Friday, August 11, 2006

In The Voter We Trust

I was drawn to a comment on Acolyte's post. He asks: What would you rather have? A chaotic nation under democracy or a peaceful but repressed nation under sharia law? This caused me to wonder about the nature of democracy and whether it really is the best form of government.

Winston Churchill once said "democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." Paradoxically, he also stated: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." So which is which?

I am of the opinion that democracy is superior to all other forms of government because it alone gives choice to the governed. When you get tired of your current bunch of oppressors, then you can switch to another bunch of opressors. Monarchies, theocracies and dictatorships do not afford you this luxury. You may be lucky to get a great leader, but woe betide you if you end up with the Stalins, Idi Amins or Talibans of this world. Short of coups d'etat or revolution, there is no way to get them out.

Come to think of it, democracy is not even a form of government. It is a way to select a form of government. Which means you can have all the other forms (dictatorships etc.) provided you never allow them to interfere with your freedom to dump them every time an election is due.

I am being terribly facile, of course. Democracy means more than elections. It entails respect for the fundamental rights of all, including minorities. It may be rule of the majority but it is different from mob rule. For example, in a democracy, no majority can vote to deprive you of your right to excercise your vote. It is simply against the rules even though the majority may want to do so. Democracy also implies that the electorate have the necessary tools to make an informed choice, hence the need for a free press. It demands the separation of Church and State and the mutual independence of the three arms of government, the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary.

In the final analysis, to answer Acolyte's question, I would always chose to live under a democracy however chaotic because five years down the line I could always decide that I am tired of the chaos and chose a better life. I think, in a nutshell, that's what Chuchill meant, though he phrased it much more eloquently (and concisely) than I ever could.