Sortition: A Fix to Democracy

In most democratic country, election is seen as a mean, in some instances the most important mean of participation for each citizen. ...



In most democratic country, election is seen as a mean, in some instances the most important mean of participation for each citizen. Each individual, rich and poor, young and old, male and female are given equally one voice each in deciding their representative in parliaments. Each voice counts as democratic participation. Everyone is the subject of democracy. 

When people are given vote, they are presumed to vote based on their ‘free will’. But elections are always coupled with campaigns. In order to get voters to vote for them, candidates will have to persuade these voters. Persuading millions of people is expensive. Therefore, only the rich who have enough capital can run in election or in some cases, politicians received sponsors from corporations in order to pay the campaign bill. 

In practice, it is hard to persuade people to vote. Therefore, campaign strategists are appointed. Researches in multiple fields including psychology and communication are conducted to understand how do voters decide on who to vote. Various studies are giving insights to politicians ranging from which color to use in their logos to what slogan is the best to present to constituents. 

Equipped with the knowledge gained from scientific researches, many believed that general campaigns to everyone aren’t effective, and therefore conclude that targeted campaign are preferable as it enables to speak to voters in the issues they are concerned of. However, in the pasts, targeted campaigns were never precise. At best, what it could do are to groups people into several classification and specifically address their concerns. 

In his recent book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”, Yuval Noah Harari stressed on the importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and biotechnology on human civilization. The development of these two rising fields of study will have a destabilizing impact on democracy, particularly on election. The collection of big data and technology ability to analyze them enable politicians to precisely targets not groups, but individuals. Soon, personalized political campaigns will flood your Facebook newsfeeds. 

Election are not so different to businesses. In fact, election is businesses. These politicians sell, campaign strategist markets them, and we, we are consumers, we buy them. Often times, we buy things we don’t need just because Facebook and Google keep suggesting it on our feeds and so does in election, we may end up voting politicians we don’t need. With current technologies, as Yuval Noah Harari puts it, election would be just about knowing which emotional buttons to press. 

Understanding such practices, are voters truly are the subjects of democracy or are we merely objects? If elections are fraud, is there any alternative? 

A lot of criticisms are already directed to election. Unfortunately, most critics have resulted to a favorable public view tyranny. In countries such as The Philippines and Brazil, anti-establishment/anti-democracy candidates are winning. This is wrong. Anti-establishment demonize election but actually conflate election and democracy. 

Historically, democracy wasn’t about election at all. In ancient Athens, democracy is conducted through direct participation. However, as countries these days aren’t as small as ancient city-states, there are no hall big enough to fit, let say 250 million Indonesian. Election was meant to elect representative who will speak out constituents’ aspiration in the parliament. But as election gets more and more fraudulent, it is time to consider the alternative. 

One prominent alternative is sortition. Sortition means that government officials positions are filled by randomly selected citizen. Imagine Thanos’ snap. With his snap, by purely random and indiscriminate selection, half of population are wiped out from existence. What if, every five years, instead of conducting an election, we select random people to sit in offices? Sortition Foundation are currently campaigning to implement sortition in democracy. 

In United States, jurors are currently chosen randomly from a pool of citizen. They are entrusted to determine whether an alleged criminal is guilty or innocence. If we can trust random people to exercise the law, why won’t we trust them to make the laws? 

To have sortition means we can get rid of election and all its problem altogether. Citizen would truly be the subject of democracy as they are now by pure random chances will have a chance to sit in parliaments and become the policymaker themselves. Ordinary people like you and me would be represented by other ordinary people rather than by the career politicians who belong to exclusionary political parties. 

To be fair, there are criticisms directed at sortition from various direction. Ranging from “how random is random?” to a substantiated criticism on continuation and consistency of policy as these random people will be selected again in five years and will be replaced by a set of completely random people. But to qualify as a viable alternative, sortition does not need to be the best system there is. It just have to be better.


Cover photo: pixabay/Tumisu

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