KATHMANDU, Nepal, July 09 (IPS) – These days there has certainly been no shortage of reports depicting the decline of liberal democracy around the world.
With the growing popularity and divisive use of social media, we should not be surprised by the general malaise that is taking hold in most advanced liberal democracies.
From the Freedom in the World 2021 Report published by Freedom House to the Economic Intelligence Unit’s 2020 Democracy Index to the IDEA’s Global State of Democracy Indexes, there is more and more evidence that liberal and representative democracies are under duress.
Can the debate over the New Social Contract, a concept launched by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, help revive one of the essential elements of any democratic society, the people’s interest in and participation in civic life?
If his recent re-election at the head of the United Nations has dispelled suspicions that this new idea was just a fad, what are the chances of this debate about the new social contract becoming an opportunity to enhance public participation at local levels without further dividing the chasm between classical liberal democracies on one side and other nations Which adopt less democratic and more authoritarian political systems?
Provocatively, could such a discussion instead help approach this divide?
To put any doubts aside, inevitably, the New Social Contract is not about promoting democracy around the world.
Obviously, this would be a utopian proposal for the Secretary-General to embrace, but rather an attempt to rethink and improve standards between citizens and the state, regardless of which political system is adopted.
Guterres initially drafted during the 18th annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in 2020, where he called for a more just and inclusive society centered around combating inequality and discrimination because, as he said, “people want social and economic systems that fit all.”
“The new social contract must, between governments, peoples, civil society, business and others, integrate employment, sustainable development and social protection, on the basis of equal rights and opportunities for all.”
As vague as it is in terms of limits and ultimate goals, the new social contract can be viewed as a framework that can, not only revitalize our societies, but also build a fairer, cleaner, and just economy capable of overcoming the multiple challenges created by a pandemic.
The 2030 Agenda and its accompanying Sustainable Development Goals provide the blueprint on which this idea can be built locally.
As it is still in the works, the new social contract can provide a catalyst not only to redesign the relationships between social partners, governments, unions and businesses, but can also be a source of generating more interest among the population about public life.
Understanding it privately from the perspective of young people can be difficult, but it is necessary to do so because we cannot imagine a renewed citizenship without including young people whose vast majority are uninterested in public discourse and disenchanted with public discourse.
A potential path to generating a new passion for civic life among young people may start from helping them become more aware of what is happening at the local and national levels, something that can develop into higher forms of deep concern.
The final stage in this continuing series will be to support them in adopting forms of direct participation.
Participation is driven by a strong interest in public life and a willingness to turn this desire to learn more into contributions, and actions on the ground.
Last year, UNV came up with a new volunteering framework that fully captures the various features and characteristics of giving your time, energies and skills for the greater good.
Indeed, volunteering in its various forms and dimensions is one of the best tools for engaging people and youth in particular in public life.
That is why it is not surprising that UNV’s State of Volunteering in the Next World explains how volunteerism can be a real enabler of the defining factor of the new social contract.
More opportunities for public participation will also generate more trust, which is an essential feature of any healthy and cohesive society, and here the ongoing efforts to localize the SDGs can make a difference by bringing people together for the common good, to achieve goals at grassroots levels.
Achieving the SDGs at this level is not just about actions, or the mobilization of human resources, in terms of types or financial nature. It is also about deliberation and here, after such a long detour, I am reconnecting with the question of democracy.
Designing a new social contract as a platform conducive to achieving the SDGs locally by engaging people on the ground can be a tool to raise the quality of democratic discourse, and create platforms for a new form of shared decision-making or shared governance.
Interestingly, while political parties, wherever they operate, may become a hindrance to such change as their role as custodians of public participation will be eroded, this conception of shared governance may become of benefit to states that do not adhere to the representative system, the parties have dominated the systems liberalism.
In the field of political science, there is a dynamic movement of sociologists who are exploring the concept of deliberative democracy that would allow, through various means, including screening, new forms of real, rather than symbolic, public participation in decision-making.
It is true that to date, most attempts to implement deliberative democracy have been carried out in contexts with solid liberal democratic traditions.
A variety of ‘experiments’ have been conducted and the most successful of these was probably the Ostbelgien model which was modified by the parliament of the German-speaking community in Belgium where there is a permanent council of citizens that enables an ecosystem of citizens’ associations.
Ireland in the past has successfully used some aspects of deliberative democracy to engage the general public in debating and debating key constitutional issues which have also helped to achieve consensus on gender equality in same-sex marriage.
This legacy continues with the Citizens’ Assembly which recently submitted a report, after lengthy consultations and deliberations, on the issue of gender equality.
Iceland uses a mixed form of public deliberation, although it is led by a small number of elected citizens but with great opportunities for people to obtain the nation’s constitution.
Other forms, with varying degrees of success and a different level of inclusiveness and decision-making power, have been tried in two provinces in Canada, British Columbia and Ontario.
Within the growing field of deliberative democracy studies, there is now great interest in the so-called “consultative small public” where a limited number of citizens gather to decide on some issue of common interest.
If you’ve seen The Best of Enemies, a movie that depicts a public consultation exercise on discrete learning in Jim Crow’s US in the early 1970s, you’ll get an idea of what these things might look like.
Many of these lessons learned may also be useful to policymakers whose political systems have not embraced democracy.
As discussions continue about what the new social contract should look like at local levels and with the SDG localization agenda recognized as a tool for achieving the 2030 Agenda, we can have the opportunity to promote stronger forms of public participation in decision-making locally and everywhere.
This would enhance the meaning of good governance around the world while creating new space for deliberation in contexts that normally shut them out.
Perhaps deliberative participation, a term that might be easier to sell globally, if properly implemented at local levels, could become the cornerstone of the new social contract, revitalizing classical democracy where it already exists while creating space for other political systems to evolve and be more. comprehensive.
The author is the co-founder of ENGAGE, a non-profit organization in Nepal. He writes about volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development, and regional integration as a driver for improving people’s lives.
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