What is democracy ? Why democracy ?

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What is Democracy ? What are its features ? This chapter builds on a simple definition of democracy. Step by step we work out the meaning of the terms involved in this definition. The aim here is to understand clearly the bare minimum features of democratic from of government. After going through this chapter we should be able to distinguish a democratic form of government from a non-democratic government. Towards the end of this chapter, we step beyond this minimal objective and introduce a broader idea of democracy. Democracy is the most prevalent form of government in the world today and it is expanding to more countries. But why is it so ? What makes it better than other forms of government ? That is the second big question that we take up in this chapter.

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What is democracy, Why democracy PPT by Vinod.pccp@resonance.ac.in

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A Simple Definition One simple factor common to all democracies : the government is chosen by the people. Thus a simple definition : democracy is a from of government in which the rulers are elected by the people. This simple definition is not adequate. It reminds us that democracy is people’s rule. But if we use this definition in an unthinking manner, we would end up calling almost every government that holds an election a democracy. That would be very misleading. Every government in contemporary world wants t be called a democracy, even if it is not so. That is why we need to carefully distinguish between a government that is a democracy and one that pretends to be one. We can do so by understanding each word in this definition carefully and spelling out the features of a democratic government.

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Features of Democracy Democracy is a form of government in which the rulers are elected by the people. Who are the rulers in this definition ? Which officials must be elected for any government to be called a democracy ? Which decisions may be taken by non—elected officials in a democracy ? What kind of election constitutes a democratic election ? What conditions must be fulfilled for an election to be considered democratic ? Who are the people who can elect the rulers or get elected as rulers ? Should this include every citizen on an equal basis ? Can a democracy deny some citizens this right ? Finally, what kind of a form of government is democracy ? Can elected rulers to whatever they want in a democracy ? Or must a democratic government function with some limits ? Is it necessary for a democracy to respect some rights of the citizens ?

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Democracy — where fear and fair elections must be held — is being forced on Iraq by the US and its allies. There are no “free” and “fair” elections. On the other hand American Forces, on the name of promotion of Democracy are trying to make way for American Multinational Companies in countries who are not allowing them.  Here the symbol M stands for McDonald's (With the expansion of McDonald's into many international markets, the company has become a symbol of globalization and the spread of the American way of life . Its prominence has also made it a frequent topic of public debates about obesity , corporate ethics and consumer responsibility . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonald's ), with the arrival of American forces in Iraq, they have cleared the way for McDonald's and other MNCs also.

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The cartoon suggests that there is no true democracy in Syria. Yes, it would suit China and Mexico also where no opposition parties are allowed to contest election. Crown of leaves — It is a symbol of victory. In Greece the reward to the winner was this crown. Here the crown suggests that ‘democracy’ has won and demands justice, but the one party rule is denying this right to the people of Syria.

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Major Decisions by Elected Leaders General Pervej Musharraf overthrew a democratically elected government in 1999 and declared himself the Chief Executive, changed his designation to President, held a referendum in 2002 that granted him five year extension. In August 2002 he issued a ‘Legal Framework Order’, which amended the constitution and allowed President to dismiss the national or provincial assemblies. National Security Council dominated by military officials to supervise the work of the civilian cabinet. Elections were held for national and state assemblies, but the final power rests with military officers and General Musharraf himself.

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Yes, it applies to Pakistan. Other countries are Myanmar, Iraq where people are forced to vote by the army. No, it has not happened in our country. This cartoon suggests that ‘democracy’ is in the hand of the rich. They control the country. If there is lack of awareness among the people, they can be easily influenced by the use of money, as well as their votes can be Thus, affecting the Election results as well as Government Policies with the help of Money. Though in Our country laws restrict the free use of money in elections, but overall we can say that Money plays an important role in deciding the outcomes of elections, even in our country.

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Pakistan under General Musharraf should not be called a democracy. People may have elected their representatives to the national and provincial assemblies but those elected representatives are not really the rulers. The power to take final decision rests with army officials and with General Musharraf, and none of them are elected by the people. This happens in many dictatorships and monarchies. Hey formally have an elected parliament and government but the real power is with those who are not elected. This cannot be called people’s rule. In a democracy the final decision making power must rest with those elected by the people

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Free and Fair Electoral Competition China regularly holds elections for electing the country’s parliament, called Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui (National People Congress). It appoints the President. It has 3000 members elected from all over China, some by Army. Only those who are members of the Chinese Communist Party or eight smaller parties allied to it were allowed to contest elections held in 2002-03. The government is always formed by the Communist Party.

