Constitutional reform: could the Irish approach be useful also for Italy?

More from Improving Democracy:

Constitutional reform in Italy
Italy has incurred a stalemate situation similar to that in which Ireland found itself some time ago relating to a project of constitutional reform. On December 4th 2016 Italians were called to vote on a constitutional reform, previously approved by Parliament, but without the necessary qualified majority, for definitive approval. The electoral turnout at the referendum was quite high in relation to similar prior experiences, recording a vote of over 65% of people eligible to vote. As for the outcome: 40,88% of the voters voted “YES”, while nearly 60% voted “NO”.

[…]

Could the Irish approach be a viable solution for Italy?
Here is precisely where the Irish approach, based on the creation of an advisory body of citizens, may come to rescue the opportunity of change and assure alignment with the real thoughts and feelings of the people.

In Ireland, after the economic crisis, citizens developed a sense of mistrust towards the political parties. There has been a strong movement pressing to change parts of the Constitution, which in that country always requires final approval through a referendum in the end. The political parties, on the other hand, were unable to come to an agreement. The Labour Party in its 2011 program for elections included the promotion of a Convention on the Constitution with the intent of involving citizens directly in the process. After the elections, the program was approved by Parliament. The Convention, proudly referring to itself as “a new venture in participative democracy in Ireland” on its own web site, was formed at the end of 2012 and started its work in January 2013. The body was formed by 100 people, 66 citizens randomly selected and broadly representative of the Irish society, 33 parliamentarians, nominated by their respective political parties and an independent chairman skilled in coaching complex assemblies. The Convention had a mandate to debate and elaborate specific proposals on 8 constitutional issues, plus 2 to be autonomously selected by the Convention itself. Parliament was committed to debate the proposals in the following four months and to prepare the consequent bill for approval through referendum.

Full text: 1, 2 (PDF).

Advertisements

31 Responses

  1. As far as I remember from a “democracy proponent” in Ireland the results of this panel are dissapointing. Most issues raised are of minor importance (maybe the result of a mixed panel? ) and the results, when of significance, are discarded by the politicians.
    Although the politicians committed themselves to bring before the people any decission of the panel, they don’t (there is no time frame). A majority decision of the panel to introduce the binding referendum at citizens initiative is never brought before the people.

    I don’t have the time right now to research what I am claiming above but now you know what to look for.

    – Ladder of Arnstein qualification: Theraphy step 2
    – Criteria for sortition : not representative, mixed.
    – Conclusion: a waste of time and dangerous for the evolution towards democracy.

    Like

  2. Paul,

    >Ladder of Arnstein

    Interesting to read that the model of citizen participation is based on the “maximum feasible involvement of the poor” — i.e. the Aristotelian/Marxian conception of democracy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The comments of “Direct Democracy Ireland” about the results of the convention:
    https://www.directdemocracyireland.ie/direct-democracy-constitution-convention/
    Yes, the Constitutional Convention voted by over 80% in favour of direct democracy. see presentation of results on Youtube (minute 04.00+) here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_rIo6Urifw

    However the formal Government response ignored this completely, as did those TDs that commented on that response on 18th December 2014 see here http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/dail2014121800046?opendocument#TT01000
    For a better understanding of how contemporary direct democracy works, take a look at a ~23minute presentration (in English) given by a Swiss MP Andi Gross during hearings in the European Parliament on 18th September 2012

    ………….

    Like

  4. Paul,

    Dr. Gross does mention the critical issue, i.e., the domination of the process by elites, but does not (and cannot) provide a satisfactory answer. His suggestion of making it “easy” to trigger the proposition process is of course nothing of the sort. Getting 1% of the population to sign onto a proposal is a very difficult hurdle for the average citizen of a modern country to clear.

    But of course a difficult hurdle must be set up or else the ballot would be flooded with hundreds or thousands of proposals. The arithmetic is very simple: a modest population of 1 million in which every person makes just one proposal in their lifetime will have a ballot of over 10,000 proposals every year. The conclusion is of course that most people will never make a single proposal in their lives and are expected to make do with supporting or rejecting other people’s proposals. The minority who will make proposals will naturally not be a set of normal people but an elite group which is in a position to push its proposals and promote its interests.

