Athens – Direct democracy, sometimes called “pure democracy,” is a form of democracy in which the people themselves, rather than elected representatives, determine the laws and policies by which they are governed. It is connected with referendums based on citizens’ initiative.
“The political system of Greece is not even representative. It has a dysfunctional parliamentary system with an elected but powerful prime minister. There is no separation of powers, since the executive fully controls the legislative and -to a large extent- the judicial. Furthermore there is no progress with regards to direct democracy”, claims Petros Vourlis, political activist and founder of the blog refererendumsforgreece (https://referendumsforgreece.wordpress.com/),aiming at sharing information concerning direct democracy and its institutions: first and foremost, the idea of referendums upon citizens’ initiative.
Real democracy is based on two pillars:
- Referendums upon citizen’s initiative based on the Swiss model, still an unknown luxury in Greece.
- Parting (un-concentration) of the central power:
The central state in Greece basically decides for everything. According to Petros, “more decisions (except defence and foreign policy)should be taken “close” to the citizen, by the municipalities and the prefectures. In this way, the citizen will be given the opportunity to take part to a bigger extent in the decision making process and to reject a law which to which the majority opposes”.
Elina Makri, journalist and project manager of projects relating to new media and social innovation, explains that in a veritable democracy the following institutions should be guaranteed:
Invalidating referendum: a procedure allowing citizens to repeal laws.
Referendum based on citizens’ initiative: citizens propose laws and changes to the Constitution
Mandatory referendum: citizens decide for any changes to the constitution and participation in supranational organizations
Representative Recall Referendum: a procedure which allows voters to remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before his or her term has ended.
Absence of direct democracy and crisis
“In Greece, the exclusion of citizens from the decision-making process has allowed interest groups to dominate in the political life and to create the economic and social crisis we are experiencing”, explains Petros adding that “we can not accuse Greeks for indifference because they never had at their disposal the political tools of genuine democracy”.
There is always a positive aspect, though. The crisis in Greece reactivated people’s interest for politics. More importantly, made civil society and its actions even stronger. “The effort of civil society will slowly lead the fast democratization of Greek society”, estimates Petros, pointing out that Greece’s problem is not the persons they govern, as it is widely believed, but the mechanisms that create them. “Every positive change may come only via the citizens”.
Voter’s choices have proven that the parliamentarism is over and there is no polyphony despite the big number of parties which emerge one after another without having real proposal or alternatives to face the current problems.
Referendum’s bitter taste
Recently, a considerable part of the Greek society which was in favour-even thrilled- of the referendum, proclaimed by the ex- prime minister Alexis Tsipras, was disappointed the day after when the “NO” result was not respected. It may was Mr.Tsipras intention to make Greeks believe that they participate in the decision making process, especially in a country where the last time citizens where called to referendum was in 1974. The 2015 referendum was conducted under pressure within a devised Greek society which was given only one week to decide based on an ambiguously formulated question.
It is indicative that in the Greek bibliography there is no clear distinction between referendum (ie the referendum called by citizens via petitions) and plebiscite (ie the popular vote called by the ruling party or other political party or formation).
According to Petros, it’s wrong to put the stress on a referendum’s result. What should matter the most is the public dialogue amongst citizens which makes a society mature. “After all, democracy is extremely slow, which is not necessarily bad: the bottom-line meaning of the democracy is that a society discuss for a long period and soberly in order to reach a point. On the contrary, if the society is being pushed to decide in a very short term the outcome may pose a risk”, told “L’ Indro”.
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