We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Monday, September 29, 2008

ECUADOR: New Constitution Approved Overwhelmingly by Referendum

Ecuador's new constitution was approved overwhelmingly by popular referendum yesterday. The new constitution promises to expand participatory democracy as discussed in our previous posts. See the following two articles for more details. - Editor

New Ecuadorian Constitution Approved by Strong Majority, President Correa Claims “Historic Victory”

Written by Daniel Denvir
Monday, 29 September 2008

Quito, Ecuador—According to exit polls, between 63-70% of Ecuadorians voted to approve a new constitution on Sunday, scoring a major victory for President Rafael Correa. Correa hailed the results, saying that “today Ecuador has decided on a new country.” Constitutional provisions expand access to healthcare, social security and education while increasing state control over the economy.

Nearly 10 million Ecuadorians came out to vote—voting is obligatory—and the atmosphere was tranquil. Families quietly walked into polling places and quickly walked out. The only lines in Quito were at the ubiquitous food stands selling roasted pork or sugar cane juice.

The vote on the constitution was also very much a referendum on Correa’s presidency. Correa has maintained high approval ratings by seizing the property of elites responsible for a severe 1999 banking crisis, increasing public assistance funding, and terminating the U.S. lease on the coastal military base in Manta. Staying in office is no small feat in a country where popular mobilizations, fueled by opposition to Washington-backed free market economic policies, have overthrown three presidents since 1997.

The vote was a major blow to an already fragmented opposition. The Catholic Church and evangelicals bolstered the weakened traditional political parties’ “no” campaign, charging that the constitution would legalize abortion and gay marriage. While the new constitution does legalize same sex civil unions, there is no indication that it will allow for restrictions on abortion to be relaxed. Conservative bishops allied with Opus Dei, led by Archbishop Antonio Arregui, control the Church hierarchy. But the leadership’s position provoked widespread resistance among progressive lay activists and clergy who are powerful in many parts of the heavily Catholic country.

Business leaders also criticized the constitution, saying that it would give the state excessive control over the economy and endow the president with authoritarian powers.

In a serious upset, nearly 50% of the residents in the port city of Guayaquil appear to have supported the constitution. The metropolis is an opposition stronghold and, like much of the coast, has long been controlled by the owners of wealthy export businesses. Mayor Jaime Nebot, allied with the conservative Social Christian Party (PSC), has been Correa’s most high-profile opponent. Nebot had threatened to resign if the “yes” vote won in Guayaquil, urging his supporters to reject the proposal. It is not yet clear if he will follow through on his threat, but it seems doubtful, as he continues to enjoy high approval ratings. In his victory speech, Correa called for national unity and said that he was open to a dialogue with Nebot.

Most social movements supported the constitution, pointing to expanded indigenous rights, social welfare policies and environmental protections. But Correa has also come into increasing conflict with the country’s Left, who charge that his radical discourse is mere window dressing. Led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), Leftists are unhappy with Correa’s support for large-scale mining and other policies that they see as too friendly to big business and foreign investors.

The conflict recently intensified when former Assembly Member Monica Chuji disaffiliated from Correa’s Alianza País party. Chuji is an indigenous activist and was Correa’s spokeswoman before her election to the Constituent Assembly, the body that drafted the constitution. And just last week, CONAIE President Marlon Santi warned of an indigenous uprising against mining activities. He stated that indigenous and anti-mining organizations will meet in the Southern Highlands city of Cuenca on October 13th to discuss potential actions.

And in a surprise move, Correa on Sunday publicly appeared with former President of the Constituent Assembly and long time social movement ally Alberto Acosta. Acosta and Correa had a falling out in June over procedural matters and substantial political differences. But with Correa empowered and the traditional Right weakened, it is unclear whether social movements will be successful in reasserting an independent political project.

Daniel Denvir is an independent journalist in Quito, Ecuador, and a 2008 recipient of the North American Congress on Latin America's Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant. He is the editor in chief of


Correa exposes Ecuadorian oligarchy

• More than nine million Ecuadorians to vote on a new Constitution on Sunday

QUITO, September 22.–– President Rafael Correa of Ecuador affirmed today that oligarchic groups are opposed to the new Constitution because it would take away all of their current and illegitimate powers.

The oligarchy wishes to maintain the status quo to the detriment of the majority of people in this nation and to the benefit of a minority that has always held power, Correa told reporters.

He warned that this group, concentrated in Guayaquil, is seeking to initiate a process of destabilization and that the "mass media, in its great majority — above all the national media — is acting as the mouthpiece for that power group to defend the status quo and keep everything the same."

Correa noted that the citizen’s revolution begun in 2007, which will be deepened with the new legislation, is seeking radical change in Ecuador’s economic, social and political structures.

The head of state said he wanted to achieve a more participatory democracy in the political, social and economic context, "where fundamental rights are not converted into commodities as was the case with the current Constitution, when health and education were privatized." According to Prensa Latina, a little more than nine million Ecuadorians are to cast their votes this coming Sunday, to decide "Yes" or "No" on a new Constitution, which will be key to the country’s future.

Translated by Granma International •

Sunday, September 28, 2008

INDIA: Referendum in Maharashtra

Two articles about a recent referendum in Maharashtra state, India. - Editor


Wednesday , September 24 , 2008


India is a democracy of a specific kind. It is an indirect democracy. The other form of democracy, the direct kind, in which every citizen participates directly in all decision-making, was known to exist in ancient Athens, but most modern variants of it — like in Switzerland — have been abandoned. In India, it has had a revival in the Raigad district of Maharashtra where a referendum has taken place on the special economic zone proposed by Reliance Industries. The referendum covers 22 villages whose inhabitants have grave reservations about parting with their land despite the compensation being offered. This referendum is an exercise in direct democracy, since all the people who stand to lose their land because of the project are being asked to vote. There is no other issue save this, and unlike in an election the people are not voting for a person or a party, but saying aye or nay on just one given issue. The experiment is unique, and it marks a radical departure from the principles of indirect democracy.

The experiment induces a degree of scepticism. For one thing, an extension of this experiment could lead to a complete stoppage of all industrialization projects. All industrial units need a certain amount of land, and this land can only come from people who own and use the land. Some degree of disaffection is embedded and inevitable in the process. But if this disaffection is always to be reckoned with through direct democracy, the overall consequences for the community and the economy may not be beneficial. Any democracy has inherent within it the contradiction between the individual and the collective. The collective is allowed to prevail in a democracy, but in an indirect democracy it does so through elected bodies and not through referendums. If the logic of referendums is accepted, the question could be asked about the use of this instrument only in the case of land disputes. It should be used logically for all issues. This would, of course, lead to a complete collapse of governance. When the Maharashtra government decided to conduct a referendum on the SEZ, it actually took the soft option. As the elected chief minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh has to decide if his government is in favour of industrialization or not. If it is, he needs to put in place the necessary conditions for industries to begin and flourish instead of abdicating responsibility.


22 villages ‘vote’ in SEZ referendum

Rahi Gaikwad

Pen (Raigad district): In a first referendum of sorts, 22 villages in Pen taluka of Raigad district in Maharashtra cast their ‘vote’ in connection with Reliance Group’s Mumbai Special Economic Zone (MSEZ). They gave their opinion in writing on three parameters — have objections, no objection and others. They could give their point of view or demand.

Forty-five villages are part of the SEZ. Of these, 22, which fall in the Hetawane dam area, do not wish to be part of the SEZ.

They have waged a three-year battle, comprising 40 andolans, culminating in this referendum. The government had sent notifications for land acquisition under Section 4(1) and 6 of the Land Acquisition Act (and not for the SEZ).

Section 6 allows for acquisition for a public interest project. “On August 6, we got a letter from the government asking us to seek the opinion of the people. We waited until now only for the Ganesh festival to get over. The farmers can state their opinion, whatever it may be,” said land acquisition officer Sameer Kurtkoti.

“Villagers who had land titles in their name and their subsequent heirs were nominated to give their written opinion. The lists were prepared when we sent out the notifications. We are referring to the same lists. We have allowed each and every person to vote, even those who may have already sold their land to the company,” said Kurtkoti.

Around 28,000 farmers, including the heirs, were slated to vote, said activist Vaishali Patil of SEZ Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti.

The impromptu nature of the plebiscite showed some cracks. Farmers in Wadhav village were miffed that the process took around 30 minutes per person.

“They have not included the names of the heirs in the list. It just mentions the name of the landowner and says ‘others.’ We have to prove that we are part of the others. This takes time. If one person takes half an hour, when will all the people finish voting in time? There is no stamp of approval. How can we prove whose signature it is? This is just a ploy by the government to thwart the process,” said Praful Mhatre of Wadhav.


The confusion over the stamps festered and the resident Collector had to intervene. He assured the farmers that the forms would be taken back to the tehsildar and would be stamped. However, as proof of voting, the forms or statements submitted were signed by officials.

The polling exercise had no formal application forms, only a format. Two kinds of forms were seen in the polling exercise. One set of pink and red forms was prepared by the Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti, which is staunchly opposing the SEZ. Many farmers were seen carrying these.

A small number also had a different form. This one carried a list of demands from increasing the compensation package to one crore, looking after the health and education of their children. Some villagers held that if these demands were fulfilled, they were ready to part with their land.

