From March 1 to 4, 2023, the eleventh edition of the World Forum on Modern Direct Democracy will be held in Mexico City, which will aim to share global experiences in order to increasingly encourage the participation of citizens in decision-making.
Bruno Kaufmann, co-chair of the forum that concludes this Saturday in Lucerne, Switzerland, told Political Animal that Mexico is one of the most interesting countries in terms of the exercise of democracy because it has a model that over time has become more complex.
“You have a federal state, you have institutions, you even have tools of direct democracy, but at the same time it is a great competition between different interests between civil society and government, and business and even criminal factors,” he stressed.
“It’s a place where democracy is very important and can flourish, but it’s very challenging, and that’s why we think that being in Mexico can teach the world a lot, but also the world can share a lot of experience with Mexico.”
The existence and functioning of the National Electoral Institute (INE), said Joe Mathews, also co-founder of the forum, is one of the issues that are most relevant, because in Mexico representative democracy is exercised but there are also tools to exercise direct democracy.
“Institutions play an important role; for example, here in Switzerland it’s about the practice of direct democracy and in Mexico it’s about the role of institutions, how institutions can protect democracy, and I think a lot of people, especially from the United States, will be very interested in that,” he said.
Since 2008, the forum has been held under the organization of the Swiss Foundation for Democracy in collaboration with Democracy International and other partners at the local, regional, national and international levels, and has been hosted in the cities of Aarau (2008), Seoul (2009), San Francisco (2010), Montevideo (2012), Tunisia (2015), San Sebastian (2016), Rome (2018) and Taichung-Taipei (2019). In 2020, the forum was online due to the health emergency due to COVID-19 and in 2022 it was resumed in person in Lucerne.
“Going to Mexico City is a dream come true, it’s a place where I wanted to have the forum for some time for a lot of reasons; for example, I have always admired the INE because I believe it is a unique institution in the world and should be better known,” Mathews said.
Strengthen democracy without weakening it along the way
Roberto Heycher Cardiel Soto, executive director of Electoral Training and Civic Education of the INE, considered that the world has an erosion of democracy that has led it to a process of democratic resilience, that is, to be able to recover – little by little – the democratic lifestyle in the face of authoritarian experiences.
However, he explained that, although it is true that this democratic resilience is a fundamental pillar for citizens to reconcile with the public space, we must bear in mind that, if the instruments of citizen participation are misused, the democratic exercise can be weakened instead of strengthened.
“We must understand the role of direct democracy processes in the democracies of the world today and that participation exercises are instruments that can be used to strengthen, of course, democracies, but if not used well they can also weaken them if they are taken into consideration, for example, human rights,” Said.
For this reason, civic education becomes of fundamental relevance. “We have to train ourselves to participate responsibly in these exercises and that they really serve what they really have to be: to strengthen the democratic lifestyle,” he added.
Minister Claudia Zavala highlighted the importance of the fact that models of direct democracy are increasingly being incorporated in Mexico, especially at the local level.
“We must remember that in Mexico we are experiencing an important process regarding the incorporation of direct democracy models into our constitutionally recognized model of democracy; then, the countries that are more advanced we have to generate this learning to be able to apply it in a general and correct way in our country,” he said.
As part of the organizing committee of the World Forum on Modern Direct Democracy 2023, both representatives of the INE participated in dialogue and discussion tables in Lucerne, where they shared the role of the INE and the challenges of Mexico to increasingly encourage citizen participation not only in the election of its rulers, but in decision-making on issues that directly affect them such as public works, social supports, health and housing, among others.
“What we are going to take away is the discussion we have today of the experiences that have been generated, but also the challenges we have as the whole society of the whole world –globalized–, in front of how citizens can participate and appropriate what is ours, because democracy implies that, that citizens, from a base, can take the definitions to draw the life project,” Zavala said.
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