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Democracy: In search for governance

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If ants can vote, they will rule the jungle

By SH. Yousaf Haroon Mujahid
Jan 24 - 30, 2000

Of all the words that are so spoken but less understood, democracy is the most striking one. Many political writers have made their best endeavours to comprehend this important concept, but failed to escape the labyrinth of abstraction. They failed to put forward any perfect and precise definition which could be a true explanation of this politico-social phenomenon. Abraham Lincoln's words that democracy is a "Government of the people, by the people, for the people" still hold the most popular interpretation of the concept.

In political wisdom, democracy is a science of socio-political interactions to ensure practice of good governance in societies. But it carries a limitation which all the methods of scientific study contain. It only answers the how of existence, but not the why of existence. While studying a process we often miss out the objective of the process. Like before getting on a bus we first make sure as to where it is heading to, similarly, it is wise to ask, 'Why democracy?' Where does democracy lead us? Is democracy the elixir for all the social-ills that over centuries men have suffered so much from? Can democracy ensure the welfare of a human being? Can we secure the sanctity of a family? The religious and moral values of our society? Can it secure the rights of an individual? Is this the system of governance which promises delivery of all these? If yes, then we should, by all means, adopt this flamboyant philosophy of democracy. These are exactly the objectives we expect a truly representative government can ensure for us. The biggest misconception in understanding democracy is to confine it as merely a political system. In fact it has many connotations. In contemporary jargon democracy is a system of governance. This is the most delicate difference, which should always be kept in mind between classical and modern interpretation of democracy. Therefore, a republic means that there exits a system of governance which is democratic in nature: assumingly, a truly representative government

Good governance

Societies are always in search of an ultimate panacea to all sorrows, miseries, and sufferings that are inflected upon them. Politically and administratively good governance is the systematic panacea to all these. But what is good governance? This is a multi-prong question which still remains there to be answered in unequivocal terms. Should there be a system of governance where the governor enjoys complete control over the governed or should it be a system of government which can truly be the representative of those who are governed. A system of governance which represents its people's will and can ensure their security, freedom and basic necessities is what good governance is all about. Emperors, Monarchs, Czars, Pharaohs of the past; and Presidents, Prime Ministers and Generals of today have devised and dictated systems as an answer to this dilemma. But never before, as today, the idea of democracy as a solution generated so much euphoria and controversy. In futuristic etymology democracy is a pursuit for a better system of governance which can ensure the well-being and welfare of the society. Although the idea of democracy represents the epitome of intellectual genius yet has both pros and cons.

Looking in retrospect, the idea of democracy gives a feeling of deja' vu. Democracy has been there since time immemorial because the electoral process is as ancient as the human civilization. The right of franchise has always been there. Yesterday, we used to give our opinion orally or raising hand; today we do so through putting ballot paper (as the vote of opinion) into the ballot box or using electronic machine. Democracy is only a corollary of an outcome that is exercise of the opinion. The mechanics and process behind democracy is the electoral process over which the foundations of modern democracy are laid. The electoral process, in whatever form, always existed. People have always voted, bowed and gathered around the powerful, the resourceful, the rich, the conquerors and the revolutionaries. It is a fact of history that no change in power has ever been brought with the will of a single man only, without any followers behind him. Because most of the big actions of change are accomplished with large support, then can we call all such moments of history as democratic? If not, then what actually is the span and nature of support that is needed to make democratic? The answer is: if good governance is the destination, then electoral process is the vehicle.

Paradox of democratic governance

The desire and exercise of leadership and governance has been undergoing transience from concept to concept like: aristocracy, anarchy, autonomy, socialism, capitalism, monarchy and now democracy. The qualitative distinction which democracy has over other systems of governance is its ability to substantiate responsible and good governance. Democracy, in theory, promises the governed that the power lies with them to choose a leader who is the true representative of their desires, needs and aspirations. Empowering adequately this representative to govern the public can deliver the goods. Transparency, precision, accuracy and scalability of the electoral process are the imperatives for democratic governance. That suggests defining the parameters of electoral process as the most important task. Electoral process is the filter for democratic governance. It should be more than simply counting the heads. Meaning, if numbers matter only, then majority is right and the minority is wrong! The intentions of majority are justified even if it means taking the Divine task of defining 'The Virtue' and 'The Vice' by the people, themselves, as we have seen twice in the case of Germany: once the electing Hitler, now by accepting the rights of homosexuals.

Anyhow, the popularity of democracy is increasing day by day. Even seeing the consequences of democratic dilemma, still the protagonists of democracy propagating feverishly in its favour, disparaging all other systems of governance or political systems. All the political and social scientists rhyme in unison that democracy is the ultimate formula for ensuring good governance through a truly representative government. Democracy is a globally accepted phenomenon.

