The emerging right to directly participate in local governance : enhancing the social inclusion of minorities and the politically alienated
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Democracy is in crisis and the crisis is in ‘representative’ democracy. Citizens are disenchanted, disengaged, politically alienated and socially excluded. They aspire to directly participate in their own governance. Taking part in public affairs by voting in elections or being a member of a political party or a candidate for public office are central elements of participation. However, participating in cyclical elections is only a small part of political participation; participation in public affairs is an ongoing process. Much of the criticism of representative government is that it fails to enable greater direct civic participation. Across Europe there is a recognition that representative democracy must be supplemented by tools of participatory democracy and the implementation of mechanisms of participatory democracy is increasing. The recognition of the importance of civil participation in government and its increasing implementation has led to the emergence of a normative right to directly participate in local governance. Where tools of participatory democracy have been implemented at the local level there has been a demonstrable increase in social inclusion and empowerment. Despite the demonstrated potential of participatory democracy to enhance social inclusion, European states and institutions have ignored the potential of direct participation to supplement representative democracy in minority bodies. Tools of participatory democracy also have the potential to facilitate dialogue between minorities and majorities and assist in the integration process. The implementation of participatory democracy in minority and mixed bodies, established at the local level, have the potential to enhance the social inclusion of both minorities and the politically alienated segments of the majority population, and foster integration.