Archive for Politics

Alternatives to Elections (Parliament/Congress Duty Part-2)

I have been debating whether it would be better to make participation in the Parliament/Congress Duty mandatory, like a jury duty, or voluntary, like a driver’s license? That is, in some countries, able citizens are required to serve in a jury duty if called unless they have a valid excuse. On the other hand, people are only required to have driver’s licenses if they want to drive, and then they have to pass road rules and driving tests before they are given one.

I see advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. The jury duty model would expand the pool of available candidates significantly, which on the plus side means that every citizen has an equal chance of being selected to serve. On the other hand it also means that people will be forced to serve even if they have no desire to do so. There is also the issue of whether some of the people called to serve will have the capability to understand complex laws they will be voting on, but who is to say that all of the elected politicians are capable of understanding the laws they vote on.

Requiring people to pass tests before their names can be added to the lottery pool would address the qualification issue, but it would also reduce the pool of candidates to pick from. This would also avoid the issue of forcing people to serve, as only those who are interested in serving will take the tests.

I am thinking there would be about four levels of tests:

  1. the first level would qualify one to serve in the city/town/village council and for the mayor’s office
  2. level two for state/province level offices, including the governor’s office
  3. passing level three would qualify one to serve as an MP/Congress person and in the upper house/senate
  4. candidates who pass the level four test will have their names added to the pool of candidates who are qualified enough to serve as the leader/president of the country

Now to the more difficult/thorny issues: who writes the tests, and what should be in the tests? The whole reason I am proposing an alternative to elections is that, in my opinion, politicians and the political process in most countries have been captured by special interest groups with deep pockets, where I feel most of the laws passed only benefit the interests of the moneyed over those of the majority. And it is highly likely that if proper care is not taken, the contents of the tests, and those who write them, will be hijacked by the same forces in order to ensure that the candidate pools are filled with the type of people who are likely to serve the interests of corporations and the moneyed class.

So, how do you insure that those interested in serving are able to take the tests and pass them if they are well prepared and are motivated enough? First and foremost, the tests need to be free or affordable, and test preparation material should be freely available at libraries and community centers, and available to download for free.

What should be in the tests then? At all levels, I would like to see people tackle subject matters and issues such as (with the degrees of complexity and difficulty increasing with each level):

  • education, science and technology, health
  • law: constitution, international treaties, intellectual property*, etc.
  • economics: local/regional/national economic source and budget (e.g., where most of the resources go to: education, law enforcement, etc.); what the nation’s competitive advantages are (e.g., is it sciences, manufacturing, IT, tourism? etc.)
  • environment: parks, clean air/water, wildlife, etc.
  • cultures/diversity; history of labor/women’s/minority movements and their impact on society at the local, national and international level
  • national defense and security
  • local/regional/national/international history
  • much more that I can’t think of at the moment…

*At least at the levels three and four (may be even at all levels), I would like to see candidates tackle the effects of national and international intellectual property laws (patents, copyrights) on sciences and technology, entrepreneurship, health, and human rights, so that they won’t pass laws sponsored/written by special interest groups (e.g., the entertainment industry), which end up having disastrous effects on the other issues. We are seeing way too many of these draconian and one sided intellectual property and other laws being passed in many countries, which I strongly believe would have no chance of passing if parliaments and congresses were made up of randomly selected citizens, instead of being populated by professional politicians whose reelection campaigns are funded by special interest groups.


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Parliament/Congress Duty (as in Jury Duty)

I went for what turned out to be a two hour walk earlier today as it was a beautiful day, and that I also wanted to think about some of the projects I am working on. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to come up with any breakthroughs or solutions to my problems as my mind kept wandering in a million and one directions, which I was only happy to indulge.

So out of the blue I started thinking about elections and how incumbents will do everything in their power (legal or otherwise) to stay in power; and the violence associated with elections (before and after) in a lot of countries; campaign financing and the inevitable corruption that comes with it; the time MPs/Congresspeople spend raising money and campaigning instead of doing their jobs; etc…

The obvious question then is: do you need elections in order to have a democratic system or live in a democratic society? Or is there another way to enjoy the good things that democracies bring, and eliminate most, if not all of the problems associated with elections?

The solution I came up with was this (and it would surprise me if I was the first one to propose this idea, but I am too lazy to do a search): instead of having elections for parliament or congress, etc. every 2/4/5 years, why not randomly pull a name out of a district’s eligible/registered residents and require that individual to serve in the coming parliament/congress for 2 years? This is how jury duties work in some (most?) democratic systems, where citizens are required to serve when called, unless they have a reasonable excuse that prevents them from serving. So if it works for the legal system, why wouldn’t it work for selecting MPs/Congresspeople? As an MP/Congressperson the newly chosen people would still draw a decent salary plus expenses, and will have available to them professional staff or civil servants, just like current MPs/Congresspeople, which should address hardship issues and the steep learning curve that comes with the job.

