If democracy is being presented as the only way in which to thrive in the age of globalisation, then that argument or belief is flawed
Increased participation of the public in political process of a country is one of the greatest gifts of democracy. Today more people are living in countries that are electoral democracies than ever before. However, there are numerous challenges to democracy that various countries are struggling with. These challenges give the perception that something is wrong with democracy or that democracy is in decline or has experienced reversals. These challenges include issues of corruption, influence of money in politics and policy, inequality and social exclusion. Different countries have different issues but in this part of the world we have them all in our so-called ‘Democratic System’. We may cite the Oxford dictionary to explain the meaning of democracy but there is a huge difference between the democracy of a developed nation and that of a developing nation.
Democracy is a system where people elect their representative but what if people don’t know what it means to choose a representative? You may argue that who in today’s era doesn’t know the meaning of ‘vote’, but does mere voting mean democracy? Democracy is much more complex than it seems. If a constituency has a very low literacy rate, then the people of that constituency are easily persuaded to vote for money, caste, religion or sect. The corrupt practice of buying a vote is as old as democracy itself. More than two-and-a-half thousand years ago in Athens, exchange of a drachma for a vote was common. Politicians have perfected the art of buying votes. Today their inducements range from liquor and cash to electronic gadgets like phones and laptops. Such corrupt practices thrive under particular conditions and in circumstances that make them particularly hard to root out. Adding salt to injury are many leaders and democratic actors who continue to manipulate democratic processes and institutions, contributing to the democratic backsliding in their respective countries. Yet, vote buying is not pervasive everywhere.
In many countries the democratic system lacks scrutiny of the candidates filing nominations for public offices, and countries that have a structured process of scrutiny are often bullied by champions of democracy for not allowing fair participation of citizens. Often, these nations are labelled as dictatorial regimes where freedom of speech and equal rights doesn’t exist. For example, Iran has a system of scrutiny for political parties and candidates who stand for elections, but we all know that the west under influence of a particular country doesn’t even want to recognise Iran as a democracy; at least the propaganda media is not going to stop using the word ‘Iranian Regime’ until their masters succeed in yet another ‘regime and accomplish the task of installation of puppet governments to enslave another nation. If democracy is being presented as the only way in which to thrive in the age of globalisation, then that argument or belief is flawed. Citizens can participate equally under any system if the system is structured in a manner to allow participation. On the other hand, the so-called democratic system can deny real participation even if votes are cast regularly. If the regime is evil and corrupt, it is not because democracy is not in play. Even under democracy, governments can be highly corrupt, with most citizens having no healthcare, the unemployed and the underprivileged starving, and education bent to serve cronyism and/or incompetence.
One must come to terms with the fact that the form of democratic governance that works in the west may not work in another part of the developing world – be it east or west. It would be highly arrogant to posit that good governance equals democratic governance. History is clear that many forms of government have performed much better than what we see today in the name of democracy. In order to answer the question whether democracy is a luxury that developing nations cannot afford, one must first explore how the majority of the developing world thinks of and treats democracy, and how the globally savvy community can respond to these critical voices and incorporate them in a sustainable and locally appropriate form of democracy – after all, one Western nation cannot dictate to the entire world what the only form of democracy is.
The western notion and practice of democracy had hundreds of years to smooth out its rough edges, and it is still a work in progress. For developing nations that have a legacy of governance that conflicts with the idea of democracy as we know it today, the installation of democracy at an instant will be counter-productive; and perhaps it is not a question of benevolent luxury but rather of what kind of democracy is suitable to developing nations according to their respective challenges.
People who believe that countries that elect their parliaments or rulers are in good democratic shape, or that the democracy that people in the west are accustomed to is the best, are living in an illusion. To proclaim India or Pakistan as democracies is laughable. Countries like India and Pakistan are ruled by special interests that perpetrate cruel and barbaric acts on their own citizens. The poverty in these countries is so inhumane that their wealthy would rather have the less fortunate work as their slaves and live in squalor rather than instituting measures to uplift their people.
The list of problems with the so-called democracies of India and Pakistan is endless. With few exceptions, all the political parties in these countries are in fact extensions of powerful families with hereditary leaderships. The politics of these families mainly revolves around managing and strengthening family interests. Elections are all about gaining control of state patronage. Clan, tribe, and caste play a major role in the perpetuation of dynastic politics. Indeed, most of political dynasties are rural-based with feudal origins, but over the years families from urban, religious and military backgrounds have also emerged on the political scene. Dynastic politics is jeopardising democracy and simultaneously aggravating corruption and fascism in the political system.
In India, the Nehru-Gandhi family may be deemed to be the pioneer of dynastic politics, but the Congress is not solely the culprit. Many other national and regional parties practise the same brand of politics. There are Abdullahs, Muftis, Yadavs, Scindias, Rajes, Thackerays, and so on. While the BJP may mock the Congress for its dynastic politics, the BJP itself is no different. If the Congress had 36 dynastic MPs in the Lok Sabha since 1999, the BJP had 31. In Pakistan things are no different. The first name that comes to mind is the Bhuttos, who are often compared with the Nehru-Gandhi family, but their political opponents, the Sharifs, are as dynastic. These two names have dominated the politics of Pakistan apart from the military generals who come up from time to time. But there are also the Chaudharys, Myer Minhas, Ranas, Achakzais, and many more. According to reports, there are 597 dynastic families who dominate electoral politics in Pakistan.
Political dynasties pave the way for politics of exclusion, hence contradicting the fundamental notion of democracy being an open sphere where everyone and anyone can participate. Statistics indicate that the percentage of such dynasties occupying political offices in the Philippines is more than in any other country in the world, at 60%. The numbers in other countries are: Pakistan–52%, India–29%, Japan–27%, America–6.2%, and Canada–3%. This inequality cannot be justified in a democracy which is meant to create equal opportunities regardless of one’s familial and political background. I sincerely hope that a common individual in these countries realises just how these dynasties have clasped their countries in their claws and are converting it into an oligarchy, where only a few enjoy power and perks while the rest pay the price.
In such circumstances, the parliamentary system of democracy with many members of parliament and sate/provincial assemblies is a nuisance, especially when they deliver nothing to the common man’s relief. Most developing nations still need to be brought within a competent democratic and civil society network. Proper voting rights and political representation is still an extravaganza even in the educated/suburban areas; this must be remedied. The answer to a sustainable society lies in the development of a democratic civil society and the economic empowerment of citizens.