Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully

Article on Direct Democracy by Dr Melanie Sully

Article from "Die Furche", Austrian qualitiy weekly

Currently there is an ongoing debate in Austria on direct democracy and early next year (2013) the people will be asked to vote on whether they want to keep conscription or not. Direct democracy, if well thought out, can complement representative democracy but if not can lead to greater disillusionment with politics. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. has written an article on "Kampagne oder Instrument: Dilemma direkter Demokratie" in the quality Austrian weekly, Die Furche, 6.9. 2012, p7

Article from "Die Furche" Quality Austrian weekly

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"Kampagne oder Instrument: Dilemma direkter Demokratie" in the quality Austrian weekly, Die Furche, 6.9. 2012, p7

Direct Democracy English summary of article in „Die Furche“ 6.9. 2012 by Dr Melanie Sully
The right to petition the House of Commons in London goes back to the Middle Ages and proved to be a hit for centuries. Petitioning influenced a major reform of parliament at the beginning of the nineteenth century and contributed to the extension of the suffrage. But debates on petitions proved to take up too much of parliament’s work and soon afterwards a change in the rules of procedure led to a reduction in time allocated. Subsequently the interest in petitioning sharply declined and by the 1970s the Petitions Committee was even abolished.

Recently the coalition government under Cameron introduced the possibility to submit electronic petitions to restore shaken confidence in politicians which followed the expenses scandal. Since then around 14,000 “e-petitions” have been submitted. Within the first five days one petition alone got over 100,000 signatures which can lead to a debate in the House of Commons. Critics say though there is no quick concrete result, little involvement of the citizen and at the end of the day no greater understanding of how parliament works. Many of the e-petitions have been driven by the media, campaigning for their own interests and the only engagement noticeable is with the web site of the petition’s homepage. Nothing has been done to improve the image of politics.

Transparency International recently published a survey that showed political parties, sport and parliament are seen by the public as the areas most affected by corruption.  Health, education and the military are services perceived as least corrupt.
In a coalition government referenda can break a deadlock and with five year fixed parliaments as in the UK, can fulfil a useful function. Currently referenda are being discussed for an independent Scotland, and the European Union. Neither would be initiated by the citizens.
The Scottish National Party won an election with a pledge to hold a referendum on independence and plans are underway to do this by 2014. The mechanics have yet to be worked out but experts say already that the exercise is proving to be a strain for the normally flexible approach of Britain to constitutional reform and argue for a written constitution to provide guidelines.

A new law provides for an automatic referendum if powers and competencies are transferred in future to the EU but it is a cabinet Minister who puts the case before parliament. 

Multiple elections do not seem to bother voters and last year Britain held a nationwide referendum on the voting system on the same day as regional elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as local elections in England. Voters had no difficulty coping with this and in some areas different coloured ballot boxes marked the type of election.

A recent report submitted to a House of Commons committee argued for a constitutional convention in Britain to sort out all the loose ends associated with direct democracy. It cited the British Columbia model of a “citizens’ assembly” whereby a cross section of voters deliberated for a whole year on reform of the election system. They were paid a per diem allowance and expenses. This innovation aroused interest in Australia, the Netherlands and Iceland and showed a high and serious commitment to democracy by ordinary voters. A discussion on direct democracy limited to the level of professional career politicians, old or young will fall short of the aim of reengaging interest and respect in politics if it neglects real voter input.