Those who opposed the SEZ said the SEZ would rob them of their livelihood. They also distrusted the promises and packages. “If they take our land, where should we eat, where should we go and what do we do? Our land is our life,” asked Gajanan Zemse of Borze village.

Balaji Narayan Mhatre (who has reportedly won three prizes in agriculture) of Vashi village spoke of the variety of flora in the village, the fish which is transported to Mumbai and Pune and the abundant harvest of Pen.

With the SEZ, all will be lost. He also pointed out that apart from the farmers, tribal in the neighbouring hills and other talukas also depended on the land for labour.

Green zone

There lies a deep pride in the produce of the land. Raigad is a rice cultivating area and farmers speak of good harvest. The erstwhile saline soil has been converted to fertile arable land over decades.

“Generations have toiled on this land and today it is called a green zone. No one can take this zone,” averred M.N. Thakur of Kaleshri.

Amidst the general stance of opposition, there were some dissidents. Janardhan Thakur from Borze said that earlier he had supported the andolan against the SEZ, but it fizzled out. “We saw that people were giving land at Rs. 10 lakh. To intercept this we placed our set of demands for increased compensation. If Reliance agrees, we are ready to part with the land. However, if the vote goes against the SEZ, we have no objection. We will welcome it.”

“People who have sold their land have done so because of personal adversity. This number is low,” said Laxman Zama Thakur of 24 Gaon Sangharsh Samiti.

Those who have sold their land had infertile land, said some.

Reports of agents giving commissions of Rs. 5,000 per voter were also within the earshot.

While MSEZ caused much bad blood, the Hetawane dam project on the other hand is seen with equal approval. Villagers do not mind parting with some part of the land for canals which, they believe, can only do them some good. With more irrigation, farmers will be able to cultivate rabi crop in addition to the current kharif crop of rice. Zamse, who has already given some of his land for canal building, has no grouse.

Hetawane, a Centre’s undertaking, covers 54 villages. It is aimed at providing drinking water and irrigation. Rows of cement pipes are lying in the villages.

However, not all is well there. Said Patil, “The government, hand-in-glove with Reliance, is planning to divert this water to the SEZ. This is another of its ploys.”

© Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu

ITALIA: No dal Molin - Chi ha Paura del Referendum Vicentino?

Chi ha paura del referendum vicentino?

Giulio Todescan
[18 Settembre 2008]

Mancano circa quindici giorni alla consultazione indetta dal comune di Vicenza sulla nuova base militare Usa [o meglio: sull’ipotesi che il comune si attivi per acquistare i terreni demaniali dell’aeroporto Dal Molin, dove la base stessa dovrebbe sorgere, destinandoli ad uso civile]. Ma tutto è ancora una volta appeso a un filo: questa volta ciò che potrebbe rimettere tutto in discussione è il ricorso portato presso il Tar di Venezia dal comitato per il Sì al Dal Molin, che contesta la validità della consultazione perché toccherebbe temi di politica internazionale al di fuori delle competenze comunali.

I giudici del tribunale amministrativo si sono riuniti ieri; per oggi era prevista la sentenza; ora fonti del comitato per il sì dicono che bisognerà aspettare fino a domani. Se il Tar desse ragione ai ricorrenti, potrebbe emettere un’ordinanza che sospende la validità della consultazione.

Impedendo così che per la prima volta, a cinque anni dai primi colloqui intergovernativi in cui si discusse della nuova installazione militare, siano finalmente i vicentini a dire la loro su un progetto imposto dall’alto.

Il clima intorno a questa consultazione «postale» [in pratica il comune spedirà a casa dei cittadini una lettera con il quesito, che poi si dovrà consegnare domenica 5 ottobre in appositi centri di raccolta] si sta facendo incandescente. E la posta in gioco è più che mai simbolica, politica. Di fronte a un forte no certificato con regolari schede e urne, il fronte che da due anni spinge per la costruzione di questa colata di cemento ad uso e consumo dell’esercito Usa troverebbe qualche difficoltà in più nel far passare l’inizio dei lavori.

Per questo, negli ultimi giorni, gli attacchi contro la consultazione continuano intensamente sulla stampa locale. Aveva iniziato due settimane fa il premier Silvio Berlusconi, scrivendo una lettera al sindaco Achille Variati in cui gli ordinava di abbandonare la strada referendaria.

Ieri, mercoledì 17 settembre, a parlare è il commissario straordinario per la costruzione della base, Paolo Costa. Un intervento che ha la leggerezza di un pugno sul muso: «Questo referendum è intrinsecamente antidemocratico perché teso a rendere inefficiente la nostra democrazia opponendosi alle istituzioni nazionali, le sole titolate a decidere in materia di politica estera e di difesa per conto dell’intera comunità – così sostiene Costa – Non è un problema di democrazia diretta o di democrazia rappresentativa, è che in materia di politica estera e di difesa il ‘potere del popolo’ si esercita solo attraverso il livello di governo nazionale. Per questo il referendum voluto dal sindaco Variati è un esercizio antidemocratico, poiché cerca di prevaricare l’interesse nazionale in nome di un interesse locale non costituzionalmente tutelato». Insomma, il commissario [europarlamentare del Pd ma dai modi «bipartisan»] recentemente riconfermato nel suo ruolo dal governo Berlusconi definisce «prevaricazione» l’ascolto dell’opinione dei vicentini.

La risposta del sindaco Variati non ha tardato ad arrivare: «Costa la smetta di dire stupidaggini – ha detto Variati – Non è vero che il Comune si sta occupando di affari di politica internazionale. Anche con questa consultazione ci occupiamo di questioni ed aree che riguardano il nostro territorio e agiamo all’interno delle competenze dell’ente locale». «Quanto poi all’affermazione di Costa che la consultazione sia antidemocratica, la ritengo una vera stupidaggine, perché il chiedere un parere ai cittadini è l’esatto contrario di un’azione antidemocratica – prosegue il sindaco – E poi non accetto lezioni di democrazia da chi ha dato, a suo tempo, consigli al governo su come soffocare il dissenso della comunità locale sulla nuova base».

Intanto, i primi camion hanno iniziato a portare via dal sito dell’aeroporto materiali edilizi: lavori propedeutici all’inizio del cantiere vero e proprio.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

ESPAÑA: Consultas Populares en Cataluyna

"Consultar a la sociedad ayuda a cimentar la democracia participativa y a terminar con la desafección política"

Jordi Ausás, conseller de gobernació de la generalitat de catalunya


Jordi Ausàs (ERC) está elaborando con sus socios de Gobierno el contenido de una Ley de Consultas para Catalunya. Para ello, el conseller observa con lupa los pasos que se dan a favor y en contra del plebiscito vasco. "Que hoy se vea con malos ojos algo así, se hace duro", dice

bilbao. Jordi Ausàs atiende a este diario por teléfono mientras pasa unos días de vacaciones en el Pirineo catalán. En estos días de ocio, el conseller reflexiona acerca de las cosas que más le preocupan de la Ley de Consultas que prepara su departamento.

Entre otras cosas, muestra su inquietud por el déficit que existe en el Estado español a la hora de valorar positivamente estas iniciativas, iniciativas que "sólo sirven para cimentar la democracia participativa y para que la ciudadanía intervenga y se implique en política". De momento, tiene un espejo en el que mirarse: el plebiscito vasco.

Él no tiene dudas: "Es sano para el sistema democrático y para todos los vascos". Para PP y PSOE un mensaje: "Es un grave error llevar el proyecto del lehendakari ante el TC, es ponerse una venda en los ojos y no querer ver una realidad -la de las consultas- que se ve con absoluta naturalidad en muchas administraciones y gobiernos de todo el mundo".

¿Por qué defienden ustedes una Ley de Consultas Populares para Catalunya?

Desde el Gobierno de Catalunya impulsamos este proyecto por diversas razones. La primera es lograr que se reconozcan todas las competencias que recoge el Estatut. La segunda, porque queremos dar cumplimiento al mandato del Parlament de Catalunya, donde se han aprobado numerosas iniciativas en este sentido, en el sentido de que se impulse una Ley de Consultas Populares. Y por último, porque la redacción y la aprobación de una ley así figura en el cumplimiento del pacto de gobierno que suscribimos ERC, IU-ICV y PSC.

Seguro que detrás de la consulta hay más razones...

Sí. Entre otas cosas, porque consultar a la ciudadanía es una profundización importante de la democracia, y porque también es un antídoto contra la desafección política. Y es vital porque fomenta la participación directa del ciudadano en política, y así, suma y sigue.

Vamos, que esta medida, así como la que impulsó recientemente el Parlamento vasco, va en el camino de cimentar la democracia participativa.

Claro que sí, porque esta medida del Gobierno catalán promueve el derecho a decidir -pilar básico de la democracia- y es un derecho que contribuye a cohesionar Catalunya. De hecho, el objetivo de mi departamento es hacer funcionar el país desde muchos ámbitos: dando soporte al mundo local y promoviendo proyectos que impliquen a la ciudadanía en la política. En Euskadi, se hace más de lo mismo.

En la presentación de la Ley de Consulta aprobada por el Parlamento vasco se veía como algo básico que, en pleno siglo XXI, los ciudadanos puedan ser consultados con el objetivo de atenuar los efectos de una representación política imperfecta en las instituciones. ¿Comparte este prisma para la Ley de Consultas en la que trabaja?

