In the context of public disaffection towards representative democracies, political leaders are increasingly establishing citizens’ assemblies to foster participatory governance. These deliberative fora composed of randomly selected citizens have attracted much scholarly attention regarding their theoretical foundations and internal functioning. Nevertheless, we lack research that scrutinizes the reasons why political leaders create such new institutions. This article fills this gap by analysing a specific case: the first permanent randomly selected citizens’ assembly that will work in collaboration with a parliament in the long-term (Ostbelgien, Belgium). This case is analysed through a framework that pays close attention to the context in which it developed, the profiles of political elites that supported its creation, as well as the multiple objectives it was vested with. The findings reveal that initiators of citizens’ assemblies fundamentally conceive them as a way to strengthen a polity's identity, to save the electoral model of democracy, and to restore the legitimacy of traditional political leaders. Our analysis of this particular conception lead us to argue for the need of developing context-sentive approaches to participatory and deliberative procedures, as well as to discuss whether we should consider the latter as mere elites’ legitimation tools.
- citizens’ assemblies
- democratic innovations
- participatory and deliberative procedures
- participatory governance
- political leaders