    The only reason so-called “direct democracy” enjoys popular support is because it is superficially an alternative to electoralism (although in fact is suffers from the same fundamental problem). If a democratic process of delegation is set up, the idea that politics can be run via a mass competition between hundreds or thousands of proposals will be rejected for the absurdity it is.

    Like

  5. direct democracy is working and it has a proven record (we don’t support plebiscites for the record). It can be ameliorated (I think) with the use of another democratic instrument and that is sortition, as we know. We made a proposition where initaitives, with a much lower threshold, can be evaluated by a citizens panel appointed by lot (Evaluation Jury). I can’t find it on this blog but it is available http://blogimages.seniorennet.be/democratie/attach/137395.pdf I think both democratic instruments (referendum at citizens initiative and sortition) have its merrits and can replace the “electoral aristocratic system”, or at least put it in the right place.

    Like

  6. Paul,

    thanks for the interesting considerations about critical aspects of the irish Costitutional Convention: we’ll read or see the linked documents because we are eager to learn about the difficulties of a process of constitutional reform. Some of the problens you mentioned were known through the wikipedia article on this topic:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitutional_Convention_(Ireland)

    Nevertheless, as David Van Reybrouck puts it in his book “Against Elections”:

    ” I can think oof no better example of how deliberative democracy can make a difference to practical reality, It was the first time anywhere in the world in modern times that a discussion among citizens chosen by lot led to an adjustement in a country’s constitution”.

    This indisputable fact was the main ispiration for our initiative.

    Like

  7. The previous comment was written by Roberto Barabino of “Improving Democracy”, but the name didn”t appeared. Sorry.

    Like

  8. Paul,

    > direct democracy is working and it has a proven record

    What is the evidence that you consider as indicating that “direct democracy” does produce democratic outcomes?

    Like

  9. As I recall, that constitutional reform that passed in Italy’s congress but was rejected in a referendum, was a power grab for the executive.

    Like

  10. Yoram’s calculations regarding the citizen initiative in a modest-sized state are clearly right. But what form would “a democratic process of delegation” take regarding the initiative? It’s relatively easy to show how the aggregate judgment of a small proportionally-sampled group would correspond to the judgment of its target population, but how could this be demonstrated with respect to initiative rights? What form would the mathematics take to demonstrate that the initiatives proposed by the “delegates” would match the preferences of the target population, given that these are the speech acts of individuals and are not open to statistical manipulation as the numbers are well short of the LLN threshold? The term “delegation” [from the Latin “send on a commission”] is normally reserved for binding instructions provided to a chosen emissary, so is clearly the wrong word to describe persons selected by lot with an entirely free mandate for their personal speech acts.

    Like

  11. To Yoram,

    What is the evidence that you consider as indicating that “direct democracy” does produce democratic outcomes?

    That depends on your definition of “democratic outcomes”. What we can see in countries and states who have “direct democracy” is open for us all to judge and study. And a lot of publications for and against the referendum system (for us we prefer refer to the “Swiss system”) are avaible. Otherwise we have to precise what we mean and for this we can use the typology of the Navigator of direct Democracy http://www.direct-democracy-navigator.org/typology For me personally “For the many or the few” from Matsusaka was a fundamental work. And ofcourse our own work https://www.democracy-international.org/direct-democracy-facts-arguments in 10 languages. But maybe we have to ask the people themselves, who have direct democracy, what they think about it. This is what happens now in Switzerland where an initiative is started to appoint one of their two chambers of representatives by a chamber appointed by sortition. But you have to know that in Switserland even now beeing an elected representative is in most cases a part time job. And I think that the chamber they want to change has veto rights, it is not a powerless institution depending on the decisions of politicians in the other, remaining, elected chamber (as far as I understand it and it is working now). Do the Swiss citizens see it as an improvement? Time will tell us.

    Like

  12. news from the Swiss initiative : https://www.swissinfo.ch/directdemocracy/inclusive-democracy_what-if-the-house-of-representatives-were-chosen-at-random-/43168412 What if the House of Representatives were chosen at random?

    Like

  13. Paul,

    Two types of evidence for democratic outcomes can be considered;

    1. Direct evidence: Popular satisfaction with the process and popular opinion that the process does in effect produce desirable outcomes. (This has to be carefully operationalized so as to separate it from the question of whether it is better or worse than electoralism.)