En Catalunya lo vemos igual. El problema es que algunos quieren hacer lecturas en diagonal, con tintes partidistas.

Estas leyes de consultas serán tenidas muy en cuenta por otras administraciones y otros gobiernos, porque en los tiempos que corren son totalmente necesarias. ¿A quién puede molestar que se pregunte a la ciudadanía? ¿A quién puede incomodar que se pregunte al pueblo para tener en cuenta su opinión antes de una toma de decisiones? Creo que tenemos que acostumbrarnos a consultar con absoluta naturalidad y actuar en consecuencia. La Ley de Consultas Populares es una necesidad para mi país.

¿Es vinculante la consulta que proponen en su departamento? ¿Tiene el mismo rango que la que se aprobó recientemente en la Cámara de Gasteiz?

Aunque en Euskadi no sea vinculante, moralmente hablando, el Gobierno español tiene que estar muy atento a lo que los ciudadanos opinen en una consulta democrática con todas las garantías. Pero en el caso de Catalunya, tenemos la competencia exclusiva para la regulación de las consultas populares por vía de referéndum, por lo que la competencia exclusiva del Estado en este asunto-y figura en el art.149 de la Constitución española- se limita a la autorización de este instrumento en cada convocatoria concreta.

¿En qué consiste dicha autorización?

El Estado tiene sólo la competencia en la autorización de consultas populares, pero la Generalitat tiene la competencia exclusiva -según el art. 122 del Estatut- para regular las consultas populares por vía de referéndum y de todos los aspectos de su organización. Nosotros organizamos, convocamos y la hacemos y, al final, el Estado español decide si le da el visto bueno.

Y si desde Madrid se oponen, como sucede en Euskadi...

En Catalunya no queremos una ley para tenerla guardada en el cajón -y no utilizarla-, queremos hacerla efectiva, para así poder acostumbrar al conjunto de la ciudadanía a opinar. Que se vea que la opinión de la gente se tiene en cuenta.

El Consejo de Europa y otros organismos europeos ven con buenos ojos -y dentro de la legalidad- esta clase de iniciativas políticas. ¿Por qué incomoda tanto en los círculos políticos, judiciales o mediáticos de Madrid que se consulte a la ciudadanía cívicamente?

Sé que en muchos Estados y países se asume con mucha naturalidad la idea de consultar a la ciudadanía. No interiorizarlo aquí con normalidad es un error. Ahora que estamos elaborando esta ley desde Catalunya y, como es lógico, contando con el apoyo y el asesoramiento de juristas reconocidos -del departamento de Derecho Constitucional de la Universidad de Barcelona y de otros equipos de juristas-, creo que hay pocas excusas para permitir que se construyan diques contra la voz de la ciudadanía. También estamos comparando las legislaciones de otros países de nuestro entorno y sus prácticas políticas, y estamos comprobando que en lo que compete a la ciudadanía, se ejercita el derecho a decidir en muchos ámbitos para que la gente de la calle pueda implicarse en la vida pública y en la política. El camino va en esta dirección; hacer lo contrario es poner piedras en la senda de la democracia.

¿Debería ser más respetuoso el Gobierno español con las iniciativas que buscan fortalecer la democracia participativa?

El Gobierno español debe moderarse: tiene que tomar decisiones más respetuosas con el entorno institucional, incluso no fomentando la crispación entre instituciones. Creo que es un grave error utilizar el TC como si se tratara de un engranaje más de los intereses gubernamentales de España. Se dedican a marcar el calendario de sus deliberaciones, el calendario de sus sentencias en función de la coyuntura o de la oportunidad política partidaria. Ni en el caso de Euskadi ni en el de Catalunya, deben hacer lo que hacen en financiación, política lingüística o con las leyes de consulta. ¿Qué sentido tiene que el TC prohiba la Ley de Consulta del lehendakari? Ninguno. Por tanto, me parece que el sentido común tiene que empezar a primar: corresponde al TC marcar sus tiempos en sintonía con el sentido común, es decir, de forma que el 25 de octubre se pueda celebrar la consulta en Euskadi.

Como dijo el lehendakari, "no divide a la sociedad quien pregunta, sino quien prohibe consultar".

Exacto, eso es lo que se tiene que tener en cuenta.

Uste dice que el proyecto de ley que maneja su departamento es jurídicamente impecable, ¿pero qué trabas le pueden encontrar?

Efectivamente, nosotros conocemos las competencias que nos marca el Estatut y la Constitución española, por tanto queremos elaborar una ley para ser utilizada, y no para tenerla en la estantería. Estamos haciendo una Ley de Consultas Populares impecable con la legislación vigente. El TC no debería tener ningún problema en darle el visto bueno.

El proyecto de ley tiene encaje en el Estatut, pero con toda la que ha llovido sobre el Estatut -que sigue bloqueado a la espera de que se pronuncie el TC-, ¿de verdad cree que desde Madrid serán benevolentes con sus intenciones?

Habrá que esperar, pero lo que vemos en Madrid es bastante sombrío. No entendemos el revuelo que se forma cuando en democracia se toman determinadas medidas. Y tenemos muchos ejemplos. El Estatut lo podemos ejercitar y lo tenemos que exprimir como una naranja en todas nuestras competencias: como por ejemplo, con los referéndums y la organización de ellos.

El Estatut recoge la competencia de convocar referéndos y consultas, ¿no son dos elementos que pueden levantar sospechas para los miembros del Tribunal Constitucional?

No tendría que serlo, la intención es elaborar una norma que quepa en el marco estatutario y en el constitucional. Queremos ejercer nuestras competencias al máximo, y estos elementos no tendrían por qué incomodar a ningún tribunal. Hay aspectos legítimos que recoge el Estatut y que se están poniendo en tela de juicio, como es el caso de la financiación autonómica. El sábado día 9, finalizó el calendario establecido en el Estatut para acordar el modelo concreto de financiación para Catalunya. De momento, lo que hay es que no se respeta el sistema de financiación acordado, lo que supone un recorte de las competencias y de la soberanía de Catalunya.

Tienen trabas en la financiación, en el autogobierno... ¿les recortan siempre competencias desde Madrid?

¿Qué pretenden en Madrid, pasar el cepillo que Alfonso Guerra ya utilizó en las Cortes españolas? El Estatut es una Ley Orgánica y hay que cumplirla. La negociación ya se produjo en su día, con un alto coste para los intereses de Catalunya, por lo tanto, ahora no se trata de una renegociación, sino que se trata de cumplir con la financiación. Si en una cuestión de financiación hay tantas dificultades, espero que no suceda lo mismo con la Ley de Consultas. En Madrid tienen que saber que la consulta es muy positiva para la cohesión de Catalunya.

HONDURAS: Is Participatory Democracy Possible?

In reading the following article describing the state of formal government institutions and social movements in Honduras one can see parallels to the stagnation of the two party dominated system in the United States, or similarly the 'punto fijismo' of pre-Chavez Venezuela. Nevertheless, there is a wind of change stirring in Honduras under the presidency of Manuel Zelaya who has in recent months distanced himself from Washington and strengthened ties with the leftist governments of Latin America such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador. Recently Honduras joined those countries in ALBA, the grouping pioneered by Venezuela as an alternative to the free trade agreement FTAA proposed by the U.S. It remains to be seen if this shift in the decades old status quo in Honduras will provide an oppportunity for an alliance between the social movements described in this article and the Honduran government, creating new opportunities for the expansion of participatory democracy, such as we have seen in Venezuela since the election of Hugo Chavez. - Editor


The Social Movement and the Formal/Real Government Contradiction

By Ismael Moreno


Honduran democracy has been hijacked by the two-party system. Social inequality deepens as democracy is hamstrung by formalities. The grassroots movement has been trapped between nostalgia for the clarity of the old struggles and the uncertainties of today’s dispersed energies. But shifts seem to be underway at the community and local level. What kind of social movement can tackle the contradiction between Honduras’ formal government and the real one?

Formal government, real government: it sounds like a play on words. But in Honduras, it’s a concrete problem. The government, with its three branches of state, is one thing; how the country is actually governed, beyond the formalities of those three branches, is another.

According to the rule of law that regulates our democracy, the law rules, not individuals, and no one is above the law. In keeping with that principle, Honduran legislation establishes that citizens formally choose their government through elections. Every four years, society as a whole is convened to elect local, departmental and national authorities by secret ballot. It’s been that way for 27 uninterrupted years. And during this period of representative democracy, reforms have been enacted to ensure that all those who meet the requirements can exercise their right to suffrage. Efforts have also been made to ensure that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal enforces the popular will and prevents any political party from perpetuating fraud.

But actions speak louder than words, and we all know that the two-party system feeds on—and feeds—the patrimonial culture, producing caudillos, Latin America’s version of political strong men, and all the cult of personality and arbitrariness that prevent institutional democracy and the rule of law from really taking root and flourishing.

The rule of law?

According to the formal rules of Honduran democracy, we elect a President, a Vice President, 128 congressional representatives with an equal number of alternates and 298 municipal mayors with their respective deputy mayors and Municipal Council members. In the wake of reforms, the National Congress now chooses the 15 Supreme Court justices from a list of 45 nominees proposed by various sectors of Honduran society. Congress also elects the national human rights commissioner, the attorney general, the members of both the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the Auditing Board and the three commissioners of the Institute for Access to Public Information in the same way.

