Direct Democracy

What is Direct Democracy

Direct democracy is:

  • a political system where people make key political decisions themselves.
  • In a direct democracy, citizens can directly influence policies, usually through the use of referendums, to vote on whether a specific proposal is accepted or rejected. 
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Advantages and Disadvantages of Direct Democracy

Advantages of Direct Democracy:

  • Minorities won't be left behind as everyone will have a say: mainly in referendums people vote for their choice, on the political parties' choice.
  • Truly represents the people as their votes are heard directly instead of through MPs who may manipulate it.
  • Prevention of 'party whips' amongst the public.
  • Increases political participation.
  • A person's vote is truly important to the country as a whole, which increasess patriotism.

Disadvantages of Direct Democracy:

  • Referendums can be quite expensive to run.
  • Could increase voter fatigue.
  • Increase political apathy and disillusions to the political process as they will get bored.
  • They take a lot of time, therefore laws or issues cannot be solved in times of emergency effectively. 
  • Could increase in corruption of the govt.
  • Means that the MPs won't be doing their jobs properly or doing what they are paid to do.
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Direct popular participation

Direct popular participation:

  • Direct democracy involves any form of direct consultation that the govt makes with the people, to an extent.
  • E.g, the Coalition govt 2010, invited public participation in decidinh how public expenditure might be reduced. 
  • After 2007, e-petitions were set up which also gave people a voice in Parliament.
    • 100,000 signatures will get it debated in the HOC. 
  • Direct democracy has been recently practised by Jeremy Corbyn:
    • He has emailed his voters and got 40,000 replied to ask questions in PMQs.
    • This way, people's questions have been heard in HOC- not just the questions of the MPs. 
    • However, it has been said that the emails Corbyn expresses in PMQs could be chosen or sent by people in his party.
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Direct democracy is usually practised through referendums:

  • This is a popular vote where the people are asked to determine an important political or constitutional issues directly.
  • This is a true form of direct democracy because the public makes the critical decisions. 
  • They are often used to supplement the work of representative institutions, rather than replace it. 
  • There are 2 types of referendums:
    • Advisory referendum is a type of referendum where the governing body finds out the opinion of the electorate on a certain issue.
    • Binding referendum, is where the governing body is bound by its result, such as the EU constitution or single currency.
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Examples of Referendums

Examples of referendums in the UK:

  • 1975: European Community membership. 64.5% Yes, 35.55 No.
  • 1979: Devolution for Scotland and Wales. 74.3% Yes for Scottish Parliament. 50.3 % Yes for Welsh Assembly. 49.7% No.
  • 1997: Devolution (II).
  • 1998: Proposals for a London Mayor and a new London Assembly. 71% Yes, 28% No.
  • 1998: Good Friday Agreement (Northern Ireland). 71% Yes, 9% No.
  • 2011: Alternative Vote. 32.1% Yes, 67.9% No.
  • 2014: Scottish Indepedence. 44.7% Yes, 55.3% No.
  • 2016: Leaving the EU.
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Weaknesses of referendums

Weakenesses of Referendums:

  • Advisory referendum is the weakest form of referendums. This is because the elected representatives may not regard the result as binding on them. Therefore they could change their minds and may accept or reject the decision. 
  • A binding referendum is where the result is accepted as binding on the govt or other body affected. 
    • E.g the result of future referendums on the UK's particpation in the European Single Currency  would have to be accepted by the govt of the day, whatever the result. 
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Enhancement of Democracy through Referendums

Referendums enhance democracy:

  • As they offer a more direct form of democracy by allowing citizens to have a real input into key decisions that matter to them.
  • They provide a way of focusing or renewing the mandate on a particular issue, or legitimising major constitutional changes.
  • They can prevent dangerous divisions within parties and over controversial issues,
  • They can be used to provide a clear and final answer when parliament is deadlocked.

However this is only to an extent because:

  • referendums are inconsistent with representative democracy and undermines the doctrine of parliamtary sovereignty.
  • Excessive use of referendums can result in voter fatigue and a declining turnout.
  • Different levels of funding and media access, between the yes and no campaigns might mean that referendums are not played out on a level playing field.
  • Decisions are not always considered final in referendums as govts sometimes go back again and again until they get the result they want.
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Difference between Referendums and Initiatives

Referendums are:

  • called by politicians when there is an issue to be put to the public.
  • They usually choose the topic that will be put to the vote.

Whereas Initiatives give:

  • the public the choice over what topic is to be put to the vote.
  • This is often done through petitions that trigger a referendum.
  • For example, many US states allow this and many have passed as law, such as the California's Proposition 8 (2008) banned same sex marriage and an initiative proposed in 2010 aimed to legalise cannabis. 
  • In New Zealand, the Citizen's Initiated Referenda Act (1993) required support of only 10% of the electorate for a non binding referendum to be initiated.
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