    2. Indirect evidence: analysis of policy resulting from the process (this includes both topic on which action was taken and topics on which action was not taken) and its correlation with popular sentiment.

    Like

  14. Yoram,

    Popular satisfaction with process/outcomes and policy correlating with popular sentiment could be a characteristic of any type of regime, including monarchy, aristocracy, theocracy and dictatorship. The best contemporary fit would probably be Putin’s Russia. What has any of this got to do with democracy?

    Like

  15. To me a democracy where people are generally unhappy with the policy outcomes is a contradiction in terms. I think most people would concur. Furthermore, the question of how to produce a government which satisfies people in terms of its policy outcomes seems to me like the primary question of political science. If you don’t call this “democracy” – fine. This is still the important question.

    Finally, if Putin’s government does indeed manage to satisfy the Russian citizens then we should all be busy trying to figure out how the Russian system manages to produce such a great government.

    Like

  16. Yoram,

    Your definition of “democratic outcomes” is, to put it mildly, eccentric. But let’s not quibble over the meaning of words. In the case of your preferred form of democracy (full-mandate sortition) how would you discover whether or not the policy outcomes were satisfactory to the vast mass of citizens excluded from the political process? You have always ruled out referenda and other forms of public consultation as being open to elite manipulation and other forms of corruption. I suppose you could allot a second “monitoring” body and charge it with evaluating the policy outcomes of the sovereign minipublic, but what would happen if the two were not in agreement? (bearing in mind your definitional claim that such bodies would automatically reflect the interests and preferences of the masses).

    Like

  17. The choice of words is very important in my view. We know (from Francis Dupui Déri in Canada) that the word “democracy” is only used for strategical reasons for the system of electoral artocracy most of us have for now. Furthermore most systems are mixed ones. We (in Belgium) have an “electoral aristocratic system with a strong particracy” and a nearly ceremonial monarchy.
    I think that if we want tos study the outcome of a “democracy” we need to have our typology right. Matsusaka had also the “right question” : Is the referendum system (initiative) working for the “many or the few”. Also the method of investigation had to whitstand critical review. It took him 10 years to finalise his study. ” I am unable to find any evidence that the majority dislikes the policy changes caused by the initiative, as implied by the special interest subversion view. This does not, imply in my opinion, establish that the initiative is a wise and desirable way to make public desicions – there are other issues or esirable way to make public decisions, – …..”

    Like

  18. Paul,

    Agree that “democracy” is something of a hurrah word in vernacular and rhetorical speech, but political scientists define it structurally — i.e. ways (which may or may not be effective) of ensuring that the people have power. I’ve never heard it described in Yoram’s terms — when people are happy with policy outcomes — as this could apply to the whole gamut of political systems. It should also be remembered that one reason Athenian citizens voted to abolish the first demokratia was because they were unhappy with policy outcomes.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. vintermann,

    you are absolutely right:: the italian constitutional reform was used by then Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, as a plebiscite, in order to get full power. He forced the parties of his coalition asking the so called “confidence vote” i.e. an explicit, not secret vote, and used the help of some componentfs of the opposition.
    This createde a furious political battle that was perceived as a “with me or against me” contest, in which the “content” aspect were ignored.
    After the referendum, Mr. Renzi resigned and recognized his error of personalizyng the competition.

    We believe that, in a less hot context, some useful reform can be now discussed and that a mixed commissione, like the irish one, could help in reducinga tensions in the political arena.

    Like

  20. Sutherland,

    > Your definition of “democratic outcomes” is, to put it mildly, eccentric

    As the movie character says, “that’s, like, your opinion, man”. As I wrote, I believe most people see things as I do. The fact that the term “democracy” is systematically obfuscated in elite discourse is of course no accident.

    > I suppose you could allot a second “monitoring” body and charge it with evaluating the policy outcomes of the sovereign minipublic

    Indeed. In fact, I have made this proposal quite a few times in the past. A monitoring, or supervisory, allotted body would be very useful in any system.

    > but what would happen if the two were not in agreement?

