On Direct Democracy and Demarchy

The following is an interview by Jana Turk (from Moniheli) to Pedro Aibéo, on Direct Democracy, Demarchy, political activism and Architectural Democracy.


Jana Turk: in your opinion, what are the best ways of participating and influencing?

Pedro Aibéo: The good and bad thing concerning your question is that there is no magic formula. There are many unpredictable ways of having a voice in the decision-making processes. It can be associated with the originality of it, the quality of one’s argument or simply due to perseverance. In my view, the voice one holds within society reflects the process on how one has achieved it. Meaning, if I am advocating violence, I will excel by BEING violent – let’s say, for example – by killing people right here at the World Village Festival! But if my message is one of wisdom, rationality, education, discussion, diversity, etc. it must therefore be delivered in the in the same way as I expect the outcome to be. These qualities are products of an enduring process of self-improvement.

JT: Self-identifying as an anarcho-syndicalist, how did you end up running for elections in the first place?

PA: The short answer is that somebody has to be the last professional politician!…

I think it is important to briefly explain what anarcho-syndicalism means. Anarchism is the absence of archy, meaning, the absence of power. Combining this word with syndicalism, which is, a system of economic organization where industries are owned and managed by workers, then we would have anarcho-syndicalism, which would roughly mean, a lateral, or horizontal process of decision-making among the workers. In other words, the cleaning lady and the engineer have both a direct voice in their workplace. They are both heard.

Owning the means of production goes back to the famous central Marxist ideas. So an anarcho-syndicalist would not believe in the misuse of power. But let us not go to extremes here, power over somebody can be sometimes fundamental, but it must be clearly justified. A good example is the use of authority of parents to children. If my kids – I have two – want to cross the street without looking right and left, I will use force to prevent a possible mishap. This is justified use of power.

Why then would a self-proclaimed anarcho-syndicalist run for office, which is a clear power structure inflicted to a majority? We will not improve the way we live together through more revolutions. Revolutions are much fun, but not in the morning after. After the revolution is done, the same problems arise. So we need to improve and learn from history. In using the current structure to bend it step by step, to gradually eliminate the need for power structures.

My campaign was all about Direct Democracy – and if elected – my voice would be as valuable as any other citizen’s, despite holding office. Direct Democracy goes hand in hand with anarcho-syndicalist principles. Now, I didn’t run for the city council out of my own initiative, I was invited early this year by two political parties. They did so due to my previous and very successful campaign against the Guggenheim franchise in Helsinki – which some people call, wrongly, a museum. I thought long about the invitation and went for it on my own terms, which from there the Left Alliance party came to agree with.

JT: One of your aims was to gradually introduce direct democracy, either through technology (e-voting) or by gradually modifying our representative system into one where local citizens are randomly and temporarily elected for office (Demarchy). Can you tell us more about demarchy?

PA: My terms for the political campaign were dually dealt. The short term issue concerned Direct Democracy and the long term goal was to end political careerism. My campaign was the only one in Finland ever to be done in English only. This was fundamental, to alert the fact that fifteen percent of the citizens of Helsinki, who vote and pay taxes, neither understand Finnish or Swedish. How can it be a democracy if participation is undermined in such a high level? It can’t. To address this, I proposed Direct Democracy, not as a solver of all problems, but as a trial for innovation in our political structures. Remember, the political participation currently is at an all-time low since the 1920s. So, by posting online all City Council decisions in English and by letting citizens vote in these outcomes, case by case, it would keep them alert to issues and best of all informed! So my vote in the City Council would be the result of the e-voting, not of my own opinion.

If taken further steps down the road, this would show that the process of electing representatives is not needed at all. Our current method of election, of Representative Democracy, dates back to the twelfth century, a totally outdated system invented by a seventeen year old king! We can do better than this in the age of ubiquitous technology, one which could introduce demarchy (also called lottocracy, allotment, aleatory representative democracy or sortation). Basically, my proposal is that political representatives are selected randomly from citizens from our communities, to serve in a limited amount of time in office. This diminishes corruption from political careerism and increases political participation of citizens and a more reality-attached sense of the problems of which to tackle.

