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Political Systems -- Fit for Purpose?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on May 24, 2020 13:33

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The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an extraordinary strain on political and economic systems in South Africa and the world. The worst is still to come. Fault-lines and fracture planes in our society now lie exposed. Dangerous ideologies come to the fore. Are these systems and structures still fit for purpose?

Modern technology has enabled us to spread fake news and conspiracy theories around the globe in milliseconds. I received a story about "Big Pharma" from a friend in San Francisco, shared it online, and had responses and fact-checking from Norway, Australia, and Singapore in minutes. Yet our political systems are based on paper ballots (or equivalent) and our political system depends on a binary confrontational structure.

At the advent of democracy in South Africa, in 1994, it was decided that voters would choose parties, and that the parties would appoint leaders, provincial and Parliamentary representatives, and that these would elect Premiers and a President. This measure, agreed on as a first step to guide a nascent democracy, has become permanent despite a Commission of Enquiry, appointed by Nelson Mandela, finding that a constituency-based electoral system would be more democratic.

South African National Coronavirus Command Council. Photo by Government Communication and Information Service.

The present crisis has seen the President invoke a State of Disaster, and a Coronavirus Command Council was appointed. Soldiers, complete with rifles, were mobilized, and a series of stringent, and often illogical, regulations proclaimed.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Photo by Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Police and soldiers misused their new-found powers in numerous cases, and few, if any, cases of redress were heard. The Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, expressed his concern at the danger to constitutional rights and at the lack of reform in the judicial system. Citizens who have been exposed to years of reports of gross corruption in government and in state-owned enterprises, with nobody being brought before the courts despite damning evidence would agree.

Parliament has been largely sidelined by the Command Council, and members of the ruling party have rubber-stamped government actions, while public unrest has been reported in many areas and numerous legal challenges mounted by civil society organizations.

The obligatory binary political battles between the ruling party and opposition, while relevant in the mid-1900s, have brought about political corporations serving the purposes of the financiers and corrupt companies, career politicians, and bureaucrats. Voters are there to be cosseted before elections and bought off by patronage.

Our economy shows the results: already in long-term recession before the lockdown, it is headed for an abyss, while politicians are promising to use the crisis to implement the very ideologies that brought it to its knees, more diligently.

We need a new political system. Modern technology enables instant opinion polling of voters without the cumbersome and error-prone systems in place. Blockchain technology can prevent errors and allow citizens to oversee political and economic processes in real-time.

Economic inefficiencies, the product of politics, and systematic rigidity can and should be replaced by transparent electronic marketplaces, enabling the consumer to exercise informed choices.

Political structures have become statist, procedural, and hidebound. There is a need for systems that would seek and enhance the power of the voter, not block and frustrate it.

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on May 24, 2020 13:33

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Source: NYT

In 2019, just 17 percent of Americans said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing. The pandemic appears...

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