By Roland Watson
Democracy in its current form reflects the belief that social equality can best be achieved by establishing a forum of elected representatives of all significant political viewpoints, thereby allowing for their peaceful confrontation and resolution. And, of course, the system presupposes that defeated voters will not respond violently, that they will control their emotions and wait through the intervening years until a new election is held, when they get another chance.
For all intents and purposes, democracy is functioning in these ways, albeit with some difficulties. But, to consider this, it is essential to distinguish the established, mature democracies, in Western Europe and North America, from the newer, formative democracies in Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia.
As to the latter, their great strength is their vitality. As a recent development after decades, if not centuries, of repressive rule by the few, the people are highly enamored of, and grateful for, their new form of government. Voter turnouts are high, and when members of the general public disagree with government policy they actively express their views to their elected leaders. Large demonstrations, over all manner of issues, are a regular occurrence.
On the other hand, such dynamic practices are rare in the West, where the public, and democracy, suffers from apathy, lethargy and cynicism. Far fewer people vote. Governments seem distant from the concerns of ordinary people. They are largely embroiled in internal criticisms and disputes.
There are numerous failings in any democracy. For example, common failings of newly established democracies include the following:
- They are weak and lack effective organization, because their governmental institutions are poorly developed. Also, they are subject to overthrow by dictatorial forces, especially the military.
- Their political leaders are from the classes of, or are even the descendants of, the former rulers. Representation in the elected leadership has not yet been extended to the lower classes. Thus, the latter's views and needs are often ignored.
- They are highly susceptible to corruption. The populace regularly succumbs to the temptation to sell its votes, and the elected leaders, having paid for the votes, believe it is entirely reasonable to recoup their expenses by exploiting their power. Indeed, in some countries the leaders think that if you cannot steal from the public, what's the point of being in government? The idea of being a social servant, of working for the good of the people, never occurs to them. (To know who the biggest thieves are in such countries - in all countries? - just look at the photos on the election campaign posters.)
For instance, suppose you are the Interior Minister of a developing country. This means you are responsible for the roads, airports, seaports, the police, perhaps electrical utilities, waste disposal, etc. And suppose you bought your position by borrowing money from a friend who runs a local bank (maybe you have shares in the bank), to pay for votes to get elected (you also have a seat in Parliament), and to give kickbacks to the Prime Minister and other important political figures. (In some countries the Prime Minister is also the Interior Minister, reflecting the fact that the latter position has the greatest potential for corruption.)
Now, the government decides to build a road and, according to the law, bids - sealed bids - are solicited from contractors. And perhaps the lowest bid (it doesn't have to be the lowest) is one hundred million dollars. Therefore, you go to this contractor (perhaps he is also a business associate - maybe you even own part of his company - maybe you even helped plan his bid), and you tell him to give you ten million as a bribe, and you will guarantee that he wins. He gets his one hundred million, but he has to give ten million of it to you.
Of course, the contractor makes a lot less profit now, but he wants to make the same amount. So he cuts back on the project, on production materials, safety standards, etc. The result is that the public is robbed of an equivalent amount, in tax payments or foreign aid, the project is sub-standard, and it needs to be repaired much more quickly. (Perhaps bridges collapse as well.) The contractor makes his profit, and you pay back the bank (maybe not!), and pocket a huge sum as well.
This is just one of the many, many variations of official corruption. Indeed, it is a fantastic system of theft: very well integrated and highly efficient, and of an extraordinary magnitude - no thefts are greater - and it happens all the time. (It makes the largest armored car and train robberies, and gem heists, look small by comparison.)
© Roland Watson 2016