This would eliminate most of the issues I listed above, and I would also add that it brings with it additional benefits that do not exist with election based democratic systems.

First, with the current system most people know that there is no way that they would ever become MPs/Congresspeople since they know that you either need to come from a prominent family, have a ton of money, or have great political connections if you are ever going to have any chance of getting elected, which I would argue makes people to become politically disengaged.

However, If we all knew that we could one day be called to serve our country, and that every two years we have 1 in 1000 or 10000/100,000, etc, chance of becoming a council person/state representative/MP/Congressperson, then I would argue that most of us would become more politically aware and involved, and would be more likely to pay increased attention to issues that affect our community, country, and even the world. As such, we would attempt to form views on the issues that affect our families and communities before hand, and would probably get involved in our school systems or health services, etc., in order to have a better understanding of how they work and problems that need addressing. In short, I would argue that more people would become involved in their communities and politically engaged, and even pay more attention to global issues, which can only be a good thing.

The second benefit I see is that if a district is populated by different ethnic or racial or political groups, where say one group makes up 40% and another 60% of the district, in the current system it is very likely that the majority will win every election, shutting out the minority group and leaving their issues unaddressed. In the new system, however, the minority will have a 40% chance of one of their members being chosen at every election. It is possible that the majority will resent this, but at least they know that they have a higher chance of getting one of their own selected next time around.

Another benefit I see is that since women make up more than 50% of the population of most (if not all) countries, this random parliament/congress duty selection system will ensure that the law making institutions in a country will reflect the true make up of the country’s population, and as a result the laws passed will more likely be designed to address issues that women consider important.

I am still debating whether this should also apply to the office of the president/prime minister though. On the one hand I believe that every citizen should aspire to and have an equal chance of becoming the head of state, but, the job of a head of state demands more, so may be we should still have elections just for the head of state? Then again, could anybody in Zimbabwe/Cameron/Libya/etc., do or be worse than the current office holders?

For this to work you would need to make sure that the random name selection process is truly transparent and the systems used are thoroughly inspected and certified by independent organizations in order to prevent the gaming of the system.

What do you think? Would this work, or do you have a better idea? I haven’t listed any cons, so I would love to hear why you think it wouldn’t work.

Another benefit I see to this system over an election is that the parliamentary or congressional members are almost guaranteed to come from more diverse professions than the current system, where they are dominated by lawyers. I believe that if teachers, doctors, waiters, etc., are equally represented then the laws they pass would be designed to address issues that affect them. Plus, it would help a great deal for other members to hear first hand from another member who is a teacher or a doctor when debating an education or health bill, than to exclusively rely on lobbyists and special interests when crafting and debating bills.


I said when I wrote this article that it was unlikely this was a novel idea, but I was too lazy to do a search if anyone else had a similar idea, or whether it’s ever been used. Then today I learned, while reading comments on Hacker News on an interesting article (The “overlearning the game” problem), that this was indeed a very old idea, and is called Sortition. I encourage every African democrat who is fed up of corrupt and incompetent incumbent politicians to seriously consider sortition as a viable option to elections. I intend to learn more about it now that I learned the Greeks preferred this to elections. As Aristotle said “it is thought to be democratic for the offices to be assigned by lot, for them to be elected is oligarchic” (quote taken from the wikipedia article). I couldn’t agree more.

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Limiting Political Dynastic Rule in Africa

As expected, Ali Bongo has been elected the next president of Gabon. There is no doubt that Ali Bongo won this election because he is the son of Omar Bongo. Similarly, the only reason Joseph Kabila is the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo is because he is the son of the late president Laurent Kabila.

Does anybody honestly believe that these two men are the best qualified to lead their countries, or that their ascendancy to the throne furthers the cause of democracy in their respected countries?

So, what should be done to limit, if not end, political dynasties in Africa?

One way would be to prohibit immediate family members of political office holders from running for the same office for a specified period of time, say 10 years after their immediate relative vacates the office. For example, in Gabon, Ali Bongo would have had to wait until 2019 if he wanted to run for the presidency. This would have given the people of Gabon the chance to closely evaluate the qualifications and ideas of the other lesser known candidates. It may even have encouraged more, perhaps even better qualified, candidates to run for the presidency if they had known that Ali Bongo would be bared from running until 2019.

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Give Tsvangirai a Chance

It doesn’t look like Zimbabwe’s prime minster Morgan Tsvangirai was able to raise as much money as he hoped during his trip to the US and Europe, which is unfortunate. As the article indicates, the situation in Zimbabwe is far from perfect as there are still human rights violations going on, and as such the western leader’s reluctance to provide more aid is understandable.

