Better Democracy NZ is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation.

Our mission is to foster the improvement of New Zealand's democratic system and encourage the use of direct democracy through the

Veto, Citizens' Initiated and Recall referendum.


Monday, 7 November 2011

British Constitutional Reform calls

CITIZEN-LED DEMOCRACY IS ESSENTIAL FOR SUSTAINABLE CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM Long before the Telegraph's exposure (2008) of expenses abuse by UK members of parliament, there was widespread. and deep public dissatisfaction, not only with our politicians but also with the system of government and our democracy. These new revelations of MPs' fiddling, greed and even dishonesty made many people angry and pushed prominent politicians, once again, to make promises of reform, promises which we know from experience they will not keep.

Critics have identified numerous areas of public governance which are in urgent need of reform, for instance the way we elect our MPs, the power of parliament to elect and control government, local government powers and our relationship to the European Union. This list could go on. All of this can seem overwhelming, not only to the average citizen but also to experts and members of the government. Where on earth should we start? Who -- which persons, groups or organisations -- should decide which are the areas of priority and who should work out and formulate the proposals for reform? Should we continue as hitherto to reform our constitution of state by de facto decree of a single government, as has been done before?

Most of the areas of public governance to which we refer above would in many if not most comparable countries be seen as matters of state constitution. In the UK there is no clear concept of constitution and no distinction between "ordinary" law and constitutional law. A single government acting on a vague (if any) electoral mandate can change constitution which may have been in force for hundreds of years by pushing a law through parliament with a majority of one vote, law which will likely endure for decades at least. To date no serious attempt has been made to involve the electorate in consideration of such changes.

In almost all modern states there is a clear distinction between constitutional and other law. Commonly, it is more difficult to change constitution. For instance, a "super-majority" of elected representatives may be required and an indication of regional consensus needed. These measures serve to indicate how importantly constitution is regarded. There are very good reasons to distinguish constitutional from other law and to treat it with more care.

For decades, across the world, it has been accepted and practised that only an electorate -- The People -- may enact a state constitution. In many countries, a number of them in Europe, NO change can be made to state constitution unless (a) the electorate has been informed and consulted (b) a broad and extended public debate has been enabled and organised (c) a referendum (plebiscite) has been held for the final decision.

In conclusion two aspects will be selected and the reason for their importance briefly explained.

Firstly, a constitution of state. The People should act to give themselves a charter or group of laws ("constitution") which defines the role of citizens and their relationships with political representatives, parliament, government, judiciary, aristocracy and monarchy. First principles of the new constitution should make clear that: All power in the country and state belongs to the people. In a prominent position should appear a statement that power shall be exercised by the People in ballots and elections; in other words plebiscites by which they decide on public issues in addition to electing persons to represent them in parliaments and councils.

A crucial question remains, namely, how can we make ourselves a modern constitution when the "constitution" and related tradition which we appear to possess provide no suitable tools for the job? Given the essential and fundamental role played and to be played by electorates in making and changing modern constitution (see above), it appears most urgent that we should give ourselves the instruments of citizen-led democracy in order, as a people, to make, re-write and modernise our state constitution. The principles behind the citizens' law proposal, veto-referendum and citizen-initiated plebiscite flow directly from the (denied by some) reality that "All power in the country and state belongs to the people". We could introduce guiding regulations to enable citizen-led democracy while at the same time extensively promoting public information and deliberation about renewing our constitution. A rapid learning process would be expected, leading to a discourse enriched by the acquisition of long-denied democratic rights. The electorate could then decide on constitution-building, perhaps in a step-wise fashion, section by section or "brick by brick".

Lets get on with the job!

I&R ~ GB Citizens' Initiative and Referendum Campaign for direct democracy in Britain


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