Greece: School flag-bearers will be chosen by lot, rather than achievement

ekathimerini.com reports:

The government has scrapped a long tradition of honoring top pupils by selecting them to carry the national flag in school parades. From now on flag-bearers will be chosen by lot. Opposition parties criticized this as part of the SYRIZA party’s assault on excellence.

A presidential decree published in the Government Gazette on Tuesday sets out the new procedure for selecting flag-bearers, and those flanking them, in primary school parades. Two pupils in sixth grade (the final year of primary school) will be chosen by lot each year, with one serving from the start of the academic year until January 31 and the other from February 1 to the end of the school year.

This means different pupils will carry the flag in parades to mark Independence Day on March 25 and Oxi Day on October 28, which commemorates Greece’s response to an Italian ultimatum in 1940 and the country’s entry into World War II.
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Marcela Iacub: To reform political life, long live the lottery!

The French original is here.

The prevalent disgust with the political class will not be resolved as long as the powerful enjoy unwarranted privileges and as long as the president lives in the Elysée palace

It seems that attempting to reform political life brings bad luck. Once the government appointed François Bayrou to draft a law for reforming political life he was quickly paralyzed. Ever since the announcement of this effort, scandals are surrounding the allies and the close associates of the president’s party. Faced with this curse, two explanations suggest themselves.

The first is sociological. The privileges associated with power are shared by practically the entire political class. How then may one find the person capable of putting an end to those privileges? And if by happenstance such a person is found, even the most straight-laced would be surrounded by others who may not be…

The demands of honesty keep increasing year-by-year. That which was common practice suddenly becomes ethically unacceptable, and that which was unethical becomes illegal. Things are moving so quickly that the political class will soon face a crisis. And it is normal. In a democracy, isn’t the gratitude of the people the only privilege allowed? But maybe under those conditions, no one would wish to govern…

For a regime to be really deprived of unwarranted privileges, it must be based on sortition: the rulers are to be appointed in the same way juries are. Everything would then be very different: the political class would simply be a mechanical intermediary and the public in involvement in politics would be strong. Populism would disappear because the citizens would be educated about every question being collectively discussed.

The second reason is psychological. In the current context, the one who is charged with reforming political life is necessarily hated. Not only because he is suspected of hypocrisy – must he not be hiding his own scandals or those of his associates? – but also because the mere idea of “reform” provokes a desire to punish. The entire political class is transformed into a scapegoat for all the collective frustrations. The disgust with the political class is but a mild version of the desire to eliminate it. If it recently benefited the present government, it will soon to turn against it. Can this be doubted?

This is why it is hopeless that the attempt to reform political life will restore the public’s confidence in those who rule over it. It will only further this hate. No sanction will appease the public’s wish to make the power elites pay, to make them fall, to see them suffer. For that to dissipate, the entire system of privileges accorded to the rulers has to be abolished. And above all a profound remaking of institutions has to conceived. Representative democracy has to be reconsidered. It creates the political elites that extract from the people the power to shape their destiny. It is necessary to abolish the material privileges attached to the exercise of power. Today, the most symbolic and the most jarring among those is the fact that the president lives and works at the Elysée palace. Doesn’t this hall signify the unfathomable abyss which separates the rules and the ruled? Aren’t the former nothing but the servants of the sovereign will of the latter? These transformations will make the people, woken from the aggressive apathy toward the ruling elite, re-become a real actor in political life, their hate transformed into delight.

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.”
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El partido político Podemos-Comunidad Valenciana introduce el sorteo en su organización

A post by Tomás Mancebo. An English version is here.

