What if you did not have to vote for a senator or a congressman to make your region’s laws? What if you got to vote on the highway’s speed limit? What if everyone got to decide on the penalty for crimes? If these were to come true, you would be living under a direct democracy system.
Direct democracy, or what is also known as “pure democracy”, is a form of government “governed” by people. That is, citizens have a say on all legislation passed as laws are created by a general vote of society. The most prominent example of this form of government is the ancient Athens. Although some citizens (e.g., women, slaves and foreigners) are excluded from voting, Athenian direct democratic system allowed citizens to take a vote on all major issues. Athenian citizens were actively involved in the running of all political life, even the peace and order problem, such as deciding penalties for criminals.
Modern example of this system is Switzerland which, although not a true direct democracy, uses the elements of direct democracy in the creation of its laws. In Switzerland, the general public has a power to veto any law passed by the legislative branch if it is put to a public vote. Also, citizens can make a direct petition to change the Constitution by directly voting on amendment.
List of Pros of Direct Democracy
1. Promotes Transparency
In a system where laws are created by representatives (indirect democracy), transparency is a problem. This is because people are unaware of things happening in the government, allowing corruption to spread. Direct democracy can prevent this from happening as increased public involvement creates a transparent system that prevents a few people to pass a legislation that only benefits them.
2. Promotes Civil Responsibility
Even in countries where all citizens are given the opportunity to vote on their representatives, such as the United States, many people do not turn up to elections. But by making democracy a direct democracy, by making people feel and realize they have control over what laws exist and what doesn’t, citizens will take more interest in politics and be a part of the system.
List of and Cons of Direct Democracy
1. Lack of Expertise and Understanding to Make Good Policy
Issues are not always black and white. Some issues involve a complex set of advantages and disadvantages that must be carefully examined before a vote is made. And more often than not, a large number of signers have the slightest knowledge of what it is they are being asked to sign. In an indirect democracy, on the other hand, elected representatives are given the time, effort and means to thoroughly examine and consider complex issues before making a vote.
2. Manipulation and Corruption Can Still Exist
Just as there is manipulation and corruption in indirect democracy system, so to can there be in direct democracy system. Given the complexity of some issues, voters can be easily persuaded to sign petitions for almost anything. One side can easily influence and manipulate public opinion through a flood of promotional materials and the like.
3. Progress is Slow, and Instability Could Be a Problem
With every person balancing his or her civil responsibility with his or her full time life, legislation would move very slowly. Whereas in indirect democracy, decisions can be made quickly as consensus is created among a small group of elected officials. In addition, legislators are capable of seeing the bigger picture, ensuring security and continuity in the voting process.
Direct democracy is no doubt one of the best ways to get people involved in the government; however, it still leaves room for corruption and other major issues, such as fear of instability, lack of expertise among signers, and slow progress.