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2021, vol. 55, br. 1, str. 23-37
Opšte pravo glasa - jednakost ili privilegija
Higher School of Security and Economics, Plovdiv, Bulgaria + University of National and World Economy, Sofia, Bulgaria
Ovaj članak sagledava ulogu i mesto opšteg prava glasa kao ključne komponente demokratskog političkog procesa. To pravo tumači se kao sastavni deo same suštine jednakosti uopšte, a naročito kao osnovni temelj političke demokratije. U ovom kontekstu javlja se pitanje privilegija u politici koje, bez obzira na njihovu regulisanost, postaju sve veća zakonska prepreka u ostvarivanju potpune političke jednakosti. Dati su i određeni predlozi za ograničavanje političkih privilegija u demokratskoj državi.

Specialized literature has established for many years that General Voting is a higher expression of the values of equality among people and a clear expression of political democracy. This is a law in the contemporary legal and political science, which nowadays is nearly uncontested because of the primordial democratic nature of this fundamental human right.

The principle of General Voting was first enforced in France, when in 1848 it was officially regulated in the then Constitution of France (Art. 24). It stipulated that government positions could be no longer hereditary (Art. 18). Thus, the Idea of the Republic was mixed with the concept of “democracy” (“General Government”) – (Prelo, 1957, p. 189). While democracy - this was equality and participation of people being equal when it comes to rights and ruling. In addition, men who had reached their age of majority and have moral qualities could speak and participate in democracy. Here everyone could be a participant not because he was a ruler, but because he existed as an individual, for democracy "makes you a citizen and a voter just as God has made you a man." That was why the opportunities, through which could can participate on equal grounds in the legislation and governance of the country, were through voting under conditions of General Voting. And that was the reason why contemporaries placed General Voting on the same level as democracy (“this is the same thing”) (Prelo, 1957, p. 190; Kiselova, 2017, pp. 101–102).

By virtue of the Constitution of France (1848) the General Voting had several key characteristics: it was equal because each voter had just one vote; it was single, for each voter could vote only once and in one place; it was direct because each voter directly elected a member of the parliament (MP); it was optional, as any voter could abstain from voting and was not responsible for it; it was personal because a voter was obliged to cast his vote personally without passing it on to another citizen; and finally, this right was secret, as far as only the voter could know the content of his writing in the ballot-paper (Prelo, 1957, p. 190; Kiselova, 2017, pp. 101–102). In other words, General Voting guaranteed a completely new democratic electoral process for all people who met specific conditions (a certain age, gender, etc.). This also explains the great number of dithyrambs about it, which likened it to an apotheosis of equality in general and political equality in particular. Of course, the above is unconditional truth, especially when talking about the abolition of privileges in France after the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (after the revolution), thus actually approving a new type of historical equality between people.

Among other things, let us add here that General Voting strongly rejected the centuries-old feudal privileges in favor of political equality (following the adoption of the Declaration of 1879). In this sense, let us recall that the political nature of privileges could be defined as exclusive rights and advantages of a small group of people (oligarchy, elite, stratum) over other groups of people (social groups, classes, communities) who are deprived of such rights and advantages and which are possessed by some minority social community (different from all other groups) thanks to its political power in the state. In other words, political privileges are a specialized "benefit system" (Michael Walzer) for the ruling elite and a radical contrast to political equality, which is evident from the Table below (see Application No. 1).

Based on the Table attached we may convincingly and unequivocally conclude that: firstly, privileges in the democratic society are a complete antipode to equality; secondly, they represent peculiar "rights over equality" because they are fed by power; and thirdly, they (privileges) in a sense manifest themselves as some kind of "rights over rights" for a particular minority circle (oligarchy), regardless of whether or not they are regulated, "semi-regulated" or unregulated.

Despite the fact that some people tend to glorify the past and underestimate the present, there naturally raise a whole series of fundamental questions, such as: Which equality forms General Voting?; Does this principle actually limit social inequality?; Who is served by this primordial democratic suffrage (the general suffrage)?; Are privileges actually removed or are they only modified into other modern forms?, etc.

In order for us to answer these essential questions, which have not been given any comprehensive and thorough answers yet, let us first refer to two sufficiently authoritative statements from the last century made by one foreign scientist and by one Bulgarian jurist.

With his inherent sharp and critical tone in his work "Philosophy of Inequality" (1923), the renowned Russian philosopher N. Berdyaev claims with no alternative that the counting of votes, which depends on a million coincidences, says absolutely nothing about the quality of people's will. He points out the following:

"General Voting, which has remained until present an unquestionable dogma for many of you, raises huge doubts. General Voting is a completely mechanical quantitative and abstract principle. General Voting does not know the specific people with their different qualities and authority, as it is related exclusively to abstract people, atoms and mathematical points. Furthermore, it does not know the organic social groups. General Voting is distracted from the quality content of life, it does not want to know about quality selection. Then, what is the source of the confidence that this may lead to a high-quality society? This is the hypnosis of the idea of equality. You believed that equality-not the proportional but mechanical equality, is a great truth and a great good, and that everything that suits it is good. But this idolization of equality is the original sin, as it leads to the replacement of the specific quality and individual human nature of man with abstract quantitative and impersonal nature" (Berdyaev, 1994, pp. 127–128).

