December 29, 2020

Democracy: A luxury that developing world cannot afford

Democracy has changed lot of things; increased participation of public in political process of a country is one of the greatest gifts of democracy. Today more people are living in countries that are governed by Electoral Democracies than ever before. However, there are numerous challenges to democracy that various countries are struggle with, these countries with challenges gives perception that something is wrong with democracy or the idea of democracy is in decline or has experienced reversals. These challenges include issues of corruption, money in politics and policy capture, inequality and social exclusion. Different countries have different issues but in this part of the world we have them all in our political system or as we call it our ‘Democratic System’. We may be using same Oxford dictionary to check the meaning of word democracy but there is a huge difference between democracy of a developed nation & 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? Well you may argue that who in today’s era doesn’t know the meaning of ‘Vote’, but does mere voting mean democracy? Not at all, 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 vote is oldest known form of corruption in democracy, politicians have practiced the well-honed the art of buying votes. Today their inducements range from liquor and cash in the United States to cash, grain, and Electronic items like phones, laptops etc in large parts of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. The corrupt practices emerges under particular conditions and thrives in circumstances that make it particularly hard to root out, adding salt to injury are many leaders and democratic actors who continue to manipulate democratic processes and institutions, which often contributes to democratic backsliding in their respective countries. Yet vote buying is not pervasive everywhere. Mostly in developing countries democratic system lacks scrutiny of the candidates filing the nominations for public offices and the countries that have a self structured process of scrutiny are often bullied by champions of democracy for not allowing fair participation of citizens, often these nations are labeled as dictatorial regimes where freedom of speech, equal rights, doesn’t exist according to west. For Example Iran, a country which has a system of scrutiny for political parties and candidates who stand for elections in their country, but we all know that west under influence of a particular country doesn’t even want to recognize Iran as a democracy; at least the propaganda media is not going to ever drop the word ‘Iranian Regime’ until their masters succeed in regime change yet in another country and finish another task of installation of favorable puppet to enslave another nation. If democracy is being presented as the only equitable forum in which to thrive in the age of globalization 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 and on the other hand so called democratic system can deny the real participation even if votes are casted in the process. If the regime is practicing evil and corrupt mechanics to govern, it is not because democracy is not in play. Even under democracy, governments can be highly corrupt where half of the citizens have no healthcare, where the unemployed and those in low-income, Underprivileged starve and education suffers to the political representatives’ cronyism and/or incompetence. One must come to terms 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.
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.
History is clear that many paradigms performed much better than what we have today in 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 categorize these critical voices to incorporate 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 live process. For developing nations those have a legacy of governance that conflicts with 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 rather the salient question is what version of democracy is suitable to the developing nations according to their respective challenges. Globalization has allowed humanity to learn that one size fits all is cruel in any manifestation, particularly when governance, laws, policy and influencing norms are in question. Those people, who believe that countries that elect their parliaments or rulers are in some shape the democracy or the democracy that people in the west are accustomed to, are living in an illusion. To proclaim India or Pakistan are democracies is forgivable. Countries like India and Pakistan which claims to be democratic is laughable because these countries are ruled by special interests that practice cruel and barbaric tactics on its own citizens. The poverty in these countries is so inhumane that their wealthy would rather have the less fortunate by material income work as their slaves and live in squalor rather establish sustainable programs to uplift their own people. The list of problems with the so called democracies of India and Pakistan doesn’t end with it, with few exceptions, all the political parties in these countries are fact extensions of powerful families with hereditary leaderships. The politics of these political families mainly revolve 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 of India and Pakistan. Dynastic politics is jeopardizing the concept of democracy and it simultaneously aggravates corruption and fascism in the political system.
In India Nehru-Gandhi family may be deemed to be the pioneer of dynastic politics, which has been very much predominant, but the Congress is not solely the paragon. Many other national and regional parties practice the same. There are Abdullahs, Muftis, Yadavs, Scindes, Rajes, Thackerays, so on, while the BJP may satirize the Congress for dynastic politics, the BJP too is not that 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 Pakistani politics is more dominated by dynastic politics. The first name that comes in mind is obviously The Bhuttos, who are often termed as like the Nehru-Gandhi family of Pakistan and their political opponents the Shareifs are two names that have dominated the politics of Pakistan apart from the Military Generals from time to time, but they are not only, The list contains the names like: The Chaudharys, Myer Minhas, Ranas, Achakzais, so on. According to reports there are 597 number of dynastic families who dominate the electoral politics in Pakistan. Political dynasties pave the way for politics of exclusion, hence contradicting the fundamental notion of democracy being an open market 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, i.e. 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 normal individual in these countries should realize how these dynasties have clutched their countries to the roots and slowly converting it into an oligarchy state, where just few enjoys power and perks and rest pay the price. In these situations the parliamentary system of democracy with huge number of members of National parliament and Sate/Provincial assemblies is a nuisance for a developing country, especially when they deliver nothing to common man’s relief. We can understand that most developing nations 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.

(The author is a social activist. Views are author’s own) [email protected]

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