Ready for Democracy?

On current issues within parlementaire democracy 

By Rachel Baas

Disclaimer: this text predominantly refers to the Dutch parliamentary democracy and legal system, which may or may not correspond with forms of government practised in other states or countries.

"de∙moc∙ra∙cy (plural: democracies)1 government by the people; a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly: parliamentary democracy democracy in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them indirectly through a parliament of representatives elected by the people[1][2] (etymology: dēmokratíā (Greek): rule of the people"

In the 'beginning' 

The first democratic form of government originated about 2500 years ago in Athens. In this democracy all classes, low to high, were directly represented. The higher class by holding political offices, the lower classes by participating in the people's assembly. These two groups gathered almost weekly to make decisions about the Athenian policy. This is to say that in Athens there was a direct democracy, in which the people could consult directly with the political council.

The relationship between citizens and politicians seems to have been stronger and more direct in these origins than it is now. Still, this democracy was not entirely representative, only native men over the age of eighteen were allowed to participate in the Council of 500 (delegates from the ten states) and in the people’s assembly, representing about 10% of the entire Athenian population. [3] 

Despite all the developments within democracy as a form of government in the following years, the democratic system still does not seem to be fully realized. Why does not everyone feel represented in today's society, even though every adult citizen has the right to vote? 

The Netherlands

Over the centuries democracy has developed into different forms. The Netherlands, for example, has a parliamentary democracy, in which representatives elected by the people influence government policy. As a Dutch citizen above the age of eighteen you have the right to vote and take part in the elections. An example of this is the parliamentary election of March 15, 2017. The turnout percentage was 81.9%, which means that 18.1%, more than 2 million Dutch people, did not vote. The electoral threshold to obtain one of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives was 70,106.94 votes. Ultimately, 13 of the 28 parties were allocated one or more seats.[4]  The parties in the House of Representatives take joint decisions that have consequences for the people. They have, among other things, the right to submit legislative proposals (right of initiative), to amend legislative proposals (right to amend), and to approve or reject them. This often involves making compromises.  

The first article of the Dutch Constitution reads:  “All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.” [5] [6] 

This article is based on the prevailing equality among all inhabitants of the Netherlands, which must be achieved jointly by everyone, but ultimately it can be seen, certainly in politics, that minorities are still excluded. And these ‘minorities’ are often not nearly as small as the word suggests. With the voting threshold of the parliamentary election of March 2017 in mind, it means that if 70,000 people vote for one party, that party will not get a seat in the House of Representatives. The voice of these 70,000 people, or the ‘minority’, is therefore not being heard. A tyranny of the majority arises, as it were, whereby the wishes of one group are fulfilled at the expense of the other.  

Ultimately, the goal of a democracy is, according to it’s literal definition, that the people rule (dèmos = the people, kratein = rule), but in reality not all people rule. Not everyone is entitled to vote, a certain percentage of those entitled to vote does not cast a vote, of the votes cast a certain percentage is not for a party that actually gets a seat, and if the party you have chosen does get a seat, this does not necessarily mean that the party program survives the compromises. In the end, the majority chooses who’s in charge. And then those in power make the actual decisions, based on compromise and adaptation to current events.  

A diseased democracy

Every form of government can be criticized. In a democracy the vote of (the majority of) the people may count, whereas there is a complete absence of voting rights in an autocracy or dictatorship, and in a theocracy only one group is represented. Every form of government seems to fail, at certain points, in fulfilling the wants and needs of the people. Yet the aim of most people seems to be to achieve a democratic form of government. However, when this has been achieved – be it only on paper – it does not mean that all problems have been resolved and that there is no more progress to be made. 

According to writer David van Reybrouck, a number of "symptoms" can be attributed to the problems facing current (mainly European) democracy.

Firstly, there is a mutual distrust between the politician and the citizen.

Second, there is an imbalance between efficiency - the speed with which the government finds solutions to problems - and legitimacy - the extent to which the people can agree with these solutions. There are more and more floating voters, and fewer people going to the ballot box. [7] In recent elections, two thirds of the Dutch voters did not know which party they would vote for a few days in advance. Now, certainly with the increasing number of (splinter) parties, it is not necessarily a problem to have difficulty making a choice or to change your opinion, but it is a problem if this is based on a lack of efficiency or damaged trust. Jumping from party to party also shows a certain inconsistency in the implementation of the party programs and the fulfillment of predetermined promises. [8]

Third, the decisiveness of parliament is also declining. Negotiation about legislative proposals and policy changes take longer, in which both the mutual mistrust between parties and the fear of punishment by the people play a role. Meanwhile, these rapidly changing times require decisions to be made quickly. [9] 

The current democracy has many flaws, which indicate that change does not always equal improvement.

