Which Democracy?

“If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found
in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons
alike share in the government to the utmost.” - Aristotle

“Democracy is a form of government that substitutes
election by the incompetent many for appointment
by the corrupt few.” - George Bernard Shaw

By Dr. Moonis Ahmar | March 2020

The afore-stated quotes by renowned philosophers reflect the pluses and minuses of democracy. Why democracy is termed as a boon and how it becomes a bane needs to be analyzed in some detail.

Democracy per se provides people an opportunity to elect their representatives and, in return, those who form the government as a result of elections commit to provide people with essential necessities of life. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Genevian philosopher (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778), presented the famous theory of ‘social contract’ whereby citizens surrender a part of their sovereignty to their rulers and in return get protection of their rights. The Western concept of democracy flourished during the 19th and 20th centuries and reached the newly independent states of Africa and Asia following the demise of European imperialism. The post-colonial states, also called the third world, however, failed to establish a democratic society because of enormous social backwardness, illiteracy and a feudal and tribal system.

The ideal and reality of democracy is reflected when elected representatives fail to fulfill the following six major requirements:
1. Accountability.
2. Transparency.
3. Rule of law.
4. Justice system.
5. Tolerance.
6. Good governance.

Even in the Western world where the very concept of modern democracy originated, contradictions present in the leadership raise questions about the merit of a system which commits the rights of the people but in practice fails to deliver.

Transformation of democracy from boon to bane is a fundamental reality in today’s world and is the outcome of four major realities. First, those who claim that they represent people follow a different path once they are elected or reach the corridors of power. Here, politicians are not mainly responsible for ditching their voters after seeking their mandate but people are equally to be blamed for their failure to make their elected representatives accountable. Particularly, in the global south, one can observe how people on account of their lack of political awareness, are betrayed by their leaders. Democracy is merely used by politicians to get elected and seek power and in a fragile political process there is marginal possibility of questioning those who let down their electorates.

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The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations and former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi. He can be reached at amoonis@hotmail.com

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One thought on “Which Democracy?

  • March 2, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    Very well written, highly articulated and informative.