En la tercera semana del pasado mes de mayo, se celebraron elecciones internas en Podemos de la Comunidad Valenciana (CV). Una alianza de tres corrientes denominada Una marea per aprofundir el canvi (Profundización Democrática, Marea Valenciana y Aprofundir el Canvi), consiguió triunfar al salir elegidos tanto su candidato a la Secretaría General, Antonio Estañ, como su modelo de organización interna para el partido en esta región. El nuevo modelo organizativo introduce más democracia interna en el partido, sobre todo por la influencia ejercida en la coalición por el grupo «Profundización Democrática», que desde el principio de la constitución de Podemos como partido político apostó por propuestas innovadoras. Se refuerzan los mecanismos de participación, se proponen sistemas de votación preferencial y, sobre todo, se prescribe el sorteo profusamente para designar miembros de varios órganos y espacios.

Salvador Mestre, co-fundador de «Profundización Democrática», ha desempeñado un papel fundamental en el proceso de confluencia con las otras dos corrientes internas Transcribimos unas declaraciones de Mestre cuando contactamos con él: “el objetivo de «Profundización Democrática» siempre ha sido aunar la eficacia organizativa con la integración de todos los espacios, ámbitos y sectores tanto internos como externos, pues entendemos que esta debe ser la aspiración de una organización política nueva como Podemos. Eso nos lleva necesariamente a una exigencia de innovación. La idea que nos guía es integrar la pluralidad y diversidad de las plazas del 15M, su transversalidad y riqueza de ideas, dentro de una estructura versátil y flexible, permeable a toda la energía colaborativa y propositiva de la militancia, de los simpatizantes y de los movimientos sociales. Es curioso que, como parte de esa innovación, echemos mano de un recurso tan antiguo como el sorteo, pero la realidad es que quizá Van Reybouck tenga razón cuando sostiene que el sorteo es la única posibilidad de supervivencia a medio plazo de los sistemas políticos que han venido llamándose democráticos a pesar de su cariz tan representativo. No solo de supervivencia, sino de renovación y de evolución realmente democrática. En las plazas del 15M pedíamos “Democracia Real Ya” y es evidente que el sorteo debe ser parte importante de la respuesta a ese clamor.
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Sortition-related proposals in Belgium and Switzerland

In Belgium, Christie Morreale, a senator, proposes a Peonidisesque scheme where blank votes would be translated into allotted MPs.

In Switzerland “Génération nomination” is starting to collect signatures for putting its sortition-related proposal on the ballot. According to the proposal, 50 out of the 200 members of the Swiss national council would be selected by lot.

A Dutchman offers sortition to the Scots

Dr Jasper Kenter, an ecological ­economist at the Scottish Association for Marine Science and Honorary Fellow of the University of Edinburgh, writes in The Scotsman:

Being Dutch, Westminster politics and ­elections horrify me. […] In Holland, […] [c]oalition agreements mean ­ministers can get on with their jobs without being threatened by reshuffles. They are even expected to have expertise relevant to their post.

Yet, proportional representation faces the same issues as first past the post: policies in the long-term interest of society are hard to sell because of short-term impacts. This is exacerbated by the commercial and political interests of media, with power to sway opinion by triggering fear, anger and envy, deluding people into thinking the extraordinary is more ­common.

For example, air pollution leads to 40,000 deaths a year, far more than terrorism and homicide. Addressing this would require policy overhauls and investment opposed by ­powerful lobbies, so we stick our heads in the sand.

Another example: preserving healthy ecosystems is the most important thing we can do for future generations – but the UK’s environment department has had more severe cuts than any other, with barely anyone noticing.

There is a solution: replace MPs with randomly selected citizens called up for parliamentary duty, a ­system called sortition. Imagine ­parliament being a true reflection of the public, with mothers and teachers thinking through education and childcare, health workers influencing how to run and fund the NHS. MPs would be ­independent of wealthy donors and no need to be popular, so would be better at making difficult decisions.

They would be supported by an office providing independent expertise, like the current Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology. By changing a third of MPs at a time, experience could be passed on.

In Scotland, there is an ideal opportunity to try sortition: Holyrood does not have a ­second chamber and, regardless of Indyref2, will receive more powers after Brexit, so arguably needs one.

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).