“Direct democracy, also called pure democracy, forms of direct participation of citizens in democratic decision making, in contrast to indirect or representative democracy, based on the sovereignty of the people. This can happen in the form of an assembly democracy or by initiative and referendum with ballot voting, with direct voting on issues instead of for candidates or parties. Sometimes the term is also used for electing representatives in a direct vote as opposed to indirect elections (by voting for an electing body, electoral college, etc.) as well as for recalling elected officeholders. Direct democracy may be understood as a full-scale system of political institutions, but in modern times, it means most often specific decision-making institutions in the broader system environment of representative democracy.”

That is the definition of direct democracy as stated in Encyclopaedia Britannica but the question is, is direct democracy democratic?

Yes – if you’re on the winning side.

Italy’s Movimento 5 Stelle recently asked its members if Matteo Salvini should, as provided for in Italian law, be protected against charges of kidnapping 177 migrants, who he caused to be confined to a boat off the Italian coast for ten days. It turns out that 59% of Movimento 5 Stelle’s 52,000 members said “Si”. But what about the 60.5 million Italians who are not members of Movimento 5 Stelle, and so were not given a say?

Does this mean that, to have a say in a direct democracy, you have to belong to the winning side?

The delicious irony was the 41% who voted No, protesting that the whole point of Movimento 5 Stelle is supposed to be to challenge the privileges of power, among other things by subjecting them to the same laws as everybody else.

Frances Cowell
Australian-born and European by adoption, Frances Cowell writes and speaks at conferences about investment risk and governance, financial market stability and business ethics in financial markets – and the implications for the wider political economy. She believes Europe must urgently assume the lead in protecting and preserving liberal democracy, the rule of law and the multi-lateral institutions and alliances that it depends on.

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