Participatory democracy is a model of exercising power, where the population actively participates in making major political decisions .
The idea of participatory democracy (also known as “semi-direct democracy” or “deliberative democracy”) emerged in the last years of the 20th century, allied to the crisis of some examples of representative democracies – considered until then as the ideal of democracy.
The population did not feel that the representatives chosen (through direct elections) were able to cover all the needs of society, especially of some social groups.
To solve this situation, the definition of participatory democracy is directed towards the participation and communication of all the different groups and social movements that inhabit the same society, with the intention of having their questions heard and, consequently, that actions are developed to meet the needs everyone’s needs.
But, how to listen to an entire population in a fair and equal way? There are some alternatives to know the public’s opinion on a given subject, such as the application of referendums and plebiscites, in addition to holding public hearings, etc.
Participatory democracy is considered semi-direct because it does not disregard the presence of its representatives elected through direct voting, but rather the idea of being closer to the “political stage”, presenting opinions, questioning and leading new discussions on different social issues to the Chamber.
Origin of participatory democracy
Democracy originates from Ancient Greece , where it occurred in a direct way.
This system was particularly developed in the city of Athens , in which each citizen was involved in the exercise of power.
This democracy was the direct ancestor of participatory democracy .
The latter tries to solve the dilemmas of representative democracy , that is, the one in which political representatives are elected to make decisions on behalf of the people.
Objective of participatory democracy
The objective of this form of government is, precisely, to solve the political problems derived from representation , which have to do with corruption, individual agendas or the distance that is built between the decisions of the representatives and the needs of their constituents.
For example, this more direct democracy prevents the creation of a political class . In other words, it replaces ex-officio politicians and managers with citizens, in many areas of public life.
Forms of participation
To make citizens participate in the conduct of the State, participatory democracy promotes:
- Ways of decision making. Incorporating the citizen vote to the election of their representatives, but at the same time keeping institutional spaces open so that people can ask questions and find out what political decisions mean.
- Forms of execution of decisions. Through the decentralization and decongestion of the institutions, thus promoting the own organization of civil society .
- Social comptroller. Offering citizens the possibility of ensuring compliance with political promises, supervising the execution of policies and thus being able to correct, improve or reject them.
- Promotion of citizen participation. Through support and incentives for popular organization, as occurs in newspapers , radios and community publications, democratizing access to communications .
Differences with representative system
The most substantial difference between the two forms of democracy is that the participatory one seeks to incorporate citizens into the exercise of power . This avoids turning it into a passive witness of what the political class decides. In that sense, it represents a step towards the Athenian or direct democracy of antiquity.
On the contrary, representative democracy is sustained based on a more practical criterion: the population is too large to be directly involved in running the nation. For this reason, in the representative system, the people govern only through their representatives , who are freely chosen.
Advantages of participatory democracy
Some of the positive features of participatory democracy are:
- Greater citizen control over the performance of the political class, and more informed decision-making regarding the interests of the benefited or harmed.
- Transparency in political affairs is encouraged, and the isolation of political processes, that is, “black boxes” is avoided.
- A participatory, more egalitarian environment is fostered, which does not consider politicians as an elite.
Disadvantages of participatory democracy
Some of the weaknesses of participatory democracy are:
- The possibility that there is no parliament offers less space for national debates , which is vital for democracy.
- Majorities could more easily oppress minorities, once in control of the institutions.
- Decision-making takes much longer than in representative democracy, and society can often become bureaucratized.
Citizen participation, since it is not direct, is managed in an intermediate state that monitors the performance of the institutions and has tools to carry out complaints, rejections or corrections . Use communication channels such as community media, open government, or even digital communications.
The referendum and the public consultation are commonly used tools in these democracies, so that the vote expresses the opinion of the majorities regarding sensitive decisions. However, the exact method in which each government exercises its participatory democracy varies enormously depending on the culture , history , and other features of the society.
Representative democracy is organized around the idea of efficiency: it is impossible that in majority societies the exercise of organized political power is given directly by citizens. That is why participation occurs through representative organizations .
The citizens themselves are the ones who endow these bodies with the necessary representation to make decisions on their behalf. For example, a parliament represents those who vote for it to elect its legislators , who in turn will make their decisions on behalf of all.
In direct democracy, citizens must be incorporated into the very work of the administration of the State . Chance determines that they occupy bureaucratic and executive positions when necessary.
To distribute the functions, the ancient Greeks used a lottery mechanism to find out who would temporarily hold public office. It can be considered the democratic form opposed to the representative one.
Countries with participatory democracy
A typical case of participatory democracy is Switzerland , whose participation mechanisms are organized based on the Cantons into which the country is divided. Through referendums or popular consultations, people can set the policy of the Executive .
Likewise, the emergence of popular legislation is allowed , which, if enough signatures are gathered, can take their proposals to government instances.