Monday, 18 February 2008

Making Democracy work

The dictionary definition of Democracy is:
"Government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system"
In Britain, we elect our MPs on a regular basis to represent us in Parliament and the Prime Minister is the leader of the party with the most MPs. In the United States, Representatives and Senators are elected to generate national policy in Congress and the President is also an elected official. In both countries, the leader selects a 'cabinet' and each member has a clearly defined role. Although they are selected, the theory is that the people trust the leader to pick the right people for the job. Other countries have the same or similar systems.

What happens if the population of a country are apathetic?
If the people who elect the officials are not interested politics, there is a risk of an unrepresentative government being created. Once that happens, all sorts of policies could be passed that could negatively affect the future of a number of people (e.g. the apathetic majority).

In countries that have a system like the United Kingdom, it could be a number of years before a party loses power. For example, between 1905 and 1922 the UK was run by the Liberal party (the leaders were Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George). If any party had power for that length of time based on the votes of a minority, there is a strong chance of the government losing touch with the people and not taking the country in the direction that the people want.

In the United States, the situation is very different. Although the people vote for the person they want to be President, their votes don't actually have any weight as that particular official is elected using delegates. Although the delegates are supposed to be loyal, there is always the possibility of them changing their minds and voting for someone else. This could mean that there is always an unrepresentative leadership, even if the majority aren't apathetic.

In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote, but George W. Bush got elected because of the Electoral College, which means the US had (and still have) a leader who does not represent the views of the people. This is confirmed in recent polls which show that Bush's approval rating is 30%.

What if the public cannot decide who they prefer?
If the population of a country cannot decide which party (or candidate) they prefer, there cannot be a situation where no government is elected. A democratic system demands a government and anything else would possibly lead to Anarchy.

If there are multiple parties with the same number of votes (unlikely in a 'First Past The Post' electoral system) or there is a situation where the majority of votes is not large enough, another election could be called or there would be a coalition (the leader of that group would then become Prime Minister and a cabinet could be formed).

If the majority vote and the parties forming the coalition have similar policies, this might not necessarily be a problem. However, if the parties have substantially different views then the leadership would be divisive and decisions would be harder to make. If it is harder to decide when to e.g. initiate an election, a divisive leadership could negatively affect the country for many years (especially if the majority of the population are apathetic).

In recent times, Holland had a coalition government, which was a combination of the Christian Democrats, the CDA, the VVD and the LPF. The coalition eventually collapsed due to major disagreements.

What if the majority are wrong?
In a situation where the majority of the population vote, it's possible for them to not know what is good for the country and a reason for that could simply be lack of appropriate education. You could then have a representative leadership that has a negative effect on the country. This is a problem with Democracy. Elections can theoretically prevent this from being a permanent problem, but the people could consistently be wrong.

In reality, no political system is perfect. To give Democracy the best chance of working, the majority have to be well-informed and have to vote. To be well informed, they need to use a variety of sources (doing this can create a more balanced view). If the people complain about the government not doing the right thing and then mention that they didn't vote in the election, you can only say to them that it's at least partly their fault. In theory, one vote can be the decision maker.

It's no good if you keep informed at one election and then ignore everything. That would mean you run the risk of a party staying in power for too long and possibly losing touch with the views of the people (which would make them unrepresentative).

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Democracy, Politics


Thief of Time said...

The reason why everybody is apathetic is because there is no real choice and everyone are just whiter-than-white copies; little lego men repeating the same jargon in different forms. Any action deemed offensive to any group results in massive backlash from the media and the liberals. Politicians are afraid to say what they believe. It's practically criminal.

Thief of Time said...

oh and democracy= demos crato meaning mob rule. interesting, wot?