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…


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

VIETNAM: People's Councils for Direct Democracy

Pilot project aims to offer direct voting that’s free from favouritism

Deputy National Assembly Chairman Uong Chu Luu spoke with the Vietnam News Agency about a project that would allow citizens to vote directly for representatives at communal level People’s Committees.

Why didn’t we speak before about letting people vote for those positions when the Law on the Organisation of the People’s Committee and People’s Council was first developed?

This is indeed a reform in the local administration. In fact, relevant agencies have discussed this before, but at that time we were highlighting a representative democracy [involving the selection of Government officials by the people being represented] in which a collective decision was thought the best solution. Now we are implementing administrative reforms which focus on the responsibilities, positions and roles of chairmen of People’s Committees at the commune level, and so we decided to run a pilot project.

The Government has assigned the Ministry of Home Affairs to develop the pilot project. Do you think this will be better than the previous method, where the position was elected by the communal People’s Council and approved by a higher level?

I think the new way is completely reasonable because the organisation of the People’s Committee and People’s Council as well as direct democracy [a political system where the citizens actively participate in decision-making] and representative democracy have been discussed at many meetings. Now we have decided to pilot the system for several years, and then we shall review the system’s effectiveness before issuing a law.

Many big clans are living in communes and wards. Do you this will lead to conflict when the head of a People’s Committee also represents a big clan?

This is also a big concern. The pilot project will try to avoid favouritism in some localities where the majority belong to a single clan and vote for their clan member without considering the common good.

What should we do to avoid formalism?

Letting people directly vote for their head will help them express their desires. Based on the requirements for the position, people will be able to use their ballot to select an appropriate representative.

Who will give final approval for the position in place of the former People’s Council?

The project will provide guidance. It is based on the realities of these localities. — VNS

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