Imagining Ways to End Electoral Farces
False assumptions lead nowhere except to ... Parliament. The business of elections is usually laced with false representations by candidates, resulting in false assumptions by voters. With the current backdrop of economic and political unrest around the globe, it is time to explore alternatives to electoral representation, with a techie’s imagination.
A typical election process goes something like this: The usually ugly politician is beautified with campaign makeup of special and parochial interests; the campaign treasure chest can turn anyone – an opportunistic businessman-cum-politician, an obscurantist ideologue with a long beard or sideburns, or a mere airhead – into Marilyn Monroe on steroids. Gullible voters, like sophisticated ones, are mesmerized by campaign sound bites – localized and customized according to the audience – all promising Kumbaya if the politician takes office. The morning after sees a democratic pseudo-dictator occupying a government seat and making decisions on behalf of disillusioned voters, who by now are in urgent need of therapy.
This electoral farce is global – from the lobby-plagued U.S. Congress to the pseudo-parliaments of the arrested Arab uprisings. Conflating the right to vote with the right to good governance is a fool’s errand. Today people everywhere are struggling to find decent and progressive solutions to socio-economic issues when elected representatives are failing to live up to the task. Traditional democracy is just overrated.
Movements such as Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party, Arab revolutions and Greek protests are not simply about the right to vote. Voting and elections are rudimentary and so passé; they no longer sync fast enough with our world – social and e-business networking, devising alternative solutions to urgent global and local issues, or just putting bread on the table. Dispatching credible observers like Jimmy Carter to validate elections only certifies the mechanics of electoral input, but falls way short of ensuring good governance output.
If the true interests of candidates and voters were genuinely aligned, then who would need voting? Why hold elections at all? Optimizing the electoral process is not much different from Search Engine Optimization, where a solution provider improves the ranking of its product or service on the Internet.
If my product serves the needs of my client base (mutual interests), then I optimize the product parameters in such a way that potential clients can easily find it and elect to use it online (community); Google, Yahoo, and other search engines take care of the rest (system). My interests are aligned with those of my clients. Why hire an expensive marketer (political candidate)?
To improve the lot of the population, a community of voters could optimize the performance of representatives they elect by simply changing the way they run for and hold public office. This directly applies to the electoral debacle with one fundamental underpinning: imposing mandatory service in Parliament for the general benefit of society. Let’s call it Smart Governance Optimization, or SGO.
SGO applies a private-sector ethos that is fully transferable to the public sector – for example people who work for a living actually show up on time every business day, and operate with honesty, creativity and cost-effectiveness. They optimally perform in the best interests of company and team. Similar existing services to SGO include mandatory military service in many countries, mandatory jury duty where a trial-by-jury system exists, mandatory community service for misdemeanors, and so on.
SGO rests on the principle that service in Parliament or Congress is an obligation of citizenship. Citizens are required to represent their respective districts at least once in a lifetime. Rather than voting them into office, a secure computer algorithm draws on census registry databases to select representatives at random for a one-year term. Citizens, 35 to 65 years of age may qualify for government service if they reside in the jurisdiction from which they have been summoned to represent, are not convicted felons, and are mentally competent.
Under SGO, parliamentarians get the minimum wage and a professional staff of technical experts to help them carry out their duties. No SUVs with tinted windows, no bodyguards, and no ludicrous benefits. For the duration of their term, they are entitled to family benefits, including free basic housing, health insurance, automatic enrollment of their children in public schools and universities, and free public transportation. Let them eat biscuits – the customary prescription for the 99 percent.
Now comes the accountability part. For full transparency, a wireless computer chip could be surgically implanted in a secret spot of the body of each parliamentarian during their tenure. 24/7 GPS surveillance and real-time Web-streaming of all interactions are transmitted to Twitter and Bing accounts. Lack of privacy during tenure is a small price to pay for the dignity of being a glorified Member of Parliament. No more moonlighting on the job!
For fanciful control measures, lie-detection software may as well be embedded to transmit brain neuron signals for instant evaluations. Bio-optimization apps, serving as e-Prozac, may be embedded to maintain a natural balance of enzymes and to secrete Buddhist notions of love and peace into the brain. Aside from resizing abnormally big egos, the objective is to positively influence the voting, decision-making and legislative process, especially in nations troubled with existential travails (sectarianism, racism, civil war, colonialism, apartheid, tribalism and what have you).
Shattering the halo effect that surrounds traditionally elected politicians and breaking their power over legislation are necessary for national well-being. Most societies have failed to eliminate wasteful spending of taxpayer money from the national treasury. Corruption, corporate lobbying, campaign capital and parochial interests are distortions that cry for an SGO-like solution to close the deficit in good governance. Replicating conventional democracy models in developed countries will only lead to known deficiencies.
Mandatory government service can secure democratic populism as the best source of practical wisdom and common sense to protect people’s interests. It remains to be seen whether “elected” members of any parliament would ever dare promulgate such a law, thus permanently voting themselves out of office in the process.
-- Imad Atalla is a social entrepreneur, activist, and software developer. He leads www.i-ngo.com.