July 20, 2019


By John Dunkelgrün.

The Hague 20 June 2019

Recent developments have brought the question of what democracy really is into sharp focus. As long as democracy has existed the division of power has been a central issue. How much power should be local and how much should come from the center. Should there be direct voting (Switzerland, referenda, the presidents of countries like the US and France), or should it be a stepped system? Are systems democratically fair, where a candidate can be elected even if she or he loses the popular vote?

There is discontent in many places. Some EU members (e.g. Hungary, Italy, and Poland) are unhappy with the rules they accepted when they joined the EU. The UK wants to get out altogether. Citizens all over the EU fret about nameless dictates from ‘Brussels’ without realizing that their country in most cases had a voice in crafting these rules.

The Brexit movement is a prime example. The Conservative government holds on to ‘delivering Brexit’ because democracy demands it, a latter-day version of Deus vult. There was a non-binding referendum three years ago in which Brexit voters won by a small margin. The referendum was preceded by misinformation and blatant lies such as that it would pay for the entire National Health Service.

Does it ‘serve democracy’ to hold on to that outcome with nigh-religious fervour? Would now that the financial consequences have become clearer the outcome be the same? Three years later shouldn’t people be allowed to change their minds. Moreover, younger voters were overwhelmingly Remainers. There are many more of those young voters today and Brexit is about their future. Is it democratic that mainly old, mainly well settled Conservative members decide on the future of the younger generation? Isn’t it similar to a college of exclusively men deciding on women issues? Or like a fully white government deciding on issues of people of colour?

I am not stating my opinion here, I ask the questions.

It seems prima facie right that some issues, like safety, fair tendering of contracts, the quality of food, etc. are decided centrally. But there are many rules like size and shape of fruits and vegetables that are considered unnecessary dictates. All politics is local and if central regulations irk locally, they cause discontent.

Perhaps it is time for a big conference of democratic countries (democratic in current fact, not merely in name) to discuss what democracy should mean in the 21st century.

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