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Since its independence Mexico holds Presidential elections regularly, has never been under military or dictator’s rule. In Mexico until 2000 every election was won by PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party ), opposition parties did contest elections. The PRI was known to use many dirty tricks to win elections. All those who were employed in govt. offices had to attend its party meetings. Teachers of govt. schools used to force parents to vote for the PRI. Media largely ignored the activities of opposition political parties except to criticize them. Sometimes the polling booths were shifted from one place t another in the last minute, which made it difficult for people to caste their votes. The PRI spends a large sum of money in the campaigning for its candidates.

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The elections must offer a real choice between political alternatives. And it should be possible for people to use this choice to remove the existing rulers. So, a democracy must be based on a free and fair election where those currently in power have a fair chance of losing. In China the elections do not offer the people any serious choice. They have to choose the ruling party and the candidates approved by it. In Mexican example, people seemed to really have a choice but in practice they had no choice. There was no way the ruling party could be defeated, even if people were against it. These are not fair elections.

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One person, one vote, one value The struggle for democracy is linked to the demand for universal adult franchise. This principle has no come to be accepted almost all over the world. Yet there are many instances of denial of equal right to vote : In Saudi Arabia women do not have the right to vote In Estonia people belonging to minority find it difficult to get the right to vote. In Fiji, vote of an indigenous Fiji has more value than that of an Indian-Fijian. The above examples gives us the third feature of democracy : in a democracy, each adult citizen must have one vote and each vote must have one value.

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The cartoon shows the end of dictatorship in Iraq where Saddam ruled unchecked. People rejoice at elections being held. But the first cartoon shows that people do not have a real choice. They are forced to vote, by the powerful US and its allies.

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Rule of law and respect for rights Since its independence in 1980, Zimbabwe is ruled by Robert Mugabe, leader of ZANU-PF. Elections have been held regularly, President Mugabe is popular but also uses unfair practices in elections. Over the years his government has changed the constitution several times to increase the powers of the President and make him less accountable. Opposition party workers are harassed and their meeting disrupted . Public protests and demonstrations against the government are declared illegal. There is a law that limits the right to criticize the President. Television and radio are controlled by the government and give only the ruling party’s version. There are independent newspapers but the government harasses those journalists who go against it. The government has ignored some court judgments that went against it and has pressurized judges.

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The example of Zimbabwe proves that Popular governments can be undemocratic, popular leaders can be autocratic. In a democracy there should be sufficient room for normal political activity, the state should respect some basic rights of the citizen. They should be free to think, to have opinions, to express these in public, to form associations, to protest and take other political actions. Everyone should be equal n the eyes of law. These rights must be protected by an independent judiciary whose orders are obeyed by everyone. A democratic government cannot do whatever it likes, simply because it has won an election. It has to respect some guarantees to the minorities. Every major decision has to go through a series of consultations. A democratic government rules within limits set by the constitutional law and citizen’s rights. Chinese government blocked free flow of information on the Internet by placing restrictions on popular websites like ‘Google’ and ‘Yahoo’. The image of tanks and an unarmed student reminds the reader of another major event in recent Chinese history. Find out about that event. Refers to the massacre that took place at Tianmen Square where hundreds of students were ruthlessly killed.

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This cartoon is from Brazil, a country that has long experience of dictatorship. It is entitled “The Hidden Side of Dictatorship”. Which hidden sides does this cartoon depict? Is it necessary for every dictatorship to have a hidden side? Find this out about the dictators discussed in the first chapter and if possible, about Abacha in Nigeria and Marcos in Philippines. The hidden side of dictatorship is massacre or killing of innocent people. Anybody who opposes the policies of a dictator is killed. Since the dictators control the media, the  public never comes to know the number of people killed.

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This cartoon was published in Canada just before its parliamentary elections of 2005. Everyone, including the cartoonist, expected the Liberal Party to win once again. When the results came, the Liberal Party lost the elections. Is this cartoon an argument against democracy or for democracy? This cartoon is definitely in favor of democracy. In an indirect way it is telling the public not to be fooled and exercise their voting rights wisely, which they did by ousting the Liberals in the elections.

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Summary Definition From the examples of Pakistan, China, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Estonia, Fizi and Zimbabwe, we worked out four features of democracy as a form of government. Accordingly, democracy is a form of government in which : Rulers elected by the people take all the major decisions; Elections offer a choice and fair opportunity to the people to change the current rulers; This choice and opportunity is available to all the people on an equal basis ; and The exercise of this choice leads to a government limited by basic rules of the constitution and citizens’ rights.

