democraciaAbierta

Brexit, Colombia and Trump: electoral and direct democracy at their best

Despite the dissatisfaction of many with the latest election results, the democratic electoral system works today better than ever. Español

Natalia Umansky
10 November 2016
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I voted stickers rest on a sample ballot ready for voters at a polling place in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber). Picture by Steve Helber AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

Three momentous votes have taken place this year: two referendums, and a presidential election. Their unexpected results have led many to question electoral and direct democracy and the way it works. However, from a theoretical or conceptual approach, could we not say that democracy is going through its best period?

"If we can predict the outcome of an election (of any kind) then we are not dealing with a true democracy."

According to a definition of democracy that is widely accepted in the classrooms of Latin American universities, one of democracy’s core components is our inability to predict the result of a vote before the election takes place. If we can predict the outcome of an election (of any kind) then we are not dealing with a true democracy, as predictability could denote electoral manipulation. We have seen this recently in Nicaragua last Sunday during the Presidential elections, as not only was the re-election imposed, but also opposition participation was blocked and no international observers were allowed.

The alternative to such predictability is an unpredictability that ensures that power resides only with the people. These are the people who have the right and the duty to state their preferences publicly, through an established system of suffrage, and without external interferences.

The results in both the UK and Colombia, and now the United States, have left the whole world puzzled. Brexit, the rejection of the government-FARC peace agreement and Trump’s election as President were unpredictable. Only the most daring polls, at the last minute, pointed towards the final results. And although one could debate their positive and negative consequences, we can only conclude that the current democratic electoral system is working just fine.

Understanding that we live in a world that has spent decades fighting repression and promoting the current representative democracy, by which the people have a voice, is the first step. If the outcome of a public vote is unpredictable before the vote takes place, it means only one thing: that the people's voices can be heard. Put otherwise, it means that democracy has met the purpose for which it was created.

"We cannot label the system that has brought us Brexit, the rejection of the peace agreement in Colombia and the Trump presidency, as failure."

That is why we cannot label the system that has brought us Brexit, the rejection of the peace agreement in Colombia and the Trump presidency, as failure – for it is a system that simply fulfils its core function: to give its voice to the people.

On the other hand, one could argue that this system should be updated or even replaced by a better one. But thanks to the three mentioned unexpected electoral results we have seen this year (both governmental elections and referenda), we can conclude that the democratic electoral system, which many have been supporting and sponsoring in the last decades, works better today than ever. The people have spoken, and it has been heard.

In any case – and for those who do not see light at the end of the tunnel in the face of unwanted results – not everything is so dark. Even though it is less obvious how and whether it is possible to deal with the possibly irreversible outcomes of a referendum, there remains a ray of hope for those unhappy with the results obtained in the United States: repetition is also one of the fundamental components of the current democratic system, which implies that in a short time they will be able to make themselves heard again through universal suffrage and change what they have, if they do not like it. 

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