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Yes – Annonymous Author
Today, we will hear the results of the first ever democratic elections in Afghanistan – providing someone has a simple majority. Voter turnout at the time of writing sounds high, particularly for women, and many stations increased voting hours to 5pm to serve the snaking queues. Of course, there were complications. Some voters and observers were taken into custody by the National Directorate of Security for fraud, and a handful of rural stations ran out of ballots. A unique problem for Afghanistan, however, was the Taliban. Though over 900 stations were closed due to security threats, the Afghan people showed astonishing bravery in the face of death. At one station in Baghlan province, the workers were beaten up by armed men and their papers were dumped in the river. The station reopened with fresh ballots in the morning. This election proves that Afghanistan is more devoted than ever to democratic reform.
Liberal democracy is the most cherished form of government in the world today. Ideas like political pluralism, legal equality, and parliamentary sovereignty almost go without saying in the West. Many of us are visibly debilitated by the mere mention of political participation. When we are given yet another landmark referendum, we decide that none of society’s proposals are worthy of our unimpeachable ticks. Elsewhere, the consultation of the people remains a beautiful but dangerous dream. Because democracy is so absent in these countries, a certain group has concluded that something in their mind-set is inherently contradictory to civil rights, and often points to traditions that play on our most outdated perspectives on the world.
The first imaginary incompatibility is always religion – particularly Islam. The claim is that societies with a strong spiritual emphasis always use rigid dogma in place of public opinion. In reality, the vast majority of Muslims are no more averse to democracy than western Christians. When the Arab nation lost their final conduit on the word of God, the prophet Muhammad, they turned to the cardinal principles of the Qur’an in order to govern themselves. The 42nd chapter, the “Shura”, dictates that the faithful should be ruled by “mutual counsel among themselves.” Another crucial principle is “Ijma”, which states that a complete consensus must be reached during this counsel. Several academics have interpreted this as demanding a worldwide consensus in every public decision, perhaps pre-empting the tyranny of the majority. Thanks to these democratic ideals, the first heir to Muhammad, Abu Bakr, was in fact elected. Ever since, Shura has defined Islam’s moral core. Even in the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia, the Shura Council plays a central advisory role. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that democracy is one of the strongest traditions in Islam.
Another obstacle the sceptics like to pose is economics. True, democracy and capitalism tend to go hand-in-hand, though the debate as to which walks ahead rages fiercely on. Quasi-communist countries like China continue to administer their economies from on high and openly reject the decadent western market mechanism. In recent years, however, controls on investment and consumption have decentralised. A single ministry can’t handle the slew of negotiations and consultations that come before building a city, particularly with so many new private enterprises. Operational supervision now goes to the local governments, which care more about wealth creation than the ideology of their disciplinarian counterparts in the Zhongnanhai party headquarters, who just move around the materials. Even the state constitution now describes the central government as more of an adviser than an inquisitor. The resulting trade is an invitation to libertarians everywhere.
How many more fantasies can the sceptics devise? Are the people uneducated? Perhaps education in Sub-Saharan Africa is disproportionately scarce, but a lack of specialist knowledge is no reason for individuals to have their self-determination confiscated. Are the people disinterested? The widespread protests we have watched around the developing world demonstrate a greater wish to engage with political entities than the act of voting itself. Are the people unscrupulous? Fraud, cronyism, and other government scandals are the symptoms of a predatory regime, not a criminal culture. Are the people short-sighted? Mad? Evil? Ultimately, to say that western democracy will not work for them is to say that westerners are so profoundly unique a species from the remaining population that we somehow deserve rights and liberties which they do not.
No – Jonathan Eldridge
Democracy has long been a supposed bastion of the West; a big slice of delicious pie with which we can surreptitiously tempt supposedly barbarous countries, and, if necessary, shove down their throats. Of course, our seditious dissemination of the seeds of freedom isn’t really so sneaky. In fact it is, on the face of it, quite good. Democracy is supposed to allow every single person to have their say in how their country is ruled, and therefore such a system would create governments that fulfil the desires of the people. Thus, we’re probably justifiably concerned about the success of democracy around the world and so, lately, all eyes have been focused upon the elections being held in India and Afghanistan.
The elections in Afghanistan – something of a milestone in the nation’s recent, turbulent history – have been seen by the international community as particularly successful. Ali Reza Yunespour, writing for ABC online, states that “Afghanistan’s Election Commission (AEC) announced that around 58 percent of all eligible voters cast their votes in the presidential and provincial council elections on Saturday.” This appears a remarkable voter turnout in a country which has not only been debilitated by years of conflict, but is also still suffering from the seditious backwardness of the Taliban.
India’s elections, though slightly less astounding, might also be viewed by exponents of western democracy as a sign that the seeds are finally beginning to bud and tentatively flower. A staggering 814 million Indians are registered to vote in this year’s elections – elections which will take just over a month to complete – and officials are already reporting that the voter turnout in all states has been higher than in 2009. With Aam Aadmi’s anti-corruption (Common Man’s) Party offering a fresh challenge to the ruling elite, there is a sense that even those who see themselves as being firmly entrenched in the political system are not safe from the legitimate clamour of public opinion.
However, far from getting carried away with condescending enthusiasm about the existence of western style democracy across the globe, we should resist myopic sentiment and don our sceptical hats. I am prepared for accusations of naïve cynicism; don’t misunderstand me, I do agree that these are positive signs. Nonetheless, I think we are millions of miles away from worldwide democracy. Although there are reactions against such selfishness, there is clearly a monumental problem with corruption across the democratic world – Afghanistan’s elections have also been dogged by accusations of bribery and vote-rigging; complaints include voters being told to go home because ballot papers were already filled in. Moreover, the fact that these elections have had to be stabilised by a large display of physical force shows us the delicate existence of democratic rights in these countries.
The exportation of democracy is hardly a smooth and unhindered process; one only has to cast an eye over the currently fractious environment in North Africa to see how impaired efforts to realise political democracy are. We should also not discount those countries – North Korea, Cuba and, to a large extent, China – who have chosen to follow a different, less democratic route. Another point of contention would be whether we think democracy, in its current form, is an end in itself. It might be interesting to consider whether there is an as of yet unspecified alternative to this system – whether it be revolutionary or only a slight shift away from our current predicament. The popular Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek is fairly affirmed in his view that western capitalist democracy is coming to some sort of “end point” – though he shies away from defining this any further.
Though it may be beyond some people’s comprehension at the moment, I don’t think it too far-fetched to envisage a future in which today’s form of democracy is a past relic. All prior political and economic systems have suffered from some kind of entropy, with evidence of social unrest and movements such as Anonymous gaining in popularity. Perhaps, instead of worrying about the importance of spreading western democracy around the earth, we should be searching for ways to rectify the ills of the system in its current state. Is it fit for every single nation on earth? Plurality and inclusiveness are welcomed; however, a pretty vision of a global embracement of western democracy is not a certainty.