Dichotomy in practice

Let us now see how these so-called protagonists of democracy from US, UK, and other European countries actually apply in practice the idea of democracy. On one hand, all the third world countries are advised rather dictated to abide by the democratic principles and asked to pave the way for democracy in their socio-political setup. On the other hand, these developed nations, despite being so persuasive exponents of democracy, do not respect any idea or suggestions when it comes into direct conflict with their own interests. If the Western protagonists think democracy is the right path then they should keep it above everything else and other interests. They should implement it in letter and spirit. But we know that in reality, they drift on divergent courses which suit to them.

The structure of UN is a blunt example of this dichotomy. If the five permanent members are sincere in their intentions to spread democracy, they would have themselves dissolved their permanent membership and surrendered veto, and allowed majority decisions in the Security Council. Then the majority of the third world countries would have been ruling the Security Council. The present existence of the membership of this elite club is self violating and is detrimental to the very essence of democracy, as it comes in direct conflict with the 'Concept of Equal Rights'! This makes skeptical the intentions of the developed nations for the developing nations.

But let's say that these developed nations truly want to solve the problems of developing nations. They want the developing or third world nations to adopt democratic measures because democracy has worked successfully in their own countries. But if we discern all factors, we find that in contrast, the historical facts behind the advancement of developed world are more than what democracy alone could have done for their societies.

Scientific revolution first, democracy thereafter

If these developed countries are trying to uphold the idea of democracy on grounds that today their civil and social lives are rich and they enjoy a high standard of living due to adopting democratic scheme, then this is a fallacy to think so. If we analyse the facts of history, then it can visibly be seen that there are other factors too which have set the course of action towards development for these nations. First comes the industrial revolution, concurrently, with some major inventions and innovations in history, like the discovery of electricity; combining of electro -magnetic forces through Alaxwel's equations; exploitation of natural resources; development in the means of communication and transportation—all this actually evolutionized the promise of social welfare and advancement of intellectual thought. After these scientific advancements then comes the idea of democracy as the new order of governance. Firstly, the basic and economic needs of the society are addressed, and the society starts thinking about the issue of good governance to ensure a better future.

Today, as the world stands at the thresh hold of next millennium, another revolution of Information has reinforced and this widening of the schism between the two, developed and developing world. New technologies and modes of information like Internet are the order of the day. Now, the gap between the third world and the first world is not of economic wealth, but more that of information access.

All these changes are giving new semantic framework to the scheme of governance and democracy itself. How can democracy be equally effective between the first world where information is abundant and the third world where information is scarce?

Third World: Democracy is not the answer

If democracy has worked successfully for the developed nations, it is unwise to assume that it will also work equally wonderfully for the third world. Third World countries possess their unique problems, political philosophy, and availability of economic resources, cultural milieu, family values, customs and rituals. Here, life has different meaning for the people. As far as economic viability and standard of living is concerned, we cannot compare it from the point of view of the West or developed countries. If an attempt is made to medicate the third world countries with the same prescription of governance as in practice in the west, it can lead to severe consequences of democratic despondency. The deficiencies of democracy become more acute in a society which is under-developed, both scientifically and intellectually if not morally. That is why, in developed countries democracy has very different meaning from that of the third world countries. One main reason, to say this, is the technological and intellectual lag between the two; secondly the demographic differences are different between the developing and developed nations. There are other important factors which matter more than, only being in the majority, which spearhead molding of a scheme of governance and leadership.

Leadership and good governance are functions of responsibility, accountability, nobility, initiative, intellectual freedom, ability to govern, management and technological advancement etc. It does not matter whether the government is traditionally democratic in nature or not. What matters, is the value structure on which the scheme of governance is based.

Classic example: Pakistan

Take any third world country, say, for example Pakistan to measure the proportionality between democracy and developement. Pakistan's socio-political environment and demography is quite complex to adopt a concept like democracy. Although Pakistan has experienced democratic style of governance for a number of years since its emergence, yet, if we start analyzing as to what Pakistan has achieved in real terms at times when governments are democratically elected through electoral process — in simple words elections we find repeatedly the same answer—it is corruption, mismanagement of bureaucracy, hypocrisy, nepotism, bribery, unemployment, violation of human rights, destabilization of prestigious institutions, embezzlement and what not. Politics and hypocrisy have become alter ego for each other. The democratic representatives are the notorious elite of the country infamous for their misdeed, and 'Rascals after Rascals' in the words of the Economist.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing! So, when the people who are mostly unaware and technically illiterate, they have no awareness or understanding of their rights. As they are mostly ignorant and naive; and when they come forward to exercise their right of franchise, they are usually susceptible to fall into the booby trap of rosy promises made by selfish politicians who are neither sincere with the people whom they represent nor with the chair they are supposed to hold on behalf of their electorate. Once they are in power, they abuse and misuse power to the extreme extent. They serve only their own ends and desires. The resources and wealth of the nation is looted with both hands and no one dares care to stop them. They influence and inject corruption into every limb of national life. The benefit never reaches the grass-root level. Once every decision-maker, technocrat, bureaucrat is influenced by their ill-fated designs, the country comes under a state of default eventually.

