The Meaning of Democracy

The_Meaning_of_DemocracyI have often wondered what democracy is all about and whether the liberal democracies of countries like Britain, the United States and India, to name but a few, are the best models for fulfilling the aspirations of the people of these countries.

Well, consider this.

The Supreme Court in India reserved judgement on a public interest litigation that sought to include India's current Home Minister who was then also the country's Finance Minister, at the time when the 2G Spectrum licenses scam (a huge corruption scandal where airwave licenses were given to companies that weren't even telco companies at throwaway prices) came to light.

Mind you, although India's premier investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, absolved the Minister from wrongdoing, the Supreme Court was not prepared to accept it and wanted to come to an independent decision of its own. As such, the credibility of the investigation agency was shaken.

The Indian Government has also requested that the Court hold the trial behind closed doors with the argument that the media is playing up the whole saga with half truths and incomplete facts.

The judges, however, were not impressed with the reasons given and sent the Government counsel to make a formal application. The application will have to be supported by an affidavit, a sworn or affirmed statement, stating well backed reasons for the request. This will means the Government will have to go down to details, highlighting matters which it claimed have been misrepresented by the media.

All these aside, should the Court decide that the Minister must be investigated, it will not only be a huge embarrassment for the Government but may well lead to its downfall in the volatile political landscape.

Far fetched? Not at all.

In fact, the Government in requesting that the hearing be held behind closed doors made precisely the same argument, that the media reporting of the case will have a destabilising effect.

Indeed it is, considering that a recent study in India found that an increasing number of people in the country think that there is "galloping corruption" in the country, which at the same time is compounded by a stagnant judiciary and a lack of legal reforms.

Western style democracy, on the other hand, makes sense only when the three pillars of a state, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary function effectively, efficiently and responsibly.

Take the case of Britain for example.

It was only in the 1980s, during the Conservative party rule under Margaret Thatcher, that the power of the labour unions was curbed and the government of  the day could function smoothly.

By then the unions had already brought down the government led by then Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1974 and the subsequent Labour party government of Harold Wilson was drifting sideways despite having cosied up to the labour unions.

The story continues.

It has been reported that the Senate in the United States has turned down President Obama's jobs bill, all because the Republican party members who control the Senate voted along party lines and did not want the credit of rescuing the country's economy to go to President Obama who is due to seek re-election as President in 2012. What was inferred was that the Republicans would much rather let the American people suffer so that their nominee would have a better shot at the American presidency.

I remember once, many years back when I was in secondary school, the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew mentioned that the American system of Government is unworkable.

I did not realise then that the American system of governance was this bad – a popularly elected President would not be allowed to exercise his right to govern the country according to his policies and the nation's need of the hour.

With unemployment running at about 10% of the work force in America, surely the need of the hour is to create jobs. And if an elected President is not able to put through his plan to create jobs, I fail to see how the system can benefit the country.

Now perhaps someone can tell me which of these countries' political system fulfills the people's aspirations.

Put differently, is it ever possible, that one day the Indian legislators will vote for a strong Ombudsman who will take the corrupt to task or initiate legal reforms? Not a chance, I would say, because the bulk of them are beneficiaries of this failed system.

Similarly, it is unlikely that the American system will ever change to allow a popularly elected President to follow through with policies and programmes that will benefit the people but not the party they are supporting.

I have no answer to this but to me, at least, a true democracy is one that is a functioning and effective system of governance based on the people's wishes, never mind the name we attribute to the system or whether it bears resemblance to the liberal democracies of the West.

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