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Participatory democracy

The topic today is “Participatory Democracy”, which must be said from the onset is not a rhetorical concept — it either is or it isn’t.

In simple terms, participatory democracy means the involvement of citizens in the decision-making process that affects their lives. Ancient Greece was said to be a participatory democracy where every male citizen above 18 had a direct say in matters of the state. On the other hand, Rome became a vast empire covering many territories with a more limited form of participation, relying instead on consultation with nobility.

As post-Enlightenment democracies emerged, the challenge was the education of the masses and the concern that too many people would not understand the issues, so they adopted “representatives” to speak on their behalf.

The American 18th-century revolution was inspired by the thoughts of “a government of the people by the people”, but the idea became attritional and a representative democracy.

Britain, Europe and most of the democratic governments of the world have a representative format. However, Switzerland is a direct participatory democracy where four times a year the people decide on a variety of issues.

The ideal of freedom is to have a meaningful say in things that affect one’s life. The reverse is slavery where one has no say. Freedom is inextricably tied to self-governance and inclusion in decision-making.

In Bermuda, one cannot copy and paste the constitutions of the One Bermuda Alliance, Progressive Labour Party or United Bermuda Party, give them a new name and then call it a participatory democracy. They are all based on representative democracy. In the United States, a movement began before the end of the 19th century towards participatory democracy — it was called the progressive movement.

The progressive movement was about greater inclusion of the people in political processes. It was an attempt to break away from political party bosses, allowing the people to choose directly who their representatives should be.

Bermuda has not had a political reset for nearly 60 years. Evolutionarily, the most logical beginning should be progressive political reforms in our electoral system. The huge questions are, is reform needed, and if so, who will foster change?

To date, no political party has any interest in changing towards a more participatory construct. Let’s be clear: promising to be a better government, more responsible or even less corrupt does not bring self-governance and inclusion nearer to the people. Rather, it is good ruler versus bad ruler, but a ruler nonetheless.

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Published June 24, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated June 23, 2024 at 5:19 pm)

Participatory democracy

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