Power To the People: Lisbon and Democracy

Generation Yes have produced a great video on Democracy in the EU under the Lisbon Treaty. Check it out!

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An Bord Snip

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Okay so an Board Snip has been published and its recommending some serious cuts in various sections of Government. Some are good ideas, others are savage. I agree with most of the mergers but not with some of the cuts.

There is one thing we must remember with the report. It is only recommendations. We now know what the Government have been recommended to do, so if we think soething shouldn’t be done we need to get out there and lobby for what we want protected.

This is the advantage of the democracy we live. A lot of TD’s (especially rural TDs) will be looking at this report and shaking at the thought of the next election if some of these measures are brought to pass.

The Oireactas is on its summer break, so it is the perfect time to get lobbying your TD and giving them the reasons why the cuts shouldnt happen.

I know I will be lobbying my TDs on a few of the issues that I care about, its up do you do lobby for what you want!

Check out the Irish Election posts on the Bord Snip reports to see what is being recommended without going through the report.

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Equality California considers Prop 8 Passage a "Mob Vote"

In a letter that is posted on the Gay News Blog, Geoff Kors, Executive Director of Equality California says the result should be thrown out due to the “outrageous lies and questionable tactics by the other side, be thrown out. We know our rights cannot be taken away by a mob vote.”

I am amazed he calls it a mob vote? Is not California a democracy? Is it not the job of Equality California and others against Prop 8 to highlight the lies and the tactics used by its proponents. If it passed because of lies and tactics then it shows the incompetence of the “No on 8” Campaign. The route they are taking now, more legal action asking that the results of a legal democratic election “be thrown out” is outrageous!

I am also very questioning of the protests against the Mormon Church. So what if they supported Prop 8? Aren’t they allowed as a interest group to participate in politics? Parading signs like “Vile Mormons” is not going to get you any more supporters!

If those that were deicted to the cause actually stopped doing and started thinking they would do what is suggested over on GayPatriot and see where they went wrong. One of the writers there has also written an excellent piece on Pajamas Media on Making the Case for Gay Marriage. There is no point in blaming others when you failed as you must take some of the blame yourself.

I hope the California Courts have learned that they cannot go against the wishes of the MAJORITY of the people and through the results out.

"no alternative to a new referendum"

From todays Indo

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen has been given a year by his European counterparts to push through a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, the Irish Independent has learned.

EU leaders yesterday firmly ruled out a renegotiation of the treaty as a way to resolve the crisis caused by Ireland’s ‘No’ vote last week.

Government sources said it was also made clear that there was no alternative to a new referendum.

I am very annoyed!!! 55% of people eligible to vote turned up to vote on June 12th and the majority said “NO”.

Though I was supporting a “Yes” vote during the campaign, if EU leaders are adamant that we vote on this treaty without changes then I will vote NO on the second go round.

I want a Europe that is democratic and transparent. This is not how we get it! Ignoring the democratic will of the Irish people will not endear Europe to us.

When France and the Netherland voted “NO” there voices were respected. Why aren’t ours?

Some during the referendum claimed a “No” vote would lead to a two tier Europe. What the vote has shown is that there IS a two tier Europe, One Europe of core founding and large states and one of late comers on the periphry.

This is not a fair Europe.

This outcome has actually led me to become quite Eurosceptic which is strange considering I do support a united Europe….

Time to go rethink where I stand….

Orginally Posted on The Political Gay over on GayCork.com

Stronger Local Democracy – Options for Change

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Green Party Leader, John Gormley, launched a Green Paper Yesterday enititled “Stronger Local Democracy- Options for Change”. In his remarks on the announcment he had the following to say.

“Stronger Local Democracy presents a set of options for change which share a strong common theme of renewing local democratic leadership. Local government in Ireland is capable of doing much more to meet the needs of local communities. The options presented in this paper suggest how we might achieve that stronger local government system,”

Fine Gael’s Environment Spokesman, Phil Hogan TD, called the plan ‘High in Rhetoric but low in detail’, he explained

“The proposals include a directly elected Mayor for Dublin, with the possibility of directly elected Mayors in other cities and counties, but do not explain the functions of this office.”

Ciarán Lynch TD, Labours Spokesperson on Housing and Local Government welcomed the publication of the Green Paper, but he went to say

“The Green paper is, perhaps by its very nature, full of woolly aspiration, but it now needs to be tightened up, and flesh needs to be put on those bones. It is vital that as the reform process moves towards White Paper status, that these proposals become a reality, and not just a worthy list of aspirations that languish on the Govt’s desk, like we have seen in other areas of government.”

The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Local Government, Martin Ferris TD had the following remarks to say

“While I welcome some of the proposals including the introduction of directly elected Mayors and the provision for holding plebiscites, I believe that in general it does not go far enough in setting out guidelines for a more radical strengthening of local democracy.”

He went on to say that nothing was being done to challenge the power of City and County Managers.

The Green Paper can be downloaded from the Departments Website in PDF

What is Democracy ?

