.
Fault lies everywhere – politicians, businesses, media, laws, values. We, the people, are to blame too, for our complacency in allowing these systems to develop in our own names. Unless these issues – and more – are addressed, our ‘democracy’ will be seen as a sham, just as we see ‘democracy’ in Russia, China and other dictatorial countries where ‘elections’ are held and ‘parliaments’ exist). Benevolent dictatorship may come to be seen as a better alternative.
How to Save Democracy
Probably the most important issue is to change the funding model. Parties and independents should be funded from the public purse. While this sounds costly, it means we the people would be paying for the people’s decisions. Funding from foreign companies and foreigners should be banned. This is our country. Funding from organisations and individuals should be limited to very small amounts– say $10,000 cumulative maximum, with no splits allowed. These donations must be declared instantly and the information available to the public.
Second, lobbying must be made transparent. Governments must publish all formal and informal meetings so the people can be aware of who is trying to influence the agenda and decisions.
Third, public servants must be able to give their views and advice to the public, regardless of the minister’s views, without it costing them their jobs or career prospects. Public servants have a wealth of knowledge and know when bad policies are being proposed. Their advice to the public is important in having information available for better decisionmaking and so the public can better understand why decisions are being made.
Fourth, people must have served the equivalent of at least five years in meaningful fulltime employment outside of politics before becoming politicians. This would stop the practice of people without experience becoming advisers to MPs and then getting the inside running on safe seats, beholden to the party or their mentor, but not to the people. It would mean politicians had real working experience on which to draw for their judgements, rather than only political perspectives.
Fifth, strong Independent candidates (or minor parties) need to stand up and be elected, so that the balance of power is not held by one majority party. A bunch of free-thinking independents and minor parties, the majority of whom will support the government on sensible policies, but who will oppose policies that will not work, will need to be convinced for a government to function. The Women’s Electoral Lobby filled this role in promoting women candidates in the 1970s.
Sixth, elections should be on fixed four year terms, rather than at the whim of the government, as is the case in Australia and many other countries. This would allow at least 2 1/2-3 years of policy focus before electioneering inevitably took over.
What Can I Do/ Groups Do?
1. We must become more involved – protesting, campaigning, developing ideas, supporting democratic processes, becoming candidates. GetUp is a good example of gathering individuals into groups to pursue specific society objectives. The Australian Conservation Foundation is a good example of an organisation mobilising individuals and groups for a specific set of issues around the environment.
2. Focus on a small number of keys for change – Marginal seats, high profile candidates, alternative party support (strategic preferential voting), supporting a few specific policies and areas that make a big difference. The Wentworth byelection is a great example of what is possible.
3. Encourage similar groups to work together rather than separately. Support groups that are big enough to be listened to, to influence.
4. Show existing parties and politicians our specific disgust with their policies.
Without involvement and action, small power groups will maintain the status quo or worsen the directions. Without involvement and action, we deserve what we are getting.
Today’s US midterms are a sign – another sign – that people have had enough of the status quo. But they are only a sign, on a long path that we must travel to recover what we have been losing. Vote for democracy!