I was skeptical that the power sharing deal would work, and I still have my doubts given that Mugabe’s party is doing all it can to ensure that this deal fails. However, having watched and read several interviews with prime minster Tsvangirai, it clear that he is very determined and doing everything in his power to make this work. Like many Zimbabweans Tsvangirai has experienced the brutality of Mugabe’s security forces firsthand, and if he is willing to give this deal a chance, then we should give him the benefit of the doubt and wish him the best of luck.

And if the power sharing government fails, the blame will rest entirely on Mugabe and his party; and those who forced Tsvangirai into this flawed deal will have to admit that Mugabe will have to go if Zimbabwe is to have any chance of becoming a successful, free and democratic nation.

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Does Madagascar need an Army?

Madagascar, like any other nation, needs a strong and well disciplined police force; and since it is an island nation, it also needs a strong coast guard (perhaps even a navy) to protect its extensive territorial waters (e.g., protect its fishing resources from illegal fishing, etc.). But why does it need an army? What are the chances of it being invaded by another country?

In a democracy, the role of the army should be to defend the country from external aggression; not to interfere in internal politics and back one party or faction over another, and overthrow a legitimately elected government. The actions of the Madagascar army over the past couple of months have brought its very existence into question.

Sooner or later democracy will return to Madagascar, and hopefully those army leaders responsible for this mess will be brought to justice. One also hopes that the people of Madagascar will then seriously consider whether they need an army, or could the resources currently going to the army instead be put to better use — such as beefing up the police force/coast guard; or even put into education, healthcare, etc.

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Zimbabwe: Final Push

Africa’s moral voice, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has urged Robert Mugabe to resign or go to The Hague, but unfortunately it is highly unlikely that Mugabe will heed that advice and voluntarily leave. It is also clear that short of an outside military intervention, which is also highly unlikely, there seems to be nothing the world can do to force Mugabe out of power.

The only way this nightmare is going to end is if the people of Zimbabwe say enough is enough and take to the streets in unprecedented numbers and force Mugabe out of office. At the moment it may look like the people’s spirits are broken and they have no energy left for a final fight, but it could be that they are waiting for a signal either from their political leaders or the church or some new inspirational figure to lead them.

It is time for Tsvangirai and other opposition leaders to tell the people of Zimbabwe that the talks to form a new power-sharing government have failed, and that except for sanctions and moral support, there is nothing the outside world can do to remove Mugabe and end their nightmare. It is now up to the people to take matters into their own hands and force Mugabe out. In addition, opposition leaders have to invite the security forces to join the people and be on the right side of history and save their country. They have to make it clear to them that they are there to protect and serve the people of Zimbabwe, and not an individual.

The cholera outbreak is the latest indignity to befall this once proud nation, and the opposition leaders can either choose to make this the final indignity, and save their nation or get out of the way once and for all and let others take charge. The people of Zimbabwe have to understand that there is nothing more the international community can do to end their suffering — they are the only ones who can end this.

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Split the ANC?

A lot has been written about the feuding within the ANC and the talk of forming a new party by some supporters of former President Thabo Mbeki. However, most of the articles I have read focused on former minister’s views as to why a new party may be needed, and left me (and I am sure many readers outside of South Africa) wondering if there was any grassroots support for it. This article in the Guardian, however, suggests that there may very well be support for it, at least in some regions of the country.

My concern is that the new party may not have a broad, multi-ethnic support, and could end up splitting the ANC across ethnic lines. The danger then is that violence could breakout between the supporters of the ANC headed by Zuma and the new party. What makes this fear real is the threat by the ANC’s youth leader “to kill for Mr. Zuma.”

I am not going to weigh in as to whether the ANC should split, since there are good arguments as to the pros and cons: A pro is that it is good for democracy and accountability to have two strong parties. The downside of splitting the ANC is that it could lead to gridlock at a time when South Africa needs real reform.

It may be inevitable that the ANC is destined for a split, but the ANC leadership must put the interests of the country before their personal ambitions, because the dangers of a split are real and could destroy South Africa. Zuma, as the leader of the party, has the power and responsibility to prevent the ANC from breaking up by addressing the legitimate grievances of those contemplating leaving the party.

The first, and main issue Mr. Zuma needs to address is the lack of respect shown by his supporters for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. I would even suggest that, for the sake of his party and the country, Mr. Zuma should step aside until his corruption trial takes its course. Second, he needs to fire anyone in the ANC who advocates violence, and should start with the ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema. Otherwise we maybe witnessing the beginning of a dangerous period in South Africa, and Mr. Zuma may go down in history as the person most responsible for the aftermath.

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