Democracy can be defined in multiple ways. According to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1996, 1998) democracy can be defined as
“Government by popular representation; a form of government in which the supreme power is retained by the people, but is indirectly exercised through a system of representation and delegated authority periodically renewed; a constitutional representative government; a republic.”
This broad definition leads us to believe that all democratic states have representative governments, regular elections, have a constitution and are republics. Of course the regular governments and regular elections are cornerstones of democracies, but democratic states are not all republics or they do not all have constitutions. According to Cincotta (1998) there are pillars of democracy, which are:
• Sovereignty of the people.
• Government based upon consent of the governed.
• Majority rule.
• Minority rights.
• Guarantee of basic human rights.
• Free and fair elections.
• Equality before the law.
• Due process of law.
• Constitutional limits on government.
• Social, economic, and political pluralism.
• Values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation, and compromise.
These pillars and historic versions of democracy will be discussed in this essay.

Today democratic governments are the most common forms of government. From the early 1990’s the countries of the former soviet block cast off the yoke of communism and embraced democracy. More and more African and Asian countries are becoming democracies. Democracy is practiced in countries as varied as Japan, Italy and Venezuela. According to Cincotta (1998),
“Democracies flourish when they are tended by citizens willing to use their hard-won freedom to participate in the life of their society–adding their voices to the public debate, electing representatives who are held accountable for their actions, and accepting the need for tolerance and compromise in public life”

Democracies fall into two categories, direct and representative. The classic example of direct is classical Greek democracy, but it still is used today. It is not used to extent as representative democracy. The most common form of direct democracy used today is referendums. According to The Economist (August, 1999) only 3 democracies in Western Europe make no provision for referendums in their constitutions, they are Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway. Only six major democracies have never held nationwide referendums, they are the Netherlands, the United States, Japan, India, Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany. In other countries such as Switzerland and several U.S. states referendums rival legislatures in their significance. They are different types of referendums, advisory and mandatory. Advisory referendums are a way for governments to test public opinion on controversial issues. Mandatory referendums are apart of the legislative process and are one means of changing the constitutions.

In a democracy equality before the law and due process should be guaranteed to all citizens of the state. This is a fundamental to any just and democratic society. This judicial system should also guarantee basic human rights. The courts should be protecting the rights of the individual against encroachment form the government. The courts should also uphold the rights of minorities so that the democratic government does not turn into a ‘tyranny of the majority’ and abuse the rights of minorities to further their own gains. According to Cincotta (1998) there are essential requirements of due process in a democracy. These are:
• No one’s home can be broken into and searched buy the police without a court order showing there is good reason for such a search.
• No person shall be held under arrest without explicit, written charges that specify the alleged violation.
• Persons charged with crimes should not be held for protracted periods in prison.
• The authorities are to grant bail, or conditional release, to the accused pending trial if there is little likelihood that the suspect will flee or commit other crimes.
• Persons cannot be compelled to be witnesses against themselves. This prohibition against self-incrimination must be absolute.
• Persons shall not be subject to double jeopardy; that is being charged with the same crime twice.
• Because of their potential for abuse by the authorities, so-called ex-post laws are proscribed.
• Defendants may possess additional protections against coercive acts by the state.
Undemocratic states often try opponents for treason. For this reason, all democratic states should have a clear definition of treason to protect citizens from abuse of the government.

Elections are often used as a benchmark of democracy to see if newly democratised states are truly on the road to democracy. The reason elections are so important in a democracy is that, in elections people chose the primary law-makers of the state. Whether the elections be for president or parliamentarians, those elected have been endorsed by the majority of their constituents. This allows them to govern with legitimacy. There are number of criteria for democratic elections. Elections must be;
• Competitive, more then one candidate standing for election
• Periodic, giving citizens the opportunity to pass judgement on government performance
• Inclusive, the number of voters should be a large proportion of the adult population and should include all minorities.
In democratic states all elections should be by secret and free ballot. This is to ensure that no voter intimidation takes place. At the same the protection of the ballot box and counting of votes must be as open and accountable as possible.

Checks and balances are very important in democratic states. This is to ensure that political power is dispersed and decentralised are not concentrated in one position, a dictator. These checks and balances ensure that there is a curb on government powers and that government is as close the people as possible. An important part of these checks and balances is the separation of powers. The writers of the United States’ constitution ensured that power would not be focused within one branch of government by sharing between the branches of government. The separation of powers provides an important safeguard against the abuse of power by governments, which all democratic states must confront.

A weakness of democracy is that if citizens do not take part in regular elections the legitimacy of the government is threatened. Of course citizens are perfectly entitled to show their dissatisfaction with the political process by not taking part in elections. Without the lifeblood of citizens’ actions, democracy will die. Citizens, who do not vote, may be involved in one of a myriad of organisations concerned with public policy. The right of individuals to join these nongovernmental associations is fundamental to democracy.