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Why Democracy ? Arguments against Democracy Leaders keep changing in a democracy, leads to instability. Is all about political competition and power play, no scope for morality. So many people have to be consulted in a democracy that it leads to delays Elected leaders do not know the best interest of the people. It leads to bad decisions. Democracy leads to corruption. Ordinary people don’t know what is good for them ; they should not decide anything. These arguments show that democracy of the kind we see may not be the ideal form of government. But that is not a question we face in real life. The real question we face is different better than other forms of governments that are there for us to choose from ?

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Arguments for Democracy Democracy is better then any other form of government in responding to the needs of the people. A democracy requires that the rulers have to attend to the needs of the people. A democratic government is a better government because it is a more accountable form of government. Democracy is based on consultation and discussion. A democratic decision always involves many persons, discussions and meetings. When a number of people put their head together, they are able to point out possible mistakes in any decision. This may take time, but there is a big advantage in taking time over important decisions. This reduces the chances of rash r irresponsible decisions. Thus democracy improves the quality of decision making.

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Democracy provides a method to deal with differences and conflicts. In any society people are bound to have differences of opinions and interests. These differences are particularly sharp in a country like ours which has an amazing social diversity. Democracy provides the only peaceful solution to this problem. In Democracy, no one is a permanent loser. Different groups can live with one another peacefully. In a diverse country like India, democracy keeps our country together. Even if democracy does not bring about better decisions and accountable government, it is still better than other forms of government. Democracy enhances the dignity of citizens. Democracy is based on political equality, or recognizing that the protest and the least educated has the same status as the rich and the educated. People are not subjects of a ruler, they are the rulers themselves. Even when they make mistakes, they are responsible for their conduct.

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Democracy is better than other forms of government because it allows us to correct its own mistakes. No form of government can guarantee, no mistakes. But in democracy it cannot be hidden for long. There is a space for public discussion on these mistakes. And there is room for correction. Either the rulers have to change their decisions, or the rulers can be changed. This cannot happen in a non-democratic government. Democracy cannot get us everything and is not the solution to all problems. But it allows a way of correcting its mistakes and offers more dignity to all citizens. That is why democracy is considered the best form of government.

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This famous cartoon by R.K. Laxman comments on the celebrations of the fifty years of the independence. How many images on the wall do you recognize? Do many common people feel the way the common man in this cartoon does? The cartoon does reflect the opinion of the general  public. For fifty years leaders have made promises, made tall claims of achievements — still basic facilities are still denied to the common man — poverty is not eradicated, there is shortage of water, power, shelter, schools, hospitals — the basic necessities of life. The common man is bored by promises which are never fulfilled, actions do not match the promises.

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Broader Meanings of Democracy The most common form that democracy takes in our time is that of a representative democracy. In the countries we call democracy, all the people do not rule. A majority is allowed to take decisions on behalf of all the people. Even the majority does not rule directly. The majority of people rule through their elected representatives. Modern democracies involve such a large number of people that it is physically impossible for them to sit together and take a collective decision. Even if they could, the citizen does not have the time, the desire or the skills to take part in all the decisions. This gives us a clear but minimal understanding of democracy. But it does not allow us to distinguish between a democracy and a good democracy. It does not allow us to see the operation of democracy beyond government.

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If we take the ideals of democracy seriously, then no country in the world is a democracy. Yet an understanding of democracy as an ideal reminds us of why we value democracy. It enables us judge an existing democracy and identify its weakness. It helps us to distinguish between a minimal democracy and a good democracy. Democracy can apply to many spheres of life and that democracy can take many forms. There can be various ways of taking decisions in a democratic manner as long as the basic principle of consultation on an equal basis is accepted. The most common form of democracy is today’s world is through people’s elected representatives. But if the community is small, there can be other ways of taking democratic decisions. All the people can sit together and take decisions directly. This is how Gram Sabha work in a village.

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Every democracy has to try to realize the ideals of a democratic decision making. This cannot be achieved once for all. This requires a constant effort to save and strengthen democratic forms of decision making. What we do as citizens can make a difference to making our country more or less democratic. This is the strength and the weakness of democracy : the fate of the country depends not just on what the rulers do, but mainly on what we, as citizens do. Other forms of government like monarchy, dictatorship or one-party rule do not require all citizens to take part in politics. But democracy depends on active political participation by all the citizens.

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