Podemos adopts sortition in its Valencia region branch

A post by Tomas Mancebo. English translation by Pablo Segundo.

Internal elections were held at the end of May 2017 in the Valencian Community branch of the Spanish party Podemos. The alliance called “A Tide to Deepen Change” (Una marea per aprofundir el canvi / Una Marea para Profundizar el Cambio) composed of three inner groups: Democratic Deepening (Profundización Democrática), Valencian Tide (Marea Valenciana), and Deepen the Change (Aprofundir el Canvi), won the General Secretary post for Antonio Estañ, and set the branch’s new Organizational Statutes.

The new organizational model introduces more internal democracy in this regional branch: new participation mechanisms, preferential voting methods, and sortition for the selection of members of key directorial boards, committees and assemblies. These organizational innovations were pushed for by the group “Democratic Deepening” (Profundización Democrática), that has been championing new organizational and democratic mechanisms as the key to real change since the founding of the Podemos Party.

Salvador Mestre, co-founder of “Democratic Deepening” had a key role in securing the alliance between the three groups. He explains:

“The goal of ‘Deepening Democracy’ has always been to couple organizational efficiency with the integration of the different areas, sectors and spaces inside and outside the Party, as we understand this is a strong need for a new party like Podemos. The only option is to push for innovation. We seek to integrate the plurality and diversity of the 15M Plazas [the Spanish spontaneous political street assemblies that exploded in 2011], their transversality and abundance of ideas, inside a flexible and multi-purposed structure, permeable to the collaborative and creative energy of activists, supporters and social movements. It’s funny how part of this innovation is based in the age old mechanism of sortition, but quite probably Van Reybouck is right when he affirms that sortition is the only chance of medium-term survival for our political systems called ‘democratic’ in spite of their representative character, survival that has to be a renewal and a true evolution towards real democracy. In the 15M Plazas we cried for ‘Real Democracy NOW!’ and it is evident that sortition must be an important answer to that call.”

“During the formation of the alliance sortition had to be explained, defended and motivated. It was accepted as a superb method to integrate the party bases within the executive party decisions, and among other measures we agreed for a significative part of the Directorial Board to be drawn by lot.”

Some basic context

The Valencian Region (Comunidad de Valencia) holds the 10.7% of the Spanish population, and 4.6% of Spain’s land mass. At the national elections, Podemos was the second largest force in the Comunidad de Valencia, securing 9 national deputies out of the 33 appointed by Valencia for the 350 strong National Deputy Congress (Congreso de los Diputados). In this highest of political chambers, Podemos and its allies hold 71 deputies, behind PP with 137, and PSOE with 85. PP and PSOE have rotated in government since the stabilization of modern democracy in Spain after 1978.

The regional Valencian Parliament has 99 seats, of which 31 are from the PP, 23 from PSOE, 19 from Compromis [an ally of Podemos], 13 from Ciudadanos [a liberal nationalist Spanish party that was refurbished and relaunched by the status quo after Podemos appeared], and 13 from Podemos. The regional government is held by PSOE and Compromis, with needed support from Podemos which holds no executive posts.

Sortition and democratic innovation

The regional organization of Podemos in Valencia is complicated. The full text in Spanish and Valencian of the Organizational Statutes is attached for the details.

Sortition has been incorporated in the following ways:

  • Citizen Regional Board, the organization’s highest political board (Consejo ciudadano autonómico, CCA):
    10 out of 57 members selected by sortition (17.5%).
  • Valencian Gathering, a large yearly assembly (Trobada Valenciana). 60 members:
    10 (16,66%) by lot among the members of the CCA (the Board).
    30 (50%) by lot among volunteers.
  • Deliberative Groups in Support of Popular Consultations (Grupos deliberativos de apoyo a las consultas):
    All 20 to 30 members (100%) drawn by lot.
  • Municipal Citizen Board (Consejo ciudadano municipal) for municipalities with more than 51 supporters:
    20% by lot.
  • Democratic Warranties Committee, resolves statutory quarrels and controls some key procedures (Comisión de Garantías Democráticas):
    12 members, 6 drawn by lot (50%).
  • Podemos Technical Personnel Selection Committee (Comisión de selección para la contratación de personal técnico de Podemos):
    5 members, of which 2 (40%) are chosen among Municipal General Secretaries (there are 98 towns or cities with General Secretaries in Valencia).
  • Supplies Table for expenditures above 5000 Euros:
    7 members, of which 2 (~30%) are chosen among Municipal General Secretaries (there are 98).

