Democracy Chronicles

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Updated: 1 hour 45 min ago

Study suggests US should revise legal voting age limits

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 14:05

By Laurence Steinberg, Professor of Psychology, Temple University. Vietnam War protests led to a lower voting age. The Parkland shooting could push similar reevaluations. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert Societies have long grappled with where to draw the chronological age boundary between adolescence and adulthood. The United States stands apart from most of the world in that it…

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Shifting fortunes for main Sierra Leone parties in key vote

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 13:57

Sierra Leone holds a general election on Wednesday with uncertainty over the impact of new movements vying to break the stranglehold of two parties which have ruled since independence from Britain in 1961. President Ernest Bai Koroma is stepping down after a decade and many feel his anointed successor cannot kickstart the diamond-rich West African nation’s…

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Should America Make Changes to Model Swiss Democracy?

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 15:21

Following the chaos and questioning that the 2016 Presidential election produced, is it time that the United States looks for another model of democracy? The American presidential election system has been particularly mired in controversy since 2016 when President Donald Trump defeated Democratic Party challenger Hillary Clinton not by popular vote, but the electoral college.

President Trump defeated Clinton, 304 to 227 to become the 45th President of the United States in November of 2016. Clinton won the popular vote 65,845,063 to 62,980,160 but since the American presidential election is determined by the Electoral College, she lost, leaving many to wonder if America’s democracy is currently in the right form or should it be modeled on a different system – like the Swiss model of direct democracy.

A very Swiss democracy

The Swiss model is highly regarded as one of the best models of democracy in the Western world. It is a highly unusual system where citizens themselves go to the polls and directly vote on referendums, needing a majority of the vote to approve initiatives.

In order for a referendum to become law in Switzerland, the citizens have three options to bring a referendum to vote: mandatory, popular initiative, and optional. Each of the three options can lead to changes in the Swiss constitution and/or can lead to an actual referendum becoming law. For the referendum to pass, a majority of citizens in a Canton (Swiss state) must vote in favor of it.

The Landsgemeinde is an old form of direct democracy, still in practice in two cantons.

But with all the praise of the Swiss system, there are some who see serious flaws. Tobias Montag who is a political scientist at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation is one who disagree with the model. According to Montag, “in practice these direct democracy maneuvers often lead to great polarization, and that’s not very helpful to democracy.”

Some examples of referendums that have fed polarization include a 2009 proposed ban to restrict minarets on mosques that received majority support. Another example of a referendum leading to polarization is a 2014 referendum which limited the number of migrants that Switzerland would accept into the country – a direct response to the Europe-wide migrant crisis. Some viewed these actions as controversial because the EU that surrounds Switzerland has represented itself as a free and unrestricted, welcoming community.

“They often use direct voting to make their politics look legitimate,” Montag continued expressing his concern over the number of authoritarian regimes that have used the referendum method to legitimize their regimes.

As Montag explained, referendums can also used by populists to spread controversial opinions. The populist movement that has spread throughout the European continent in the past five years resulted in several right-wing governments being elected. This has largely been in response to the economic crisis of 2009 and the arrival of the migrant crisis from Africa and the Middle East.

Reflections on the Swiss model from America

The referendum model, however, is in actuality more of a direct model then what we have here in America where unpopular governments can pass laws even when the majority has all three branches of government.

Even though Switzerland has representatives elected to government, private citizens can start referendums themselves if they find enough support. This is in contrast to America where the President, Representatives and Senators are elected but citizens have no method to pass referendums at the national level. State level referendums do exist in some states and some states even have systems that allow the recall of politicians through popular referendum.

“The most important thing about decisions is not how fast they’re made, but how good they are,” Montag continued. He pointed to the fact that some bad laws have been made through the referendum process even though it has been looked at as one of the most democratic systems in the Western world.