In Pakistan most politicians are devoid of robe of education, despite having degrees. They belong to the feudal class and are conservative and hypocrite in nature. The people are divided in tribes, castes, language, sects, religious groups and geographical boundaries—all these fragmentary factors play an important role in politics. Usually a feudal lord, a tribal head, a religious leader, a rich member belonging to a particular sect or caste uses his or her influence to grab power into the government. These people are already leading their particular groups in a traditional manner which neutralizes the exercise of elections for achieving democracy in the country. In addition to this the political representation becomes sole heritage of few families who represent whether in power and in opposition, making sure that whichever party comes into power, their families remain resourceful and in command. Under these circumstances, what to talk of the good governance, nation building and responsible leadership- does not emerge. Isolated efforts wither away.

This way, just for the sake of name only, democracy is exercised. This is a sham democracy. Some people do go to the polling booths, cast votes — in reality all for nothing. The results are already known, the same names are always there. Election is a Pandora's box. The real spirit of democracy is never achieved. But the frustration is reflected in increasingly decreasing turnout. A party with 16% votes comes to power with, ironically, claims of heavy mandate. All these indicators lead us to predict that Pakistan is not mature enough for such delicate and complex concept like democracy. The demographic factors are a proof to this. Almost seventy percent of the population lives in the villages where they have hardly any access to means of modern life. Almost seventy percent of the people are practically illiterate specially unaware of their rights and responsibilities as members of a democratic society. They are more governed by their emotions, castes and creed, rather than the ideas of freedom and equality. Therefore, democracy if it means counting the heads, will only bring the representatives of the masses which either have no sense of their rights. Secondly, elections have become more of a derby or a gamble, a farce.. Only those can participate who have money. There is no weightage given to personal attributes and qualities like nobility, initiative, loyalty, patriotism, education and other qualities which are essence of leaders and the discipline of leadership. So the so-called representatives who get elected are the most corrupt, gangster-type, black-hearted and illiterate men for whom getting elected means another way to mint money, violate rights of others and create chaos in the society.

Absolute democracy vs. Relahtive democracy

Democracy as earlier said is a utopian concept. Democracy is diagnosed as cure for the ills of political governance, which is continuously time-tested, and still the results are not very much clear. The Greeks and the Romans have practiced democracy in the times of Julius Cesar and before. But why today the fad of becoming democratic is popular than ever before? One reason is, that it is a direct reaction of socialism and communism. The other is that today, US and Europe have seen tremendous industrial and technological progress which they claim to owe to democracy. In democracy the majority of the people participate in elections to exercise their right of franchise. As by default, democracy empowers people to exercise their power of opinion to select their representatives by executing right of franchise — the government is bound to represent the will of the majority without any system of checks and balances. Like a majority gets the power to redefine 'Good' and 'Evil', 'Vice' and 'Virtue' in their on way, as earlier mentioned similarly, the so-called 'freedom of speech' undergoes distortion of the meanings of freedom. So does the 'equal rights'. Freedom and equal rights, like democracy, are again the most misunderstood and misused phrases of modern literature and political science. Protagonists of democracy have tried to apply 'Absolute Freedom' instead of 'Relative Freedom' to structure the meanings of democracy. Absolute freedom from Life is Death! And absolute freedom in democracy is death of democracy, as it allows everyone the freedom of, whatever he may want, saying or doing. We have to pursue for relative democracy, relative in the context of religion and ideology especially because it is the founding of creation of Pakistan. Only Almighty is absolute and everything else is relative to Him.

So if in any country there is majority of extremist elements, the government will surely act accordingly representing the will of these extremists groups. Afghanistan or India may be the examples in this behalf, where the religious sentiments of the people have been over emphasised. Such governments become an immediate threat to the minorities of their own countries. This also affects the geo-political situation of the neighbouring countries — even further, puts a dent in global peace and harmony. Don't forget Hitler was democratically elected.