The democratic election of all public authorities is an essential characteristic of the rule of law. But the citizenry’s right to elect their authorities freely is violated by the internal dynamics of the “real” government, which undermines the foundations of the rule of law. The international community has influenced the reform of various mechanisms and entities over the past 27 years in an attempt to consolidate the rule of law in Honduras, and many of the institutional reforms pushed through in the past 15 years to respond to the demands and challenges of today’s global reality emerged from such international pressure.

The two-party system is in absolute control

All these reforms, however, have been adulterated or manipulated by the very authorities responsible for implementing them. These authorities are subordinated to the traditional political party system, tied to processes and mechanisms that in practice are completely at odds with the democracy they profess to defend and represent. The Liberal and National Parties—the dominant traditional parties among the five legally recognized in Honduras today—have shared power for the 27 years we’ve had democracy, and just as elections have been the vehicle they used to divvy up the three branches of state, political reforms to modernize the rule of law have become instruments to strengthen and consolidate their control over the rule of law.

The political party system in its dominant two-party form, being intrinsically anti-democratic, transforms all instruments intended to strengthen Honduran democracy into anti-democratic ones. Despite domestic and international efforts, party leaders and public authorities always turn out the same: they behave as if—and clearly believe that—holding public office places them above all others.

Who chooses those we elect?

Who chooses the candidates citizens elect in the general elections? Formally, they’re chosen by their parties, both of which contain various internal factions or political currents with their respective leaders. So who chooses the candidates within each of these factions? Are there elections in which delegates from the communities, municipalities and departments choose their candidates?

Normally, the factions answer to their own political leaders—essentially faction bosses. These leader-bosses handpick or endorse their faction’s candidates. Under no circumstances can anyone become a candidate without their approval.

As a case in point, Porfirio Lobo is the leader of his faction within the National Party. In internal elections, Lobo will be his faction’s candidate, running against those from other factions within his party, such as Mario Canahuati. Either of the two could gain the approval of former President Rafael Callejas, one of the National Party’s most powerful leaders.

Something similar happens in the Liberal Party, though with variations. The boss of the most powerful Liberal faction is Carlos Flores Facussé, who was President of Honduras during the last four years of the 20th century. Flores is not running as a candidate because he hasn’t yet been able to reform the Constitution, which for now prohibits reelection of past Presidents or Vice Presidents. He has promoted and supported Roberto Micheletti, currently president of the Congress, who knows that loyalty to his benefactor is the only way he could make it to the internal elections and run as the Liberal Party candidate.

Normally, those who hold the most important government positions are endorsed not only by their political party bosses, but also by key leaders of private business and by the US Embassy. No citizen will ever become a presidential candidate without passing through all those filters. The same is true of whomever is appointed human rights commissioner, auditor general, president of the Supreme Court, or a member of the Supreme Audit Tribunal or the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Powerful groups and individuals consent to or veto candidates for popular election through the major media. Jorge Canahuati, Jaime Rosenthal, Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé, Miguel Facussé, Freddy Nasser, Miguel Andonie, Rafael Ferrari and Rafael Callejas are just some of the politicians and businessmen whose word carries decisive weight when it comes to filling all the country’s high-level public posts.

Organized crime: Another “party”

Another factor is increasingly coming into play in the election of candidates to the most important government posts. It usually goes by the generic name of Organized Crime. Entirely credible sources hold that a number of organized crime mafias move freely through the corridors of traditional politics and the capital of the most important private sector economic groups. When a candidate confidently says he’s going to occupy a high public office, that confidence comes not so much from whatever popular support he or she may have, but from the financial and political support of some of these mafias.

Rumors are growing of an organized crime connection in the money used by the traditional political party factions for their leaders’ campaigns. If organized crime—involved in car theft rings; trafficking in weapons, people and drugs; and kidnapping—is shifting large amounts of money to political leaders and factions, it’s because politics has become a good investment for them, and a good place to launder money. In short, it has become a beachhead for extending and exercising its power and control over Honduran society.

That’s how it works

That’s how Honduran democracy works. When the masses of ordinary people go out and cast their votes, the candidates have already been chosen by those unelected people who actually make the most important decisions in the country. So what’s the point of elections? They’re an exercise that gives people a sense of being responsible for choosing their officials and of having thus exercised one of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. But the iron grip that powerful groups have on the machinery of Honduran democracy means that their vote simply ends up legitimating public officials who will always administer national resources, approve legislation and apply the law according to their own interests.

As we can see, democracy and the rule of law are operated and upheld by the groups that make up the “real government,” which they do by naming and endorsing those elected to the formal government. The real government is the one that actually rules and makes decisions, functioning over and above the formal four-year political cycle. It uses democracy and all its machinery to legitimate its decisions, protect its interests and almost invariably act behind the backs of poor people.

Waiting for another strike like that one

There’s a growing tendency for the Honduran social movement to focus its efforts on constructing a form of participatory democracy organized from the community level upward—specifically, placing its hope in the territorial community movement. Honduras had a very strong and active social movement in the mid-20th century, and the famous 1954 banana workers’ strike was unquestionably its most important—in fact emblematic—struggle. Since then, repression, corruption, generous handouts and treachery have abounded, and today’s movement is incapable of moving forward with proposals that question the current exclusionary and non-participatory model of representative democracy.

Generally speaking, the grassroots social movement trails behind the dominant power groups’ proposals and dynamics. In recent years some coordination efforts have been made—for example, the National Coordinating Committee for Popular Resistance—but it has failed to establish itself as a broad grouping offering coherent alternatives to the two-party model, the merely formal democracy or the social inequality.

Honduras’ grassroots movement persists in a kind of messianic hope, waiting for another strike like the one in 1954, as if one might fall from the sky at any moment. That’s how the popular songs go—bring on another strike. The movement’s leaders also seems unable to break free of this demobilizing nostalgia for the past to get a grip on the discontent and dispersed energies of the present. They’re baffled about how to creatively challenge the insecurity and uncertainty faced by ordinary people, who are still as poor as—or poorer than—20 years ago, or the accelerated dynamic of globalization, with its technological and cultural transformations.

It was more than fifty years ago that our working class carried out its great rebellion, resisting the imperial banner and linking the trade union and political struggles. Out of that success emerged the trade union movement that would lead the Honduran social movement for over half a century. But even though that union movement is no longer what it was in the last century, its main leaders cling to their traditional outlook, confident that a detachment of the workers’ and union movement, led politically by a leftwing, will rescue Honduran society from penury and inequality. It’s time to wake up.

In the current context, unionism bears little relation to these leaders’ almost dogmatic dreams, and it has few links with the extremely diverse reality of the country’s impoverished people. But despite the fact that this union movement has so few real connections with the other organizational forms that have been emerging over the last fifteen years, it continues to lead and shape the grassroots sectors’ main demands and mobilizations.

The traditional movement: Both strong and weak

Five strands can be identified within today’s grassroots movement. Some are interwoven and complement each other; others tend to repel and discredit each other. Each one, based in its own particular reality, is contributing to the search for a new alternative paradigm to neoliberalism, which puts individualism and the needs of capital above people and community.

What are some of the characteristics of each of these five strands?

The traditional grassroots movement. The identity of the traditional grassroots movement is defined by the demands and organizational forms of trade unionism. It has almost always been pillaged by one of the political parties, whether the traditional political Right, or the shrunken and relatively insignificant Left, both registered parties and unofficial groups. And just as all roads lead to Rome, all unions lead to one of three central workers’ confederations: The Honduran Workers’ Central, the General Workers’ Central and the Honduran United Workers’ Central. The leaders of these confederations are recognized interlocutors with the state and big business.

The leaders of the traditional grassroots movement who belong to the workers’ confederations can be heard twice a year: when they’re negotiating the minimum wage with government and business, and during the May Day parades. When it comes to anything else, silence is their usual response. During election campaigns, they’re adept at visiting the headquarters of the top leaders of the strongest factions in the traditional parties. The confederations aren’t unified, but they’re consistent in hesitating to address the abuse of working class rights, and in the timidity of their voices when our national sovereignty is being abused, or legislation or decisions endanger our natural resources or environment.

The life of this traditional movement revolves around defense of trade union interests. It tries to drag the poor along behind its demands, as if its sectoral interests were national ones. The teachers’ unions are a case in point: powerful in defense of the Teachers’ Statute, able to present themselves as a real parallel government, but weak and absent in the struggles of those sectors submerged in the informal economy—half the country’s economically active population—that have no capacity to organize in trade unions.

In sum, the traditional grassroots movement is very strong in fighting for its union rights and very weak—almost non-existent—in fighting for the country’s poorest sectors.

The new grassroots movement. This emerging movement can be identified by the issues it addresses and its connection with NGOs that channel international aid resources. It has been developing since the 1990s in response to the overwhelming force of neoliberalism, which threatens the resources and lives of indigenous and black communities, as well as forests, water and culture. This movement channels the demands of emerging sectors, recognizing issues of gender and excluded identities. Here we find organized indigenous and Garífuna peoples, women, youth, gays, environmentalists and others.

