16 March 2006

How democratic are we?

It’s one thing to be a democracy with multiple political parties, free elections and a parliament made up of elected representatives; and another, to live by equality in decision-making, exercising our franchise politically, culturally, in a family and in personal relationships. After all, to be truly democratic, we need to have control; we need to be free to make our own decisions.

The question is: Are we in control of our decision-making which affects our lives everyday?

How transparent is our government in sharing their decision-making with us? Or, our parents, the schools and colleges we’ve studied in, or our employers for that matter. How often have we felt undermined? How often have we thought of rebelling against the system? How often have we lost hope, believing that those who represent us do so not in our interests, but only to whet their appetites or to promote a personal agenda?

What then is the sign of a true democracy?

Should we introduce some sort of testing mechanism to assess the democratic nature of our systems? Should we institute a quality certification – an ISI or an ISO – to monitor the purity of our democratic process in real-life application? Should we reward faithfulness to the system and levy penalties for deviation?

These thoughts are absurd, of course. Except for figures for population and voting rights, there is no measure for democracy.

Historically, the institution of democracy has varied enormously… and is likely to do so in the future. No-one can claim its true form. At best, if it leads to liberalisation of political, social and cultural rights, we should feel happy. Democracy may have its roots in equality, but it’s not an easy concept to manage. Equality is neither for everyone, nor easily attainable.

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