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Montevideo Declaration on Modern Direct Democracy

Montevideo Declaration on Modern Direct Democracy


From 14 to 16 November people from all walks of life and from all corners of the world met at the 2012 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy in Montevideo, Uruguay. Scholars, journalists, activists, petition and initiative organizers, philanthropists, elected officials, election administrators, NGO leaders, lawyers, businesspeople and farmers attended the three-day-long conference.

At the end of the forum the participants declare:

 “We are encouraged by the progress in the use of the tools of direct and participatory democracy by people around the world. True direct democracy requires respect for human rights, especially freedom of expression, and the development of direct democracy is thus essential to furthering democratic and human development everywhere.

We are gratified that people and institutions involved in the Global Forum progress are making rapid gains in the gathering of data, the sharing of information, and the building of a global network of those committed to improving direct democracy. And we are heartened by gains in transparency, open access to direct democracy, and deliberation that we have seen since these three principles were identified as priorities in the San Francisco Declaration at the Global Forum in 2010.

 But we are concerned about the slow pace of the development of direct and participatory democracy. In too many countries, including some here in Latin America, modern direct democracy exists mostly on paper – in laws and in constitutions – and not in routine practice.

We have taken note that the direct democracy process is often used in a “top down” way, by presidents or legislative bodies or other powerful institutions. While such use of the process can produce significant changes, we must emphasize that successful direct democracy depends on a variety of institutions, including  well-functioning parliaments, courts and government, and must be deeply grounded in civil society. Legislation and political actors of all kinds must strike a delicate balance between processes of direct and representative institutions to allow that modes of decision-making to complement each other in the defense of public interest.

It is not enough for direct democracy to be a promise in a politician’s speech or in some governing document. It must be an everyday practice, with the appropriate regulation, civil society involvement, and a participatory infrastructure to ensure that all people – especially women, indigenous people and others who have traditionally been excluded -- can participate in the process, and that their vote is not only counted, but also that their voices are heard.

The world needs more participatory infrastructure – not just for direct democracy, but also for democratic governance in general. Such infrastructure should take many forms – from literal infrastructure (reliable electricity remains an obstacle to democratic participation for many) to democratic innovations in engagement to technological tools such as the electronic signature gathering permitted under the European Citizens’ Initiative.

The need for such infrastructure and knowledge is essential at the local level, as it is in this context where people interact directly with each other and with the formal institutions. The local level also may be the most common entry-point for the introduction of processes of direct democracy in countries that do not have them. Citizens working locally desperately need more assistance, resources, and time to build such infrastructure.

We commit the Global Forum process to assisting whenever and wherever we can in the development and maintenance of this infrastructure. Our own approach of collecting, sharing and comparing information on direct democracy is needed in many places, and we resolve to do more to expand the reach of the forum.

We firmly believe that the power of citizens to make their own laws (and not merely pick representatives) is both a basic human right we all have– and a responsibility we all must bear. We are committed to advancing this right and responsibility – and we believe that, in doing so, we can change the world.”

The participants of the Global Forum 2012 are happy to receive suggestions, corrections and contributions from anywhere around the world.

Contact and further information at

Cora Pfafferott



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