Movement of territorial community organizations. The identity of these organizations is defined by the place or region where they are based or carry out their activities. Their struggles relate to a range of issues linked to territory. The oldest ones, which have been co-opted by the political parties, are the Communal Boards. In recent years, some of these boards have begun to establish links with various community groups, organizing around local demands and getting involved in struggles independent of political party interests. For example, the Western Regional Board (which brings together some 200 community boards), a few municipal alliances in the western departments of Lempira and Intibucá, the Sula Valley Social Forum, the Residents of Zacate Grande in the southern part of the country, the Olancho Environmentalist Movement and community organizations along the right edge of the lower Ulúa River watershed, are organized into the Honduran Inter-Municipal Development and Social Monitoring Association. Its identity is defined in territorial terms and the connection to the community level is what unifies its struggles and its linkages with other sectors.

Advocacy organizations. The identity of these organizations derives from the funds they receive from international cooperation to work on advocacy with government or society on specific issues. Strictly speaking, they are NGOs or PDOs (Private Development Organizations). They are the most significant social phenomena in the Honduran social movement today, covering a wide range of organizations from those that defend state and private business interests to those that provide funds to support opposition grassroots mobilization.

Political action fronts. The identity of these groups is based on oppositional political struggle that brings together the four preceding types of organization. There are regional and national fronts, such as the Popular Bloc, based in Tegucigalpa and led by one of the traditional leftist union federations, which includes some of the teachers unions. Others include Coordinating Committee of Popular Organizations of Aguán and the Permanent Popular Assembly of El Progreso, Yoro. The broadest front is the National Coordinating Committee for Popular Resistance, which brings together the three others, as well as sectors that overlap with a few of the other four strands of the grassroots movement described above.

Alliances and rejections

These various expressions of popular mobilization are not all separate. They’re like municipalities and departments, sharing mountain ranges, rivers and highways. The two strands of popular mobilization that are least connected to each other are the political fronts and the advocacy organizations, which often reject each other and exchange accusations. Most of the influence of the political fronts is based on the traditional grassroots movement, which is why the advocacy organizations have little or no linkage to these two forms of mobilization; instead, they use their funds and their thinking to nourish—or try to nourish and influence—both the new grassroots movement and the territorial community organizations.

Distant from the people

Ordinary people in the communities not only legitimate the electoral cycle as an instrument of a kind of democracy and rule of law that serve the powerful; they are also far removed from the plans and interests of the leadership of the traditional popular organizations for the most part. Experience shows that the lives and discourse of the traditional and trade union leadership are very distant from the daily lives of ordinary people. The struggles conducted by trade unions and by the recognized leaders of the so-called popular movement often move in one direction while the interests and feelings of the communities move in another. Bridging that distance is one of the challenges in the struggle to develop organization and grassroots participation.

Both the trade union organizations and the community organizations need to recognize that no one has a monopoly on the truth and that we all need each other. The leaders of the grassroots organizations should recognize that their language and ideas often distance them from ordinary people today. Until they fill up with such ordinary people—who are often confused and trapped by traditional political loyalties—their leaders will go on saying things that sound good and may well be true, while their numbers remain low—very enlightened, but dramatically removed from the reality on the ground.

Under other banners

It’s true that electoral abstention has increased in Honduras, reaching almost 50% of eligible voters in the last elections. Nevertheless, the banners of the traditional political parties are firmly anchored in ordinary people’s daily lives. Their respective blue and the red flags wave from houses made of earth and manaca leaves, and the bitter influence of the caudillos persists in our villages and poor urban neighborhoods.

The social movement’s political struggle should be independent of party affiliation. No party banners of any color should be confused with the banners of the grassroots movement. The role of a political party is and should be to work toward achieving state power, while the objective of the social movement is to call on the state and political parties to represent and respond to grassroots demands. A political party may be in opposition today, but tomorrow it may lead the state. A social movement will always remain outside of the state, because its function is to push on behalf of demands from below, from those without power.

The worst thing that can happen to a social movement is for it to adopt a specific political or religious affiliation. A social movement’s identity and political richness derives from its autonomy and independence from any party or religious creed. It would be wrong for a party to use the struggle and organizational structure of a social movement to pursue partisan interests. And a religious denomination would do great harm by trying to direct the grassroots struggle toward a particular belief or religious practice.

The social movement’s agenda

Honduras’ social movement should be questioning why there’s a healthy and expanding economy for the rich and the transnationals and an ailing one for the rest of society. Macroeconomic growth is not enough; we have to put an end to inequality. The movement should be questioning a model that sustains itself through the social production of wealth that is appropriated by ever smaller groups and numbers of people.

It should stake its hopes on the proper functioning of institutions over the arbitrariness of specific individuals and political and economic groups. The weakness or absence of institutions weakens democracy and shuts down governance, while strengthening the traditional groups and hidden influences that circulate through the underground corridors of power.

The social movement should be strengthening itself by linking together the demands that emerge from territory-based community organizations. The road forward is rooted in the life and reality of communities. The construction of participatory democracy is unthinkable outside the social, economic and cultural texture of communities’ own democratic experiences.

It should work on social oversight of the municipalities, questioning the use of public institutions to strengthen the power of the caudillos and power groups acting behind the backs of, and in opposition to, the population.

Finally, it should open arenas to develop an alternative communications strategy, breaking the monopoly over information and control of public opinion that currently is in the hands of a small group of politicians and businesspeople.

Ismael Moreno, sj, is the envío correspondent in Honduras.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

PHILIPPINES: Barangays need to Practice Direct Democracy as Prescribed by Law

Valdehuesa: All we have is a caricature of democracy

By Manuel Valdehuesa
Street Talk
Friday, September 12, 2008


TO INSTITUTIONALIZE true democracy, it is important to ensure that it is operative at the grassroots, the primal base of a political system, whence emanates state sovereignty and all government authority.

To speak of the grassroots is to refer to one's community - in our case, the barangay. It is our basic political and economic unit.

What's your take on the Mindanao crisis? Discuss views with other readers

One wonders whether anyone knows that governing a barangay means giving due attention to its three dimensions -- as a government, as a public corporation, as an economy.

Unless these three elements are recognized and appreciated, all we have is a caricature of democracy at the grassroots and a non-performing base for our national economy. Only in the barangay is it possible to exemplify democracy as "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

How is the barangay a government OF THE PEOPLE? Before 1991, it was merely an appendage to the municipal/city government, with no powers or resources and no legal personality. Its officials were basically coordinators, with a quasi-official role and no real authority.

Today, it is a full-fledged government with power to tax, to police its jurisdiction, and to exercise eminent domain or expropriate private property for public use).

Like the municipal and upper levels, it has three branches: executive (office of the chairman), legislative (sanggunian), judicial (lupon). And its officials are elected by the people.

Thus it is a government of the people. They create it through their votes, just like the higher levels.

Is it a government BY THE PEOPLE? Here one encounters serious difficulty; because in fact it is not the people who govern but their presumptuous servants.

In the context of the local government code, "government by the people" means it is a direct democracy -- like the canton in Switzerland and the kibbutz in Israel -- the Athenian model of direct democracy. There all villagers convene periodically to discuss and decide how to manage or regulate their affairs. They pass laws or ordinances, or approve them directly -- meaning the people govern directly.

It is the same in our case as stipulated in sections 384 and 397-398 of Republic Act 7160 (Local Government Code). Barangaynons are supposed to govern directly. They do this as members of the Barangay Assembly, which is supposed to convene periodically to deliberate on community concerns, to initiate measures for its welfare, to approve its budget, to ascertain the will of the community on any issue, and so on.

But in no barangay is this happening. On one hand, the officials are illiterate, ignorant, or mindless about the law; on the other, the residents are unaware or ignorant of what the law binds them to do. Thus neither the rule of law nor democracy is operative in the community.

Is it a government FOR THE PEOPLE? Despite the claim of the officials, it is not. It serves their purposes more than the people's. Except for token benefits derived from the pork barrel of their political bosses, which they distribute to gullible segments of the community, the officials spend most of the barangay's income to cover their own allowances/expenses. They serve their personal and family interests more than the people's. The allowances they allocate are for their own pockets. The jobs they create are for their sycophants or supporters.

The benefits they distribute are for the gullible, the naïve or the squatters -- people who pay back such "generosity" with their votes. They don't even clean or cover the neighborhood canals, or build sidewalks so people with no vehicle are safe and comfortable. Their reading center or library, if any, is laughable. There are no skills development programs, nor the cultural or educational sort.

Go over the substance or efficacy of ordinances/projects they initiate, which they claim at election time as "achievements;" mostly political gimmicks! Rarely, if ever, do they consult their constituents. What little good they do advances their interests more than the people's.

This portrait of governance at the grassroots is but a caricature of democracy, a make-believe arrangement, where the sum total of a citizen's participation is to cast a vote on election day, only to be forgotten till the next election.

Much of this can be blamed on the elite classes who leave the fate of the community to incompetent but politically savvy sectors. More on this topic in subsequent issues. But if you can't wait, talk to Bencyrus Ellorin, James Judith, or Fr. Nathan Lerio of Camaman-an.

A former UN executive and vice chairman of the Local Government Academy, Manny heads the Gising Barangay Movement. He writes Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays.