In a democracy communication is vital especially in large states. The media has begun to dominate communications between the government and the people. Communication and public debates now take place on radio, television, newspapers, magazines and books. Due to their importance within a democracy the media has a number of functions. The media is there to inform and educate the public on government proposals. This should be accurate, timely and unbiased information. Due to diverse opinions the media should access a wide range of viewpoints. This role is especially important during elections, as few voters will have the chance to meet the candidates. The media should act like a watchdog on the government to and other important state institutions. By being independent of the government, the media the media can expose the truth behind government claims and hold officials accountable for their actions. The media can also take a more active role in public debate through editorials and investigative reporting. By doing this the media can also call for reform of institutions and highlight what needs to be done. The media can also become an outlet for public opinion by printing letters to the editor and by printing articles of differing viewpoints.

There have many styles of democracy used throughout the centuries. These models are both historical and philosophical. The ancient Greeks used what we refer to as classical democracy. These were modelled on the city-states of ancient Greece. These city-states were governed by mass meetings in an assembly called the Ecclesia. Classical democracy had limited and weak central institutions which included a five hundred-strong Council, a fifty-strong Committee and a President of the Committee who held office for one day and not more then once in his lifetime. This was a major problem with classical democracy there was no continuance of policy in the power structures in government. Classical democracy was a true direct democracy as it was participatory. It was only viable because the city-states were very small. Also exclusion featured strongly in classical democracy as slave, women and foreigners were not allowed to participate.

In the seventh and eighteenth century’s protective democracy developed. This was helped by the liberal thinking about rights and freedoms by John Locke and others at the time. This model of democracy was used to constrain the over-mighty power of the state. This is what became known as government by consent. Protective democracy is associated with minimising the power of the state and maximising individual freedoms. Protective democracy was liberal and was the first step towards representative democracy. Protective democracy became the basis of the American political system. Protective democracy was supported by economic liberals. The problem with protective democracy was it often led to weak governments.

After protective democracy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others came up with developmental democracy. According to this model, democracy is a means of promoting of the development of both the individual and the community. It was associated with maximalist ideas of government and the state. Developmental democracy became associated with the common good, which led to the development of the welfare state. This led to more focus on the community rather than the individual. Developmental democracy became associated with the ideas of the left and centre-left. Developmental democracy also led to the creation of strong governments. The question of how and who defines the ‘common good’ is a major problem with developmental democracy. This model is often criticized as ‘totalitarian democracy.

‘People’s democracy’ is a term adopted by communist regimes to attempt to legitimise their regimes. People’s democracies were based on Marxist critique of liberal democracy as ‘capitalist (bourgeois) democracy’, as opposed to participatory democracy. People’s democracies believed in economic democracy, where all wealth would be shared among the proletariat. In practice, communist parties defined themselves as ‘the vanguard of the working class’ and controlled power.

The dominant version of democracy used throughout the world is liberal representative democracy, usually referred to as liberal democracy. It is representative democracy as people elect representatives to govern them and it is liberal as political equality and freedom of all individuals are guaranteed. It is argued that liberal democracy is on the way out, as it faces growing problems. Declining electoral turnouts threaten the legitimacy of governments. There is a growing trend of declining membership of political parties, showing disillusion with party politics and politicians.

Democracy faces an unknown future. With more and more states becoming democracies, something must be done to encourage other undemocratic states to become democracies. Democracy has a number of challenges ahead of it. As pointed out already electoral turnout and membership of political parties are decreasing. There are some arguments that democracy needs to be renewed or strengthened. Some say that greater use of direct democracy is needed. This can take the form of greater use of referenda, e-democracy or citizens panels. Some members of the left and centre-left argue that freedom and political equality are insufficient for democracy. They believe that real power lies with wealth. On the other hand some members of the right and centre-right argue that states have too much power. They want to minimize state power and focus of maximising individual freedoms

Countdown to freedom: 17 years after she was first put under house arrest, will Aung San Suu Kyi finally taste liberty?

The outside world has had its first direct word from Aung San Suu Kyi in more than two years. The next week could mean everything or nothing for the imprisoned democratic leader of Burma. The Burmese junta’s surprise decision to grant a senior United Nations official access to the 1991 Nobel peace laureate has revived hope she may be released.

This week, the generals who crushed Ms Suu Kyi’s democracy movement will decide whether to extend her house arrest beyond its present term, which expires on Saturday. That day will mark the 16th anniversary of her overwhelming election victory. The military dictatorship ignored that and she has spent 10 of the past 17 years imprisoned.

Ibrahim Gambari, the Under Secretary of the United Nations, became the first person from outside the secretive and oppressive state, to see one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners, since March of 2004. She is in virtual solitary confinement and in the absence of contact with the outside world rumours arose that Ms Suu Kyi, now 60, is slowly being poisoned.

read on here

“Democratic Deficit” at the United Nations?

Is there a need for a second assembly?

This is a major hurdle that the UN must over come in its discussions on UN reform, how do we make it accountable to the ‘peoples of the United Nations’? The UN at present is an IGO that has no inpot form elected officals only those appointed by governments.

Would a second assembly help, hinder or legitimise more UN decisions as they will have the backing of the elected representatives of the people.

How do we chose these representatives? Elect them? or have parliaments select them from among there own number as with the European Assembly at first.

The European Parliament has shown how parliamentry institutions can grow and legitmise as well democratise international relations. Can the UN learn from this??

discuss here