Merit Democracy manifesto – Part 1


The majority of contemporary political scientists and constitutional theorists have failed to address legitimate concerns about democracy’s shortcomings. They have tended to view the triumph of liberal political systems over undemocratic regimes in Latin America and Eastern Europe as vindicating current democratic models. The relative paucity of theoretical works on democratic reform since the fall of the Berlin Wall reflect the dominant paradigm that contemporary democratic models are the best we can expect from representative government.

We agree that democracy is the only ethical form of government, yet believe that contemporary democratic models need reform. These reforms must increase the choices available to the electorate, while strengthening the accountability with which officials are held responsible for their decisions. This can be achieved by broadening voter choice from that of a political party or a president to that of individual ministers and ensuring that the tenure of ministers be determined by their merits as ministers. We posit that voters are best suited to judge these merits. We have thus decided to name our proposed model merit democracy.

Merit democracy is an innovative proposal, yet leaves many aspects of political life untouched. We propose that the minister of finance be directly elected, yet the electoral system used to elect legislators may be either winner-take-all or proportional. In our model the head of government’s main role is to assign budgets to ministers, but this head of government can be chosen either by legislators or by the electorate. Merit democracy can therefore be adapted to all political and constitutional contexts.

Merit Democracy – a Democracy that suits the 21st Century?

Switzerland, home to one of the world’s most flourishing and stable democracies, will soon return to the polls. Why? Citizens will be called to decide whether the ministers of the 7-member cabinet, the Bundesrat, should be directly-elected by citizens, just like the presidents of the USA or of France. This referendum, which threatens the power wielded by political elites, tests Swiss citizens’ readiness to broaden and deepen the rights and freedoms they currently enjoy.

We have coined the term Merit Democracy to describe the democracy that could come to light in Switzerland. Merit alludes to the fact that citizens are more suited than politicians to assess the performance and merits of past and future ministers. Democracy reminds us that no other form of government has proved to be more ethical and sustainable than the kind where citizens are regularly called to pick their government at the ballot boxes.

Join us as we cover the arguments both sides in Switzerland adduce to make their case. Join us as we flesh out the arguments that justify breaking the monopoly of political parties in parliamentary democracies and the quasi-regal prerogatives of heads of state in presidential democracies. Join us as we engage you and other international readers in a lively debate over the path democracies should take during the 21st century.

Sincerely yours,                                                                                                                  Rafael Castro