To be eligible for sortition, depending on the case, one or more of the following can be required: registration as a volunteer for sortition; endorsement by a Circle (local Podemos supporters groups) or an institutional or organic official; holding a post elected by vote or by lot; being a lawyer; pertaining to a Circle; or having been a registered Podemos supporter for some time.

Some of the mentioned conditions introduce biases. On top of that, some of the collectives into which sortition is introduced are small, regardless whether the percentage of seats of the particular body which are to be drawn by lot is high or low. In spite of these drawbacks – bias and small population sizes for random selection – the Valencian Podemos branch, insiders and supporters alike, have chosen to introduce sortition into its new political democratic culture. It is a very significant step in a first rank political organization taking into account the usual reluctance of political parties to embrace within democratic procedures.

Selection by sortition has been introduced to Podemos. It will be used and normalized by the Podemos supporters and organizers in Valencia and it will give the national Podemos party a reference model ready to be copied. Also, Podemos will soon hold elections in other Spanish regions, like Murcia and Canary Islands, where Deepening Democracy also supports alliances that make organizational proposals similar to the one from Valencia.

Along with sortition, other democratization measures have been introduced in Podemos Valencian Region, like effective recallability of officials, popular-initiated initiatives, preferential voting methods (VUT, Condorcet-Schulze and Borda Dowdall with even fractions) and the so called “Democracia 4.0” system championed by Juan Moreno Yagüe as a complement to the yearly regional deliberative assembly, the “Trobada Valenciana”.

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14 Responses

  1. Thank you very much Tomas and Pablo for sharing this information.

    Whether or not this model is indeed replicated, it is hard to tell whether this development will result in meaningful democratization of the party. As you point out, various biases are introduced by the statutes, but this is only a part, and maybe not an important part, of the weakness of this application of sortition.

    Having a complicated structure that is not well understood by most people, including probably most Podemos supporters, makes it quite possible for party insiders to exert power even if the sortition is fair and even if the allotted have significant formal power.

    Indeed, this is a problem that is inherent in sortition: it is only likely to be successful in certain situations. (Luckily, those situations are those that matter most.)

    While I agree with much of the substance of the comments by Salvador Mestre, I disagree with the tone. Talk about “innovation” and “creative energy” may sound great, but it misses the point. The issue is not lack of ideas. The ideas are there and have long been there. The issue is exerting influence. In a democratic organization or society influence is shared equally. The question is how can such a situation be achieved, and sortition is the tool for doing that.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’d add my thanks to Tomas for the article, and to Pablo for the translation.

    I think Yoram is right to be cautious about the potential implementation hurdles presented by complexity.

    However what’s interesting for me reading this today is that I’m also reading Roslyn Fuller’s so-far excellent 2015 book Beasts and Gods. She makes the point on page 83 that while Podemos’s rise is a fascinating and hopeful response to the PSOE and PP’s duopoly on power since the 1970s – and the attendant crises they’ve brought about – any electoral progress Podemos might make would necessarily leave in place the “skewed and inaccurate” political representation that results from the Spanish electoral system.

    “Retaining that system means that skewed representation will inevitably repeat itself with a slow build-up to destruction and suffering, followed, after a great deal of time and effort, some years later, by a brief period of restructuring. Wash, rinse, repeat.”

    So that Podemos should even be attempting to institute sortition within the party structures of a substantial Spanish territory is a significant development that I personally would see as a welcome one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. > So that Podemos should even be attempting to institute sortition within the party structures of a substantial Spanish territory is a significant development that I personally would see as a welcome one.

