A Slice of Democracy
While we prepare for our own local elections in June, India, the world’s largest democracy enters the final phase of its General Election. Hundreds of millions of people are eligible to vote in this massive contest. The main contestants are the Congress Party-led alliance and parties led by the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) but there are many smaller parties as well. It is quite inspiring that so much effort is being put in to the principle of giving people their democratic voice.
Lenin once said that democracy was, “five minutes in a polling booth every five years”, but it is much more than that. Yes, we have a periodic slice of democracy thrown our way but the accountability that it creates influences the policy agenda that any government can realistically pursue. It is also no coincidence that the human rights records of democracies are better than those of dictatorships whether these are political, military or theological.
On the world stage, democracy is a driver for peace, again because of the accountability that it creates. It is rare for a democracy to start a war against another democracy. There are not that many examples. We can go back to the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States but at that time there were not many democracies around.
During the Cold War, I was sometimes quite pessimistic about our future. I believed that the best way for the ideological conflict to end would be through the internal collapse of the communist dictatorships but I had my doubts that this could ever happen. Then we saw the end of right-wing dictatorships in Portugal and Spain despite their governments taking the actions that all regimes use to entrench themselves. These outcomes provided more optimism for the future and so it proved with the eventual dismantling of left-wing dictatorships in Eastern Europe.
We now have a world where democracy is more popular and widespread than ever. This bodes well for the future but should not generate complacency. There remain many movements and organisations, which if they obtained political power, would do their utmost to keep this and deny it to those who disagreed with them.
Sadly it has to be said that there is another threat to democracy which is the behaviour of elected representatives. The current expenses scandal makes me feel very let down by MPs of all political parties. There is now a real danger of mainstream political parties feeling a public backlash in elections through the perception of yet more sleaze in central government.
Democracy thrives on participation. It would be a tragedy if the behaviour of democratically elected representatives damaged the very system that voted them in.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
13th May 2009