Even in ancient Athens, more than 2,500 years ago, voters had more say in politics than they do today. The role of the voter was then comparable to the role of the House of Representatives now, while nowadays the voter will most likely never have direct contact or consultation with the party he chooses.

And of course there are positive improvements, from the constitution to the voting rights for women, but those who focus solely on those, will always keep the negatives. 

The need for change

The tricky part is that adapting democracy can quickly turn into extreme forms of government, such as fascism and communism, both primarily intended to improve democracy. [10]

How do you govern a country in such a way that every citizen feels heard, and decisive and timely decisions are made to find solutions to the problems within society? After all, there is not one people that unanimously has the same wishes or faces the same problems. There cannot be one leader who takes into account every individual within Dutch society. 

Over time, attempts have been made to improve representation within the system, for example by establishing non-binding referendums. However, these were abolished in 2018, as - in the words of Kasja Ollongren (Minister of the Interior) - politics does not have to do anything with the opinion of the people. This could be seen in the last two referendums, the Ukraine referendum and the referendum on the new intelligence act (Wiv in Dutch). The majority of the people voted against both, and politicians did not respond to this. [11]

This example already shows that something is wrong in the current system. In a true democracy, there is an agreement between what the people want and what politics does, not a skewed balance of power in which one determines the participation of the other according to their own wishes. If a government has the power to reject the vote of the people, and does so, then what is left of the democratic idea? 

Other options for participation, such as the occasional opinion poll, also do not offer any solution. They take place selectively, without citizens having been able to prepare themselves sufficiently and without a commitment that the outcome will be listened to. 

Representation and honesty

The original Athenian democracy was based on a direct bond between citizen and politician, in a system in which drawing lots provided representation. In the 18th century, after the tumultuous French and American revolution, its founders advocated an elected aristocracy, they did not want a democratic form of government. Later, this electoral representative system with elections became equal to what we now think is a democracy. 

Van Reybrouck argues that we can learn from original democracy, and remedy the "democratic fatigue syndrome" by means of the reintroduction of drawing lots. According to him, a more direct democracy in which multiple allotted bodies (which control each other), deliberation and rotation are the key points, is the cure. [12] 

This return to the core does not have to offer an all-improving solution, nor can it be immediately implemented everywhere without fits and starts, but no matter how you look at it, it is more democratic and more representative than the current system.

The fact that a suggestion will not become a guaranteed success story does not mean that we have to simmer further in a system that is clearly in need of repair and replacement. 


In the current parliamentary “democracy” that applies in the Netherlands, there is a polarization between the people and its government. This is partly due to a lack of representation, a lack of fulfillment of pre-made promises, and the discrepancy between self-interest and public interest. 

The fact that a democracy offers more say for the people than any other political system is laid down in its definition. But it is hard to dispute that the achievement of a democratic form of government is the end of political progress. Certainly not since this form of government has morphed over time into a poor substitute for its true nature.

Just like the rest of the world, politics should evolve continuously. To avoid an even greater polarization between the people and the government, a certain progression within the political system is necessary. We cannot get stuck in outdated management methods and at the same time assume that the implementation of the chosen policy will go smoothly. 

The reintroduction of lottery offers the opportunity to make democracy a lot more representative and democratic than it is at the moment. 

Written by Rachel Baas

[1] Democratie. (z.d.). Van Dale. Geraadpleegd 12 oktober 2020, van
[2] Democracy. (z.d.) Merriam Webster. Geraadpleegd 23 februari 2021, van
[3] Oorsprong van de democratie. (z.d.). IsGeschiedenis.
[4] Kiesraad (2017, 21 maart). ‘Officiële uitslag Tweede Kamerverkiezing 15 maart 2017’. Geraadpleegd van
[5] De Nederlandse grondwet, ‘Artikel 1: Gelijke behandeling en discriminatieverbod’. Geraadpleegd van
[6] The Constitution of the kingdom of the Netherlands, ‘Article 1’ . Geraadpleegd van
[7] Reybrouck, D. (2016). Tegen verkiezingen (12de editie). Amsterdam, Nederland: De Bezige Bij.
[8] Dros, L. (2017, 12 maart). Zwevende idealen brengen niet alleen de kiezers op drift, maar ook hun kandidaten. Geraadpleegd op 23 februari 2021, van
[9] Reybrouck, D. (2016). Tegen verkiezingen (12de editie). Amsterdam, Nederland: De Bezige Bij.
[10] Reybrouck, D. (2016). Tegen verkiezingen (12de editie). Amsterdam, Nederland: De Bezige Bij.
[11] van Ast, M., & van der Aa, E. (2018, 10 juli). Raadgevend referendum definitief afgeschaft. Geraadpleegd op 24 oktober 2020, van
[12] Reybrouck, D. (2016). Tegen verkiezingen (12de editie). Amsterdam, Nederland: De Bezige Bij.