What is a Citizens’ Senate?

A petition system such as described earlier, would be the first stage in merging representative democracy with direct democracy. It is a vital element in such a new model of democracy, which gives citizens the power of executing continuous accountability of the law-making body such as a parliament by scrutinizing the working of the existing law as well as directly contributing to creating new laws. However, in order not to choke the parliamentary legislative process, a valid petition requiring a debate in the parliament would have to be carefully examined first by an independent body to debate the issue – a Citizens’ Assembly. This would require some changes both in the selection process of representatives to a Citizens’ Assembly, as well as of the running of debates.

Citizens’ Assemblies, as mentioned earlier, are becoming a powerful tool in improving democracy in the age of rising populism, making citizens more closely involved in taking important political decisions. But should Citizens’ Assemblies be used on a larger scale to improve democracy by becoming a second chamber of a parliamentary – a Citizens’ Senate? If we accept that as possible in principle, then any proposal for a Citizens’ Senate would have to provide answers to the following questions:

  • Should Citizens’ Senate debates be held secret or made public? Secrecy can enhance deliberation, prevent corruption, and protect members from embarrassment, but it risks undermining accountability.
  • Should there be some minimum level of competency, e.g. education or experience required, even if this undermines the principle of perfectly random selection of population’s representation?
  • Should a Citizens’ Senate have the right to propose legislation on their own (set the agenda) or only vote on the legislation proposed by the lower chamber of a parliament?
  • Does a Citizens’ Senate need a special body covering administration or supervision on formal matters only, or which will also be engaged in improving the quality of a deliberation?
  • How should the relationships between the Citizens’ Senate and the lower chamber of the parliament (the elected MPs) be regulated? Should both houses of the parliament have equal powers of approving or rejecting legislation or one of the chambers would have the ultimate ‘upper hand’?
  • How to ensure quality debates by the Citizens’ Senate? Should it be supported by a special independent ‘advisory’ body or a period of training and coaching/mentoring by experts before the member could take part in voting a legislation?

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