by Ghassan Kadi for the Saker Blog
If my previous article (http://thesaker.is/the-lebanese-style-of-democracy-of-no-winners-or-losers/) dissected Lebanese style democracy and mentioned Western style democracy in passing, then we should perhaps have a closer look at Western democracy; or what is left of it.
The word “democracy’ comes from the Greek word demokratia; from demos ‘the people’ and kratia ‘power’. In other words, it means the power of the people.
Different dictionaries give slightly different definitions, but I find the definition given in the Cambridge Dictionary to be closest to the commonly-held understanding of democracy being “the belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is either held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves.”
According to the Cambridge Dictionary also, this is the definition of the adjective “democratic”: “a person or a group that is democratic believes in, encourages, or supports freedom and equality between people and groups”.
The Constitutions of all Western democracies are based on the above lofty principles, and this should mean that all Western citizens should have equal rights in choosing their leaders and equal opportunity in being elected on their own merits…right? This statement sadly cannot be further from the truth.
The problem is not in the Constitutions, not in the laws, but in the political parties and politicians who colluded to protect each other. This is perhaps one of the biggest travesties against human rights, and to add insult to injury, it is one that is not talked about or even mentioned.
Because as much as opposing Western political parties hate each other and compete fiercely on parliamentary representation and winning enough votes to win government, when it comes to hijacking democracy, they are all equal partners in crime; and for one party to expose the other to this effect, it would be shooting itself in the foot.
The duopoly that major parties have created in the West is a new form of feudalism; with an onion skin façade camouflaged with slogans of equality and freedom.
Yes, when a Western voter goes to the polling booth, he/she has a choice, but it is a choice that is mainly between party candidates that have been chosen, not by the people, but by party members.
Party members constitute a very small fraction of Western society, and in many instances, nominated candidates are chosen from between a handful of people who are party members from within the electorate.
Yes, Western Parliaments have members who are totally nonpartisan and known as “independents” and others who belong to minor parties (back to those later), but the numbers speak for themselves. If all citizens and candidates had equal rights and power, as democracy stipulates, then this should be reflected in the number of candidates who win; but it doesn’t.
Can we blame the voters for voting for the party candidates? Yes and no. In theory they are to be blamed, but in practice they face a number of difficulties when contemplating voting for an independent candidate. First of all, in many situations they know little about the independent candidate, and in most situations, they are led to believe that to create a change and/or keep the status quo, they shouldn’t “waste” their vote on an independent.
The American Presidential independent bids of Ralph Nader and Ron Paul did not go very far. In real democratic terms however, the few votes those candidates received have more democratic substance than the mere 537 votes that brought George W. Bush over the line and won him Florida and his first Presidential term.
Unlike Ron Paul, George W. Bush was a party candidate, and voters outside the GOP did not have any say in deciding who the GOP was to nominate, and had the GOP nominated Ron Paul, they would have voted for him. If the GOP could nominate Mickey Mouse, they would vote for him too. Now, did Ron Paul have the same opportunity to be voted for as much as Bush? No.
So what happened to Western democracy then?
The West has the audacity to accuse other nations of being undemocratic and dictatorial when in fact Western political parties have hijacked democracy and unashamedly dictate to voters who to vote for.
The truth of the matter is that when the European feudal systems collapsed and personal freedom and equality were given to citizens to replace their stature of serfdom and slavery, and as surviving European Monarchies gave the executive power to Parliaments and maintained titular roles, a new breed of European power-mongers emerged; the political parties.
Western political parties found a loophole in democracy, a loophole that didn’t exactly give them monopoly of power, but a second best consolation prize; duopoly. Furthermore, this illusion of freedom gave the political parties the “security” they needed for long term survival, because the voters truly believed they were liberated and free and had no grounds for revolt.
With duopoly, the ruling party has one and one concern only, and that is to be re-elected. Certainly, the opposition party has also one and one concern only, and that is to be elected in the next election. However, the opposition party knows that it is a question of time before it is elected, because even if it does precious little, even if it doesn’t come up with policies that are meant to lure in voters, before too long, voters will get disenchanted by the ruling party, demand change, and vote in hoards for the opposition.
Where is democracy here?
And the obsession of Western political parties with election wins makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for the ruling party to make tough decisions of long-term vision and nation-building outlooks. They tend to please voters, even if this leads to economic disasters, the likes of which the West is now deeply entrenched in.
How does this system serve the interests of the people?
An independent candidate with independent non-partisan policies of long-term vision and aspirations therefore can be highly qualified, honest, capable and worthy of being elected, but he/she will miss out because the major parties have nominated uneducated, corrupt and dysfunctional candidates; and how often is this seen in every corner of the West?
How does this represent the will and the power of the people?
And when Churchill boasted about British democracy saying that he was the only leader amongst the Allies who could be replaced at any time by the will of the people, what he really meant was that he could be replaced at any time by the will of his political party (The Conservatives aka Tories). He was having a dig at Stalin, the ‘dictator’, but his own position as Britain’s Prime Minister at that time was actually dictated by his party, not by his people.
And ironically enough, the fact that Russia does not have a party-based duopoly that is akin to the West, Western Russophobes question how democratic Russia is even though President Putin has a very high popularity rate; higher than any Western political leader could ever dream of.
Then come the so-called Western minor parties; those parties were meant to keep the major parties in check and prevent them from abusing their power. Ironically however, in some instances, they ended up in situations in which the balance of power was in their hands. Instead of instituting reform, the minor parties became a part of the problem. They gave themselves the “Western democratic” right to dictate, pass or block motions and bills, based on their own agendas, even though they only represent a fraction of the community at large.
Where is the democracy here?
As a matter of fact, when a ruling Western party has a clear majority that does not need the support of the minor parties, it goes to Parliament to rubber-stamp its decisions; unopposed. And instead of rationally debating their policies with the opposition and vice versa, they end up in a slinging match with each other and exchanging words of ridicule and insults.
How does this enhance freedom and equality?
But perhaps the most ridiculous case scenario however is what some Western systems call a “Hung Parliament”; i.e. a parliament that does not have a political majority. This is the nightmare election outcome of any Western political party, and ironically also, many Western citizens see in it an absolute disaster, and this is because they have been brainwashed and trained to think this way; by the political parties of course. In real democratic terms, an election result that ends up with a “Hung Parliament” is a clear indication of the power of the people and ought to be respected instead of finding ways around it; ways that would serve the objectives of one particular party against another.
What is democratic about political parties refusing to accept the mandate of the people when election results result in a “Hung Parliament”?
What Western political parties have been doing ever since the inception of Western democracy is at the least immoral. Is it illegal? Well, the answer to this question depends on who answers it. In theory, this party-imposed system of duopoly, or triopoly, stands in total contrast to what democracy is meant to uphold and defend. It is taking away the power from people and putting it in the hands of parties and party members. However, this status quo serves the interests of all Western political parties, and none of the parties will be prepared to challenge it, as any such challenge will be self-defeating.
The media play a big role in this, and so do Western political journalists, analysts, commentators, activists and reformers. They take it for granted, accept and propagate the notion that democracy means party rule, when in fact there is nothing in the Constitutions of Western nations, or within the spirit of democracy, to this effect.
However, Western countries do have court systems, and those courts are independent from the states and their politics. If some individual or organization in any given Western nation challenges the Constitutional legality of the modus operandi of Western political parties and wins, this can and should create a precedence that can reverberate in all other Western nations.
What makes such a legal challenge virtually impossible to pursue and win is not necessarily its substance, but its legal cost.
What is democratic about letting democracy down merely because to challenge those who hijacked it is a cost prohibitive exercise? That’s the ultimate irony.