The Power of Direct Democracy.

On 17th March 1992, “White South Africa” voted overwhelmingly in a Referendum, to scrap apartheid and to negotiate a new inclusive constitution. In a turnout of 85 % of the registered voters, 69% voted for the proposed negotiations (ie to scrap apartheid) and 31% voted against the proposal.

We believe that this reflected the overwhelming sentiment of the majority of the white population which had prevailed for decades, probably ever since the introduction of apartheid following the 1948 general elections, which delivered a parliamentary majority to white South African nationalists.

On 25th May 2018 the Irish people voted overwhelmingly in a Referendum, to scrap the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution, which in a referendum in 1983, driven largely by the Catholic Church in the guise of a visit to Ireland by the Pope, largely banned abortion in Ireland under most circumstances. This time around, some 35 years later, in a 64% turnout, 66% voted in favour of scrapping the eighth amendment and 34% voted against the proposal.

As part of the Irish ballot, the question was asked for how long had the sentiment expressed in the vote cast existed. Many answered, for decades.

And then, of course, there was Brexit! Yet another example of the will of the people expressed in an act of direct democracy in 2016 which went counter to the wishes, expectations and hopes of the establishment.

The point of this is to illustrate the power of voters exerted in the direct expression of their democratic will by means of a referendum, by the application of direct democracy. Few parliamentary elections generate such high voter turnout and fewer still deliver parliamentary results which express the will of the people so directly and so accurately and very few parliamentary elections deliver such landslide results, except in totalitarian stares where opposition opinion is excluded from the process.

Without the application of the will of the people expressed in acts of direct democracy, apartheid in South Africa and the almost blanket ban on abortion in Ireland and Britain’s membership of the EU, could well have continued ad nauseum.

What these three examples ably demonstrate is that the world’s parliamentary systems are not always aligned with the wishes of their voters so much as being aligned with the will of the prevailing establishment.  This does need to change, here in South Africa, and elsewhere.

Then of course there was the recent US Presidential elections where the will of the people (a substantial absolute majority for Hillary Clinton) was ignored by the establishment in favour of President Donald Trump. It may be argued that the one candidate is no better than the other, but in that instance it was clearly shown that the will of the people was not expressed in the election results.

It can and will be argued that direct democracy also demonstrates the fickleness of the voter population.  But we would argue that it is perfectly legitimate for a voter population to try out a particular political strategy or process and when finding the strategy or process to be wanting, to ditch it.  That is not being fickle, that is being responsible. 

The establishment are largely in fear of direct democracy because they fear populist government and they are less able to control the outcomes of political sentiment expressed by direct democracy, than by influencing the party political system, by various means, including but not limited to the buying of political favour in political parties.

The Direct Democracy Forum’s sentiment is illustrated by the proposed application of direct democracy in the DDF’s proposed SENATE and MUNICIPAL FORUMS and in the use of referendums to resolve political deadlocks, much like occurred in South Africa in the apartheid years and in Ireland since 1983 and in Britain since the 1970s.

Trumped, Brexited and Where To Go Now.

The US voted Donald Trump in as president elect of the US of A. Maybe the guy confounds us all and becomes the best president in living memory but my hopes are not very high for that to happen. He rode in on an anti-establishment ticket and the democrat’s candidate was Hillary Clinton, an establishment candidate. There were lots things wrong with her candidacy; that she is pro-establishment at a time when the establishment had largely ruined middle America with its globalisation policies, that she has no anti-establishment credentials and Trump claims them instead, that she is seen as deceitful and too political and not principled enough, that she is married to Bill Clinton and I think America has already had enough of the Clintons, so I don’t actually know what she had going for her. Possibly her experience as America’s first lady and as Secretary of State in Obama’s cabinet, and being a trained and probably highly skilled lawyer and negotiator. And then of course, she had Trump as an opponent, which I had thought alone would suffice to block his election. But Clearly that was not enough.

Probably what sealed the election for Trump is that the only effective counter to Trump was Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders is another anti-establishment politician, but a Democrat. He was robbed of his candidacy by the Democratic pro-establishment lobby, and I suspect Sanders’ supporters largely stayed at home because their candidate was no longer standing. The pro-establishment lobby really shot themselves in the foot this time.

IMHO Trump is a reckless misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobe and has been described as a snake oil salesman, in other words, a man not to be trusted. One wonders how many of his campaign promises he will keep.

So there was not much to choose between the candidates. America and the world at large probably view this US presidential election as the most disastrous in the history of the USA and maybe in the history of the world. One can only hope that the responsibility of the most powerful office in the world will give Trump pause to think before he speaks or acts, and that he does not set the cause for civil liberties back too far during his term of office.

There is no lack of commentary on Donald Trump’s victory.

