Tyranny of the Minority


Last night, I participated in a Tenants’ Association meeting. All the owners of the flats were gathering together to vote on whether or not to build balconies on one of the buildings. Now, I happen to live in said building, so I was very interested, and turned up with my voting card in hand and smile on my face at the agreed time.

At best, these kinds of meetings give you an insight into Swedish democracy. At worst, they drag on and on and on with everybody giving their point of view, often irrelevant. Unfortunately, last night’s meeting was of this latter kind. Two and a half hours of discussing the merits of balcony building unfolded before we were able to whip out our cards and vote. I was desparate. I was tired and frustrated. But democracy takes time.

After the long drawn-out discussions, we finally voted. I learned that, in order for one side to ‘win’, there must be a 2/3 or more majority. This meant we needed 63 votes to win. The cards went up, the counting began. And the result?

59 votes for, 20 votes against and several abstentions.

Although there was a clear majority for the building of balconies, we lost. 20 people could prevent it from happening. Now, is this democracy? I wonder.

This is what’s known as Tyranny of the Minority – where a minority of people can block the decision for the majority. It’s very common in Swedish decision and policy making. But is it democracy?

It certainly didn’t feel like it last night.

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