Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Accountability and transition from democracy to dictatorship

What happens when the government ceases to be accountable to the people? How does it happen? What are the signs of this illness and how can they be detected early? How can the people assert their will and not allow that to happen? Are elections sufficient? How can the electoral process be improved?
Even the most democratic government can turn into a dictatorship over time. This does not happen overnight. It is a long process with many ebbs and flows, with many false hopes and failures. But it is very much dependent on the relationship between the government and people. The two are in a diametric opposition to each other in some contexts (such as civil rights) and in concert in others (such as national defense).
But often it is the people who ‘permit’ or allow their government to slip into unaccountability and prospectively into a dictatorship. You may ask, what if the political elites are simply insensitive to the signals emanating from below, the populace. What if they engage in a tactic of saying one thing and doing quite the opposite. What if they turn a deaf ear to the populace or often blame their lack of response to other external factors. In a democratic country we have elections that hopefully can bring forth new elites, who could perhaps not repeat the mistakes of the former. But the new elites build on what they inherit on. They can never start from scratch. If there is damage of great proportions inflicted by the yesterday elites, how do you suppose the new elites can repair all of that? It is simply impossible. Since most people by virtue of their nature cling to the status quo, things get into a settled pattern. Therefore, the new elites can only continue the trodden paths, even when they have the best intentions.
But had the people not allowed the old elites gone so far, they would not have ended up with no choice.

Lack of accountability to its people also translates into lack thereof to the world. If you don’t care about your own people’s will, you will care less about the opinion of the world community. Thus civil rights violations at home, a necessary by-product of unaccountability, will also result in human rights violations abroad. There is no secret about it. It all extends in a linear fashion.
You may ask how people can stop a democracy from turning into a dictatorship? In this highly sophisticated, highly commercial world of material values, people are caught in the whirlwind of a culture that is not civic any longer. However, time goes very fast and one day they may wake up and not be able to control their very lives. Peope may miss the train unwittingly.

No government in the world was born to be a dictatorship. It is the people who ‘permit’ and allow it to turn into such by their complacency and inability to speak up. You can speak up in many different ways, such as voting, getting engaged in your community, or simply getting involved in local politics.

For example, at its inception in 1919 the Soviet Union was by its design and nature, a government for the people essentially… The very purpose of the Great October Revolution of 1917 was to topple the Tsar, who was deeply insensitive to the people and institute a government ruled by people, the working class and peasants. At its birth it was essentially a ‘democratic’ government, despite the fact it was energized by Marxism rather than the Western liberal ideals. (Many may disagree with this, but it all depends how you define ‘democracy’). However, very soon the Communist Party emerged. Crucially, people voluntarily subordinated themselves to the will of the Party and allowed the Party to slowly turn into an absolute dictatorship. There was resistance but unorganized and haphazard. This was all under the name of the ‘proletariat,’ the working class. It soon ceased to be accountable not only to its people, but also to the entire world. But it was the people after all who ‘permitted’ that to happen. Nobody wants violence or revolutions to topple governments. I am talking about civic resistance-- by becoming a member of a civic society.

Think about the Iraq war, the Bush administration’s actions at home and abroad. Think also about the paradox of Bush’s reelection.
Some may say, national security is paramount in times of crisis. But does national security have to come at a price of a democracy? Is it really necessary to turn into a dictatorship to protect our homeland? Can’t a democracy do it better?
Democracy/human rights and national defense are not mutually exclusive. We also have to be very critical in our definition of ‘crisis.’ An act of terror is not an invasion into one’s country, which would warrant invasion into another. If that was so, all countries on Earth would be justified in invading one another, because acts of terror occur in each and every one of them, with varying severity. So, there are different levels of ‘crisis.’ As far as protection against perceived and potential threats, there are many more means of doing so, such as diplomacy and economic incentives, without turning into an absolute dictatorship.

Aren’t we permitting a wonderful democracy that we used to have to slowly turn into a dictatorship? Perhaps we will wake up in half a century and America may have missed the train…

Think about this, when you go to vote next time in the elections! Think about the extinction of the civic society in our culture and the damage flowing from that...

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