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In the twenty-first century, do we need to rethink representation?

Despite the fact that our societies, laws and political climates have changed immensely over the last century, the concept of democratic representation has remained fundamentally the same in most nations. 

Tomás Guarna
8 November 2016
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The Irish House of Commons, 1780 by Francis Wheatley. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

The Irish House of Commons, 1780 by Francis Wheatley. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain. Is representation outdated, and should we rethink it? At this year's World Forum for Democracy, we posed the question to three participants: 

Lauren West-Livingston, student at Wake School of Medicine, US

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“The United States is actually a democratic republic: we elect officials to make our decisions for us, so it’s very important that we vote someone that represents their constituents. Sometimes in our elections we vote for someone – there’s a popular vote – and then our representatives don’t vote the same as the people, which has been an issue in the last few elections. We have our election on Tuesday, and it’s really important to see if our local governors and local state representatives will represent those who voted for them and their interests. I would rather see a full democracy, in which people’s votes count directly for the policies instead of elected representatives who make the decisions for them, because of the disconnect that happens rarely, but does happen. But we still have a long way for that.”

Alejandro Inti Bonomo, member of DemocracyOS, Argentina

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“We definitely need to rethink it. The speakers at the forum showed data about the popular perception that the democratic system is in crisis: the population is dissatisfied, and there is the prevailing notion that the socioeconomic needs won’t be satisfied in the following years. Therefore, there is no doubt we need to rethink the democratic system and expand the spaces of participation that citizens have. In Argentina, for example, we have lots of laws that speak about direct citizen representation. We have a special seat in our parliament specially designed for citizens, but that was never put into practice. So it seems that the participation mechanisms are there, but that there’s no political will to make them feasible and possible for citizens. So there’s important pedagogical work to do there in raising awareness about the political possibilities for participation, and share knowledge about those already in place.”

Mina Skuqi, member of the parliamentary bureau of the parliament of Albania

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“I think it depends on the model of democracy of each country and the model of representation of each parliament. We have parliaments that are based on representation with deputies chosen in different election forms: for example, a majority form or individual decision. I think the best way is when you select your own representatives. In Albania we don’t choose our own representatives, we choose a list of people. We don’t vote individuals, we vote parties. And I don’t think that’s working very well.”

openDemocracy is at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the relationship between education and democracy with a youth newsroom. More here.

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