Media steals democracy

During this process of seeking involvement of the masses to express their opinion, a diversion is made, unknowingly, from the objective of safeguarding the ultimate well-being of the human race and ending-up into a confusion for calculating the majority opinion. In developed countries like US, the opinion-makers are the media. The media lobbyists influence the opinion of masses that destroy the icons of repute, and public opinion follow the suit. The media in the name of freedom of expression starts transforming and challenging every fabric of moral and religious value that ever exists. The media portrays the most heinous of all crimes, the most vulgar acts in such, an articulate fashion, that steadily they change the thinking process of their audience. Media redefines value-system of the society by influencing the moral and cultural perceptions of individuals. We have seen that media has played more a negative role with malafide intentions of the few minds who want to present the world as they themselves visualize. Just for experience see Internet, today, the most modern media-tool. There are millions of pornographic websites publishing explicit and exotic materials creating havoc in the societies. The youth is our future which has been sold for a few dollars by the media gurus. Same is the case with television and theatre. Japan, a nation of great honour, prestige and values is today facing the moral deterioration among the youth. According to a feature published in Time magazine, a large number of school and college going young girls in Japan today have become call girls.

If the government tries to eradicate this nuisance from the society, it is said that 'Freedom of Speech' is being negated which is advocated as an important pillar of democracy. Do we really understand the meaning of freedom, first?

The truth is hijacked by the opinion makers and propaganda masters, as they cunningly know how to play with democracy. They play it very well. They maneuver the basis of electoral process and change the opinion of millions of people across the globe. Whatever the masses accept, they try to seek its acceptance by exercising the right of expression through democratic process, and ensure that the true representative amend the law accordingly.

Democracy is thought to be the solution of the problem of good governance but has given rise to even more complex issues. It is there to restore the people's confidence, provide them sense of security, and guide them in the direction of welfare and truth. But it robs them what they have got.

Contrary to that, what has democracy given us? Now if the majority is good, then media poses to be the voice of good. Media imposes its voice over the people's voice. Media shows that everyone is thinking in one direction whereas, media is only the voice of a few who control it. Everything that a group of media people thinks right, is implemented. In this situation who cares for credibility, nobility, piety, character, virtuosity and honour.

The forgotten destiny

Just ponder for a second on this: What the Prophets, the Religious Men, the Saints, the Monks have to tell us about good governance? What do they have to offer us? Yes, the promise of truth, trust and welfare and obviously a statehood with the best principles and practices. Take any major religion of the world like Islam or Christianity or Judaism. Nearly all of them offer a set of guidelines which are closely similar to each other.

If the majority is of thieves, of evil men, of those whom the Satan directly commands, they will rule over the world. This is what is happening today. In democracy, the law is simple: Rule if you are in majority! The law is the law of the majority, no matter whether the majority is corrupt, vulgar, fundamentalist, conservative, hegemonic, dishonest, fraudulent, fascist, leftist, or whatever.

As it is always good to accept what is true no matter who says it, we may not hesitate to Hitler's Mein Kampf . "A majority can never replace the man ... just as hundred fools do not make one wise man, an heroic decision is not likely to come from a hundred cowards" or let me add — from the heads of hypocrites.

Henry, Ibson has made a very vital remark on such situation as he said: "The most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom amongst us, is the compact majority."

Islamic concept of democracy

Islam emphasises on individual accountability first. As an individual is the unit of society, the society is bound to represent the will of individuals. If individuals establish high moral values and possess quality leadership attributes, then the society, as a whole, would be endowed with good governance. The objective of democratic excellence can only be achieved when it is compatible with individual excellence. That is the key of good governance. It does not matter whether a group of individuals governs or does a single individual. What matters most, is how they govern.

After establishing moral touchstone at individual level, now one can say that democracy if practiced, can be the most effective apparatus of governance. There should not be any compromise on objects as the power to govern is bestowed from Almighty.

Conclusion

Democracy takes power from general public and puts it in the hands of a leader. But does this process help ameliorate the condition of the public? Democracy is a new technology. It has really made a difference in our lives as have done other scientific technologies. But there is always a heavy cost which modern societies have to pay for scientific developments, for example, in the form of depletion of Ozone layer, extinction of so many precious species — in forms of environmental pollution, corrupting the ecosystem and abusing mother Nature. Similarly, for democracy, the price is intellectual and moral in nature. Democracy has given man liberty, so much liberty that he is destroying himself. He has forgotten completely the objective of good governance. That is to ensure and maintain the ultimate Truth which once religion has taught him!—of trust and honesty, of love and peace!

One should have the vision for the better future, the courage to face the challenges and to restore the ultimate objectives of good governance. So leadership is sine qua non for good governance, may it be in the hands of million or one. Ants cannot rule the jungle on the basis of majority; you always need a Lion King!