Over the past two centuries, representative democracy, which started on the European continent, has gradually prevailed as the preferred form of governance in most countries. Universal voting is the best form of democratic expression. Over time, however, during the implementation of representative democracy, not only the strengths of this political system, but also its weaknesses have become obvious. Most weaknesses can be addressed by imposing regulations, but for some weaknesses no solutions have been found so far…

            The main reason for the deviations between the theoretical background of representative democracy and its practical application, i.e., the exercise of power by persons elected for a term by universal voting, is due to the very characteristics of representation. In other words, during the exercise of power by the elected politicians, new aspirations are formed that differ to a degree from the aspirations of their electorate. The predominant reason for these deviations is due to the generalities and ambiguities of the programs on the basis of which the election takes place, and also to the new realities that arise during the term of office of the elected politician. An additional reason for the occasional malfunctioning of the institutions of representative democracy is the poor observance of the established rules in the struggle for power between those who hold it and those who seek to seize it. The above applies to all forms of representative democracy, i.e., parliaments, self-governing organisations and associations. The closer representative expressions approach direct democracy, the less are the weaknesses and deviations of this political system.

            The main weakness of the institutions of representative democracy is the strong pursuit of prolonged tenure by the elected politicians. Motivated by this pursuit, those elected in the representative institutions make choices that serve specialised interests, that is, interests that do not benefit all the societal groups of the electorate, but only a limited number of individuals. The individuals thus benefitted are either already very powerful or they have previously provided services to the elected politicians. These choices lead to the allocation of most available financial resources to projects that do not address generalised social needs, and they drastically reduce the effectiveness of the institutions of representative democracy. At the same time, they cause the economy to become less competitive. When the institutions of representative democracy operate under this logic, they cannot fulfill their purpose of competent governance, and societies are led to decline. An extreme version of the pursuit of prolonged tenure in the positions of the elected representatives in this political system are the phenomena of populism which, in addition to negative economic outcomes, also undermine the foundations of the representative democratic institutions, while at the same time creating a great risk for the complete collapse of their democratic character and leading to authoritarian ways of governing.

            Typical examples of the theoretical analyses given above are the situations which we have experienced in our country during the last decade. The strong desire of politicians to prolong their tenure led to granting favourite groups benefits, for which they paid through borrowing. This, in combination with catchy populist slogans, led to their electoral success. But deviating from the laws of sound financial management led to ever-increasing public financial deficits that ultimately overturned the political goals of those who pursued these policies. On the other hand, populism with its arrogant and unrealistic slogans can create some temporary enthusiasm due to the use of emotional language, but the huge gap between unatainable promises and hard reality becomes quickly obvious.

            The above-described weaknesses of representative democracy become more obvious in lower-level institutions (municipal governments, local associations). For example, the returns of self-governing higher education institutions depend on maximizing the proper use of their financial resources. The discrepancies in the performance and returns between the educational institutions of our country are obvious: some educational institutions produce remarkable research and teaching results as well as good employment opportunities, while others produce degrees that do not help their holders to perform well when writing competitive job placement exams.

            The same applies to municipalities and regions. Here, the distinction between populist rhetoric and substantial results is more obvious than in large areas due to their limited territory and the ability of voters to observe, evaluate and relate politicians’ rhetoric to work performed. In small regions it is easier for citizens to measure the positive or negative impact of public initiatives on their quality of life. Of course, when politicians do not choose to invest in projects of generalised social benefit, or when they prefer to allocate their budgets to projects and initiatives that serve groups of citizens who will provide them with future electoral support, their effectiveness is drastically reduced. Eventually, the average voter will see through all this and will vote against those politicians who apply this kind of micropolitics…