JT: Can you tell us some examples where demarchy has been implemented?

PA: Ancient Greeks practiced the system, as did the Venetian Republic to some extent. It’s still operational today, most notable in jury processes. We all have seen Hollywood movies where the lay jury decides the fate of a person’s life based on expert’s accounts. These juries are randomly selected people, to avoid anyone planted or biased influencing the outcome. But there are more examples: the same process has been carried out to write laws, for instance in Canada at the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly, or regarding the “Convention on the Constitution”, in Ireland. Another most recent example which gives ever more legitimacy to demarchy is [Emmanuel] Macron’s [En Marche!] party elections [in France], where an array of new politicians [many] with no political experience won the majority of the parliament.

JT: Often Switzerland is given as an example for direct democracy. Do you think the Swiss system is something we should strive for, also in Finland?

PA: Perhaps, yes. I lived in Zürich in 2012-2013. The Swiss government is not really a government. Its system is complicated and slow, but at large, it works, as it maintains the unity of the country with its diversity. Switzerland has – after Australia – the highest levels of immigration worldwide. The Swiss confederal model (not the same as federative model, which is a notable difference) should be applied all the way up to the EU. What lacks in Europe is a direct ability of democratic manifestation for the citizens. Most people vote directly on important issues, such as it happens in Switzerland. This does not even mean one will reach the best solutions. No matter the outcome discerned, it is most important that people stand behind their choices. The people have the right to be wrong. Finland and Europe must be built on the base of provinces, on geography and on cultures. Autonomous regions should become more independent and stronger. We need federal councils, not a government.

On this basis, we are working on an app to enhance Direct Democracy at a local level, via public pressure and involvement throughout Helsinki.

JT: Your doctoral research titled “Architectural Democracy” has grown into a larger working group – could you elaborate on architectural democracy and how it relates to your two main aims in the municipal election?

PA: I hold two Masters – one in Civil Engineering and another in Architecture – and at an early age, I headed many design teams for very large architectural projects. I witnessed wonderful technological and organizational processes but also terrifying schemes of corruption and personal greed. I backed out of the industry and started “Architectural Democracy”. If we are asked to make decisions about our cities (politics), we must understand how our cities work and are designed, especially who owns the city, or, who owns what in the city! If citizens get a better, decentralized, spatially tagged source of information – even by editing it – we can maybe make clearer, more assertive judgements, thus improving the quality of our democracies whilst also improving our architecture. This all started as a doctoral study and it is growing into the development of technologies based on photogrammetry and GPU processing at large.

We are not going to escape the increasing complexity of the world, so we will always need to find new ways to improve society and how we live with each other. We must consistently question the status quo. My candidacy was all about showing how the system can be improved simply by adding diversity into it and responsibility to its users, us the citizens. My life has always been about spinning many plates at the same time. I teach drawing, write comic novels, play music, run a music school, build musical instruments, etc. So as I said in the beginning about activism, I can only preach diversity if I practice it!


This interview is based on the public interview at the World Village Festival, Moninainen SUOMII tent, 28 May 2017, in Helsinki, Finland. It is not a word to word transcription of it; this text has been rewritten after the interview by Pedro Aibéo.

Pedro Aibéo is a trained Design Architect (M.Sc., Dipl. Ing., TU Darmstadt, Germany) and Civil Engineer (M.Sc., Licenciatura, FEUP, Porto) with over 50 buildings designed and built on 15 countries currently practicing at "AIBEO architecture". He is also a Kone Säätiö Research Fellow, a Visiting Associate Professor at UNAM University, Mexico and at Wuhan University of Technology, China, and a Lecturer, Research Assistant and Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University, Finland on "Architectural Democracy". Read other articles by Pedro.