Choosing between direct and indirect democracy | By Rashid A Mughal


Choosing between direct and indirect democracy

THE democracy as a system of Government is relatively new. It has replaced earliest form of Governments, ie Monarchy, Aristocracy, Oligarchy and Authoritarian forms in most of the countries on our globe.

If we analyze all the forms of government since Roman and early civilizations, above mentioned forms of governments have been practiced in world along with democracy which is the new form of government.

But democracy is not without its drawbacks and pitfalls. Though by democracy, we mean a representative government, representing the majority of the people of a country, yet this majority can sometimes be brutal, corrupt and authoritarian in running the day-to-day affairs of a country.

In our present day system we see many democracies which fall in the above category.

How far a democratic system of a country truly represents the people and has people-friendly administrative structure in place to run the day-to-day affairs of a country, will define whether a government is real representative democracy of a country or not.

This is something which needs to be looked into.There are different forms of democracy. It can be constitutional democracy, direct democracy, minority democracy and representative democracy.

Under constitutional democracy, we have the UK, Holland, Sweden, Spain and some other western countries where the King or the Queen is the constitutional heads of the country but the real power vests in Parliament to run the country through Prime Minister and his team.

These are what we can call the real “representative democracies”.Present day democracy derives its notion from the description given by Abraham Lincoln who described democracy as “Government of the people, by the people and for the people” on 01 August 1858.

But the concept of democracy as a form of Government, has its origin in 508-507 B.C when Cleisthenes, known as father of Athenian democracy, established first example of Democracy.

In addition, in his work “De-republica” written in the shape of six books between 54-51 BC, Cicero explains Roman constitutional theory and history after Roman Kings and the role played by citizens in running the government, giving a crude concept of democracy.

Generally democracy means rule of the majority, a system of government where the ultimate power is vested and exercised by the people, directly or indirectly, who are elected through free and fair election process, free of coercion and manipulation and portrays the true and actual aspirations of its citizens.

Democracy is preferred over other forms of government as it enhances the dignity of an individual by giving him/her equality of opportunity and treatment.

It ensures equality in every sphere of life: political, economic and social and upholds individual’s basic right of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of choosing leaders in elections, freedom to pursue a career of his/her liking and, above all, freedom to live freely.

However this freedom is not absolute.It works under Laws made by the State to ensure peace and tranquillity.

It is a kind of Social Contract between government and citizens to obey Laws and regulations prescribed and enacted by the government and pay taxes to government in return of maintenance of Law and Order and to defend the country from foreign invasions.

We see this type of Democratic governments in most of the Western countries which can truly be called “Representative Democracies”.

People living in such countries enjoy perfect ( but not absolute) freedom as each individual is aware of his/her rights and obligations.

They obey Laws and follow regulations and respect each other’s dignity and human values. This is the result of years of evolution that democracy has gone through.

Because the government is the true representative of the people, as a result of free and fair election process, it strives for the welfare of its people.

We can call it a “representative welfare democracy”.However, unfortunately, we do not see the same model of democracy in other parts of the World.

In Asia and Africa things are different.Take for example the case of biggest “So called democracy” of the world –India.

Starting from the elections, down to the equality, freedom of speech and opportunity, the real picture is much different from what we see in Western Democracies.

Elections are manipulated and voters are forced, coerced and intimidated to cast vote in favour of someone, who according to their thinking is not a deserving candidate.

Bribing of voters is common and rampant.Under these circumstances the legislators who make their way to Parliament are more interested in their personal agenda and self aggrandizement than the welfare of the people.

Though election procedures are followed but right candidates are often not elected due to many pitfalls, as mentioned above.

We call it “Democratic India” but it is far from being a “true representative democracy”. Unfortunately, the scene in other countries in the area is not different.

Pakistan has the same issues and Philippines, Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka are all facing the same hurdles to become a “representative democracy”.

Likewise the picture in African countries is not different where nascent Democracies are still taking their roots.

Some countries still have very poor quality of elections (mostly in the Sub-Saharan region) but not all are in the same shape.

Countries like Senegal, Botswana, Namibia, Mauritius, Ghana, Benin and South Africa have shown remarkable progress and achievement on the road to success as compared to those which are still considered bastion of “controlled democracy” and “democratic-cum-autocratic” states.

To maintain national unity and identity, common history, language, compact geographical location and education play a very important role.

These elements promote cohesion and common cause.Unfortunately these are absent in most of the countries in Africa.

Most of the countries have fragmented civil societies with fragile connections coupled with weak economies and bigger poor class segment and thus exposed to corruption.

In addition, the colonial white rulers during their rule promoted racial divisions and pitted one country/tribe against other to serve their purpose and followed a policy of “Divide and Rule” as it suited their agenda of prolonging their rule.

Thus they did not favour democracy to flourish in African sub-continent.But it is heartening to note that tide has now turned.

Though much is still desired to be achieved but rising education level, thriving economies and improved political system and, above all, opening-up of Africa to the world, holds promise for a better, prosperous and healthy Africa, in the years to come.

With affluence, come political and economic maturity and social cohesion which is needed for “representative democracy”. Africa, therefore, has a bright future ahead as far as democracy is concerned.

— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.


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