Initiative In Switzerland Calls For A Referendum On “Elections By Sortition”

Initiative In Switzerland Calls For A Referendum On “Elections By Sortition”

How representative is our representative democracy system? Does it guarantee all citizens’ equal access to opportunities, like getting elected or involved with decision making or does it need a radical upgrade because it has failed?

According to Charly Pache, a Swiss with IT background, a master in economics and former vice-chairman of PP-CH, there is a lack of representativeness in our parliaments and that was mainly what led him to form an initiative called “Generation Nomination” (GN), aiming to ensure that all citizens potentially could be elected!

To be more specific, GN’s goals is to get rid of elections and replace them by “sortition”, as Charly puts it, a system which is based on the randomly selection of our representatives, certainly more democratic than the existing model and his real intentions is to call for a referendum in Switzerland!

If you search for “sortition” you realize that’s no big news. Sortition, the action of selecting or determining something / someone by the casting or drawing of lots, was a regular method in ancient Athens and was used by many countries to prevent corruption: “In ancient Athenian democracy, sortition was the traditional and primary method for appointing political officials and its use was regarded as a principal characteristic of democracy”.

70% of our elected MPs are men, their age is at around 50+, some socio-economical groups and ages are never represented in Parliaments, also the influence of money in politics, make it obvious that the majority of the people are excluded from the start, Charly says to Pirate Times and stresses that “democracy is a lot more than elections. It’s about participation of all citizen, debating, informing, building political competences among the population”.

Is ‘elections by sortition’ utopian? Utopian or not, more than 50 GN’s activists (and other 300 registered to help) are now getting prepared to collect signatures in Switzerland (after April 2018) and ask for a referendum! “To the current situation the philosophy is to change as little as possible” Charly says, knowing that GN may shock peoples’ imagery, about how our society could be.

His partners and himself are now busy organizing the “Bye Bye Elections Day” (on September 17th) the biggest ever gathering since the launch of the initiative in 2015. It will be held in Fribourg and one of its highlight will be a workshop to develop a community video game for GN. The players will get real-life missions, get points and build a better world both inside the game and in the real world.

But what would be the role of parties in a society where representatives are elected by sortition? Charly although says that they could bring new ideas, he feels that the end of the parties is nearing. “The future belongs to initiatives not the parties”, he argues, describing to PT the details of the project.

Charly Pachy, photo by Julian Blight

Charly Pache, photo by Julian Blight

Pirate Times: What is “Generation Nomination” initiative?

Charly Pache: Generation Nomination is a Swiss based movement that wants to empower every citizen to be an active element of democracy, by introducing a system called ‘sortition’ in which members of the legislative are no more elected but randomly selected among all citizens, hence to give equal chances to all to be a player in the political decisions, no matter how rich or connected the citizen is. We are active on local, regional and national levels, with good connection with direct democracy NGO’s, academics and activists around the world.

Pirate Times: When did it start and what are its aims?

Charly Pache: We launched Generation Nomination publicly in 2015 after two years of preparation. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) does not ensure the right to democracy but barely to ‘free elections’, what in fact shrinks the exercise of democracy to only elections… this is a very poor definition, as democracy is a lot more than ‘elections’: it’s about participation of all citizen, debating, informing, building political competences among the population. Furthermore, elections are of aristocratic nature, not of democratic essence. We want to broaden the ECHR with the right to democracy.

Pirate Times: What was it that prompted you to start the initiative?

Charly Pache: Nowadays the influence of money on political decisions is obvious. Just to become a MP you have to collect a lot of money, hence the vast majority of citizen are excluded of this process from the beginning, this is wrong. A consequence of this is that there is a lack of real representativeness in our parliaments. In the Swiss constitution, two bodies are sovereign: the regions and the people. That’s why our Parliament, the legislative body, is split in two equally powerful chambers: one representing the interests of the regions and one representing the interests of the people. Both have to agree in order to any law to be passed. When we take a close look at the composition of the people’s chamber, where we would expect to find a representative sample of the population and a real biodiversity of its values, we can only find a biased sample: 70% are men, age is at around 50+, some socio-economical groups are never represented. Worst, many MPs mix professional career and public mandate: once elected, they tend to favor the interests of their professional sector and not the so-called ‘public interest’. The cure to that situation is to be found by the fathers of democracy: the Athenians. They experimented 200 years of prosperity – till they lost a war – with a system where every citizen could randomly be called to hold a public position for a short time. This was a system were politicians and citizen were the same body, unlike nowadays where we think politicians are a separate group of individuals in the society and we delegate them all the power, without caring too much about how they work.

