Today’s modern European democracy grants every adult citizen – regardless of race, gender, social status, wealth, or education – the right to vote in the form of universal suffrage. The right to vote (or active suffrage) is not to be taken for granted, as until the second half of the twentieth century not all adults were permitted to vote in Europe. Despite the relative electoral passivity (based on low turnout figures in most European states), the right to vote is the most important tool in the people’s hands to shape the policies of their countries by deciding whom they trust to govern. Suffrage is a powerful mean, which ultimately affects every single person in- and even outside of the given community or state. Therefore, I find it vital to review the principles of both active and passive suffrage, and propose regulations to redefine the characteristics of and the dynamics between voters and candidates.
Today, every adult citizen has equally one vote, which is granted on the single condition of being a citizen of the state and reaching a certain age (usually 18). The adult citizen’s vote defines the fate of the community or state by empowering certain political groups with certain ideologies and policies. The fact that decides whether the individual’s vote leads to prosperity or failure is that how well people can judge the complex and broad range of matters related to governance, which include the subjects of economics, politics, social issues, laws of nature, armed forces, foreign policy, and even history – amongst others. Arguably, the overwhelming majority of the adult citizens do not comprehend even the basics of these subjects, because they are either uneducated or uninterested – often both. Due to the lack of understanding, election campaigns focus on targeting people’s emotions instead of their intellect, as it is easier to manipulate than convincing them. In turn, people vote without knowing the exact programmes and previous results of the contesting political forces, concentrating on catchy campaign promises, sympathy, appearance, race, or religion instead. The result is a blind-leading-blind-society, in which one expert vote stands against ten inexpert votes, and in which the clueless majority rules over expertise and knowledge.
Let me translate my argument to three simple examples, which highlight the enormous shortcomings of universal suffrage. Should one have the intention of driving a car, reaching the legal age limit and possessing a driving licence are mandatory. In order to obtain the right to drive, one must pass a theory exam (including first aid), take driving lessons, and complete the driving exam eventually. The margin of error is very thin, as one has to score almost 100% on each of these exams to succeed. For the purpose of driving safely, one must know and apply numerous rules regarding traffic regulation, operation of vehicle, and first aid perfectly. Should the driving licence be our birth-right as the suffrage is now, everybody, who can afford a car, could sit in and drive as pleases. Let us imagine the disaster it would bring to the roads! The point of going through all the necessary procedures of learning and applying is to avoid disastrous accidents and deaths by providing the right to drive only to those, who can provably drive safely.
Also, should one desire to work in a senior role at any enterprise, the necessary qualifications and experiences are required by the ownership to ensure that the applicant is going to enhance prosperity. Supposing that the director and the managers are not experts, the enterprise is going to stagnate or decline, harming the well-being of all employees. Therefore, only those should be allowed to fill these positions of responsibility, who provably and completely understand the job that has to be done. However, being an expert is only one side of the story. Should the employees be allowed to decide who to nominate as director on a democratic election, less qualified candidates could enter the competition, in which popularity would become a dominant factor instead of expertise. In order to convince the employees, and get elected into the powerful position, the director elects would promise almost anything (e.g. higher wages, more paid holidays, reduced working hours). Employees themselves could stand for election, regardless of education, experience, or general knowledge. It seems to be an equal opportunity for everyone, which sounds incredibly fair, but it is actually not. The immediate results would be loss of revenue and bankruptcy, which is quickly followed by unemployment and poverty. Therefore, it is essential to leave positions of responsibility to proven experts, who are chosen by people with at least a basic knowledge of matters.
The most ordinary example of universal suffrage is the example of family. Let us say that a family of five (mother, father, and their three children) wants to decide on a new form of decision-making by introducing democratic principles. Assuming that only the father and the eldest daughter would like to run for the position, they prepare their programmes, which they intend to present to the other members of the family in order to get elected. Father, knowing the exact figures of revenue and expenses, tries to put together a programme, which is sustainable and reasonable. Whereas, the eldest daughter, knowing nothing of the exact figures, tries to present an appealing deal with lots of promises in order to gain popularity. Father would argue that separating funds for rent, bills, food, and other necessities are more important than spending on sweets, toys, and games. At the end of the debate, mother, being convinced by reason, votes for father, but the children, anticipating more pleasure and treats, vote for the eldest daughter. When the vote is done, the children’s will is going to prevail over their parents’, as the rule of democracy is that everybody has one vote and the majority decides. The result of the vote is three inexpert votes against two expert votes, which means that the election is won by someone, who does not understand anything about how the household should be managed. Should the rent and bills not be paid, the family is out on the street in a short period of time. The eldest daughter could also pass a legislation to refuse attending classes in school, even tough it is in the children’s essential interest, what they do not necessarily understand yet, but their parents do.
