Democracy Urgently Needs an Update
We all know the familiar cycle of an election – political hopefuls are out shaking hands, kissing babies and promising the sun, moon and stars to anyone who will listen. Unfortunately, we also all know the familiar election aftermath – broken promises, endless excuses and a good dose of spin to try to sweep everything under the rug in time for the next election. There’s a lot of talk of boom and bust economics, but we also practice boom and bust politics.
I want to end all that.
I don’t believe that politicians are all bad people (although some of them do have a rare talent for straight-faced lying). I believe that they are trapped in a bad system. There are, and always will be, a lot of competing interests in society, and there will always be a need to set priorities, because it isn’t possible to get everything that needs to be done all at once. Over the past few weeks, I have received hundreds of e-mails from constituents and interest groups. If I unquestioningly said ‘yes’ to every demand, not only would I have signed up to several contradictory movements by now, I’d also have spent the national budget several times over.
But I’d also probably be getting more votes.
That’s because the people who write to me have real needs, needs that are often
ignored, and they feel that this is the one time every five years where they actually have a chance of getting something done. So…people are desperate to have politicians fully endorse their views and politicians are desperate to get votes at any price, because unless they win, their ability to do anything at all is zero. It’s a recipe for disaster, as everyone says ‘yes’ to everyone else and tries to sort out the damage and confusion later, which only leaves everyone seriously ticked off. It also means that post-election, we generally have no idea of what anyone really wants, why people ultimately voted the way they did, or what our priorities are for moving forward.
When you think about it, it’s a pretty silly way of doing things. The world has been using this system of occasional voting by paper ballot for over two hundred years. Not only did people not have radio, cars or electricity back then, they didn’t even have ballpoint pens. All things considered, at the time, paper ballot voting at long intervals wasn’t half bad and it was certainly better than having a king.
But we’ve moved on. Society has become more complex and more fast-paced. People have more information at their finger-tips and the benefits we can reap from gathering data from constituents and allowing them to express their priorities in a nuanced fashion are immense. This is why I advocate continuous citizen decision-making through online participation.
It allows us to discuss priorities and options with each other. That means up-to-the-minute input from people intimately involved with the issue at hand (eg. doctors and nurses on the health service or frontline gardaí when it comes to tackling crime). It means harnessing the knowledge of all citizens to come up with innovative solutions to our problems. It means we are able to make hard decisions about where we put our resources in a way that is transparent to everyone while maintaining an awareness of what is still to be done, preventing some items from being continuously ignored. It means flexibility in decision-making, where we do not have to worry about veering from ‘right’ to ‘left’ governments, but can make decisions à la carte according to common sense instead of ideology. It means legitimacy, as people know that whether they agree with a decision or not, it was a genuine reflection of the will of the majority. And it means finally pulling through on what democracy is all about – giving power to the people. It is time that we updated democracy to work for everyone; to be about substance, instead of just power.
This is why I am committed to introducing digital democracy to Dublin Fingal and allowing my constituents to have the final, binding say in how I cast my vote in the Dáil.
Dr. Roslyn Fuller is an expert in international law and democracy. Having lectured at Trinity College and NUI Maynooth, she is a frequent contributor to Irish and international media. She is running as an Independent candidate for Dublin Fingal.