Participatory vote

Image: Eugênio Barboza
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By CHICO WHITAKER*

We have to find democratic ways to confront the scourge of depoliticization and disinformation, so that profiteers do not inflate opportunistic majorities

In the first week of October, those interested in the country's destiny had the good news that the mini-electoral reform, approved by the Chamber of Deputies, would not be discussed by the Senate in time to make it part of the next municipal elections in 2024. It was the result of the action by several civil society organizations and a parliamentary front, against “an electoral reform for those who legislate in their own cause” – as it was classified – and which, in addition, was fraught with unacceptable setbacks.

Another condition of this victorious action was less reported: a digital “petition” against this reform, via the Change.org platform, received more than a thousand signatures in 72 hours – 1.178 to be exact – from citizens aware of the need to express their opposition to distortions of the electoral process, a central instrument of democracy. Such a quick and consistent civic reaction to what was being proposed was not decisive in the defeat of the mini-reform, but it undoubtedly played an important role, as citizen pressure on who would decide it in the Senate.

In fact, the universal right to vote was one of the great achievements of democracy. But the right has long known that a large part of the electorate is depoliticized and uninformed, unaware of their immense power to choose who governs or represents them in the making of laws. Furthermore, he has many prejudices and easily believes lies.

Proof of this were the elections in which modern technologies, for directing messages to people who could be deceived, gave victory to Brexit, Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. Let's not even talk about the risks that the Argentines will run in the second round, in November, with the unexpected and unbelievable Javier Milei, who is also based on a dangerous discredit in politics. But it is sad to see how in 2022 the Mourões, Moros, Pazuelos, Damares, Salles and Tarcisios of life were easily elected here, partners in the disaster that victimized Brazil from 2018 to 2022.

To avoid all this, it is not enough to rant like that of the Spaniards who shouted “you don’t represent us!” Nor can we consider authoritarian solutions, as if “good tyrants” existed. We have to find democratic ways to face the scourge of depoliticization and disinformation, so that profiteers do not inflate, in parliaments, opportunistic majorities that impose their interests over meeting social needs. As well as to prevent the already ancient practice of buying votes, used and abused by politicians for whom it will be better the more people in need there are.

It is from this perspective that what happened with the mini-electoral reform shows that there are also other modern technologies – such as so-called “petitions” on the internet – created without manipulative intentions. Many consider these petitions to be diseducational, because they do not stimulate reflection, and they give people the possibility of just pressing a button to quickly escape political and social pressures, which prevent them from thinking only about what actually interests them... But if they are articulated with other information and dissemination operations, such as those necessary in plebiscites and referenda, can lead to better results, in addition to helping with the political formation that we miss. And they create what we could call “participatory voting”.

Each plebiscite or referendum requires an explanation of what one wants or does not want with a given policy, and not just the propaganda of the qualities and kindnesses of candidates for political representatives. And the decision to be made is about something that could become law, or begin to be concretely done by the government. For example, how many barbarities in São Paulo would have been avoided if, for each work of high value or significant environmental impact, the plebiscites authorized more than 30 years ago in one of the articles in the Organic Law of the Municipality had been carried out, in fact, never regulated or by our councilors or by the mayors (there were three or four attempts, but large works can also lead to large commissions, and it is not known for sure whether this is why nothing was achieved).

The Swiss hold plebiscites almost weekly, from municipal to federal levels. The country is conservative and would never give its “yes” to new measures and life practices like those being demanded to avoid the end of living conditions on Earth due to greed, oil or nuclear power… But, at least, they guarantee improvements in the living conditions of their majority, who, in fact, already live much better even than our small middle classes…

It would then be very opportune to “plebiscite” what the Senate decides throughout 2024 and 2025, in the ongoing drafting of the Electoral Code that we need, to come into force in the 2026 elections. ”, well-intentioned, but bureaucratic and without binding effect, already made by the federal Legislature. It is about starting to use “participatory voting” in “petitions” proposed by society. Luckily there are people who are already starting to think about this, based on what happened with the mini-reform that the Senate did not approve. It will be a great contribution moving forward, in our fragile democracy.

*Chico Whitaker is an architect and social activist. He was councilor in São Paulo. He is currently a consultant to the Brazilian Commission for Justice and Peace.


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