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Breeze10
 
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Political representation in times of technology

13 June 2013, 07:18

I have always been fascinated by why we as society and our wishes are so often at odds with what our political representatives do in our stead for our so called good. There always seems to be a disconnect between what people say they will do before they are in elected office and what they then subsequently do when they are incumbent in that office. They seem to ultimately be swayed from their original mandate that we as the electorate hand to them by certain interests through  lobbying and plain corrupt practices.

In most democratic countries, prospective representatives will present their manifestos or their party's manifestos and basically say: "elect me to represent you because I stand for these principles and I have such qualities that will enable me to make sure that the mandate that you give me is carried out". The electorate might feel very strongly about certain aspects of an individual or a party's stance that they give them a blanket approval and elect them, purely based on those particular manifestos (and other factors like image, marketing drive and association) with an implicit trust that that representative will do things the way they wish.

The problem here is that usually once the representative is elected they also partake in making other decisions that might not have been foreseen when initial campaigning and voting took place which we as the electorate that voted them in might disagree with. As an example, I could have voted for Mr X because he is against abortion, which was a priority for me at the time, only to find that once elected he is lobbied or even bought by people who have an interest in allowing e-tolls to be implemented in a hypothetical province which we shall call Gauteng for now. Representatives, by definition, are supposed to speak in the system of government on my behalf. My giving them a blanket approval by voting them in, allows them to act in my stead without first checking with me on every action that that they are supposed to be representing me in. This is the equivalent of giving someone a blank cheque to go to the shop to buy you bread when they are an alcoholic - what are the chances they will not sneak into the liquor section of the shop for a minor transaction ... just a thought.

Before technology and communication systems evolved to where they are now, I am sure it made sense to have representation as opposed to having fully participatory governance. Nowadays we have the technology to allow every eligible voter to make a decision (to vote or abstain) on every little piece of legislation directly if that voter is interested in partaking. Having a "representative" to stand in your stead is not only no longer ideal, in the sense that our mandates get distorted, but it is also an expensive exercise as it means we have to pay for full time representatives, while we do the real 8 - 5 work. I have always said politicians should just get real jobs.

I know that some readers will raise issues like not all voters are well informed, educated and of the correct mental aptitude to make such critical decisions. My counter argument here would be we give the same ill-informed, uneducated and "low aptitude" people the chance to affect our lives every four years, so why not on a day to day basis if they bother. On the issue of aptitude, politicians all over the world are not known for their brains, and I mean all over the world, it is not just a South African phenomenon.

If technology was allowed to intervene, a lot of the shocking political decisions that are taken on a daily basis would be a thing of the past - if the technology was implemented right of course. The major hurdle with using technology for direct and full participatory democracy is accessibility i.e. not everyone might have access to the internet, smart phones and the various technologies which might be used for this exercise, but I am hopeful that as these devices become much cheaper and the internet becomes more accessible, using technology to directly be able to shape one's own destiny will be worth having and we will wonder why we needed these leeches in the first place.



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