A statement on democracy

Posted on: Sun, 02 Dec 2012 21:10 By: patrick

"Voting is almost never a way to reach consensus. Rather, it acknowledges that consensus has not been reached and side-steps further constructive attempts to reach it."

-- Stefano Zacchiroli, Debian project leader (original post)

This statement is a beautiful summary of one of the big misconceptions about what democracy truly is! Click the "Read more" link if you want to see my personal comments. For once in this post I am not talking about technical stuff...

Most people, if asked what democracy is, will immediately name the voting mechanism as the central aspect, but they completely forget that the actual goal we need to achieve in order to live together piecefully is to reach consensus. Voting is only the last step to formalize the consensus that was reached before through argument and debate. Consensus does not always mean complete agreement between all parties - sometimes one side has to give a little bit, but then the other side will reciprocate later on. This is the foundation of a successful democracy, not just blind voting.

Current events in Egypt sadly illustrate all this: The constitutional panel holds a marathon 16-hour voting session on the new charter's 236 clauses - but its liberal and Christian members do not participate. Why? Because they say that their votes have no weight against the majority of the panel's Muslim Brotherhood members! Since the Muslim Brotherhood apparently is misusing the voting instrument to force their views on everybody else, it will not come as a surprise if the result is not a pieceful society.

In my opinion, the deeper flaw in all this is how the constitutional panel itself was designed. I don't know any details, but to me it seems obvious that the error was to make the panel into a direct representation of majorities. Instead it should have been a balanced mix of all involved parties: If the Muslim Brotherhood does not have an absolute majority in the panel, it simply cannot outvote its co-members. Give the liberal and Christian minorities sufficient weight, and a consensus is much more likely to emerge.

Now the questions are:

  1. Who designed the constitutional panel?
  2. What was the motivation in designing the panel the way it was designed?

Feel free to comment.

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