Westminster V. Consensus Democracy
I agree that the Westminster model of democracy is less democratic than the consensus model of democracy - Westminster V. Consensus Democracy introduction. To answer this question, one must first determine what kind of system of governance may be considered democratic. A common focus as regards analysis of democracy usually centers on election. How do people choose their representatives? However democracy is not simply giving the people the right to vote. Democracy neither ends starts nor ends at election. It includes even formation of groups who will represent and being able to effectively represent the people afterwards.
On these issues, the Westminster and Consensus models of democracy differ greatly. (See Allen) To determine which of the two is more democratic, this essay will focus on the difference between the two based on several factors. Such analysis will show that a consensus model is indeed more democratic. These are factors are interests protected, representation, mechanics and distribution of power, and decision-making. The interests protected in a Westminster model are fewer. Interests to be protected are chosen based on a majority rule.
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On the contrary, a consensus model of democracy protects as many people and interests as possible. (University of California) Therefore, a consensus model disenfranchises and excludes a fewer number of people. This is due to the fact that more people and interests are upheld. Choices are not limited to one interest that was able to get a majority rule. This is undemocratic as far as society goes due to the fact that modern society is often fragmented and people have different competing interests. Many interests will therefore be ignored and remain unrepresented. The next aspect to be considered is representation.
Representation is intimately related to interests protected because it is these interests that are represented by the representatives. In this area of analysis, the consensus model of democracy may be said to be more democratic for the following features. First, it has a multiparty system. Second, it allows for minority representation. Third, it allows the participation of interest groups. Lastly, it has a system of proportional representation. (“The Consensus Model”) First, a multiparty system allows for greater representation. More parties mean more interests represented.
Having only one or two majority parties in office allows only one or two types of voices heard in government. Therefore, the interests represented by these groups are the only interests assured to be heard in government all through out the duration of the parties’ term of office. This is contrary to the nature of democracy which is to allow representation for a greater number of people. Moreover, politics in the real world will be contrary to the spirit of democracy when viewed in light of a non-multiparty system. Majority status is often inflexible. A majority group is almost always assured of winning in each election.
Minority groups will almost always loose, unless they form coalitions and similar arrangements to defeat the majority. It becomes merely a war of numbers. This is brings us to the discussion of the second aspect, which is minority representation. The fact that Westminster democracy allows only for majority representation is the main reason why it is less democratic. Again, modern is society is complex. There are too many interests that exist at present and most of these interests have a support base of a minority of the population. Going for majority representation will ensure that all these interests will be disenfranchised.
Minority representation ensures that while the majority is respected, the minorities will not be neglected. It is a step away from the possible abuse by the majority. In fact, it may be a check against the majority’s abuse of power. Third, a consensus model allows for interest groups instead of just political groups. Political groups are often hounded by too many interests. Therefore, their own systems are a debate of which competing interests to represent. They are also more politicized. Interest groups, on the other hand, have greater focus on the interests they protect. People or voters may easily identify to them.
It is more democratic because, instead of being party or person-oriented in choosing representatives, people can also be more interest-oriented. Interest groups also allow for greater public participation. Interest groups allow membership of ordinary people. By ordinary, this means that people who are not affiliated to certain political groups and are not running for offices. Interest groups therefore allow greater participation by the people, without undermining the order that is sought to be achieved by having a system of representation. Lastly, consensus democracy allows for proportional representation.
While as many interests should be represented and minority interests should not be neglected, these multiple and often minority interests should not be upheld while sacrificing the majority interest. Proportional representation will ensure that the majority remains a majority and the minority remains a minority. It is in effect a duplication of the whole society in a miniature scale, like a model. Therefore, interests will be represented based on how important they are held to be in society. The third aspect to be analyzed is mechanics and distribution of power.
Power in a Westminster democracy is concentrated. There is a single party majority cabinet, majoritarian or pluralitarian electoral system, and concentration of power in the executive. On the contrary, the consensus model allows for executive power-sharing in multiparty coalitions, proportional representation, separation of powers and judicial review. (“The Consensus Model”; University of California; See Norris 3) Since the aspects of power sharing among groups and proportional representation have been discussed already, analysis will focus on separation of powers and judicial review.
Separation of powers avoids the concentration of powers in one government branch or body. Concentration of powers is a hindrance to real democracy because power is concentrated to a few. In relation to this, judicial review allows for a more democratic process because it allows people to participate, through courts, in the checking of the actions of the legislative and the executive. The last aspect to be analyzed is the decision-making process. In a Westminster model of democracy, a majority of the population makes the decision, while a consensus model requires consensus.
A Westminster democracy puts emphasis on opposition and a consensus model on emphasis. This is important again due to the level of heterogeneity the present society is characterized with. Many interests will be neglected if consensus is not preferred. Moreover, minorities may feel alienated, excluded, discriminated against and may lose sense of allegiance to the system. (“The Consensus Model”; Hobsch citing Lijphart) Consensus democracy is indeed more democratic because it allows greater participation to all types of interests, whether majority or minority.
While majoritarian models may have a claim on stability and facility and speed in decision making and policy-making, such speed, facility and speed comes with the price of democracy. Many interests and people in a Westminster democracy will be heard only up to the period of election when and if they are allowed to run for public office. However, they may not be heard and be allowed to participate in actual governance due to their loss in elections. Therefore, at the government level, only the majority interest is heard despite the existence of other important and different interests.