Could Direct Democracy Become Mainstream?

Jack is a Sydney-based news watcher, music lover and politics hack who occasionally lists things in threes.

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Approx 4 minute reading time

A new political party is joining Australia’s ranks. According to their Twitter by-line, MiVote, will be ‘redesigning democracy via informed, equal voices for all’. Its founder, Adam Jacoby says the idea behind MiVote is “how would you redesign democracy” if you were launching it for the first time in a world of technology and the internet.

The concept is simple enough. The party has no party platform and relies instead on a membership base to read all the information that usually comes before a politician before they make a decision and cast a vote. They will cast their votes through a mobile app which will launch on Saturday. The decision that a majority of the membership settles upon will then be how their senators – who will be limited to serving for two terms and can hold no policy positions themselves – will vote.

Their goal is to have three senators in the Upper House by 2018, and that will certainly be a challenge in an era where we’ve almost reached peak minor-parties (Bullet Train for Australia Party anyone?) This also isn’t the first time technology-driven Direct-Democracy has been attempted in Australia.

Online Direct Democracy Au have really tacky online graphics, but the concept is similar to that of MiVotes. The party ran candidates in NSW, NT, QLD and 10 lower house seats on the promise that all legislation would be voted on by their members, and their MPs would support the majority decision. However, in the 2016 election, the party only received 0.09% of the national vote and no candidates in either house.

Flux has far edgier graphics, and a very satisfying ‘Flux the System!’ motto and runs on a similar concept again. The most noticeable difference between them and the other options, is their candidates’ willingness to split the party’s vote, in order to proportionately represent the views of their members. For example, if 20% of their members say no to Marriage Equality, 20% of their yet-to-exist MPs would vote No on their behalf.

All of these parties are using technology to achieve the individualised and participatory direct democracy found in 5th century Greece, where no matter someone’s wealth, or opinions, they came together with their peers and crossed the floor (or amphitheatre if that’s what was available at the time) to cast their ballot.

Direct Democracy, and voting online, generally raises substantial questions about the chances of results being hacked or the uninformed receiving even greater power. MiVote’s Adam Jacoby insists that the system is secure, and by giving people the power of having all the information at the fingertips, they can make informed decisions from their home. MiVote has built in a feature to the app that won’t let you vote on an issue until you’ve read a certain percent of information available, saying “if you choose not to be informed, we’ll choose not to listen.”

In the 2016 double-dissolution election Australian Direct-Democracy parties ran for the first time, with very little media coverage of their campaigns in between the constant One Nation news advertorials. Flux ran in the Senate for every state and received 0.153% of the vote, while Online Direct Democracy received 0.09%. However, the idea of direct-democracy is not monopolised by minor-parties.

2016 was the year of the anti-establishment populist revolt which saw the swings of the Brexit vote, Trump’s rise in the US, and Duterte’s in the Philippines. The Pirate Party, the third largest parliamentary party in Iceland, argue that 2017 will be the year of the anti-establishment new-progressives, who have a focus on direct democracy, Hacktivism, technology and socialism. They utilise the same sort of app technology that MiVote, Flux & Online Democracy want to bring to Australia.

Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the Leader of the Icelandic Pirate Party said “direct democracy is not about voting on everything. No one has the time to vote on everything and have deep knowledge on just about everything. What we should have is the ability to call a referendum or call for changes when things are going wrong.”

Direct democracy is important to them because it “keeps us [politicians] on our toes and makes us more aware that there are people following what we are doing.”

Iceland’s pirate party is not identical to the proposed Australian models, the Pirates have an established political leaning and their MPs are not bound by their member’s votes, but it does show that a party that utilises direct democracy via technology, can become a mainstream political force.

When MiVote comes online, it will be coming into an Australian voting market that is saturated with minor parties and pre-existing direct democracy parties that currently only appeal to a quarter of a percent of Australians. Starting a political party can be difficult, just ask Clive Palmer, Bob Katter or Corey Bernardi, especially when there is no immediate plan or vision for them to share with voters at election time. However, what about the possibility of us shaping a way forward together? If they can build support behind their idea of community-led decision making, it could be the start of a new democratic revolution.  

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Find out more about MiVote and Direct Democracy

  Visit the MiVote Site