July 31, 2009

“Democracy is the process by which people choose the man who’ll get the blame” Bertrand Russell

Be wary when you use the term democracy. It means different things to different people. There is no universally accepted definition of democracy, but there are some essential ingredients:
• competitive and fair elections.
• freedom of political expression,
• freedom of speech
• freedom of the press

JFK said “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”
For democracy to work properly, every citizen should be well informed so that they are able to vote from a perspective of knowledge.

It is said that in a democracy, decisions are made by the majority of the people. This is rarely true. The decisions are made by the majority of those who make themselves heard, and who are prepared to turn out and vote. If every citizen does not take part, the result will not necessarily be representative.

Voter turnout is getting progressively lower in countries where voting is an option. In Australia, where voting is mandatory, the turnout is an unsurprising 95%. Although measurement for these things is questionable, it is recorded that in 2005 the UK General Election had a turnout of 61%. The 2008 Federal US Elections, despite the billions of dollars spent, only measured a 57% turnout. In many countries voter turnout is less than 50%. We should be wary that a low turnout makes these countries a democracy in name only.

New Zealand was the first country to introduce universal suffrage (votes for all adults) in 1869, the US introduced it in 1920 and the UK in 1928. It is promised for Hong Kong in 2017.

Currently we are attempting to export democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, countries who have neither the infrastructure nor the tradition to support such an upheaval. It is a chauvinistic idea, especially when we have a tendency to overvalue wealth and have not yet got our own house in order.

In Ireland the democratic referendum on European Union’s Lisbon Reform Treaty produced a resounding NO. Euro News labels Ireland a failure, and clearly the will of the majority is not now good enough because the ruling party in Ireland are looking for a ‘solution’ to the No vote. A second referendum is to be held on 2nd October 2009 in the hope that voters can be sufficiently schmoozed into saying Yes. The will of the Irish people is not being respected because of the greater plans for a Federal Europe where loss of sovereignty, possible tax harmonization and a threat to the country's neutrality are of great concern. One problem is that the Lisbon Treaty is not a stand alone document and is almost impossible to understand. It should get a No for that reason alone.

Economists have strongly criticized the efficiency of democracy. Their argument is that voters are largely uninformed about many issues, and have a strong bias about the few issues on which they are fairly knowledgeable. In an age where our intellectual flights soar little higher than the headlines of a daily newspaper, we seem to leave it to a commercial media system dominated by a small number of super powerful corporations to select our opinions. This is not good for real democracy. http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1406

Roosevelt possibly summed up the current situation when he said “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group.”

Democracy is also criticised for not offering sufficient stability. If governments are elected for relatively short periods of time, the frequent policy changes are likely to deter economic growth and investment. For this reason democracy is not necessarily the best idea for developing countries. Plato argued that leadership of the unwilling philosopher-kings was the only just form of government.

“The true democrat is he who with purely nonviolent means defends his liberty and, therefore, his country's and ultimately that of the whole of mankind” Gandhi

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