Problem: How can democratic governance evolve beyond the tribalism of political parties and the associated problems of petty quarrelling, inefficient governance, sectarianism and favoritism to be more cooperative and less competitive, more open to public participation at all times and less ideologically driven?
Solution: To achieve the next step in the evolution of democratic governance, we must abandon the concept of political parties or tribes and replace party candidates with independents, establish institutions for on-going consultation with constituents and implement rational cooperation instead of party competition as the basis of governance.
New Paradigm for Post-Modern Democracy"
The fundamental premise of my work is that party politics no longer serve the best interests of humanity's political, social, economic, cultural and spiritual development. Party politics are, in truth, little more than ideological tribalism and, as a result, suffer from all the worst defects to which tribalism is susceptible: petty quarrelling, blatant favoritism, uncooperativeness, short-ightedness, crass sectarianism in thought, feeling and action etc. To replace this politics of division - in which political parties struggle for power by any and all means short of coup d'etat - with a politics of cooperative diversity, we must de-tribalize the political process, first at the local and then at the national levels. My paper - which became the basis of an actual political campaign in British Columbia, Canada - explores how this can be done. My ideas, though adapted to democracy as practiced in Canada,(a constitutional monarchy) can be readily adapted to other forms of democratic governance.
The Basic Principles: THE FIRST PRINCIPLE is the renunciation of party politics and the replacement of party candidates by independents, that is, candidates, who, for whatever reasons have chosen to run for office. Any law-abiding citizen is eligible and may declare candidacy. This has the immediate effect of opening up democracy to all citizens and breaking the power monoploy enjoyed by established political elites.
This eliminates the hidden political machinery of party organizations, riding associations, leadership cults and policy conventions. All these things ultimately stand in the way of genuine democracy since they restrict the ability to represent, control and restrict the flow of ideas and solutions and channel power into pre-determined areas. Anyone familiar with the inner workings of political parties will be aware of these and other weaknesses.
It also makes it possible for people to vote for the individual instead of a pack of ideas and policies with which one may or may not agree. Voters can then genuinely choose the best PERSON for ther job.
This will facilitate a re-interpretation of "power" from "a set of advantages enjoyed by a group/tribe" to "an opportunity for service to others".
The desire to serve one's consituents will not be as easily deflected by demands for loyalty to the party or to a leader.
It will also reduce the amount of political theatre we see, from the elaborately staged leadership conventions (and the resulting Leadership/Fuhrer cult) and, thereby help get local elections focussed more on important local issues. Less Fuhrerprinzip!
Elections will no longer be races for the trough since there will be no party machinery able to dish out largesse and other favors.
The SECOND PRINCIPLE is responsible representation. Representatives are just that- "representatives" who are there to represent the views of their constituents. In debates, this means contributing the views of all sides to parliamentary debate to ensure a full and complete hearing of all issues; in votes, this means voting what the majority of their constituents want.
Voting what constituents want requires a greater degree of genuine, active and on-going consultation with constituents rather than simply following party policy. This consultation can be carried out by a series of "constituency committees" which are open to all and whose job is to research all sides of an issue and advise the elected representative. Constituency polls, surveys and referenda on exceptional issues will all become part of the process in each constituency.
This will improve the quality of democracy by making the governed more involved with the process of governing. Apathy and cynicism are the single greatest enemy of genuine democracy and can only be cured by more meaningful participation in governance.
Recall of representatives who fail in their duties is also necessary. British Columbia has taken the first steps in developing such legislation.
Only individual voters may contribute to a campaign. Companies, unions and clubs, etc. do not vote and, therefore, have no right to make financial contributions to candidates. Too often the contributions of various organizations distort the electoral process.
GOVERNING: What would happen if a majority of independents were elected? The following answer is adapted to the way government works in British Colmbia and Canada,but can be adapted to other systems.
STEP 1: Preparations for Governance
The representatives will spend the first two or three weeks in a series of meetings (chaired by senior civil servants or judges) discussing the various issues relevant to their constiuencies as well as possible solutions.
STEP 2: Choosing a Premier
At the end of these introductory sessions representatives will elect a"chairperson", who for a period of a year will be designated Premier" or "Prime Minister".The Premier is simply the one who gets things organized and keeps them on track.
STEP 3: Choosing Cabinet
The Premier oversees the establishment of provincial committees such as finance, health, education, forestry etc. These committees correspond to what used to be called "departments". ALL representatives who have a special interest or expertise in a certain area are elegible to sit on these committees. Each committee elects are chairperson who for a period of a year will be the "Minister of...."
Note: Cabinet thus ceases to be a special network of friends of theleader who, in effect, creates his own government to dictate to the legislature.
Also: no representative rots in the back benches, thereby denying his consituents an active role in governance.
STEP 4: Developing the Legislative Agenda
The legislative agenda ("Speech from the Throne" in Brtish Columbia and Canada) ceases to be a set of promises and ideologically driven solutions and becomes a priortized list of problems to be dealt with. This sets a practical, down-to-earth tone and imposes no ideological solutions on parliament or the people. The debating process will become more open, thatis, less or preferably non-ideological since all viewpoints are included and non excluded a priori.
STEP 5: Preparing Legislation
A department/commitee identifies a problem, devises a solution acceptable to the majority of its members and then takes it to parliament as a "bill" to be debated and voted upon.
STEP 6: Passing a Bill
To become law, a bill must have 51% of the votes in parliament. Since representatives must vote what the majority of their constituents want, a 51% vote will usually assure that at least 51% of the population is in agreement. Representatives will, of course, have to consult with their constituency committees as well as conduct polls etc.
This, in outline, is what I have proposed and is the platform on which Mr. Ken Benham ran in the May, 28, 1996, provincial election in British Columbia. With a minimal amount of money, ($700 Can.) he pulled over 500 votes running against a high profile cabinet minister and three other candiates who spent over $30,000 each. Mr. Benham got 5% of the vote.His only slogan was "Say No to Party Politics". A later survey indicated that many more voters were symopathetic and planned to vote for him but got last minute jitters in the voting booth. We consider this a promising start for such a radical platform.
We have also had many inquiries about him running in the current Canadian federal election so interest in this platform does not seem to have waned.
Resume: Ph.D. in English literature, Master's Degree in psychology, had 2 books of poetry, 1 poetry/music CD published, 5 plays produced; am finishing 2 books, "Conrad Aiken's philosophy of Consciousness", and "A Theme Concordance To the Works of Conrad Aiken"; have started "Teilhard de Chardin and the Baha'i Faith"; currently teach high school literature and Comparative Civilization; write a newspaper column on public affairs.