The arguments usually advanced by opponents of DD are quite often valid, but also blatantly ignore the fact that things are not better (and often worse) under our so-called representative democracy.
To me, the most interesting example of DD in action is Switzerland.
The Swiss have layers of DD at the national, cantonal, and communal level. Their head of state, and executive, the Bundesrat, or Federal Council is a seven person team made up proportional to their parliament’s politcal parties – in other words, a perpetual coalition. Who says that coalitions don’t work?
The system of initiative, referendum, and recall allows voters to propose, overturn or approve, and remove a politician from office respectively, if sufficient numbers vote for these actions. The assumption that the public is not capable or too stupid to make important decisions is not borne out in Switzerland. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. Since the electorate has real power, it engages in politics to a greater extent and informs itself of the issues before making decisions. If the ‘the public are too stupid’ argument were true, the Swiss wouldn’t have voted for tax rises and other traditionally ‘unpopular’ legislation in the way that they have done. For the record, there is no death sentence in Switzerland, a supposed populist policy, and Switzerland actually argues for the worldwide abolition of capital punishment.
Direct democracy greatly reduces the potential for corruption in politics (try to bribe the whole electorate in secret), engages the public in real issues, not ideological nonsense. Yes, DD would lead to some bad decisions being made, but politicians make bad decisions under our current system anyway. At least under DD the electorate would know who to blame (itself) and would be forced to learn from its own mistakes.
I personally would go further than the Swiss. My feeling is that we need to move away from our out-dated system of political parties. Parties are simply not relevant any more in our social-liberal democracy. Our party system turns the important issue of governing our country into nothing more than a slagging-match theatre, where a political party’s one driving ambition is to form a government at whatever cost and then hold onto power. This would be funny, were it not so important.
Let’s just summarise the way our system works. I vote for a candidate in my constituency. We will overlook the fact that I may not like any of the candidates and will only agree with my chosen candidate (and its party) some of its/their electoral programme. If my candidate wins, great; I may have had a small influence on the makeup of our parliament, assuming that the candidate and its party honour its election pledges. If I vote for a losing candidate, I have lost any sort of direct influence until the next election, when I may have the common sense to vote for the winning candidate. This can not be the best nor fairest way to run a country.