The eminent Bulgarian jurist Prof. L. Vladikin is also quite sharp when criticizing General Voting, as he believes that though democratic, this principle is imperfect. According to him this right is based on the mystical belief that the people will send the best of their environment to the parliament, although all election laws in the world take extremely minimal measures to facilitate quality selection or to prevent from entrusting clearly inappropriate persons the least. And that is because according to the author upon the realization of the principle such special mental qualities as education, training and competence are not required for eligibility (Vladikin, 1992, pp. 293–294). Even furthermore, in order to enter the parliamernt "…the law does not require any intellectual capacity besides those required for the average voter" (Prof. Barthelemy) (Vladikin, 1992, p. 294). Therefore, according to Prof. L. Vladikin General Voting does not give relatively more complete and positive answer to whether it can resolve the problems of equality in politics, regardless of the fact that "democratic revolution" has been taking place in the political systems of the west societies since the middle XIX century.

A number of different statements and formulations may be also found in the various theoretical sources, including such that are either close to those set out or more critical as compared to the provisions of General Voting (and such that do not need to be interpreted here). That is why we will briefly express only our opinion on this issue, of course, in the light of the essence of the equality – privileges opposition.

In view of the above, let us once again remind that as being an undoubtful democratic mechanism, on the one hand, General Voting is the most effective element for the realization of political equality in society today (the voting right, the right to free choice, the right to participation in the political process, etc.). On the other hand, however, what kind of political equality do we talk about when it comes to the realization of this right, which regulates plenty of privileges of the ruling minority after the elections (high salaries, special consumption, low prices, etc.) and which is essentially a gross violation of all types of rights, for the equal "electoral start" is applicable for all voters, while the use of privileges is intended only for the ruling oligarchy?! And thirdly, what type of realization of political equality do we talk about when proven public non-professionals parachute into the seats of members of the parliament thanks to party lists, thus taking the places of those who really deserve to be MPs?! And finally, what type of democratic political equality do we talk about when before the eyes of all people semi-intelligent, semi-educated and semi-literate people (holding diplomas of higher education) are elected and appointed to senior management positions (MPs, ministers, directors, etc.) just because of the will of all people?! Moreover, things become extremely negative when due to the lack of democratic control mechanisms or because of an inefficient democratic process certain rulers, who have already lost their political legitimacy, cannot be unseated. However, this is an extremely vicious weakness of General Voting, for its postulates cannot guarantee "genetically" quality political composition of the politicians to be, cannot separate the wheat from the chaff, and eventually let not so uplifted political representation to the heights of power, but fully manipulated party proposals (and lists).

From this theoretical perspective it is easy to conclude that General Voting and subsequently the establishment of privileges (post-elections) categorically violate both equality in general and the existing political equality among people, as even before earning their money politicians have voted themselves have voted (in the parliament) additional material and financial incentives as the ruling oligarchy. This is so because as Alain Touraine correctly points out, political equality, without which democracy of course cannot exist, does not mean only provision of equal rights to all citizens, but is also a means of compensation of social inequalities in the name of moral rights (Touraine, 1994, p. 28) of people. This focus by the French sociologist is quite indicative because it comes to the morality in politics and to the deep damages caused by the unjustified and inflated political privileges in the social and political life of society.

The precision of the analysis and the interpretative aspects of General Voting requires that we note yet another essential thing we can define as its "dual nature": because, firstly, this law is "democratic" when it comes to the political elites insofar as it regulates all types of privileges for them depending to the positions held; and because, secondly, it is absolutely undemocratic when it comes to the electorate, for it completely excludes it from the scope of the different political privileges. This dual nature is a supreme social injustice, because it is in complete contradiction and discord with the democratic nature of General Voting – a nation-wide political vote (one man – one vote) and limitation of the privileges of political nature. Or it turns out that there is one formal electoral equality for all people entitled to vote, and another legalized, "privileged equality" for ruling elite and oligarchy. However, the above is also not quite so, because in this case we may talk more about the so-called "legitimate inequality", which results entirely from the conduct of various types of elections, when equality – when it comes to the right to vote – automatically becomes inequality insofar as a handful of political elites gain a privileged status over the majority of voters. Political equality among people is so drastically distorted due to the fact that privileges are delegated on legal basis to the political oligarchy arising from the application of the General Voting in democratic countries. In fact, it also practically negates to some degree the idea of realization of political democracy for several obvious reasons: they nominate and they offer democratic, but they reject undemocratic (the leading bodies of the party headquarters); they elect you democratically but you obtain privileges undemocratically (you violate the one person – one vote principle); you work democratically but you obtain privileges undemocratically (the political oligarchy determines them itself); you work from time to time in the parliament but you rest perfectly democratically with an advantage (low prices in departmental stations of power), and so on.

