What is the best form of government for a people? There is often an assumption (at least in the minds of many) that democracy is at the top of the list - but democracy comes in a range of forms, many with glaring shortcomings. If we had a list of principles for good government practice, how would your government rate? And can we improve our governments without, as some would suggest, needing a revolution?
Principles for Good Government
Let's see if we can at least start by agreeing on some of the attributes we would want the best form of government to include:
- Should be based on a clearly written constitution that can be changed after a considered process - the constitution should be a proactive document supporting improvement in the form of government over time as well as providing the necessary safeguards.
- People who execute government offices are known - they are open about their beliefs/values and competencies and are exposed to a rigorous examination process that makes these beliefs, values and competencies transparent.
- People who execute government offices are chosen by the people they govern - they in some way are chosen by the people they govern rather than come to power via wealth, hereditary position or military or other coup.
- People who choose those in government office are informed - they have both the opportunity and the inclination to inform themselves of the current issues and of the candidates' beliefs, values and competencies.
- People who choose those in government office are rational - the electors and the election process are such that they encourage reflective choices rather than knee-jerk or populist ones.
- Those executing government office can operate expeditiously - they can respond to issues and be proactive without inappropriate hindrances or drags on their actions, but are then held accountable by the electors for the quality and timeliness of their actions.
- There are appropriate real-time checks and balances - there is, in appropriate circumstances clearly defined in the constitution, an appropriate body that can review, delay, modify and reject government actions, with unresolvable differences referred back to the people with considered alternatives for resolution.
- The operations of government are transparent/open - there is, unless a sufficient argument can be put for a temporary delay, complete openness and transparency about government decision making and actions.
Do you agree with these? Can they be improved?
And how does your government rate against these principles?
I suspect most Western democracies do badly on several of these principles. Most constitutions are not able to easily evolve in line with changing circumstances, with referenda votes to do so stymied by unreasonable hurdles such as state vetoes or the tendency of one of the political parties to take an easy negative spoiling position. The combination of opportunistic politicians, sensation-seeking media, and unengaged electors is not supportive of considered debate but rather tends to lead to emotive populism marked with repeatable sound bytes.
Proposals for Improvement
Defining the Electors and Election Process
Simple statements such as universal suffrage (everyone votes) mask a range of realities. Should there be age restrictions? What about gender restrictions (constitutional or just effective ones)? Should those that society rejects (such as those in prisons and asylums) be barred from expressing their views? Should voting be compulsory to try to avoid apathy or a tendency for disadvantaged segments of the population to be underrepresented?
The best approach might be:
- Present voting as a responsibility open to all citizens who are personally interested - ie avoiding legislative or effective age or gender based restrictions but also avoiding compulsory voting
- Tracking and making public the demographics of those who choose to vote
- Making the task of voting physically but not morally or intellectually easy - ie avoiding dumbing down the actual choices involved. This might involve balancing the existing "party label" voting process that dominates most current democratic systems by for example requiring candidates to personally submit beliefs/value and even policy statements to a centrally coordinated electoral site which are presented to electors as they vote. It might also involve more frequently asking electors to make the choices between considered significant policy alternatives where these have come through a checks and balances review process.
Defining the Review Body Role
Precedents include bodies representing state rights and hereditary positions - both legacies of the history and power structures that fed their evolution. The review body should rather be explicitly formed and run to be fit for its purpose of providing an appropriate check and balance to protect the peoples' rights - as an offset to the practical limitations of the people choosing their government office representatives on a periodic basis. It might also usefully have aspects of a corruption commission and permanent constitutional convention.
Along these lines the review body might:
- Be uninvolved in day to day government office execution where there are existing precedents that have been accepted in the past by the people, unless it has some judicial competence and some corruption or other issue is referred to it
- Be proactively involved to review new precedents and to challenge them where they are seen to infringe the rights of the people - such a challenge could result in a negotiated compromise, if achieved with those in government office, or a referral of considered alternatives to the people in a referendum
- Be proactively involved to propose to the people changes to the constitution - independent of those in government office
- Comprise of representatives elected by the people but with some key differences: 1. Candidates are not members and have not been members of political parties for a period of time 2. The election term is longer and staggered so there is a degree of continuity in the body's members 3. The body is promoted as safeguarding and promoting the best forms of government and removed from day-to-day political issues
Web references of interest
Comments and suggested changes/additions invited below...
Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 May 2012 00:44