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Democracy: Practice What You Preach

Sudhir Selvaraj

The 21st century has witnessed the march to create democracy with more fervor than before. While this notion seems ideal, we as a global society should not strive to "create" democracy anywhere in the world. A system of government that suits the economic, social and cultural at­mosphere of that country must evolve in that particular region. Democracy will not thrive in every region in the world. In some cases, de­mocracy is not needed because it does not produce the desired results of economic prosperity; it is marred by inconsistencies, contradictions, severe lack of leadership, and role modeling from mature democracies.


Patrick O'Neil defines democracy as political power exercised either directly or indirectly through participation, competition and liberty. The article, "The Economist Intelligence Unit's Index of Democracy," highlights the fundamental features of a democracy: a government based on majority rule and consent of the governed, existence of free and fair elections, respect for basic human rights and due process of law. Even though it might seem clear what democracy is, definition as a political system is not universal in its understanding and definitely not universal in its practice.


Democracy, as described in the article "A True Clash of Civilizations," has an overwhelmingly positive image (Inglehart). However, it does have several shortcomings, which often contradict the very principles it seeks to represent. It claims to be representative of the population. However, this might not be the case. Often times various groups are heavily under­represented in world governance. A perfect example of this is given in the article "Let Women Rule." Swanee Hunt explains that women perceive politics as corrupt and dirty; to feel like they are making a difference, they prefer to work with non- government organizations instead. Even though women constitute 50% of the world's population, they still represent only 17% of parliamentary seats and 14% of ministerial positions worldwide according to "The World Economic Forum" report. Since most power still lies in policymaking, women are severely underrepresented, their opinions might not be heard, and their needs might not be met.


Democracy implies the existence of free and fair elections. Even the United States, the self-proclaimed leader of free world, falls behind in this respect. In the 2000 Presidential elections, there were many instances of miscounting and denial of voting rights to certain communities. Yet the United States insists on sending observers to developing democracies to ensure that their elections are continued in fitting manner.


Democracy has been a success in many regions in the world. However, it cannot be created or sustained in certain regions in the world. Nations of Africa have tried to improve democracy by implementing elections. However, voter fraud, intimidation tactics, corruption and violence often characterize these elections. Even if the election is successful, there is often very little to no sincere care for citizens as they are still deprived of basic goods and services like water supply and electricity. In the article "Africa's Crises of Democracy," author Lydia Polgreen explains that in Africa, some countries go through elections but governance doesn't seem to improve. While 6 in 10 Africans said that democracy is preferable to any other form of government, satisfaction with democracy has dipped to 41 percent (from 58 percent in 2001). Trying to give the power to the people in an environment of voter fraud, intimidation tactics, corruption and violence will lead to failure. A better system needs to evolve.


It would be extremely difficult for an entire culture, which has histori­cally not had as much exposure to freedom, to suddenly embrace democ­racy and all its virtues. Ronald lnglehart and Pippa Norris, in their article, "The True Clash of Civilization," argue that ideas of liberalism, human rights, equality, rule of law and separation of church and state have little resonance outside the West. Muslim societies are also distinctively less permissive towards homosexuality, abortion and divorce. Hence, with this obvious difference in culture it is easy for Islamic nations to come to resent the West for trying to force on them a culture that goes against ev­erything that they believe in. The West hopes that by bringing democracy to Arab countries, they would be able to root out terrorism.However, Thomas Carothers in his article, "Democracy's Sobering State," argues that Arab nations have an opposing view that democracy would likely un­leash radical forces that could be harmful to both the region and the West.


However, what might bring the biggest blow to the case of democracy is the fact that there are other very successful forms of government existing in the world today. China is a perfect example of this. Carothers explains that China's extraordinary economic success has presented a serious problem for those arguing that democracy is necessary for development or that dictatorial regimes cannot produce sustained economic develop­ment. China's rapid growth and its increasing economic muscle on the international stage has made talk of the 'China model' more common among ruling elites and citizens of the developing world. The fact that out of the ten fastest growing economies in the developing world, only Albania was led by a (somewhat) democratic government further solidi­fies the argument that having a democracy does not necessarily lead to economic prosperity.


