Direct Democracy

Also available in Burmese

Overview

What?

  • Direct democracy describes those rules, institutions and processes that enable the public to vote directly on a proposed constitutional amendment, law, treaty or policy decision.
  • The most important forms of direct democracy covered in this primer are referendums and initiatives.

Why?

  • Direct democracy enables people to vote on important issues that may be excluded from, or cut across, representative party politics. The decision of the popular majority can be expressed beyond representative processes that are potentially distorted and elitist.

Why not?

  • Mechanisms of direct democracy may become tools of majoritarian populism, by which leaders are able to bypass and weaken representative processes by appealing directly to the people. They raise questions of voter competence and governability, and run the risk of polarizing political opinions. There are also considerations of cost, time and logistics.

Where?

  • Referendums are occasionally used throughout the world as an extraordinary measure, most often to ratify or amend a constitution or to decide on questions of statehood.
  • Some democracies make more extensive and regular use of referendums and initiatives, making these instruments complementary to representative democracy