With all the talk of the referendum method used in Switzerland, one must wonder if it be possible to set up a similar system at the federal level in the United States.  Switzerland has 26 cantons in the country compared to 50 states in the much more populous United States, so it would be extremely difficult to even set up a system where everyone would be able to participate in a national referendum system. In my opinion, even though democracy in the United States isn’t perfect and needs many changes, the representative model is probably the best form of government for a country of our size and influence.

Links to Sources:

  1. Weforum.org – link
  2. 270 to win – link
  3. DW.com – link

Stephen Colbert in Capitol Hill for Russian Investigation Answers

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 14:41

“The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert took it upon himself to find answers about possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election and to do that, he went to Capitol Hill, Washington D.C., and spoke to both Democratic and Republican representatives. Colbert, who gives his own spin to the most serious political matters plaguing the country at…

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A Student Built Program Designed to Sniff Out Twitter Bots

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 14:38

For months, university students Ash Bhat and Rohan Phadte had been tracking about 1,500 political propaganda accounts on Twitter that appeared to have been generated by computers when they noticed something odd. In the hours after the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the bots, short for robots, shifted into high gear, jumping into the debate…

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The Black Panther film, Black Americans and African Immigrants

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 14:35

By Bunmi Fatoye-MatoryCustomers swarmed Exotique, a boutique store in downtown Durham, North Carolina, last week. Exotique, owned by my friend Lola and her husband, sells beautiful African textiles, dresses, jewelry, art and other products from the continent. Lola’s husband is a senior anesthesiologist at the Duke University School of Medicine who travels all over Africa on…

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China tries to downplay lifting of Xi term limit after backlash

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 14:31

China sought on Sunday to downplay the Communist Party’s move to scrap presidential term limits, a decision that could pave the way for Xi Jinping to remain president for life. The National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp parliament, will vote on March 11 on constitutional amendments which include the scrapping of a rule limiting the top…

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How Israeli ministers sell themselves to the public with public money

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 14:29

A shift in criteria for government campaigns allows Miri Regev, Naftali Bennett and others to voice their own accomplishments, and it’s starting to sound a little off-key Noticed a significant rise in the number of government commercials and minister voiceovers on TV and the radio? You’re not imagining things. Since May 2015, government ministries spent NIS…

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A look at the key players in the American gun lobby battle

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 14:25

The mass shooting of 17 people at a Florida high school in February has reignited the long-running debate over gun laws in the United States. Here is a look at some gun rights and gun control groups in the U.S.: Prominent gun rights groups National Rifle Association The NRA, which claims 5 million members, is one…

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A General Failure to Elect Women Parliamentarians Worldwide

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 14:17

In advance of International Women’s Week (March 5), a report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union finds little progress is being made in increasing the number of women parliamentarians around the world. Before 2016, the Inter-Parliamentary Union reports the number of women being elected to Parliaments around the world was increasing annually on average by six percent. But…

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Zimbabwe’s new president says he is pro-democracy. Is he?

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 14:12

President Emmerson Mnangagwa WILL parliamentary and presidential elections, which must be held by late July, be free and fair? If so, will Emmerson Mnangagwa and his Zanu-PF party, which has run Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, win? And if they lose, will they hand over power to the victors, as they have brazenly failed to do…

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Voters poised to defend Swiss government media spending

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 14:10

Swiss voters on Sunday look set to reject a proposal that would see public broadcasters lose taxpayer funding, following a campaign that stirred debate about the media’s role in fostering national unity. The “No Billag” initiative — a reference to the Billag firm that collects the media licensing fee — divided Switzerland on political and generational…

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First female Dalit senator elected in Pakistani history

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 13:19

Pakistan elected its first female senator from the lowest Dalit caste in weekend polls which also saw the ruling party strengthen its hand ahead of a general election in the Muslim-majority country. The surprise victory of opposition candidate Krishna Kumari Kohli in the Senate election stirred a wave of optimism on social media, as Pakistanis celebrated…

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