Appoint some of the senators by chance. That is one of the proposals of Arnaud Montebourg, for “rebuilding the lost confidence” between the citizens and the institutions. More precisely, the candidate for the primary of the left (on the 22nd and the 29th of January) would like to allot 100 senators in an assembly reduced to 200 members. This means on citizen for each department, drawn from the electoral registry, as is already the case for judicial juries.
A system created in ancient Greece
The goal? “Assure the involvement of citizens in the political system” and making the Senate “a chamber with oversight powers over the public purse, public commitments, political promises to the public, and European decisions”. The idea is as old as the Athenian democracy – or rather klerocracy, as the Greeks called the political system where the representatives of the people and the rulers are selected by lot. But this method is rarely applied other than for selecting juries. More recently, it was Iceland that went farther. In response to the financial crisis of 2008, an assembly of 1,000 allotted citizens was formed to create the basis for a new constitution. Which was eventually rejected. In France, in addition to Arnaud Montebourg, various think tanks, philosophers, and researchers have been promoting the idea of sortition of senators for several years, proposing different numbers of people designated by lot. But are the French people ready?
IN FAVOR – Valentine Daval, cofounder of the think tank “Citizen Senate” (Paris): “A tool for developing citizen involvement and our civic sense”.
A better representation. Since 1958, the Senate, which is supposed to represent the territories, is constituted primarily of men at the end of their careers of certain means and promoting right-wing ideas. The current appointment method therefore ignores the ideas and experiences of a huge part of the population. Sortition would increase diversity of Senate members.
Dissolving partisan logic. The system, instituted at all levels (national, regional, local, …), allows developing citizen involvement and our civic sense. The restores confidence in the fact that decisions are not made in the interests of those who made politics their careers. Finally, the “citizen senators” would be independent of the partisan logic and can follow their own ideas rather than the voting instructions of the party hierarchy.
Complementary appointment methods. Allotment of a Citizen Senate, together with the direct election of deputies of the National Assembly, allows to highlight the complementarity of the two appointment methods for constituting the government of France. For this purpose, it must be that the Senate, and not the National Assembly, that has the last word in the interactions between the two.
AGAINST – Clément Sénéchal, essayist, author of the blog Lésions politiques (Paris): “Who would still want to fight for their ideas, if the exercise of power is distributed by chance?”
A bad remedy. If it is in vogue, the idea of sortition is more of a symptom of the crisis of political representation – a crisis which it will aggravate – than a solution. First, because it would replace the expression of individual aspirations, translated into a collective will through voting, with total arbitrariness. Through the exchange of arguments and discourse, elections allow, among other things, various actors in society to express themselves.
A risk of dehumanization. Sortition carries within it the risk of disengagement. Who would still want to invest in politics, fight for their ideas, if the exercise of power is finally distributed by chance. To the extent where it prevents citizens from expressing themselves through voting, sortition is a process of dehumanization.
A reform of the Senate is necessary. That said, it seems to me imperative to reform the Senate, starting with its role. Why not make the upper chamber a long-term assembly where the ecological interests would be specifically defended? In that case, it would have to be composed of scientists and activists who have proven their commitment to the subject.