Mark Mardell links Trump’s victory to Brexit (Trump and Brexit), and Saul Musker claims that Trump’s victory was not a victory for change but rather a victory for the status quo in response to the loss by middle America of their privileges, (US 2016: This was not a change election), while Kevin Bloom observes that Bob Dylan predicted this event, in general terms, in his 1965 song Tombstone Blues, (Tombstone Blues: On the other side of Trump), and Ben Wright, writing for the BBC ponders whether the age of liberal democracy is imploding (…the end for liberal democracy?) while my personal favourite is a very thoughtful article by Chris Waldburger, (How Trump’s Flaws became Political Strengths.) And those are just the ones that caught my attention.

So the world is in shock, and denialists hope that the US college of electors will rescue the world from Trump the same way that Remainers hope that British Parliamentarians will Rescue Britain from Brexit. Not much chance of either happening, I believe.

So how is this relevant to the DDF  (The Direct Democracy Forum) and why am I even bothering to post this article?

It is relevant because whatever the promises of Brexiteers and Trump are and whether or not they will put their money where their mouths are, they were enabled by the failure of the neo-liberals and the elites of the world to look to the plight of their own nationals and to respect the national sovereignty of their own countries and to assume that for as long as they were delivering profits to their own shareholders and themselves, they could do no wrong. Nothing is farther from the truth. And Occupy Wall Street, Brexit, Trump’s win and the rise of the far right elements in the Europe and the possible demise of the EU, are all symptoms of the same malaise.

The elites and the neo-liberals and the corporatists and the oligarchs (just different names for the same group of misguided technocrats) have failed their own people and have acted in total disregard for their welfare, and the worm is turning.

The Ruling Elites of all nations need to find another formula that will not neglect middle America, middle Europe, Africa and Asia and South America, will not neglect the “left behinds”. And by the way, the terms “middle” and “left behinds” embrace all elements of societies that find themselves excluded from the benefits of prosperity and social justice enjoyed by the privileged few.

It needs to be a formula that embraces the positives of the world’s two greatest systems, Democracy and Capitalism, and discards as much as possible, the means by which these systems are captured by the oligarchs for their own and exclusive profit and well being. It needs to restore sovereignty to citizens and nations through meaningful access to and participation in democracy. It needs to restore economic security through meaningful access to and participation in the capitalist market places as envisioned by Adam Smith in his book The Wealth of Nations and Milton Friedman in his book Free to Choose. It needs to restore hope and dignity to all in the world.

In fact, what that formula should seek to address is a way to share some in order not to lose all. I say “lose all” because the disenfranchised, who have nothing to lose, are quite prepared to destroy all in retaliation for what they see as the injustices of a society that doesn’t even register them as a blip on the horizon, let alone as a significant force for change.

So let’s not get bogged down in arguments of conservative Judeo-Christian ethics where one reaps what one sows and only the deserving profit from life (although both are pretty much truisms), for who then are the undeserving? Today you may not be part of that group but tomorrow, perhaps quite unexpectedly, you may join them for any one of an endless number of possible reasons. And if one of life’s fickle jokes leaves you in that predicament, how will you cope in a society which will not even see you as a blip on the horizon?

If you are wondering how Brexit and Trump were possible, the reason is simple. Too many have been disenfranchised by the neo-liberal movement and they, the disenfranchised, the left behinds, just want to tell the establishment to go and “take a hike”.  In the USA, the 1% pretty much destroyed the American Dream for the 99%, and now they, the 1%, are pretty much trumped. That is no way to run a world. 

To get back to the relevance of all of this to the DDF – the DDF are proposing one such formula for the resolution of society’s woes. We are not saying of the disenfranchised that we have to be responsible for them. What we are saying, however, is that we need to invest in the disenfranchised so that they can become empowered and enfranchised members of society, who contribute to society’s welfare and sustainability, who are in fact, responsible for themselves, and who are working to strengthen society instead of seeking to destroy it.

We are arguing that none should be excluded from that socio-economic-political system for to do so would merely be creating enemies, who, if they are large enough in number (maybe 99% of the world’s population), will overwhelm all, good and evil included. What we are also saying to the neo-liberals is that if they want wealth, if that is their goal in life, they are more likely to attain and retain that wealth in a prosperous society than in a society based on poverty for the many and wealth for the few.

If the neo-liberals had not turned their back on the “left behinds” of the world, we would not have had movements like Occupy Wall Street, Brexit and people like Trump and religious elements like militant Islam, all occupying the moral high ground in a world seeking change. There would be no moral justification for their existence and no need for that kind of change.

The DDF are pragmatists, not moralists. We seek solutions for society’s problems, and we believe that our vision of Democracy and Capitalism in a society that embraces both for all, is one such solution.

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