Representatives and constituents

Enrique Dans. Professor. IE Business School

14 October 2011

Social networking sites provide a platform for citizens to air their ideas and combat the selective deafness of politicians, who continue to act in lobbies’ interests, rather than meeting voters’ needs.

In Spain, the two main parties joined forces to reform the constitution. The Spanish did not agree unanimously with said reform: there were demonstrations and protests by those who did not want the reform, and others who believed other aspects needed to be modified. The politicians dodged a referendum by claiming that if over 80% of the representatives of the people were in agreement, the democratic thing would be for the modification to take place.

The European Parliament voted for the copyright law to be extended from fifty years to seventy. Most people do not want the law to be extended. Leading academics have undertaken studies which prove that this step can only benefit large companies which own huge catalogues of royalties, and not the artists themselves, artistic creation or the people. However, it would appear that MEPs, for some reason, will approve the extension anyway.

These are just two examples. We could quote many more. What isn’t working properly? Doesn’t anybody care about the obvious break in the link between representatives and constituents? Who do the theoretical representatives of the people listen to and what use are they? We have created democracies in which the representatives have no communication with the very people who they are representing in theory. They do, however, have direct and immediate communication with lobbies and pressure groups.

In indirect or representative democracies, the people simply elect representatives who deliberate and make decisions. In semi-direct democracies, various components are added (plebiscites, referenda, popular initiatives and revocations of mandate) for the people to express themselves directly in certain circumstances. The spread of the social web is bringing about change: it still doesn’t function as a semi-direct democracy, but it is serving as a catalyst to close the gap. Representatives can no longer ignore their constituents. Politicians can no longer get away with voting by imperative mandate or pushing through bills proposed by this or that lobby, now that Internet has opened up a communication channel between representatives and constituents.

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