Tue, Apr 16, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Setting the example for direct votes

By Joe Mathews and Bruno Kaufmann

This open and free event will take place at National Chung-Hsing University in Taichung and will offer a great opportunity to examine Taiwan’s emerging referendum practice.

The event will also offer an opportunity to show the deep connections between Taiwan’s story and trends in democracy — the rise of populist authoritarianism in some nations, as well as the rise of local and direct democracy.

We believe that Taiwan could show global leadership by continuing its reforms and developing more deliberate and integrated forms of direct democracy.

Based on Taiwan’s progress, we want to encourage lawmakers, election administrators, colleagues in the media and civil society as a whole to consider the following:

‧ Make time and space a priority. Direct democracy requires more time and space for true deliberation — including the gathering of signatures, institutional deliberations after submitting an initiative and the campaign ahead of a vote.

It neither helps the issues raised nor the democratic quality of the debate if things are rushed and fast-tracked as they were ahead of last year’s referendums. To slow things down, we recommended expanding the time allotted for signature gathering from six months to at least 18 months.

‧ Decouple initiative and referendum votes from general elections for government officials. Voting directly on laws is a different process than voting for representatives, and the two should be separated so that people have more time to consider each.

Having a different schedule for direct democracy and representative democracy would also make it more difficult to misuse direct democratic processes on behalf of political candidates.

‧ Eliminate or reduce the approval quorum. By separating ballot measures and candidate votes, turnout would likely go down for direct democracy votes.

That means that the approval quorum for referendum votes — currently set at 25 percent of eligible voters — should be eliminated or at least reduced to 10 percent so that opponents of ballot measures do not use boycott strategies to invalidate votes.

These are just a few of the fixes, big and small, that could be discussed and implemented as Taiwan seeks to improve its referendum system.

Learning from experience and failure is essential to a healthy democracy — and to direct democracy.

Improvement requires national recognition that direct democracy is here to stay and is likely to become an increasingly important feature of self-government in Taiwan, and elsewhere.

The challenge for Taiwan, and the world, is to design new practices and institutions that insure that this form of democracy enhances the public good, is not captured by special interests and expresses the results of careful deliberation among citizens.

Joe Mathews and Bruno Kaufmann are copresidents of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy. This year’s Global Forum is to be held on Oct. 2 to 5 in Taichung.

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