As the examples intend to present, most people should not be permitted to get involved into decision-making due to their lack of knowledge; moreover, they themselves are in the need of appropriate leadership. Therefore, the abolishment of universal suffrage and the redistribution of votes are essential to accomplish. The solution is to launch an educational course on state affairs organised and financed by the state. The course could be designed to be as simple as possible, minimising the physical attendance in a few hours each month. The core of the course would be a book – written by experts, not politicians –, covering the basic overview of state affairs. This book must be explained and discussed on the course, whilst read and memorised at home. At the end of the course, the citizen can decide to take an exam and thus earn the right to vote. In order to succeed in passing the exam, the citizen should score at least 91%, which would make them eligible to a certificate, fulfilling the precondition of suffrage. Should one fail, the exam can always be repeated. Should one not pass the exam until the next elections, the citizen is not permitted to vote (the participation on referendums is an exception, as it is not binding legally). The certificate must be renewed before every general election. The preparation course, the learning material, and the exam would cost nothing to the citizens, as it would be covered by the state entirely. Nobody would be deprived from suffrage, because the chance is given to match the basic conditions of knowledge required; therefore, it is up to the citizen’s commitment and determination to learn and earn the right to vote.
It is important to enlighten the voters, but it is not enough alone to create an enlightened democracy; the preconditions to stand for election (or passive suffrage) must also be redefined, focusing on the topics of expertise, accountability, and campaign regulations.
Our hearts have many desires, which cannot be all expressed for the sake of our well-being; therefore, it is our brains’ duty to control our emotions, filtering them by letting through only the constructive ones. It is almost the same with all different demands and wishes of the different people within a community or state. Their voices must be heard, but should not everything be accomplished, as it is likely to be rather destructive for the well-being of the entire community. Therefore, an enlightened government should endorse only those demands, which are going to benefit the state and the people within. It is imperative and in the interest of every citizen to entrust governance to a provably expert leadership.
However, most politicians are far from being experts. It might be sad, but the harsh truth is that they do not have to be, as there is not a single legislation in any country, which would require candidates to prove their expertise. Candidates have to fulfil only one condition to be elected into office: popularity. Many actors, comedians, and businessmen got elected into high positions due to their popularity (e.g. US) – expertise was irrelevant. The fact that popularity is far more important than expertise and competence reduces trust in democracy on long-term, and causes one of the root causes of the multiple crises we witness today globally (e.g. climate crisis). In my view, an independent committee of experts should approve the candidacy based on expertise and competence (e.g. qualification, experience, language skills) before each election campaign. This way, the wheat can be separated from the chaff before elections, avoiding potential disasters of bad policy-making.
The next step is the regulation of campaigning, which means that the politicians must summarise their campaign promises and publish them. This contract of election would ensure the presentation of a clear programme, which must be accomplished as much as possible. It would be the duty of an accountability committee to supervise that the agreement is fulfilled. Should the elected political force purposefully neglect the fulfilment of their campaign promises, legal consequences are to be implemented. I find this element crucial, as politicians are allowed to promise whatever they want, fooling their voters deliberately, but they are not held accountable for their promises and wrongdoings at the end of their terms. The worst that can happen is that they are not reelected, which is not of any consolation to the deceived.
The regulation of campaigning would also include the restriction of political adverts and the introduction of real debates on exact policies. This would end smear campaigns and dissolve the odd mixture of politics and showmanship, in which cheap manipulation dominates over expertise by using dirty language and fake statements in every political advert or appearance. Also, the blurry and meaningless programmes, and populist lies would disappear once and for all. All elected candidates shall be legally obliged to account for their results in office after their terms – without exception.
As a result of politicians purposefully and constantly lying to the voters, people put up with the fact that politicians are not trustworthy or outright liars. Many voters would not even bother to vote, let alone take the time to research each party’s agenda. Many of those that decide to vote, doing it based on half-truths or beliefs instead of facts. The communist-turned-extreme liberal parties of Eastern Europe are one of the best examples of how a dictatorial political party can change its cloak from one day to the other to pose and sell itself as the most liberal one in the new era – and most people bought it. Infamous examples of recent years, such as the deceitful 2015 Greek Bailout Referendum and U-turn in policy of Greece’s Syriza, the deception of Brexit’s Leave campaign, and the breakthrough of Trump’s incompetence, all share one common feature: deliberate and shameless lying to the voters in order to gain popularity, thus power.
Regrettably, deceit is embedded in the fundament of democracy; therefore, the abolishment of this dysfunctional system is vital, and begins with the reformation of suffrage, which has two directions: one from below (active suffrage) and one from above (passive suffrage). The result is a new, revolutionary, enlightened political system, in which the candidates are proven experts and the voters are expected to be aware of the basic consequences of their decisions. In enlightened democracy, political parties and their candidates would have to prepare and present their programmes to a very different type of voter that is not a mere political consumer anymore, but a conscious citizen. As a result, sustainable prosperity, political stability, and general well-being would prevail over corruption and inertia.
In enlightened democracy, active suffrage would not be an unconditional birth-right anymore, but earned by learning. Also, the preconditions of passive suffrage would require one to be a proven expert on the given field, to convince the voters in a civilised manner, and to be accountable for their results at the end of their terms. The success of every other reform that aims to improve our life in a united and enlightened Europe depends on this foundation.