Posted by: nastylittletruths | May 21, 2008

Is Democracy An Illusion?

I’ve thought a lot about this word – democracy – not only how we view it here, but as a worldwide phenomena and keep returning to this question all the time.

Of Greek origin, the most common meaning is, “government by the people; a form of government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system“. (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary)

Consider that in our ‘first past the post’ system an elected MP is the person who gets the majority of votes in their respective constituency – even if it’s by one – and the government is then formed by whoever gets the majority of support from these MPs, it doesn’t take a numerical majority to become the PM.

Dan Bennet had said that “an elected official is one who gets 51% of the vote cast by 40% of the 60% of the voters who ensured they were registered“, theoretically 13%, but in our last general elections it was 30%. Granted we don’t know if all “registerable” persons are registered to vote, but it is still a small number. The percentage of people who did not support the current government was higher at 36%… Thirty persons out of a hundred decided who leads us and exercises supreme power on our behalf… And I am only speaking about the people who actually voted – I have no real concern or sympathy for the balance 34% of registered people who didn’t vote. They can argue till the cows come home about not having a choice, at the end of the day they flippantly discarded a right that people lost their lives, and continue to lose their lives for.

In Trinidad, the word is used a punch line when it is convenient. I remember the PNM’s “Democracy Fund” when they lost a court case and Basdeo Panday only uses the word when it’s in his favour. Remind yourself of the internal elections of his party during both Ramesh and Winston’s time and it becomes clear. Remind yourself of Patrick’s behaviour against Rowley and all his other critics and you realise that their interpretation of democracy is how to achieve power to wield it on their own behalf.

Considering also how politicians of every ‘democratic’ nation eventually learn how to manipulate the system and when they get into power manipulate it even more, do the people still have any power? The watershed moment, however, was the US general elections of 2000. It ended up in court, the presidency was not given to the holder of the popular vote (48.38% vs. 47.87%) and the rest is history. Kathleen Harris, the Florida State AG had to certify the results for Florida not withstanding that she was co-chair of George Bush’s Florida campaign… Gore got 500+ votes less than Bush out of nearly 6 million cast and ran away with the 25 electoral votes that made him president of the most powerul and influential country in the world.

And we languish in the sun and speak about ‘democracy’ and ‘power in the hands of the people’. All an illusion as the power and the decisions remain in the hands of a very few as it has been since the beginning of civilisation.

But the best to remember is this, “Democracy is a process, not a static condition. It is becoming rather than being. It can easily be lost, but never is fully won. Its essence is eternal struggle“. (Anonymous)

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