Deepmala 49 – Democracy and Dictatorship

More people live in democracies than dictatorships in the world today. Democracies are not only desirable but they are essential. Democratic countries tend not to fight each other. Humanitarian crises are far more likely to occur within authoritarian regimes, which thrive on ethnicity and religious fundamentalism. The trend towards democracy would always lead to a more peaceful future. Unfortunately, the emergence of democracy is not a smooth process. Many recent democracies have not consolidated their democratic institutions and cultural changes. During the transition from an authoritarian region, many people who enjoyed an unfair advantage previously can now lose their income and social status. These people, therefore, will always resist the emergence of democracies. New democracies must address previous abuses of power to earn the loyalty of the citizens. This process has to be done with great care. This is because the pursuit of this justice can increase social discord and slow down the process of reconciliation.

Young democracies, emerging from authoritarian regimes, need long-term economic stability. They need some experience with pluralism. Dramatic changes like multiparty elections, a free press, written constitutions, legal reforms, and an independent judiciary do not simultaneously create a culture of democracy with citizen responsibilities. The increasing ability to manipulate information puts freedom of choice in jeopardy everywhere.

Many global development financing agencies make development assistance to the countries dependent on the progress made by these countries towards democracy. However, a genuine democracy is achieved when the people of a given nation succeed in having the government become accountable to them. Efforts to force democracy by outside interaction of nations, who bring in changes of political regimes cannot achieve the same result as the genuine desire and will of the people of a given nation to become a democratic nation. Different countries may require different political systems at different times. But all will be improved by increasing education, transparency, accountability, media assess, and initiatives that focus on elimination of corruption. Respect for human rights, free media, tolerance of political opposition, free elections, and an independent civil society will help to develop the culture of democracy.

The situation around some parts of the world is not a very happy one. Only 20 of the 53 African countries have electoral democracies. Dictators in Africa will not yield their power until they have secure retirement situations. An “African Council of Elders” composed of former heads of state has been proposed. It has been suggested that it should be headed by someone like the Nelson Mandela. Whether this happens nor not will have to be seen.

In Asia just 24 of the region’s 39 nations have electoral democracies. Much of Asia is characterised by strong autocratic governments, which are only nominally democratic. In Latin America, after 190 years of independent life, civil wars, dictators, and formal constitutions, democracy still has no deep roots in the region; fewer than 50% of citizens vote.

On this background, India as a nation should be proud of its democracy. We are the largest democracy in the world, which has survived inspite of so much of turbulence and crisis. We must understand and respect its value in the background of the situation elsewhere in the world. However, from a mere democracy, we must become an ‘enlightened democracy’ now. This can happen only when we have an ‘enlightened public’ and “believable political leadership”, which practices high moral and ethical values. Unfortunately, events in the recent years have shown that this is not the case. We all must work relentlessly towards this goal of making Indian ‘an enlightened model democracy’ that the rest of the world can emulate.