    I would tend to defer to the supervisory body since this body is focused on the question of evaluating how democratic the system is, rather than on running such a system on a day-to-day basis. In any case, input from the supervisory body would certainly be a useful source of proposals for reforms for the system.

    > (bearing in mind your definitional claim that such bodies would automatically reflect the interests and preferences of the masses).

    You can bear in mind whatever you want, and often you do. I have not only not made this claim, but have often made the opposite claim (which I consider rather obvious).

    Like

  21. Plebiscites (government initiated referendum) are an instrument often used by dictators and party politics. It has, in my opinion, no place in a democracy and can’t be called a “democratic instrument”. It does not exist in the Swiss political sytem.

    http://www.activatingdemocracy.com/typology/

    PLEBISCITE

    Designates a type of popular vote procedures. A plebiscite is a public consultation controlled „from above“. It is the powers that be (the President, Prime Minister, Parliament), which decide when and on what subject the people will be asked to vote or give their opinion. Rather than being an active subject in control of the procedure, people (popular votes) become means to an end, which is determined by a representative authority. Plebiscites give ruling politicians additional power over citizens. They are used to evade responsibility for controversial issues, which have become an impediment, they are used to provide legitimacy for decisions those in power have already taken, they are used to mobilize people behind rulers and parties, and they are used by an authority to bypass another representative authority. The aim of a plebiscite is not to implement democracy, but to reinforce or salvage those in power with the help of „the people“.

    Like

  22. keithsutherland.

    > “democracy” ………. ways (which may or may not be effective) of ensuring that the people have power.

    This is the “process” aspect (that Dr. Gross so well explained in his speech to the European Parliament) , which, first of all, implies people self- activation, because those in power can accept to share it only if they feel the pressure from below and the fear to lose all the power.
    Then the need of a necessarily slow process of communication and interaction among citizens and with the Institutions in order that everybody understands the issue at hand and is prepared to give a sensible judgment.
    Finally, the presence of appropriate rules: no quora, reduced entrance level to start new legislative initiatives, etc

    Then there is the “result” aspect, i.e. how the people express its power.
    In Switzerland ( in my opinion the only true democracy) only the citizens have the right to invite people to participate in a referendum or an initiative, the Government cannot. To call a plebiscite is impossible in a true democracy.

    Like

  23. Yoram,

    >that’s, like, your opinion, man

    1. Can you cite a single example of a definition of democracy in terms of popular happiness with policy outcomes? 2. Why would such a definition not be equally applicable to (say) a benign dictatorship or a theocracy? Political science is not an exercise is solipsism and we can’t just redefine words to suit our polemical goals.

    >I would tend to defer to the supervisory body since this body is focused on the question of evaluating how democratic the system is, rather than on running such a system on a day-to-day basis.

    Given that you define democracy as popular satisfaction with policy outcomes and refuse to ask all citizens (in a referendum) if they are happy with policy outcomes, there is no good reason for privileging the judgment of either of the minipublics. If they choose different policy outcomes, then you would end up with stalemate.

    (bearing in mind your definitional claim that such bodies would automatically reflect the interests and preferences of the masses).

    > I have not only not made this claim, but have often made the opposite claim (which I consider rather obvious).

    So a full-mandate allotted body would not reflect the interests and preferences of the masses? What then is the point of sortition? I’m really struggling to understand!

    robertobarabinoblog,

    Definitions of democracy, oligarchy, monarchy, aristocracy have changed little since the time of Aristotle, as they simply derive from the meaning of words — in the case of monarchy, oligarchy etc, it’s a question of the number of rulers. How democracy is operationalized, how successful the instantiation is and opinions as to whether or not democracy is desirable change over time, but that has no effect on the definition. I have never come across a single instance of a definition of democracy as happiness with policy outcomes outside the writings of Yoram Gat.

    Like

  24. > Political science is not an exercise is solipsism and we can’t just redefine words to suit our polemical goals.

    It seems to me that in reality the exact opposite is true. Established political science is in fact motivated essentially solely by polemical goals. This largely explains the fact that you are so confused about what “democracy” means.

    Like

  25. Paul,

    Matsusaka’s book seems interesting – I’ll have a look. Thanks.

    Like

  26. >Established political science is in fact motivated essentially solely by polemical goals.

