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A crowd-sourced constitution?

Herman Arnold from Citizens for Democracy talks to the public

Iceland once came close to creating the world’s most transparently-written constitution.  In 2013 the government legislated a special Constitutional Assembly of citizens to revise the constitution that was approved in a referendum of voters. But before the legislative bill could be passed, the government’s term expired and the next government didn’t carry out the reform.

Iceland’s experiment in constitutional reform remains proof that citizens could become co-creators of the constitution. “There are not only a few very intelligent people who know what should be in a constitution. Everyone can contribute, if there is an appropriate mechanism,” said Hermann Arnold, founder of the initiative Citizens for Democracy – Österreich Entscheidet and one of the speakers in the Democracy Reloaded break-out session on Monday.

“Policy-makers are not in favour of citizen participation. They say that they want more participation, but what they want is that people participate more in the things they want them to. The politicians are afraid of losing power, so they don’t want to give more power to people,” Mr Arnold told Alpbach Media Academy.

Herman Arnold in a meeting

Herman Arnold from Citizens for Democracy says that politicians are afraid of losing power.

Democratic processes that involve citizens have to be genuine because otherwise people won’t be engaged. “If citizens notice that the decision they make is binding, then they will get off their couch and go to vote,” he said.

“There are a lot of experiments with participation and for sure they will succeed, because they have to succeed. If they don’t succeed, then it’s the end of democracy,” he added.  

Wolfgang Merkel, professor of political science and director of the research unit  Democracy and Democratization in Berlin, said there can be dangers with bottom-up democratic processes. One problem is that only a self-selecting few will participate and another is a tendency towards illiberal views. “A parliament’s decisions on immigration, for example, are more liberal than in those cases where immigration is decided by referenda,” he said.

“We have to diagnose the problems of democracy and then we have to judge democratic innovations or alternative projects, whether they solve these problems,” Prof. Merkel added.

By Elli Vlachou Alpbach Media Academy

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