MEXICO: Democracia Participativa - Baja California

Urge en México impulsar una democracia participativa

El Sol de Tijuana
26 de agosto de 2008

por Sonia García Ochoa


Tijuana, Baja California.- En México urge impulsar una democracia participativa, en donde los mexicanos "seamos" corresponsables de la toma de decisiones de quien hoy "nos" gobierna, ya que la Reforma Electoral federal carece de una ley de participación ciudadana, como la que tiene Baja California.

Raúl Flores Adame, consejero electoral del Consejo General Electoral de Baja California, del Instituto Electoral y Participación Ciudadana, hizo el anterior señalamiento, considerando que "debimos insertar las herramientas para crear además, una cultura de participación y no únicamente una cultura electoral".

En el marco de la conferencia dictada por el magistrado José de Jesús Covarrubias Dueñas, ayer en la Casa Jurídica de la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación (SCJN), expuso que ha sido un gran crítico tanto de la Reforma Electoral federal como de la Reforma a la Constitución en materia electoral, que se hizo en el estado de Baja California.

Ha sido crítico porque siente que más que una democracia de representación que se tiene vigente actualmente y que con reformas a la ley se cierra únicamente a los partidos políticos, en el país urge impulsar una democracia participativa.

Una democracia en donde los ciudadanos "seamos corresponsables" de la toma de decisiones de quienes hoy nos gobiernan; para lo cual se necesita en primer lugar, en la Reforma Electoral federal debió haber contemplado otros aspectos que permitieran como los mecanismos que tiene Baja California y que se le llama Instituto de Participación Ciudadana, porque cuenta con su propia legislación.

Flores Adame se mostró convencido de que "se debió incluir en la Reforma Electoral federal, una Ley de Participación Ciudadana, que permitiera que los ciudadanos fueran parte de la toma de decisiones a través de los mecanismos que la propia legislación establece, como son la iniciativa popular, el referéndum y el plebiscito.

"Obviamente esto, a partir también de crear una cultura; no sólo debemos tener una cultura democrática como lo hemos venido haciendo en estos últimos años, sino una cultura de participación", expuso.

Es decir, que los ciudadanos sepan que tienen el derecho de ser parte de la toma de decisiones; ¿a qué me refiero?, "una ley cuando pasa únicamente por la cámara, pasa al arbitro únicamente de los diputados, porque nosotros cedemos o concedemos el derecho -cuado elegimos a nuestros representantes-, de que a partir de este sistema de representación ellos tengan esa facultad única".

Por lo que con este sistema "qué propongo" y que existe en los estados a manera de ley, pero que no es aplicable en estos momentos; lo que se dice, es que los ciudadanos a la hora que se pretenda reformar una ley se tome en cuenta la opinión de los ciudadanos como sucede en otros lugares del mundo, como en el estado de California.

El consejero electoral, subrayó que se necesita este sistema para que "nosotros seamos quienes decidan si una ley tiene procedencia o no; que bien puede ser una ley tan sencilla, como la de no fumadores, que se estableció que por respeto a la mayoría -se supone los no fumadores-, se limitaron los espacios".

Ante esto, dijo que este tipo de situaciones, apoyada en una Ley de Participación Ciudadanos, se hubiera hecho una consulta en donde verdaderamente quienes los que resultarían afectados o perjudicados por una ley, se tuviera la capacidad de decidir si se aprobaba o se abrogada una legislación en ese sentido; "por lo que debemos ir impugnando por una democracia participativa".

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

ARGENTINA: Seguridad Participativa


Miradas alternativas frente a la “Tolerancia Cero”

¿Existen alternativas concretas para disminuir la violencia urbana? Qué se está haciendo en la Policía y las organizaciones de Derechos Humanos. Características del Programa de Seguridad Participativa.


“Hemos pasado de dormir con la puerta abierta a cerrar la puerta, a poner un perro, a poner rejas y a poner alarmas”, dice Claudio Spagolla, Jefe de la Unidad Regional. El titular de la Policía en la zona considera que Comodoro Rivadavia y Rada Tilly grafica un movimiento económico alrededor del petróleo que se traduce en un aumento de la población y agrega: “esto hace que haya modalidades delictivas nuevas, corrientes migratorias de delincuentes que eligen una ciudad cosmopolita con empuje y crecimiento”.

El sociólogo Loïc Wacquant describió en su obra “Las cárceles de la miseria” (Manantial 2004) cómo las corrientes de pensamiento de la derecha pregonan el concepto (mucho) más Estado Penal y (mucho) menos Estado Social (o lo que antes era conocido como Estado Benefactor). La política de “tolerancia cero”, cuyo referente es el ex alcalde de Nueva York Rudolph Giuliani, se ha focalizado en penalizar a los jóvenes, los pobres y las minorías raciales.

Comodoro Rivadavia es una ciudad que comienza a sufrir los problemas de una metrópolis grande: violencia urbana, la represión policial y la desaparición forzada de personas en democracia. Es un contexto en donde los distintos sectores sociales optan por pedir “mano dura” y afirman que los presos “entran por una puerta y salen por la otra”.

Diario Patagónico investigó qué se está haciendo en materia de prevención de la delincuencia y qué alternativas existen a la “tolerancia cero”, la “mano dura”, la reforma del Código Penal, entre otras medidas que no son más que “combatir la violencia con más violencia”.


Uno de los trabajos que se realiza en materia de prevención es el Programa de Seguridad Participativa que, si bien es sostenido por el Gobierno provincial, fue un modelo propuesto desde Comodoro Rivadavia en 2004.

A partir de ese momento, se iniciaron una serie de pruebas piloto en determinados barrios. Actualmente se desarrolla en Rawson, Puerto Madryn, Trelew, Esquel además de Comodoro Rivadavia.

El programa consiste en una política de seguridad pública integral, y por esa razón contempla un trabajo interministerial. El concepto es que distintos organismos del Estado articulen una red de abordajes para prevenir problemáticas violentas, al margen de contener e incluir a jóvenes en conflicto con la Ley Penal o en convivencia frecuente con la violencia.

Además de la Policía y su brazo social, la Policía Comunitaria, las operaciones incluyen a Uniones Vecinales, los “Centros de Día” (que colaboran en la rehabilitación de adicciones), Centros de Promoción Barrial (CPB), Centros Deportivos, Escuelas Públicas, entre otras organizaciones sociales y religiosas.

“El programa tiene objetivos claros de prevención del delito, pero nosotros le agregamos también ‘y de violencia’ porque consideramos que no todos los hechos que generan violencia pueden ser tipificados como delito” le dice a Diario Patagónico Daniel Colhueque, licenciado en Trabajo Social e integrante del Programa de Seguridad Participativa.

“El objetivo de nuestro trabajo, más allá de que esta institución (la Policía) tiene una tradición controladora y represora sobre acontecimientos delictivos, tenemos un enfoque preventivo”, agrega Colhueque.

El Programa de Seguridad Participativa contempla personal que realiza el trabajo sobre terreno con las tareas de acompañamiento y prevención. Los barrios priorizados en Comodoro Rivadavia son el Máximo Abásolo y su extensión, el Quirno Costa, la zona de Quintas, San Cayetano, Islas Malvinas (Cordón Forestal) y las zonas con ocupantes ilegales de la tierra.

Horacio Antinopay es Comisario de la Seccional Quinta, una de las impulsoras del programa. El funcionario policial sostiene: “Hay que fortalecer el trabajo con los menores de edad en conflicto con la Ley Penal. ¿Hay algún monitoreo sobre lo que está haciendo un chico después de salir de una dependencia policial más allá de concurrir a la escuela, qué otra actividad hace? Hay mucho tiempo libre en donde está desarrollando otras ideas, otras sugerencias que lo llevan a delinquir”.

Las actividades extracurriculares son parte de las propuestas para prevenir el delito en los jóvenes, porque no sólo fomentan el esparcimiento sino que también son un espacio de socialización. La detención puede provocar una mayor rebeldía dice Antinopay, o puede “profesionalizarse” si es encarcelado con personas mayores de edad.

“En la Seccional Quinta nos ocurrió que en la misma semana un chico de 17 años entró tres veces. No vive con sus padres, anda en la calle. Ese menor de edad tiene que comer, vestirse, abrigarse, pero duerme y se aloja donde se le hace la noche. Y tiene que delinquir producto del desamparo que tiene”, afirma a Diario Patagónico el comisario Antinopay.


¿De qué no hay que olvidarse a la hora de armar una política integral de seguridad pública? Esa pregunta la llevó Diario Patagónico hacia la asociación civil Grupo Pro Derechos de los Niños. Uno de sus miembros fundadores, Pedro Morales, sentenció: “De lo que no hay que olvidarse es de una ‘medida previsora’ si es que la política y el plan de gobierno prevé alguna situación en especial que pueda llegar a producir cierto grado de crisis en la sociedad”.

En ese sentido, Roberto Llaiquel, otro de los integrantes de la organización promotora de Derechos Humanos (una de las pocas con las que cuenta la ciudad) afirma que el Estado “es una herramienta, es una garantía de la seguridad”. Y también cuestiona la “escuela de la Tolerancia Cero”: “en realidad es una doctrina vieja que la utilizaban los Imperios. Los Imperios se van mutando, transformando pero conservan estructuras consistentes que exigen una Democracia Participativa y altamente crítica”.

