A Citizens’ Senate role in Consensual Presidential Democracy

It may be helpful to explain briefly, why a Citizens’ Senate may play such a crucial role in a deep reform of democracy. In some way a Citizens’ Senate is just a means to an end. The end is consensual politics, such as Consensual Presidential Democracy[1], briefly outlined here, but it may at least partially apply to some other proposals on reforming democracy.

One of the key differences between the European and the British model of post-war democracy, is that the first one produces mostly coalition governments, whereas the governments of the UK have been run almost exclusively by a single majority party. That is the outcome of the First-Past-the-Post (FPP) electoral system, based on the belief that ‘strong’, one party rule, is more efficient and more effective in delivering better quality of life for the British citizens. After all the main objective of governments in a liberal democracy is to deliver the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. However, the actual results do not confirm that a single majority party elected using the FPP electoral system, such as in the UK, delivers ‘greater happiness’ than the coalition governments in Europe, elected using a proportional voting system, if we measure the quality of life by GDP per capita. For example, in 1989, the GDP world rank per capita (measured by Purchasing Power Parity by IMF) was: in the UK – 17, Germany – 20, France – 24, whereas in 2019 it was – in the UK – 37, Germany – 26 and France – 35 [2]. In relative terms it means that in the last 30 years the UK’s world ranking in GDP per capita fell by 20 places, whereas for Germany’s (which had to absorb in that period 17 million of East German citizens, whose GDP was tens of placed behind) fell by just 6 places and for France by 11 places.

The biggest disadvantage of a single party government seems to be the adversarial nature of politics as has been evidenced so plainly during the UK’s Brexit proceedings in the Parliament. The adversarial politics based on the single party majority, which does not have to win the majority of the votes to rule the country, (no double majority is needed, i.e. the majority of MPs representing together over 50% of the votes in an election) leads by extension to a deep polarization of a society and again we have witnessed that during the Brexit campaigns.

Additionally, such an adversarial politics suppresses by its very nature the inflow of new ideas by virtually eliminating smaller parties in the FPP system. The voters have less choice and therefore quite often either do not vote at all, or vote tactically, which only rarely delivers the intended result. The whole focus of the government is on winning the next election by tuning the ruling party’s manifesto to temporal whims of the electorate. If we refer to Maslow’s two lowest levels of the Hierarchy of Needs (physiological and safety needs), that directly translates into the voters’ preferences to elect those, who give more now – an ideal platform for populism. Once the votes have been cast, voters have no way to rectify bad laws passed by a parliament, nor can they demand passing new laws, inconvenient for the government in power.

That is why a petition system combined with a Citizens’ Senate seems to be the fastest and the most meaningful way to rebalance the power of the voters and the power of the government by maintaining a continuous accountability of the governing to the governed. This is from where the reform of democracy should begin because it is perhaps the easiest way in which it can be implemented, bar of course a strong opposition from most politicians, who have a vested interest in maintaining the current status quo.

But having a Citizens’ Senate as a new legislative body would only restore the balance of power between the governed and the governing. It would perhaps marginally reduce the remaining imbalances mentioned earlier in this article, i.e.:

  • lack of balance between the rights and responsibilities
  • lack of balance of power between the majority and the minority
  • lack of balance of power between the central and local government.

Therefore, we need a new system of democracy, which would eliminate those deficiencies. In Consensual Presidential Democracy these imbalances have been addresses by its four pillars as shown in Figure 3 and very briefly described below:

Figure 3. Four pillars of Consensual Presidential Democracy[3]

Pillar 1 – Balancing the rights with responsibilities is the first of the four pillars. Values are the source of rights, which directly influence people’s attitudes and behaviour. But values are not permanent. They change in line with a  civilizational progress. And since civilizational change happens now at nearly an exponential pace, no wonder that our values change very rapidly too. Democracy, as indeed any other socio-political system, is based on values. Therefore, if we want to improve democracy, we need to start with redefining our core values.

Human responsibilities have not been properly addressed either in the UN or EU charters. Rights are not given on a plate. Implementation of rights and their maintenance over time has a price tag attached both in monetary terms as well as in keeping an ethical balance. That is why human rights have to be balanced with citizens’ responsibilities.

Pillar 2 – Political Consensus. It is through a petition system and establishing a Citizens’ Senate that the lost balance of power between the governed and the governing could be restored. How to restore the balance between majority and minority is addressed within this pillar. A key role in maintaining this balance falls to the Head of State, usually the President.

Pillar 3 – Shallow federalization. The lack of balance of power between the central and local government is covered here. The focus is on the allocation of decision-making powers to the lowest possible level of governance within a federation, a state, or a region. However, it is unlikely and undesirable that there should only be one ‘acceptable’ model of self-governance for the subsidiary entities of a federal state or a nation’s state.

Pillar 4 – AI assisted governance. Since the ultimate goal of a liberal democracy is the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, a democratic system must ensure cost-effective government. As mentioned earlier, a new democracy has to leapfrog traditional solutions and look forward to immense opportunities created by AI-driven technology. The benefits gained by the government of a country implementing such an AI-assisted governance will be immediate and significant. First of all, most decisions will be made many times faster, with full justification and various options costed. They will also be correlated with other decisions made in a similar way by AI assistants helping across all government departments. There will be fewer missed deadlines and unwanted projects. The savings will be truly vast if implemented at all levels of government.

In summary, a deep reform of democracy should be carried out within years rather than decades. The proposed merger of a representative and democratic democracy would now be possible thanks to new technological inventions supported by AI and enabling a digital democracy. The key to a successful implementation of a new generation of democracy is pragmatism, which will enable faster introduction of any democratic reforms. Therefore, we should start with something that is fundamental, such as rebalancing the power of governance between the citizens and their representatives in the parliament. A petition system linked to a Citizens’ Senate seems to be the most logical starting point because it will significantly re-engage citizens, while at the same time being probably the easiest element to implement a new democracy.

[1] Tony Czarnecki, Vol. 2 of “Posthumans”, ‘Democracy for a Human Federation’, second edition, Amazon publications, July 2020

[2] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita

[3] Tony Czarnecki, Vol. 3 of “Posthumans”, ‘Becoming a Butterfly’, version 2, Amazon publications, May 2021