In the media age, contemporary democracies are dominated by the spectacle of debating and divisiveness, especially at election time. Elections are now not much more than a series of competing sound-bites, with voting just another polling event: a ‘low involvement product’.

We’ve groomed charismatic and articulate political performers, whose primary skill is to debate, divide and conquer. In the absence of real ideological positions, candidates and parties are manufacturing their differences. Matters of government often seem to take a back seat. But it’s not the fault of the politicians; it’s the system we’ve all signed up to.

We’ve grown up thinking that the contest of ideas – the election contest – is the best way to achieve political compromise. We can’t envisage any options: there doesn’t appear to be any obvious ones. What would an alternative model look like? What framework might promote deliberation and consensus, whilst still satisfying political representation?

James Spigelman AC, the recently retired Chief Justice of NSW, has this to say about such an alternative institution:

‘We have become accustomed over recent centuries to representatives being chosen by election. However, selection by lot is, notwithstanding what appears to be an element of chance, a fundamentally rational process, with a long and honourable tradition.

‘The jury is a profoundly democratic and egalitarian institution. Selection by lot has two distinct advantages. First, it operates on the principle that all persons to be selected are fundamentally equal and that, in the relevant circumstances, it is invidious to say that one person is more qualified than another. Secondly, selection by lot prevents corruption of the system.’ [(2005) 79 Australian Law Journal 135.]

People often decry being subjected to relentless point scoring and negativity, but candidates are compelled to adopt this behaviour. Politicians are not ‘bad people’, they are simply responding intelligently to their environment. Contemporary democracies are structurally flawed and sub-optimal: collaboration is frustrated from the outset. Regular elections may no longer be the best way to install trusted governments.

Let’s try something more representative, more deliberative and, potentially, more effective.

Let’s put it to a Jury!

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis

The newDemocracy Foundation

July 2013.

See more at: Policy paper for political parties. Building trust in government.

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