Pirate Times: How does the public react to the prospect that their representatives will be elected by sortition?

Charly Pache: There is a paradox in Switzerland: we are proud of our democracy, proud that every citizen can become a politician – here there is no university for politicians like ENA in France and very few people can make a career out of politics. That’s the reason why to be member of parliament is considered to be a 50% activity and you are free to carry on your current job, as you cannot be sure that you will be elected for a next 4 years term as a MP again and again. Politics is already meant to be a short-term contribution. The average stay for an MP is 12 years (three mandates). When you tell the people that we would stop with elections and start with random election, they are surprised because they are not used to the concept. They still think elections is the best available process to select politicians, because no alternative was shown to them. They don’t clearly realize yet that the competences that put politicians on top of electoral lists are not the ones needed to make political decisions in an independent and representative way. In fact there is no competence test at all to be MP. Citizen are more and more aware of the ‘political games’ that undermine politics nowadays. Once we explain our concept, most people say it’s a good idea. The best is when they imagine to get that invitation letter to be MP. Most of them will accept even if they would not get involved into politics nowadays because they don’t like power games. With our idea, we could involve a lot more citizen into politics.

Pirate Times: What are the characteristics of the sortition that you’re proposing?

Charly Pache: The philosophy is to change as little as possible to current situation. On national level, the people’s chamber currently has 200 members, elected for a 4 years period. We keep it like this. Nowadays, each region has a number of MP’s that is proportional to its population. Fribourg, the canton where I live, has 7 MPs out of 200. And it is the citizen of Fribourg who elect their 7 MPs. Our sortition will happen on regional level too. Fribourg will still have right for 7 MPs. We want to avoid any electronic or computerized system, as it is not easy to guarantee its integrity. We imagined a system where the state gives a number to every 18+ citizen, ie mine would be 137’987. Then the state of Fribourg – like other regions – would organize a public and broadcasted television drawing, with numbered balls from 0 to 9, turning in a sphere. We would first draw the digit, representing let’s say the unit, then the second would represent the dozens and so on till we get our first citizen number drawn, let’s say 087’987. And we go on like this to get a list of let’s say 80 citizen (if we know that in average, only 1 citizen out of 10 will accept). Then we send a letter to the first 7 of the list to ask them if they accept the mandate, inviting them to an introduction day.

Pirate Times: Have you made any tests or experimental sortitions? If yes, when and what were the results?

Charly Pache: During the last federal elections, we set up a website called that enabled visitors to generate randomly the 200 MPs among the candidates (about 3’000) and then to compare the result with the actual MPs: age, gender, diversity. The results shows that such a way of electing MPs would be far more representative than today with elections.

Pirate Times: Ιs direct democracy the system that you recommend?

Charly Pache: Sure. Sortition for the legislative. Concerning the executive power, I’m not against elections. Important is a real separation of the three powers, this is not the case in Switzerland where the same political parties influence them all (even the federal judges are officially members of a party). For a real democracy, we need the right to launch initiatives (= modify constitution) and the referendum (= request that the population votes on a law newly passed by the parliament). We need a system where citizen may get involved and take responsibilities at local level too. We need to broadcast legislative debates on local, regional and national television (or/and Internet). We need to make citizen aware that we all are politicians.

Pirate Times: The proposal relates only to Switzerland?

Charly Pache: For now yes. But in many countries worldwide, sortition is seen as a solution to improve politics and fight back the power of money. Especially on topics like food, environment, healthcare.

Pirate Times: Do you think that the system which you’re proposing could make democracy be “more representative”?

Charly Pache: Absolutely. Democracy needs to be the most representative possible. Elections had their chance to prove they could reach it, they failed. Now we need to change for a better system.

Pirate Times: Will the elected be able to decide?

Charly Pache: The elected will be real MPs, with the same tasks and power like nowadays.

Pirate Times: Will there be prime minister or ministers?

Charly Pache: This concerns the executive power branch, not the one our initiative aims. In Switzerland the executive power is shared among 7 ministers from different political parties. Each year one is chosen as president for one year, it’s more honorific than giving more power.

Pirate Times: What would be the role of the parties in a society where representatives are elected by lot?

Charly Pache: They will remain important to work on political initiatives and referendum. To bring new ideas. They will no more loose time and energy to compete against each other to get more seats in Parliament. This will need to find better ways to recycle this wasted energy. But parties will really change as they will loose their members who are just looking for some power to grab.