    Goodness me, Yoram, you really are determined to insult and alienate practically everyone (including Peter Stone and the other academics working in this field). It’s impossible to debate with a counterparty who resorts to this kind of crass generalisation. Unfortunately as you are also the convenor of this forum, you are tarring us all with the same brush, and this is very unfortunate as it is happening just at the time that we are getting some interest in sortition in academia and the political class. One step forward and three steps back.

    All I can say is that I’ve been working in the politics department of Exeter University for the last seven years and this has not been my experience. Although political science is a long way removed from your own profession, I assume you are drawing on some direct experience to come to this stark conclusion?

    Like

  27. > All I can say is that I’ve been working in the politics department of Exeter University for the last seven years and this has not been my experience.

    How would you even know? You are so hopelessly confused about what science is.

    > I assume you are drawing on some direct experience to come to this stark conclusion?

    Personal experiences are not the point here. A superficial acquaintance with the scholarship is enough to get an understanding how the field operates. But you don’t have to take my word for it – Dahl put it most beautifully.

    > insult and alienate practically everyone (including […]

    My observation is about the field as a whole, not about individual scholars. Some scholars in the field produce impressive work. Each person should assess their own values and commitments.

    > you are tarring us all with the same brush

    A personal advice: if you feel your association with other people is detrimental to your honor or dignity you should consider termination those associations.

    Like

  28. Yoram,

    >You are so hopelessly confused about what science is.

    I confess that it’s been some time since I studied the philosophy of science (1969-74). At the time Popper was being subverted by the sociological turn (Kuhn, Lakatos etc). Since then I understand that the postmodernists are in retreat, but are there other significant developments that I should be aware of? The branch of science that is of interest to this forum is statistical theory, so I guess this is where you should focus on educating ignoramuses like myself. I would love in particular to hear in what respect my understanding of the LLN is incorrect — see the Invisible Hand section of https://www.academia.edu/8295259/The_Blind_Break_The_Invisible_Hand_and_the_Wisdom_of_Crowds_The_Political_Potential_of_Sortition

    >if you feel your association with other people is detrimental to your honor or dignity you should consider termination those associations.

    I don’t give a damn for my personal honour and dignity (not everyone is a slave to their interests — either psychological or material), my concern is that this forum is becoming the place to turn to for anyone interested in sortition, and it is being undermined by the activities of its own convenor.

    Like

  29. Hi Paul,

    I just had a bit deeper look at Jos Verhulst and Arjen Nijeboer’s book. In the section discussing the impact of elites on the process in California (“The role of ‘special interests’”) – and it is a mystery to me why this very fundamental issue is discussed only in the specific context of California – I found the following paragraph (p. 57):

    One thing and another leads to a frequently invoked argument: financially powerful special-interest groups would abuse the binding citizens’ initiative referendum to push through their own agenda, to the prejudice of the ‘general interest’, which is considered as being served by the people’s representative system. This argument is not usually thought through consistently. We have already quoted above Matsusaka’s fundamental argument that the referendum proposal that is submitted as an alternative to the intentions of the ‘representative system’ also increases the options for the voters and thus offers them more room to make decisions that best match their preference. Matsusaka compares this with a family in which the father (=‘representative system’) unilaterally ‘proposes’ what flavour pizza is to be eaten. When the mother (= ‘special interests’) can also suggest a pizza, after which everyone (also the children = the voters) can vote on the proposals, then this can never make the children’s situation worse, even if they cannot suggest a pizza themselves. The option proposed by the father is always available, but if mother has an even better idea, that can be given preference in the voting. “So we can see that allowing everyone in the family to make proposals generally works to the advantage of the majority. The conclusion stands even if the right to make proposals is reserved for certain family members. (…) As long as proposals are filtered through a majority-rule election, the only way initiatives make the majority worse off is if voters can be persuaded to approve policies contrary to their interest.” (Matsusaka, 2004, p. 12).

    This is a very naive argument (and ironically also phrased somewhat condescending toward the critics – “This argument is not usually thought through consistently.”). This argument (“more choice is better”), which completely ignores the fundamental issues of information and manipulation, is clearly the one that is not well thought out. It is even largely refuted by the following paragraphs which are much more nuanced and useful. I would not expect such a naive argument to be offered seriously.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: