A lot has been said over the years about Abraham Lincoln’s statement, “[..] a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.” One needs to only look around briefly to see the fallacy of this statement.
Although the government may claim to also represent those who suffer - for example, the unemployed with barely enough money to feed their families, the thousands of children denied education, and people with inadequate housing and no electricity - the sad truth is that too many of us fail to see this other side of “democracy.”
Democracy is based on the concepts of popular rule, freedom, liberty, and equality. But in many countries, it has led to differences, disparity, unemployment, and dissatisfaction among the youth. The polarization of the economy because of liberalization has led to an abysmal gap between the wealthy and the poor. We hear of Indian youth becoming naxals, various emerging communist militant groups, and revolting against the government, turning to violence to vent frustrations about social inequality. Despite claims that it represents the voice of the people, democracy still has failed to cap the social and economic inequalities that spur sporadic violence and dissatisfaction even in developed countries.
In most of our contemporary democracies, political parties cannot win by a majority, and thus they form coalitions. Bureaucracy creeps in when parties have to appease each other to maintain their vote banks. Compromises with other parties becomes their prime objective. All promises made to the people become forgotten, and all too often, even the most trustworthy politicians must backpedal on these promises to maintain their power. Naturally, settling social inequalities takes a backseat to political games and gambles. The gap between the rich and poor widens as the rich become richer, and in many nations, the poor struggle to survive. Data from the National Sample Survey Organization in India shows that the average income of the richest group in urban areas is approximately 15 times that of the poorest group.
Despite the values of equality, liberty, and fraternity that have dominated liberal values since the French Revolution, the world as a whole is more unequal than ever. 6% of the world population own 52% of the global assets, while 50% of the world population own less than 1%. Even the freedom of speech is endangered by the so-called democratic regimes obsessed only with their own security.
In addition to the ineffectuality of its politicians and the contradiction of its own values, liberal democracy is also often economically inefficient. Election campaigns are not only costly in pecuniary terms, but as mentioned before, do little in discussing policy. Politicians are often liable to steal votes from the less informed chunk of the population residing in villages and small towns. They intentionally present false information to increase their chances of election and unfortunately, even the media is unworthy of our trust. Vulnerable to being deluded easily because of lack of political information, misinformed voters may not make the best choices.
In many parts of the world, faulty democracy is vulnerable to attack by political processes that are undemocratic and plutocratic. In Senegal, President Abdou Diouf conceded to the electoral defeat on March 25, 2000 to a younger rival Abdoulaye Wade, extending the unbroken democratic tradition since Senegal’s independence in 1960. However, in 2012, just a few days before elections, junior army officers stormed and looted the presidential palace in the Malian capital, Bamako, ousting then president, Amadou Toumani Touré, abruptly ending the 20-year stretch of democracy that had raised hope for people in the wider region. In Liberia’s elections of 2011, former warlord Prince Yormie Johnson tossed banknotes at assembled voters and sped off to the next village. Even relatively established democracies, like in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, frequently suffer from corruption and nepotism.
Inasmuch as a true democracy is based on popular rule, it is up to the people to right these wrongs. Those suffering from social inequalities have as much of a right to be involved in the political process as those actually running for election. A true democracy should be founded on mutual trust and cooperation, rather than the number of votes and subsequent political apathy. It will lead to stronger and well-informed citizens who will know the difference between mere words and actions, thus establishing not only political democracy, but also social equality and freedom.
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