Pirate Times: In the past were there any attempts to hold elections by lot? Is there a similar contemporary experience?

Charly Pache: The literature on that topic is abundant. There were many attempts in the past, the most well-known being the case of Athens, which lasted for 200 prosperous years until they lost a war and had to change. They used it in Venezia, Firenze, in Spain too mainly to share power among the ruling families or power groups. This helped to reach prosperity and peace. Drawing by lot of citizen is a real trend again nowadays, you may find a lot of examples on where these groups got a real influence on political decisions. Participation is a real trend but in many cases, it ends with recommendations that are not implemented by the elected politicians. Switzerland would be the first to give that power again to the people.

Pirate Times: How would you contact GN to your co-citizens?

Charly Pache: This is a lot of work and we will take the time we will need. We already got some media coverage that helped. We are currently growing the community, organizing them in ‘Villages’ and we prepare an web game for them to play. We will give missions to our activists, for example to launch local initiatives, organize debates, collect money. We plan to set up an exhibition about the future of democracy that would run from town to town. We plan to gain public figures to our cause. And go on till the idea is ripe in the head of the majority of citizen to vote for it. Our roadmap is clear in terms of steps to reach: make our community grow to at least 2’000 motivated citizen and collect enough money to finance our outreach activities. On September 17th, “Bye-Bye Elections Day” in Fribourg will be our biggest gathering since the launch of the initiative. One highlight will be a workshop to develop a community video game for our movement: our people will play citizen in democratic villages who will have to free other citizen living in parallel and not yet democratic places. They will get real-life missions, get points and build a better world both inside the game and in the real world.

Pirate Times: How many signatures do you have to collect in order to submit the proposal for a referendum?

Charly Pache: For a national initiative we will need to collect 100’000 valid signatures within 18 months. For regional (cantons) and local initiatives (cities/towns) it depends on their legislation. This is still a huge workload as we cannot collect them electronically. We have to be in the streets. We want to be ready for that 18 months run, with enough money and enough people ready to collect. For now we collect activists. In fact, the 18 month deadline will start when we will deposit our constitutional text to the authorities, for now we didn’t and we plan to do it when we will be ready, probably not before April 2018.

Pirate Times: How many people working in the initiative team?

Charly Pache: From the beginning about 50 people contributed to its development and we collected at around 300 names of people interested to help.

Pirate Times: Do you think that your co-citizens will vote in favor of your initiative?

Charly Pache: I really hope they will, we will take the necessary time and efforts to explain to them what is our proposal and why it is so important.

Pirate Times: You used to be a member of PPCH. Why did you leave the party?

Charly Pache: Every political party and every organization which offers positions for power attract people who want it. PPCH is no exception. Beside this first category I noticed two others: one group which focused mainly on controlling what happened inside the party, writing and passing rules, doing administration, IT and a third – I was one of them – which didn’t care too much about controlling the others or the opportunity for power and focused on political fights on the field. There were people who didn’t like me – was it about competition ? – and they did many attempts to block me. Their last attempt was to call the internal court of arbitration – which is a joke for such a small association to have one, needing only five members to fill a case and knowing that only one member of that court had a degree in law – to accuse me of something I didn’t do: listing PPCH on a referendum’s website. I even didn’t know the webmaster at the time. They told I ruined PPCH reputation – although no media noticed it – and that I should be fired as vice-president. They asked the court to also forbid me to talk to media as PPCH vice-president, as an urgent measure. Imagine ten pages written in German (I speak French) and you have to give an answer. I did it. The court rejected their urgent request measures and asked for more information, more paper to fill for something that didn’t happen. I decided to leave PPCH, telling them how disappointed I was about the behavior of these people, that I spend more time to fight against fellow pirates that with other politicians. Short after quite a lot of members left too, even a section split from PPCH. The bad guys won in my opinion. I didn’t loose my time anymore with them. After 3 active years as a pirate I had my political network and since then enjoy the freedom to give my time to topics I care for. I decided to never join a political party again. Recently I helped some friends to create an anti-party, one of the decision is to draw by lot among the members the candidates for the next elections. The future belongs to initiatives, not to parties. People gather around an idea and give energy to it. Freely. Parties are too much top-down structures. PPCH especially was not able to give more independence to cantonal pirate parties. Generation Nomination would probably have been the first federal initiative of PPCH if all this would not have happen, this was my plan in 2014. I stay tuned with what happens with pirates on international level, I liked very much the energy of the 2012 PPI gathering in Prague. And without PP, I would not be the same today.