Friday, February 11, 2011

Democracy ain't pretty.

I came upon this article on the AlJazerra English site. A letter to the Tunisians and Egyptians from
Determining the will of the people does require expression through the ballot box. But elections alone cannot solve the fundamental political problems confronting Egypt and Tunisia. In particular, they cannot create a liberal order and open society.
To be effective, elections must be preceded by an extensive debate, in which political arguments are made, attacked, defended - and, ultimately, embodied in ideologically coherent party organisations. Democratic consent can truly be given only when voters know what they are consenting to. Whoever refuses to make a public case for what he or she intends to do when in power, or lies about it – as Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovich, did during his campaign against me last year – is no supporter of the democracy that citizens risked their lives to establish.
Moreover, democracy must be rooted in the rule of law. There must be accepted rules that are binding on everyone in politics, so that whoever does not accept or obey them is disqualified. Yanukovich’s naked attempt to hijack the election that precipitated the Orange Revolution should have caused him to be banned from running in future elections. Yet he was not.
Now, as president, Yanukovich’s crude instinct is to treat the law and constitution as Karl Marx thought of them: as a mixture of sentimentality, superstition - and the unconscious rationalisation of private interests. Stealing elections, suppressing the vote, and behaving in contempt of the rule of law are negations of democracy. Those who engage in them must be seen as democracy’s enemies - and treated as such.
A second lesson follows from this. The fact that a government has been democratically elected does not mean that the cause of freedom has prevailed. The rest of the world must not turn a blind eye to authoritarian backsliding. Yet today, not only are many of Ukraine’s neighbors silent about Yanukovich’s strangulation of Ukraine’s democracy - but some openly celebrate the supposed “stability” that his regime has imposed. For decades, Egyptians and Tunisians paid a high a price in freedom for the stability of others. They must never be asked, or forced, to pay it again.
Democracy like healthy relationships is oft times very messy, unruly and seemingly chaotic. The free expression of ideas often is. Become concerned when the people are too quiet for they are either being lied too or repressed or both.

1 comment:

Alan said...

It's always difficult to see where something such as the Egyptian transition will lead. Democracy coming to a nation that has no tradition of it is always a chancy thing, and this one, where for 30+ years a population has chafed under a despot, though admittedly not a "royal" one, will not be an exception.

The future of any democracy, any body politic, depends on the engagement and informed status of its participants. Egypt has an educated younger cohort, and this is a hopeful portent. As is the passion with which the people, in such numbers, poured into the streets both to press Mubarak to leave and to celebrate his departure.

And we might well take notice of such concerns here at home as well. Oddly, it seems that the "low information voters" are also the most passionate, offering a dire echo of Yeats' "The Second Coming", where "The best lack all conviction, while the worst (a)re full of passionate intensity."

Last November was the result, and now we will see what happens when people vote to lessen oversight in exchange for promises both unfulfillable and unmeant.

I hope for the best for the Egyptians. They have known far too much disappointment, far too many disappearances in the dark of night, far too much sorrow.

And I hope for the best for us as well, though it seems we are not as willing to work as hard for it, or even participate as did even the septuagenarian black South Africans, some who walked for miles and stood in broiling hot sun for hours to cast the first votes of their lives on the ending of apartheid.

What's our excuse?