After having some basic problems of the principle of General Voting clarified in the context of political privileges, several fundamental conclusions inevitably arise as the result from the theoretical analysis made, through which we will attempt to answer the questions asked in the very beginning.

It is beyond any doubt that plenty of other traditional layers "burden" the theory treating "political equality", and therefore it is necessary to absolutely clearly and precisely state and understand the following once and for all: there is not, there cannot be any and there shall never be any even approximate social equality between the social groups if there is no actual political equality among people. In other words, such an adequate equality in politics, where General Voting is not formally applied, but in its real substantive dimensions – equal rights, equality and disadvantage for all people (taking part in political life).

As it could be probably understood, General Voting is not a "magic wand" to be used for the election of only valuable politicians in the democratic political process. On the contrary, it is a well-known fact that this right regulates with a priority certain quantitative characteristics (number of voters, MPs, age, years) than a high quality of the political elites elected by the voters. Thus a growth of the incompetence in public administration appears, and injustices in the political system are far more severe and long-lasting even compared to the existing market imperfections. And that is due to the fact that – as John Rolls correctly points out – political power quickly accumulates and becomes uneven while General Voting is not sufficient in contradiction, especially when parties and elections are financed not by public funds but by a number of private donors (Rolls, 1998, pp. 276–277). In other words, in the current modern version the nation-wide vote of citizens manifests both as a specific type of inequality and as a secure brake on social development (due to the quantitative dimensions of the specified vote).

We need to further mention the absurd circumstance that General Voting is one of the safest incubators of political privileges, thus confirming the dictum that in the real world democracies themselves never fully implement their founding ideals of liberty and equality. In this sense, the eminent Western scientist Francis Fukuyama is completely right to underline that:

"Rights are often violated, the law is never applicable for the rich and powerful to the same degree as for the poor and weak; citizens, even being able to participate in the government, often prefer not to apply it. Moreover, there is an internal conflict between the idea of freedom and the idea of equality: greater freedom often results in greater inequality, and all attempts for bringing equality reduce freedom. In order for democracy to be successful, it needs not to optimize its ideals, but instead it needs balance: balance between individual freedom and political equality between effective state as well, which exercises legitimate power, and the institutions for protection of the supremacy of law and for accountability that aim at limiting it. (…) But the actual recognition of citizens as equal and responsible people capable of taking political decisions is the minimum condition for any liberal democracy" (Fukuyama, 2019, pp. 58–59).

However, the conflict between the ideas of liberty and equality (including political equality) has another essential dimension on a principle basis because: instead of meaningful application of General Voting, in practice we encounter formal voting; instead of realization of the authentic people's sovereignty in governing, we nearly always come upon the usurpation of power by a very small group of political oligarchy (circle camarilla, gang stratum); and instead of realizing relative political equality between the government and people in the community, we take into account the unreasonable privileges and wealth of the ruling minority (oligarchy), and furthermore through completely legal regulations in the legal base of the democratic state. Therefore, General Voting is the "mother" of political oligarchic elites because it feeds them with legitimate political privileges, and the "stepmother" for the vast electoral majority, because it is largely deprived of any benefits and advantages, insofar as it does not belong to the political class of society. Or to cut a long story short: General Voting is equality for all and a privilege for the elite, regardless of the circumstance of the way one perceives this in the modern social and political reality.

What can and should be done to overcome this political anomaly of General Voting, which de jure legitimizes the different kinds of privileges in politics?

This is a question with no unambiguous answer, as it is extremely difficult due to the simple fact that politicians themselves should take measures to limit their own privileges. Nevertheless, some necessary reforms can be undertaken in the political field, some of which could be as follows: firstly, holding a nation-wide referendum on the scope of political privileges and their application in society; secondly, voting on a special law on political privileges to provide long-term regulation of their reasonable application in politics; thirdly, development of a specialized mechanism for the privileges of MPs, for example, through which various parliamentary benefits would be given for the quality of work performed, on the one hand (bills in, new proposals, participation in debates, etc.), and, on the other, the respective amounts and extras (monetary and material) will be accrued on a deliberately prepared percentage scale (25% for the first year; 50% for the second year; 75% for the third year; and 100% for the fourth year) by the leadership of the parliamentary groups and the parliament; and fourthly, the formation of the so-called "basic privileged minimum" (through the law on privileges) – official vehicles, professional security and medical care, as all other privileges are calculated in the salaries received for the various positions (depending on the quality of work).

