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Direct democracy

Direct democracy: A comparative study of the theory and practice of government by the people

Matt Qvortrup
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Direct democracy
    Book Description:

    Combining the latest scholarship and academic research with current debates, Direct Democracy is essential reading for political scientists, lawyers, journalists and anybody who is interested in the challenges facing democracies today. Direct Democracy shows when government by the people can improve democratic governance.Should citizens be allowed to propose legislation? Should they even be allowed to recall politicians if they do not live up to their expectations? These questions and many others form the subject of this timely book. In addition to presenting an up to date review of the empirical literature, Direct democracy provides a survey of the political philosophers who have theorised about this subject. It is the central tenet in the book that the demand for direct democracy is a consequence of the demand for more consumer choices. Like consumers want individualised products, so voters want individualised and bespoke policies. Described by the BBC as "The world’s leading expert on referendums", the author, Matt Qvortrup, draws on his experience as a political advisor to the US State Department, as well as his extensive academic knowledge of direct democracy.

    eISBN: 978-1-5261-0278-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-v)
  3. List of tables and boxes (pp. vi-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction: bespoke democracy (pp. 1-11)

    Once we were content with package deals. Now we want choices. People used to buy music albums and even box-sets. Nowadays, they download selected tracks for their MP3 players. Once, we were happy to watch pretty much whatever was on TV. Now, we want individual choices: we can choose different camera angles when we watch, say, Wimbledon or cricket on the telly. As consumers – as these examples show – we want individualised choices. Welcome to the world of the individual.

    It is in this context of the ubiquitous individualised shopping lists, that we should see the demand for direct...

  6. 1 The political theory of direct democracy: the theoretical justification for citizen involvement (pp. 12-25)

    Since the French Revolution and certainly for the better part of the past 100 years, representative democracy has been the norm. Joseph Schumpeter – an economist and political theorist – summed up the prevailing view in his acclaimed bookCapitalism, Socialism and Democracy:

    [Democracy does] not mean and cannot mean that the people actually rule in any obvious sense of the terms ‘people’ and ‘rule.’ Democracy means only that the people have the opportunity of accepting or refusing the men who are to rule them. But since they might decide this also in entirely undemocratic ways, we have had to...

  7. 2 Citizen initiated referendums: an empirical assessment (pp. 26-56)

    While referendums are widespread in Western democracies, the citizens’ initiative is relatively rare. All but two of the countries in Europe (Belgium and Bosnia) have provisions for referendums in their constitutions, while the initiative is in use in just six European countries. Britain is the odd one out here as it does not have a written constitution, and therefore no constitutional provision for referendums, though it has been suggested that ‘referendums [have become] the established vehicles for constitutional change’.¹

    After the Second World War, no countries in the Western World – with the exception of Switzerland – had the initiative....

  8. 3 The citizens’ legislative initiative: a comparative analysis of the experiences in EU countries (pp. 57-73)

    The article was buried on page 9 inLe Mondeon a Saturday in 2011, when the media was dominated by a US-led attack on Libya and the continuing crisis following a massive earthquake in Japan, which had led to nuclear contamination. Still, it was there. The French newspaper reported how the German Social Democrats (SPD) and their colleagues in the Austrian Labour Party (SPÖ) were preparing to introduce a bill through the ‘Initiative Procedure’ introduced in the Lisbon Treaty. The proposal was to force a moratorium on nuclear energy, which – in the view of the proposers – had...

  9. 4 A comparative analysis of the recall of elected officials (pp. 74-88)

    On 3 September 2011 this story appeared in a local paper in the small town of Sheboygan in Wisconsin. It is worth quoting it verbatim:

    A Sheboygan City Council member has started a campaign to recall embattled Mayor Bob Ryan. Kevin MatiChek, the Alderman who started the petition, said a recall would be cheaper and quicker than the legal process the Council had approved earlier this month. Seven formal complaints have been filed against the mayor, after he went on a weekend drinking binge in nearby Elkhart Lake in July. It was Ryan’s third major alcohol-related episode since becoming Sheboygan’s...

  10. 5 Can the voters be trusted?: the case of European integration (pp. 89-96)

    Philosophers from Aristotle to Rousseau (and lesser minds) have, albeit in different ways, argued that voters were competent to make informed decisions. This is by no means certain. Many political scientists have questioned this assumption – though as we shall see they have not always done so on the basis of empirical evidence. Bolton King, writing about a plebiscite in Lombardy, was very sceptical. He asserted: ‘Experience has shown how untrustworthy a plebiscite may be, how with a people untrained in political life a vote on an issue, taken hurriedly without free and full discussion may be far from representing...

  11. 6 A case study of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (pp. 97-107)

    ‘I think we have run a strong campaign. We have explained the issues in considerable detail and all our TDs [parliament members] have been out campaigning personally for a yes vote.’ It was the press officer for one of the major ‘yes’ parties who presented this excuse at Dublin Castle on the day of the count. What he presented was a textbook example of how to lose a referendum. They (the ‘yes’ side) did all the things that you shouldnotdo in a referendum.

    This chapter presents an outline of what happened in the Irish referendum campaign in 2008...

  12. 7 The British referendum on the Alternative Vote in comparative perspective (pp. 108-129)

    The referendum is ‘nothing more and nothing else than a national veto’, noted A.V. Dicey.² This might not be a full description of the uses (and abuses) of the referendum, but it is certainly one of its major functions.

    As we have seen in the other chapters, there are many claims as regards the beneficial effects of referendums. Likewise there are many idealistic descriptions of when referendums ought to be held. But the question is whether these are met in practice. Are referendums held for ideal reasons and are the outcomes always beneficial for democratic discourse? In Britain, where referendums...

  13. 8 Judicial review of direct democracy (pp. 130-140)

    So suppose we introduce initiatives and referendums on a larger scale. Suppose that we – in one form or other – adopt a system whereby the people, or a specified proportion thereof, be allowed to introduce legislation. What would happen? What has happened elsewhere?

    One problem we have not considered, but which may be very relevant, is how the courts would react. In Britain, the courts cannot interfere with decisions made by the legislature under the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, but what if it were the people who enacted legislation?

    We can but guess what would happen, but it is...

  14. 9 Regulation of direct democracy: international comparisons and patterns (pp. 141-150)

    Referendums – and especially initiatives – are rare in most Western democracies. They have only become centrepieces of the political systems in Switzerland and – since the 1970 – Italy. The legislative initiative is practically unknown outside America, though as we have seen above, it has begun to play a role in Germany, New Zealand and a couple of former communist countries. The Swiss can merely propose constitutional amendments, but these are often defeated (the voters have endorsed a mere twelve out of a total of 104 proposed constitutional initiatives).¹

    These differences between America and the rest of the world...

  15. Conclusion: The age of supply-side politics? (pp. 151-155)

    In November 2012, while all eyes were on the election battle between President Barack Obama and the Republican contender Mitt Romney, the voters in thirty-eight American states also cast ballots in initiatives and referendums. In some way the results were as significant as the outcome of the epic and very expensive presidential contest. Voters in California voted by 54–46 per cent to increase sales and income taxes to balance the state budget, Maine and Maryland became the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote and voters in Washington and Colorado voted to legalise recreational use of marijuana....

  16. Index (pp. 156-159)