Why the citizens’ assembly is an idea whose time has come

Source: Indian Express

Relevance: To understand the idea of democracy and citizen assembly

Synopsis: Democratic exercise has been reduced to periodic elections. It is time that we think of innovative solutions like Citizen’s assemblies.

Introduction:

There is disenchantment with political parties in the US and Europe. Assemblies are divided along the party lines and there is hardly any open-minded deliberation. Major issues such as poverty, citizens’ privacy are often ignored.

How can the right to information and protest help in this?

The right to vote, to elect and free and fair democracy is vital, but not enough for deep democracy. All governments, even authoritarian ones, work for the people. What makes a government democratic is the sense of accountability.

This is dependent on access to information, thus Right to Information was a step in the right direction. Social media has opened other avenues for protest. However, the flow of information must be two-way, where the Government must listen too.

  • When they don’t, Citizens must have the right to protest.
  • The government, in the public interest, can place restrictions w.r.t site or timings, but should not seek to curb the protest completely.
What needs to be done to access “the missing middle”?

The problem in governance is the “missing middle” – the space between public protest and constitutional mechanisms like Parliament. To address this problem:

  • We need to build a middle layer of institutions for public deliberation to solve public problems.
  • Consent of Governed should go beyond just the elections. It should also include expanding the franchise of democracy through the widespread inclusion of people in the political process.
What solutions can we adopt?

An EU civil society movement “Citizens for Europe” proposed “A European Citizens Assembly” – a transnational forum for deliberation and citizen’s participation.

  • These assemblies should be established in cities, districts and states.
  • They not only act like think tanks but also act as a forum where citizens are heard.
  • They should run parallel to formal constitutional bodies that have “decision rights”, such as elected assemblies and courts, and must become a source of solutions for them.
 Way Forward

The state must support them and provide resources, as citizen’s assemblies will fulfil the essential requirement of good governance.

Terms to know

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