Of course, all of the above could happen only upon reaching a broad consensus among the rulers and the ruled, the minority and the majority, the elite and the people, in order to minimize as much as possible the gaps in the equality – privileges proportion, which result from the current application of General Voting in democratic societies.


Table 1. Difference between equality and privileges of citizens in the democratic society (in the aspect of politics)
Табела 1. Разлика између једнакости и привилегија грађана у демократском друштву (у погледу политике)

(citizens) (грађани)
(politicians) (политичари)
1. Equal political rights (constitutional)
Једнака политичка права (уставна)
1. Inequal political rights (prerogatives of power)
Неједнака политичка права (прерогативи моћи)
2. Equality before the law (legal)
Једнакост пред законом (правна)
2. Inequality before the law (“legal”, through privileges)
Неједнакост пред законом („правна“, на основу привилегија)
3. Election process (one voter – one voice)
Изборни процес (један гласач – један глас)
3. Election process (many votes – more privileges)
Изборни процес (много гласова – много привилегија)
4. Participation in the political process (legitimate, according to the law)
Учешће у политичком процесу (легитимно, према закону)
4. Influence on the political process (illegitimate, through the levers of power)
Утицај на политички процес (незаконита, путем полуга моћи)
5. Non-manipulation of the election process (participation in it only)
Неманипулисање изборним процесом (само узимање учешћа у њему)
5. Manipulation of the election process (“vote trading”, controlled voting, etc.)
Манипулисање изборним процесом („трговина гласовима“, контролисано гласање итд.)
6. Normal income (high, low, according to education and qualification)
Уобичајена зарада (висока, ниска, према степену образовања и квалификацијама)
6. High income (allowance, benefits according to position in power)
Висока зарада (накнаде, бенефиције на основу политичког положаја)
7. Non-privileged medical services (publicand private medical institutions)
Непривилеговане здравственe услуге (државне и приватне здравствене установе)
7. Privileged medical services (in specialized medical institutions)
Привилеговане здравствене услуге (у специјализованим здравственим установама)
8. Different holiday complexes at marketprices (hotels, sanatoriums, etc.)
Разни комплекси за одмор потржишним ценама (хотели, бање итд.)
8. Special holiday complexes at low prices (residences, villas, stations, etc.)
Специјални комплекси за одмор по ниским ценама (резиденције, виле, посебан смештај)
9. Food and food products at market prices (based on supply and demand)
Храна и прехрамбени производи по тржишним ценама (на основу понуде и потражње)
9. Food and food products at reduced prices (low, institutional, departmental, based on position)
Храна и прехрамбени производи по нижим ценама (ниске, у оквиру институције или одељења, на основу функције)
10. No other political rights (e.g. free transport)
Никаква друга политичка права (нпр. бесплатан превоз)
10. Other privileges (e.g. transport, etc.)
Остале привилегије (нпр. превоз итд.)


Berdyaev, N. (1994). Philosophy of inequality (First edition). Sofia: Prozorets. [In Bulgarian].
Fukuyama, F. (2019). Identity: Fight for acknowledgement and politics of anger. Sofia: Iztok - Zapad. [In Bulgarian].
Kiselova, N. (2017). Political rights of Bulgarian citizens. Sofia: Ciela. [In Bulgarian].
Prelo, M. (1957). Constitutional law of France. Moscow: Inostrannaya Literatura. [In Russian].
Rolls, J. (1998). Theory of justice. Sofia: S. A. [In Bulgarian].
Touraine, A. (1994). Which is democracy? Sofia: Collins-5. [In Bulgarian].
Vladikin, L. (1992). Organization of the democratic state. Sofia: SPS. [In Bulgarian].
Berdyaev, N. (1994) Philosophy of inequality. Sofia: Prozorets, [In Bulgarian]
Fukuyama, Fr. (2019) Identity: Fight for acknowledgement and politics of anger. Sofia: Iztok - Zapad, [In Bulgarian]
Kiselova, N. (2017) Political rights of Bulgarian citizens. Sofia: Ciela, [In Bulgarian]
Prelo, M. (1957) Constitutional law of France. Moscow: Inostrannaya Literatura, [In Russian]
Rolls, J. (1998) Theory of justice. Sofia: S. A, [In Bulgarian]
Touraine, A. (1994) Which is democracy?. Sofia: Collins-5, [In Bulgarian]
Vladikin, L. (1992) Organization of the democratic state. Sofia: SPS, [In Bulgarian]

O članku

jezik rada: srpski, engleski
vrsta rada: izvorni naučni članak
DOI: 10.5937/socpreg55-30304
primljen: 13.01.2021.
prihvaćen: 24.02.2021.
objavljen u SCIndeksu: 16.04.2021.
metod recenzije: dvostruko anoniman
Creative Commons License 4.0

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