Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A third way: democracy reloaded

From the very beginning of its history, the debate about democracy focused on two different models of democracy: direct democracy, where people vote on policy initiatives directly, and representative democracy, where people elect their representatives who will in their turn write and adopt laws.
The latter model is the most common, for understandable reasons: the scale of states, in terms of territory and demography, the complexity of governance, rationalization of tasks, division of labour and so forth.

To be legitimate, representative democracy needs some requisites to be met: citizens should indeed vote, and representatives should be perceived as such, that is to say someone who stands for the voters.
The post-electoral crisis in Armenia looks like a crisis of representative democracy. The ongoing mobilization seems something more than a low peak of consensus against a single political leader, the incumbent and confirmed President Serzh Sargsyan: it is a rejection of a system which is lived with a peaceful but stubborn hostility.

First of all, the issue of electoral results: the opposition claims that the electoral fraud machine has completely falsified the results. Some forms of electoral fraud are not that immediate to be tracked, like vote buying, so further investigations should be carried on. But even if the claims are baseless, maths speaks: allegedly 58%, turnout 60%. Sargsyan has been voted – in the best scenario – by less than 35% of voters. A weak legitimacy, indeed.

On the other hand opposition. Oppositions. Republic Squares in Yerevan. Squares in Armenia.
Observers are puzzled, some forces of the Armenian opposition are cautious. The point is that Raffi Hovanissian is playing a crucial role in fostering a civil awakening, but he is not promoting a color revolution.
He is not just proposing to be the replacement of the current president, a well known pattern, but he is asking. He is asking the President he does not recognize as legitimate to give back power to people, he is asking people what they want.
In line with the approach he has been cultivating for ages with his sympathizers, he is collecting opinions and suggestions; he is proposing his line and submitting it to those who believe he is worthy to be listened.

In a way, he is proposing himself as a coordinator of a direct democracy.
It is an interesting, albeit it is still not clear how hopeful, variant: a third way. And wherever it is leading to, this chance to shake a system - which has clearly a thorny issue of legitimacy to handle - should not be missed.

Some progressive countries have opened the floor to people empowerment and shared responsibilities in the decision making process. Armenia is not among them. This episode, this post-election crisis, is food for thought: apathy is not paying back, Armenian crisis is worsening, demographic hemorrhage tells it all. Representative democracies came to life in the pre- compulsory schooling and pre-IT era. They can be accommodated in order to be more inclusive and more open, in view of reduction of public frustration and tensions.

Let’s keep eyes and minds wide open on the “third way”. Raffi Hovanissian is not the kind of person to give up or to be easily co-opted. And a repression tout court now would be awful costs in terms of international and domestic legitimacy. So let’ see if and how there is a path to progress, if Armenia is receptive to a peaceful people empowerment and ready to implement new processes to make it possible.