Well the people voted and no one single party won.  It’s a hung parliament and the conservatives and liberal democrats have combined to form a coalition government.  We have got the government we wanted or rather we have not got any of the governments we didn’t want.  Now politicians or at least little over half of them have a chance to work together to solve the economic crisis.  Perhaps we have seen the end of the boo – rah, rah adversarial politics of the past and will achieve some  concensus. 

This is democracy in action, but is it the best system to solve our problems?  Democracy is accountable, but to whom; to an electorate informed by media and over influenced by the personality of the leader?   Western democracy suffers from populism; it cannot make sacrifices, take the difficult decisions because it will be voted out of office. People expect to be more comfortable, better off; they will only support a government that has to make economic cuts as long as somebody else bears the sacrifice.  The media support the rights of the masses and will soon whip up a storm if they do not get a good deal.

When Tony Blair realised that the Iraqis were not producing weapons of mass destruction, he declared that they were fighting a war to restore democracy in Iraq.  But is that what they wanted?  We might argue that under Saddam Hussein, Iraq had the government it needed – at least for most of the time.  Saddam was seen as a strong leader in the Stalinistic mould.  He not only improved the prosperity of Iraq but he enhanced its stature among Arabic nations and throughout the world.  In the late nineteen eighties, my Iraqi students viewed him as a hero.  But like every dictator, he over-reached himself.  He declared war against the Kurds, the Marsh Arabs, Iran and finally Kuwait.  That was a step too far; Kuwait had oil.  Suddenly Saddam was a dangerous tyrant.  But having got rid of Saddam, is Iraq ready for democracy?  The problem is unless a country is ready, democracy can so easily lead to reactionary politics; the overthrow of one system for another – the tyranny of the majority, more conflict.  Democracy cannot be equated with individual liberty.

 But what is the alternative – a self imposed oligarchy of the great and the seemingly good?  Perhaps  but some system of checks and balances must be imposed to govern the government otherwise the system will be liable to corruption.  In the middle ages, it was the church who kept an eye on states, but this didn’t stop some monarchs setting themselves up as leader of the church as well and it didn’t stop priests abusing children. 

The other evening, I went to see a video documentary on the 2007 riots in Burma, filmed by under-cover  journalists, who smuggled their footage out of the country.  It demonstrated the panic- stricken defence by a government that had boxed itself into a corner by refusing to negotiate and had to react oppressively to restore order.  Once the monks and the people started marching, the outcome was predictable.   We might argue that what a new country needs as it learns to vote and rule itself is a system of monitoring or parenting, by another state.  But isn’t that just colonisation by another name.  And which state will parent Burma?  Not the west for sure, not Japan; memories run deep. So will it be China or India and won’t that just shift the risk of conflict to a larger arena?

Advertisements