    We have been over this point before. Not every application of sortition is a step forward. If sortition is used in a way that is ineffective as a democratic tool, it may discredit the idea and be in fact a step backward rather than forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I won’t pretend to have enough understanding of “on the ground” realities to second guess the Podemos organizers, but here are points that cause me worry…

    1. mixing intentionally selected and randomly selected members on a single body runs a high risk of tokenism, with a psychological tendency for the random selectees to defer to the “more knowledgeable” members who sought membership on the body.
    2. Sortition is appropriate for a community in which exiting is a hardship (a resident of a place, an employee of a firm, etc.). But in a voluntary association with a mission, in which it is easy to leave and set up a competing organization, sortition is much less appropriate.

    On the positive side

    1. Sortition can offer a beneficial anti-corruption aspect (rather than the REPRESENTATIVE function we tend to focus on on this web site). This may allow Podemos to evolve these structures in a way that ultimately provides resistance to the “iron law of oligarchy” that Robert Michels wrote about at the beginning of the 20th Century.
    2. Familiarity with the concept may facilitate its implementation in a more appropriate governmental structure in the near future.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Terry,

    >Sortition is appropriate for a community in which exiting is a hardship. But in a voluntary association with a mission, sortition is much less appropriate.

    Interesting, that corresponds exactly to Oakeshott’s distinction between the civil and enterprise modes of association. Only the former model is appropriate for political societies as membership is compulsory.

    >Sortition can offer a beneficial anti-corruption aspect (rather than the REPRESENTATIVE function

    Yes the two functions are entirely different, and blind breakers like Peter Stone and Oliver Dowlen rarely contribute to this blog as they have no interest in sortition as a representative mechanism.

    Like

  6. Terry,

    > Sortition can offer a beneficial anti-corruption aspect (rather than the REPRESENTATIVE function we tend to focus on on this web site)

    Corruption, it seems to me, is simply the application of power toward narrow interests. In other words, it is synonymous to “unrepresentative power” – no?

    Like

  7. Yoram,

    >Corruption . . . is synonymous to “unrepresentative power” – no?

    I’ve always puzzled me why proponents of the Blind Break school of sortition, like Peter Stone, try and subsume representativity within their arationality paradigm, and now Yoram is trying to do the reverse. The fact is that Blind Breakers like Stone and Dowlen insist that there should be no way of predicting the outcome of the lottery, whereas those of us in the Invisible Hand school are interested in statistical representativity precisely because you will know in advance that there will be approx 50/50 gender balance etc. The two functions are entirely distinct and should not be conflated, otherwise words like “corruption” (which generally means somebody taking a bung) become corrupted in use.

    Like

  8. Sutherland,

    Here I go again and make the mistake of trying to have a substantive discussion with you…

    > “corruption” (which generally means somebody taking a bung)

    So, according to you, as long as an act is legal, it cannot be corruption?

    Like

  9. Yoram,

    I’m referring to our normal use of language. You have a long tradition of taking commonly-used words (representation being the principal culprit) and then using them in ways that nobody else does (either in the vernacular or scholarly sense), without providing us with some sort of dictionary to help us translate Yoram-speak into English.

    Like

  10. Sutherland,

    It seems you are unable (or unwilling) to answer simple questions. Not unexpected.

    Like

  11. >as long as an act is legal, it cannot be corruption?

    Diachronically, yes. Legal positivism is the only defensible position as your alternative (“unrepresentative power”) can only be defined tautologically. According to the positivist position, once a specific corruption has been identified then it can be proscribed. This is true of all jurisprudence — acts that were criminal 50 years ago (in modern Western states) are now legal, and vice versa and the same is true of corruption. There are no standards to determine which laws are right and which ones wrong other than by recourse to positive law.

    Like

  12. Sutherland,

    >> So, according to you, as long as an act is legal, it cannot be corruption?

    > yes [ blah, blah, blah, … ]

    Ah. And you believe that my usage of words is unconventional.

    Like

  13. The alternatives are:

    1. Legal Positivism
    2. Revelation (the Bible has quite a lot to say on corruption)
    3. Tautology (“representative power”)

    It’s a stark choice, but 1) strikes me as the least-worst option.

    Like

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