The enduring power of democracy
Syed Badrul Ahsan, Editor-in-Charge, The Asian Age: In this past week, lawmakers in Spain voted out Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over the issue of corruption in his People’s Party. It was a clean surgical operation that saw power swiftly pass into the hands of the Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez. Governance, in line with traditions of political pluralism, went on undisturbed.
A couple of lessons are to be derived from the political change in Spain. In the first place, the Spanish parliament demonstrated before the world the efficiency with which democracy can handle a bad situation. In the second, the no-confidence shown to Rajoy and his party was evidence of democracy adopting a policy of zero tolerance toward malfeasance in politics.
The power of democracy is therefore the readiness of a political system to ensure accountability through taking men of questionable character to the metaphorical guillotine. In our times, we have observed the beauty of democracy in the sure manner in which politically powerful men and women, because of the wrongdoing they or their friends have indulged in, have been put out to pasture. Not very long ago, President Park Geun-hye of South Korea was removed from office on charges of corruption, tried and sentenced to twenty four years in prison. The irony here is that a lot of promise was in the air when Park, the daughter of the late military ruler Park Chung-hee, was elected head of state; and yet that promise was squandered.
A democratic system, provided it is a fully functional one and is not commandeered by individuals who, driven by an insatiable lust for power, achieve it and then try to hang on to it by crude means, clothes a society in dignity. It is those power-hungry individuals, tending to develop governance fatigue, become complacent and then reckless, which is when they begin to indulge in bad doings. You could recall here the determined manner in which politicians and the courts in South Africa compelled President Jacob Zuma to relinquish office. The removal of the President was ruthless as also purposeful. Had Zuma refused to go quietly, South Africa would be in turmoil. A strong exercise of pluralism, helped not a little by the ruling African National Union asking Zuma to go, went into upholding political decency in the country.
Of course there are all the ailments democracy suffers from. Of course there are all those enemies of social enlightenment arrayed against it nearly everywhere. But for all these unhappy conditions into which it is straitjacketed, the democratic political system remains merciless in its opposition to sinister doings, even when it is a President or a Prime Minister facing charges or allegations of criminal conduct. The judiciary in Pakistan gave Pervez Musharraf a tough time a decade ago. It has now disqualified Nawaz Sharif, an act which brings an end to Sharif’s career in politics. It could well be that politics being what it is in Pakistan, Sharif might just make a comeback. For now, though, the judiciary, through upholding the process of transparency, has given democracy a shot in the arm.
And yet democracy, while going tough against those tending to be corrupt or authoritarian, sometimes reveals the blemishes which tell on its health. Not so long ago, lawmakers in Brazil stripped President Dilma Rousseff of office and installed in the presidency a man, Michel Temer, whose own political character remains mired in less than probity. And with Temer have been the lawmakers baying for Rousseff’s blood carefully papering over their own sinister record.
Warts and all, though, democracy remains the one sure hope for people in major regions of the globe, especially in societies where the heritage of pluralism is a relatively recent happenstance. Nigeria is not quite a happy country, but its determination to embrace democracy after years of military rule and endemic corruption testifies to the enduring power of the popular will in bringing about a transformation of the lives of millions. In Zimbabwe, one needed the military to tell Robert Mugabe firmly that he had to go if democratic continuity was to be a sustained political process. In nations like Tanzania and Senegal, the democratic experiment has been a thriving affair.
There is always the chaos and din associated with democracy. Even so, it is charming disorder which pushes the bad apples in the basket aside and brings out the good ones to glisten in the light of the sun. Witness the disciplined manner in which the people of Malaysia voted to bring down Najib Razak and raise Mahathir Mohamad once more to the heights.
Democracy, practised by men and women of noble intent and underpinned by rule of law, has little patience with those who would corrupt it in their malignant ways. It has little room for charlatans. It has no space for those who live on circumscribed imagination.