The term “democracy” first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the city-state of Athens during classical antiquity. Athenians established what is generally held as the first democracy in 508–507 BC. Athenian democracy was not only direct in the sense that decisions were made by the assembled people, but also the most direct in the sense that the people through the assembly, boule and courts of law controlled the entire political process and a large proportion of citizens were involved constantly in the public business. Even though the rights of the individual were not secured by the Athenian constitution in the modern sense, the Athenians enjoyed their liberties not in opposition to the government but by living in a city that was not subject to another power and by not being subjects themselves to the rule of another person.
In the current world democracy means – “for the people, of the people, by the people”, and the ballot is used to enforce this statement. In India, once every five years, every eligible citizen gets the opportunity to choose a person to represent his section – be it by caste, region, religion, profession, economic status etc. It is trusted by these citizens who vote an individual or political party into power that their well-being and development will be the utmost priority to them. In order to harness the trust and votes of the population, the individuals and political parties that contest the elections make promises and release manifestoes to woe them.
Multi-billion dollars are spent during the festivities leading to the elections to canvas for a leader who promises to relieve the common man of all his problems, restore their pride in the nation and earn them a respectable position on the global canvas.
It is during these campaigns that things are said and done to influence the mind and thoughts of the population, that does not necessarily educate or accurately inform them of the current situation and how the leaders propose to solve the issues. However, polarising the views of the common man is able to create and segregate separate vote banks. These are then exploited in various ways, like promising to get some special status or economic benefits, and development etc. to gain the most valuable currency in democracy – the votes.
It is clearly evident that the democratic process is based on the perception of the majority rather than the merit of an individual/leader/political party. And since this is the case, the political body with the best resource to manipulate the perception of people to its benefit is able to wrest the power. In a multi-party system, when we talk about majority votes during elections, it does not mean absolute or simple majority. It is possible to get by, by just scoring one vote more than your rival. For example: In a given situation, if there are 10 contestants and 100 votes, if eight contestants get 10 votes each, one gets nine and the last one manages to get 11 votes, then it is the last person that has the majority vote. While it is conveniently ignored that 89 people voted against, which in my opinion is the actual majority. When democracy is decided in this manner, the people of the country are always in the opposition party, rather than the ruling party.
In my very humble opinion, the term – ruling party, which I highly detest, is itself derogatory to democracy. While politicians are voted into power to represent, they end up ruling – becoming the elite that is inaccessible to the very people they once approached with folded hands for their support.
The politicians that have now gained power through this system are well aware that it is not possible to be able to meet the expectations of the people of their constituency, primarily they know more people do not support them than those who voted them into power. With this truth in mind, any being with a hint of intellectual capability will act in his best interest – try to do something that will please his vote bank and get some more, or make enough money to be able to afford the resources to widen net of the favourable perception to stay in power for the next term.
To cover the expenses they then turn their attention towards policies and taxes. Policies that are lobbied by industries and industrialists that allows them to maximize their profits and scale their revenues to newer heights. Taxes are then used to fill the gaps that are then left after leveraging of policies have left out. However, the relaxing of policies or lack thereof is almost always never in the favour of the general population. When a business, whose ultimate objective is profit, is lobbying for something, there is no space to consider the well-being of the population. If that was not the case, then we wouldn’t have tobacco, bottled water or even those sugary aerated drinks being sold in tons and litres all over the world.
When we put someone in power for such a short-term, with so much grey areas to exploit and benefit from, it is, but natural that greed takes over. If the person at the top was invested in the long-term fate of the country, their perspective will be different, and so will their actions and decisions. An authority (for example a King) whose future is linked to the prosperity of his kingdom will not shy away from taking harsh/hard decisions that will benefit in the long run. He wouldn’t mind losing on the short-term benefits to secure the future of his dominion.
If you look at Russia, that has had Vladimir Putin at the helm since 2000, you see that there are things that are done, that is not essentially in favour of an international business lobbyist or geared to open-up the local economy to foreign corporates to exploit. Still, there has been a great improvement both in terms of numbers as well as the perception of the people of the country. You can see more on this link.
On the other end of the spectrum, you also have North Korea under Kim Jong Un. Where the personal objectives of the leader are held above the well-being of the population of the country. However, this is something that cannot last forever. There will be a time when you have to give, in order to take and from the recent events, we might say, that North Korea and it’s leader are on the verge of realizing that. Read how the stance is changing in North Korea here.
Overall, a democracy with lack of long-term vesting of interests by the people who govern it, or absence of strong legal and constitutional framework that allows the citizens to take to task the non-performing representatives is never going to succeed. However, all this would be of no use if the participating people are devoid of interest in politics and think of it as an uncouth profession.
I would end this article with a quote from Bertolt Brecht, which aptly describes the apathy of the common man towards politics and the effects of it.
“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of living, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”