Las organizaciones no gubernamentales que trabajan con chicos en situación de calle son escasas en Comodoro Rivadavia. Y su trabajo es necesario complementar las tareas de la Policía Comunitaria. “Los equipos de trabajo tienen que multiplicarse para abordar todo en forma concreta. La Policía Comunitaria aborda el problema social sobre gente con situación de riesgo o con conductas delictivas, ellos trabajan para lograr una mediación o derivación del problema” explica Claudio Spagolla.

Pedro Morales es contundente: “No se está escuchando a ese nuevo sujeto (la juventud) para entender por qué ese grado de rebeldía y cómo empezar a trabajar en función de esa nueva generación. Desde la otra generación piden ‘mano dura’, pero no hacen nada por escucharlo y mucho menos sus representantes para aplicar una política que sea capaz de asistir las demandas de los jóvenes”

El licenciado en Psicología Manuel Correia, miembro del Grupo Pro Derechos de los Niños, opina al respecto de las voces que piden modificar las leyes: “Tenemos que ser muy cuidadosos al criticar la Constitución, porque los sectores conservadores quieren revisarla para quitarle todos esos elementos vinculados al derecho humano”.

Daniel Colhueque advierte: “Yo como profesional del Trabajo Social estoy bregando no solo para la prevención sino la inclusión de los niños y jóvenes, que son el grupo etáreo priorizado por nosotros. Está comprobado por las estadísticas que maneja la policía que el 85% de los actos violentos denunciados involucran a menores de edad”.

El programa de Seguridad Participativa intenta despojarse de la idea de “más policías o más cárceles”, y se abre a la reflexión del por qué una persona llega a la situación de calle y termina por abocase a los hechos violentos o delictivos.

SWITZERLAND: Direct Democracy Fuels Controversy

The right wing SVP in Switzerland has again launched yet another effort to use Swiss direct democracy to forward their radical views on cultural and immigration issues. All of their recent efforts have been defeated at the polls, showing that direct democracy serves well to strike a balance between factional radicalism and the general will of the majority. (click here to see our previous Switzerland posts for information on recent similar referenda). - Editor

Direct Democracy Against Dada

In Switzerland, a right-wing party is using local referenda to try to de-fund the avant-garde.


ZURICH—More than half the word’s referenda are said to take place in Switzerland, where voters are invited to weigh in on national, cantonal, and local matters up to four times annually. In large part this is because Swiss citizens can easily petition for a referendum; all they have to do is collect 100,000 signatures in 18 months and the item will be added to the national voting agenda. Generally the issues that get people most riled up are civic matters relating to the military, urban planning, health, and immigration, but several recent referenda have touched on the cultural landscape, and on the ballots this September are two votes that threaten arts venues, both initiated by the right-wing party Schweizerische Volkspartei (SVP).

While the SVP views culture, and in particular traditional culture, as an important factor in the well-being of the country, the party campaigns against excessive arts funding and has taken a cynical position regarding contemporary art. Its first target this fall is Zurich’s publicly funded Cabaret Voltaire, the birthplace of Dada in 1916. Founded by artists and intellectuals Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara, and Marcel Janco during World War I as a place where any form or tradition of artistic enterprise was welcome, the cabaret reopened in 2004, with significant funding from the Swatch group and the city, as a center for artistic experimentation. Having proved neither commercially viable nor entirely avant-garde, today it occupies a place outside the mainstream art world. The catalyst for the referendum was a controversial casting by sex therapist Maggie Tapert for sex “slaves” to meet the needs of her female clients; the event was moved to another venue and turned out to be a tame affair, but not before the vote was set in motion to determine whether the city should continue the center’s “wasteful” funding. Tapert has decried the vote, saying, “Those who are financing the Dada house want it to be a museum where nothing actually happens. The very things that honor the Dada tradition are frightening to those in power.” The SVP said in a statement, “The people of Zurich are already jaded about the waste of money [on cultural subsidies].”

The second referendum is to take place in the town of Uster, about 10 miles east of Zurich, where the Villa am Aabach faces a similar challenge. Initiated by the SVP along with the Schweizer Demokraten (SD), a conservative party with isolationist tendencies, this vote attempts to revoke funding for the local contemporary art space, allegedly for cost-saving reasons — and despite the fact that the SVP was represented on the jury that recently selected the center’s new artistic directors, Monika Bühler and Michael Gutscher. Bühler and Gutscher’s program was to start in September, but in light of the vote the Villa will remain empty until a decision is made, after which it might reopen in 2009. Since its inception as an art space in 2002, the Villa has hosted the local creative community but also emerging international artists including Ferit Kuyas, Johanna Näf, Rory Macbeth, Paul Harper, and Bettina Carl, and its incumbent directors have proposed a program that would create further links with the local community while maintaining the space’s international perspective. The September 28 referendum will either guarantee funding for three

Monday, September 22, 2008

Saturday, September 20, 2008

UNITED STATES: Where is the Outrage? Socialism OK for Corporations, but not for People

As a plan is being formulated behind closed doors in Washington D.C. this weekend which will use as much as a trillion dollars of U.S. taxpayer's money to bail out failed corporations in the financial sector and absorb all of the bad debt that has resulted from corruption and irresponsable business practices motivated solely by corporate greed and excess, this editor feels the need to ask: how much more injustice and corruption will the people swallow before they rise up and demand direct democratic control over their own destiny? This proposal, which will see the average U.S. citizen who is struggling for survival amid rising food prices, vanishing social services and health care pay for the excesses of the very same corporate elite that have enslaved them with 'free market capitalism,' is an absolute outrage. It is nothing more than a modern day fuedal system of corporate overlords and citizen serfs. It is painfully obvious that this so called 'free market capitalist' system is in reality more a form of corporate socialism where the people are the guarantors of corporate welfare, providing for the basic needs and safety net for the corporate elite, while in return the people are denied the basic necessities for their own welfare. Apparently in this 'free market capitalist' system, socialism is quite alright when it comes to corporations, but when it comes to using taxpayer dollars to provide health care, education, infrastructure and other basic social services to every citizen, that would of course be beyond the pale. - Editor

Watch the following video for more information:

Corporate Personhood?

In light of the outrage of the proposed federal bailout of failed and corrupted financial institutions in the U.S. which will utilize 800 Billion or more of citizen's tax dollars, should we not be asking ourselves a couple of questions? Why do corporations seem to have more rights than persons in the U.S.A.? Why is socialism OK when it comes to corporations but not for every citizen when it comes to providing a safety net for their basic needs? We need more direct democracy so that the people themselves have the tools to legislate a return of rights and benefits to the citizens themselves and regulation to abolish corporate greed and corruption. - Editor

Friday, September 19, 2008

VENEZUELA: INTERVIEW - Participatory Democracy and the PSUV

Venezuela's Bolivarian Process, Democracy, and Socialism: A View from the PSUV in Mérida

by Jeffery R. Webber


Canadian socialist Jeffery R. Webber interviewed Oscar González, Coordinator of Organization of Social Movements for Popular Power in the Mérida branch of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) – Mérida, Venezuela, September 5, 2008.

JRW: First, can we start off with your name and position in this organization?

OG: My name is Oscar González. I'm the Coordinator of Organization of Social Movements for Popular Power, within the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). I am also the publicity representative, for one of the socialist battalions of the grassroots of the PSUV in Mérida.

JRW: How did you become a political activist in this organization?

OG: I responded to the call of our comandante Hugo Chávez Frías, in April 2006. We began to form, from the grassroots, a new party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Various activists began to organize the people in communities, organized meetings, essentially founding the grassroots of the socialist party. This base can be found in the socialist battalions. Each poor neighbourhood (parroquia) has a number of them. The socialist battalions have on average 300 members who meet every week. They elect a spokesperson, a committee person for policy, a committee person for propaganda, for territorial defense. These are the grassroots, the basic cells, of the PSUV.

JRW: Can you describe the trajectory of the Bolivarian process in general terms since 1998? How has the process radicalized over the years?

OG: This process did not begin in 1998. It began with the Caracazo on February 27, 1989, when the people took to the streets in reaction to the policies imposed by the former President Carlos Andrés Pérez. And then there was barbarous military repression on the part of that government of the fourth republic.1

In this context, comandante Chávez founded the Movimiento Bolivariano 200, which made an oath [inaudible]. . . . Next, the coup of February 4, 1992 took place, led by Hugo Chávez Frías. He tried to take power, precisely to return it to the people.

All of this led to him going to jail. The coup failed. However, the people began to see hope. And this hope materialized in 1998 when Chávez won the elections, and arrived in the presidency.

After this moment, there was a radicalization of confrontation. Not on the part of the sectors that supported President Chávez, but rather on the part of wealthy sectors, people who have economic power, and who felt this diminishing in the sense that this government has tried to give power to the poor.2 But Chávez didn't cause this, it's a question of the class struggle. As you know, this is the eternal struggle that we have to confront.

JRW: What have been the most important successes of these years from your perspective?

OG: The most important successes of the revolutionary government of President Chávez have been the missions.3 The education missions have achieved almost 100 percent literacy in the national territory. They have achieved the inclusion of people who were totally excluded from middle and higher level education, with the Mission Río and the Mission Sucre. They have brought medicine to the barrios, the poor sectors, with the Mission Barrio Adentro. They have solved grave problems with the Mission Milagro, operations for people who couldn't see. They have implemented operation [inaudible], for the people living in the streets.

I think that the missions, with all that they lack and all their errors, have been the leading force of the Bolivarian government of Chávez.