The biggest argument against trying to create democracy is the fact that mature democracies themselves are bad role models of representative democracy. In the article "The Economist Intelligence Unit's Index of Democracy," Laza Kekic says, "the world's only superpower (the United States) is rhetorically and militarily promoting a political system that re­mains undefined-and it is staking its credibility and treasure on that pursuit." Since 2001. the U.S. has gotten itself into a position with Iraq and Afghanistan that has seriously jeopardized its position as a pinnacle of democracy. The author of "Democracy's Sobering State" argues that "the war on terrorism has hurt America's status as a model of democracy and weakened America's credibility as a pro-democratic actor."


Various inconsistencies within the system too have made people lose faith in the values of democracy. The U.S. invasion of Iraq also serves to testify that most often the U.S. acts or reacts only in its own self-interest. Carothers explains that much of the political life in Iraq is still con­trolled, deep down, by the United States. Iraq serves the purposes of being oil-rich and as an important U.S. presence in the area. In the ar­ticle "Anti-Americanism," the authors say that critiques of the United States extend beyond for­eign policy to its economic and social practices and policies, including the public role of wom­en and the death penalty. Carothers argues that abusive treatment of detainees in U.S.-run pris­ons or detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo has badly tarnished America's standing as a defender of human rights.


In the article "Muslims' Veils Test Limits of Britain's Tolerance," Jane Perlez talks about the Muslim women in Britain who choose to wear the niqab, or the full-faced veil, and their plights in doing so. Teachers, prosecutors. and ordinary citizens have been scolded and asked to remove their niqabs on baseless arguments. This is a violation against basic human and reli­gious rights. Britain's experience with the niqab is reminiscent of the oppression present in au­thoritarian governments.


Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government if not for the oth­ers." Democracy has been widely praised as the best form of government, and according to the "Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy In­dex," it is widely spread as well, encompassing 165 nations. However, this broad acceptance does not imply that it is free from imperfec­tions. Like every other system in the world, it has its shortcomings. Hence, an active pursuit to 'create' democracy in countries around the world should not be a goal in the 21st century because the imperfections associated with de­mocracy make it as flawed as any other system.


Instead, a more realistic goal should be to de­velop a better relationship between mature democracies and other countries. This relation­ship can be used to influence that government's emphasis on basic rights of the people and judicious use of the country's resources. In most cases. mature democracies are also lead­ers in global trade. Economic sanctions and em­bargoes could always be used to keep leaders of countries responsible to the global commu­nity for their actions within their own country.


Improving existing democratic systems must be done with the understanding that there is no fixed definition of democracy and hence it is adaptable to any country. Efforts must be made to try to strengthen the ju­dicial process in these countries to ensure that the basic rights of individu­als are protected. Elections must be held in a manner that allows people to contest and vote in a safe environment. The media should be made strong to inform people and allow them to make their own responsible and inten­tional decisions. Above alJ, mature democracies should focus more on an internal change to refine their working of democracies and clean up the inconsistencies that exist within their own systems. It is then that they can play a positive role in modeling good governance for other world leaders. 


Carothers, Thomas. "Democracy's Sobering State." S¢e 24-27. 
Guthrie, Doug. "China: The Quiet Revolution." S¢e 167-171. 
Hunt, Swanee. "Let Women Rule." S¢e 113-116. 
Kekic, Laza. "The Economist Intelligence Unit's Index of Democracy." S¢e 6-16.

Keohare, Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert. "Anti-Americanisms." S¢e 205-210. 
Inglehart, Ronald and Pippa Norris. "The True Clash of Civilization.'' S¢e 117-123.

O'Neil, Patrick. Essentials of Comparative Politics. New York: Norton & Company, 2007. Print. 
Ottaway, Mariana. "Facing the Challenge of Semi- Authoritarian States." S¢e 28-31.

Perlez, Jane. "Muslims' Veils Test Limits of Britain's Tolerance." S¢e 83-84. 
Polgreen, Lydia. "Africa's Crises of Democracy." S¢e 186-187. 
S¢e, Christian, ed. Comparative Politics. 26th edition. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2009. Print. 
"Will Africa Ever Get it Right." S¢e 184-185. 

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