Democracy where art thou?

During a round of comments today with Gary at his blog In Between Dreams he used the term “liberal democracy” to describe the forms of government for the US and the UK.

It was a NEW TO ME term and sent me off on a google search that led me to this definition on Wikipedia and will send me off on a study of the governments of Switzerland and Uruguay and their use of referenda and plebiscites.

Some of these democracies have additional systems of referenda to give the electorate a possibility to overrule decisions of the elected legislature or even to make decisions by plebiscite without giving the legislature a say in that decision. Switzerland and Uruguay are some of the few liberal democracies with a representative system combined with referenda and plebiscites.

What are the upsides to having referenda and plebiscites? What are the downsides?

I would have felt better if I had the right to at least cast a vote about going to War in Iraq. I still would not have liked the idea of a “Civilized Country” starting a War but at least I would have had a say in the matter!


About Dewayne Mikkelson

A technogeek in life and a webdeveloper by profession. Blogging is my favorite sport.
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One Response to Democracy where art thou?

  1. Gary Chambers says:

    The main upside, as far as I can see, is that it definitely aids the democratic process and encourages people to take an active interest in politics. The use of referenda would allow people to become more politically educated, whilst resulting in the country being run in line with the view of the majority. The main downside? Well there are two. Firstly – and I can’t speak for the US, only the UK – voter apathy would mean that it could become a pointless exercise, since low turnouts would render the outcome unrepresentative. Secondly, referenda could, in theory, threaten the livelihood of minority groups, since they will have the will of the majority exerted upon them.

    I think the real question is: on what issues would it be appropriate to hold a referendum? To my mind, issues such as national security and war have a definite case, as they effect the population at large. There is a school of thought that suggests that there should be localised referenda on community/minority issues. For example, in the US, certain state laws should be subject state-level referenda. Similarly, laws that are exclusive to certain minority groups should have referenda only for members of that particular minority group.

    It definitely would have been interesting to see the outcome of a referendum on the War in Iraq, since both our countries’ governments maintained they were acting with the backing of the people. Again, I can’t speak for the US, but in the UK there was large opposition and various protest marches in major cities, most notably the 1million strong march through the streets of London.

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