JRW: At this conjuncture, what are the most important weaknesses that must be overcome?

OG: I think that the weaknesses are internal. We live in a capitalist society. We're capitalists. From when we're very young they plant a capitalist chip in our heads. For example, when you buy a sweater for your kid, you don't say, "take this sweater, it's for when you are cold," you say, "take this sweater, it's yours," and you plant the chip. So this makes it very difficult to introduce socialism overnight, or to assimilate ourselves to socialism. Proof of this was that we lost the reform [the referendum on reforming the Constitution in December 2007]. The reforms signified the start of socialism in Venezuelan territory.4

So, I think that the principal weakness is ideological. I think that we have to strengthen ourselves in this sense, so that the people really understand what socialism is and the benefits it brings.

That it doesn't mean that your kids will be taken away, or that your house will be taken away [in reference to the scare tactics of the right-wing opposition in Venezuela]. This government is the only government that has given property titles to those [impoverished] people who were living on municipal property. The idea that we are going to take away people's houses is very frustrating. It's all lies.

So, I think that the biggest weakness is ideological, and we have to overcome it.

JRW: From your perspective, what does Twenty-First Century Socialism mean, what does is mean for the PSUV?

OG: Twenty-first century socialism is a socialism that we are building, and we have scarcely started constructing it. One hundred years could pass quickly, and we may still not have become socialists. But we are beginning to establish the foundations in the grassroots. Twenty-first century socialism is what we want, it's what all the Bolivarianos and socialists hope will occur in the future.

JRW: What is the relationship between democracy and this type of socialism? Does it mean the deepening of democracy, and, if so in what way?

OG: That's correct. The socialist democracy that we are trying to introduce is a participatory democracy, not a representative democracy. Capitalist democracy is distinctly representative. That is to say, you elect people to represent you. For us, no, we want to give power to the people, the communal councils, to the communes, so that the people really exercise power.5 Is there anything more democratic than that? It's impossible.

JRW: How has the formation of the new party, the PSUV, gone? Has it been a success? What are its strengths and its ongoing weaknesses?

OG: Obviously, it's been a success, because there is no other party that has been born with 5,700,000 members. Apart from this, the party has allowed for the popular sectors, the people of the grassroots, to participate in many of the structures that were still in the hands of people from the fourth republic.

All of the statutes of the party were discussed in assemblies of the socialist battalions. In this sense, the party has been a success.

Weaknesses? Of course, there are weaknesses. Principally, as I told you, they are ideological ones. But I think that the strengths of the PSUV are what will allow for the success of this revolution.

JRW: The last question. What kind of Venezuela are you struggling for? What type of Venezuela to you want to build?

OG: I want a Venezuela, we want a Venezuela, in which all the necessities of being a human being are covered. In which, as Bolívar said, there exists the highest level of happiness possible. That is to say, no one lacks housing, food, medical services, and satisfactory work.

And more than that, I want to go beyond that. We want a Venezuela where if you were born with a dream . . . if your dream was to be a painter, if your dream was to be a sculptor, if your dream was to be a musician, but you ended up deciding to try to become an engineer because you couldn't earn enough to live doing these other things. . . . We want a Venezuela where dreams become reality, where people live satisfactorily and satisfied, according to their dreams.


1 The Caracazo, named for the events in the capital city of Caracas in February 1989, actually involved protests and rioting against the introduction of neoliberalism across the entire country. Andrés Pérez had just been elected on an anti-neoliberal platform but was now attempting to ram an orthodox restructuring program down the throats of Venezuelans. The president decided to make an example of the protesters, and the urban poor more generally, giving the green light for military and police repression for days, leaving a large number of dead. Estimates range from 300 to 3,000 dead. The "fourth republic" is the pejorative term that Chavistas use to describe the post-1958 era of elitist "pacted democracy," or the arranged sharing of power between the ideologically indistinguishable AD and COPEI parties.

2 Most important in terms of failed counter-revolutionary measures carried out by the far-right were the April 2002 coup attempt, backed by the United States, the oil lockout of 2002-2003, and the 2004 presidential recall referendum.

3 Beginning in 2003, the Chávez administration began its mission programs, which are special programs principally in health and education that are effectively parallel structures running alongside the old ministerial and legal infrastructure of the health and education system.

4 The reform referendum included sixty-nine reforms to the 1999 Constitution that were proposed by the President and the National Assembly. The reforms were defeated in a vote on December 2, 2007 by less than 2 percent.

5 At the outset of 2007 roughly 20,000 communal councils had been formed, each consisting of between 200 and 400 families, and operating essentially as neighbourhood councils, with a budget provided by the government for infrastructural and social programs. See Steve Ellner, Rethinking Venezuelan Politics: Class, Conflict, and the Chávez Phenomenon, Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2008, pp 127-128.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

SOUTH AFRICA: Editorial Demands More Participatory Democracy

The people shall govern


A few words from the famous Gettysburg speech of Abraham Lincoln in November 1863 are oft quoted as a simple, short definition of democracy: “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Our own Freedom Charter adopted in June 1955 in Kliptown exalts that “no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people” and that “the people shall govern”. In the dictionary definition, democracy is “a system of government in which power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or through their chosen representatives elected through regular free and fair elections”.

Our Constitution defines South Africa as a democratic state based on human dignity, non-racism and non-sexism, supremacy of the Constitution and rule of law and regular elections and a multi-party system of government. The Constitution also states that “This Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.”

In South Africa therefore, democracy is more than the exercising of power by the people through freely elected representatives. It encompasses the rights enshrined in the Constitution and intrinsic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. The history of our country and the context in which our Constitution was born strongly influenced our definition of democracy.

What do these words that define democracy actually mean in practice? Should representatives of the people, once elected, make decisions based solely on their judgment? Are they required to revert regularly to the people who elected them on key questions of policy and legislation and obtain their approval? How often during their tenure are these elected representatives required to consult with those who elected them?

In South Africa direct public participation is through written submissions and public hearings arranged by Parliament on draft legislation. The Constitutional Court has stated that the commitment in our Constitution “to principles of accountability, responsiveness and openness shows that our constitutional democracy is not only representative but also contains participatory elements”. The Constitutional Court went on to extol the importance of public participation as follows:

“The participation by the public on a continuous basis provides vitality to the functioning of representative democracy. It encourages citizens of the country to be actively involved in public affairs, identify themselves with the institutions of government and become familiar with the laws as they are made. It enhances the civic dignity of those who participate by enabling their voices to be heard and taken account of. It promotes a spirit of democratic and pluralistic accommodation calculated to produce laws that are likely to be widely accepted and effective in practice. It strengthens the legitimacy of legislation in the eyes of the people. Finally, because of its open and public character it acts as a counterweight to secret lobbying and influence peddling. Participatory democracy is of special importance to those who are relatively disempowered in a country like ours where great disparities of wealth and influence exist.”

The Constitution therefore imposes a duty on Parliament to facilitate public involvement to provide citizens with a meaningful opportunity to be heard in the making of laws that will govern them.

Recent public remarks by Maggie Sotyu, the ANC chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on safety and security prior to the commencement of public hearings on the proposed legislation to disband the Scorpions undermine the genuineness of public participation. She stated that the dissolution of the Scorpions would go ahead regardless of the volume of written submissions and petitions sent to Parliament opposing the move. The will of the people does not seem to matter to Ms Sotyu. What matters is the will of the ruling party and she stated as much. Later comments by Yunus Carrim, justice committee chairperson, to reassure the public of the genuineness of public participation did not reduce doubts about the process. I can see a constitutional challenge brewing.

In Switzerland, public participation on constitutional amendments is through obligatory referendums. Political parties and interest groups can also subject federal laws to a referendum upon the collection of 50 000 signatures. Constitutional amendments can also be initiated through citizen initiatives upon the collection of 100 000 signatures within a period of 18 months, provided that the amendment does not contradict any international law or treaty.

The Swiss system of referendums, while allowing for direct participation of citizens in decision-making, is extremely expensive and can slow down political decision-making. However could it be appropriate in some exceptional cases such as the disbanding of the Scorpions? Or should the South African government be required to subject all Constitutional amendments to public approval through a referendum before adoption? For meaningful public participation through referendum there has to be a good understanding of issues being decided, which often can be complex. Has the electorate in South Africa reached a level of sophistication, including literacy and education, to be able to participate through referendums?

Should contentious public issues such as abortion and the death penalty be decided through referendums? Referendums should not be permitted on issues that affect the rights of others as public opinion alone cannot determine the rights of individuals. Rights should not be left to the prevarications of public opinion, which are regularly subject to change. Furthermore, the Constitutional Court is final adjudicator on constitutional matters, not the public. It is essential that we maintain rule by law in our country, not rule by public opinion. In June 1995 in its very first decision, the Constitutional Court said the following regarding public opinion:

“The issue of the constitutionality of capital punishment cannot be referred to a referendum in which a majority view would prevail over the wishes of any minority. The very reason for establishing the new legal order and for vesting the power of judicial review of all legislation in the courts, was to protect the rights of minorities and others who cannot protect their rights adequately through the democratic process. Those who are entitled to claim this protection include the social outcasts and marginalised people of our society. It is only if there is a willingness to protect the worst and the weakest among us, that all of us can be secure that our own rights will be protected.”