Can democracy weather the new storms?

Back in about 400 BC, thinker Plato scoffed at the then prevailing democratic practice deriding it as a ‘mob rule’. Plato was never one for the principle of numerical majority, on which democracy is based. “A good decision is based on knowledge, not on numbers”, was his line.

The Athenian democracy has changed and evolved a lot since then. Now, we stand at the threshold of election days in several democracies around the world.

A few states in India, which is touted as the largest democracy in the world, went to the polls last week. The first assembly election in Kerala in 1957 was a watershed event in history of democracy, leading to the formation of one of the first democratically elected communist governments in the world. Since then, the state has invariably been ruled by the two opposing Fronts in alternation. Six decades later, with the election results just declared, history repeated itself.

I happened to be in Chennai on election day and witnessed how a huge haul of cash in container loads were sent to influence the elections. Further, it was shocking to have first-hand information as to how blatantly party henchmen dole out cash to voters at polling stations.

Another serious challenge most democracies face today is the lack of choices or rather being bereft of the choice of their liking. The other day, I was talking to a friend from the US. The line has almost been drawn between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, both of whom she would prefer not to vote for. It is a pathetic state of one of the greatest democracies in the world that, of the two likely presidential candidates, one is loathed by two third of the Americans and the other one is not viewed favourably by the majority. The issue of lack of choices is not limited to the US alone. Philippines is almost in the brink of electing a president with a dubious track record.

Sectarian, nativistic and religious agenda hijacking the results by sheer weight of numbers is another major cause of concern. The sad scenario of the majority prevailing ruthlessly at the expense of minorities is also witnessed. This could even be in terms of absolute exclusion from the whole democratic process as witnessed in last year’s elections in Myanmar.

All these take us back to the big political question of the right mode of governance. Is democracy failing to deliver? Is it that the system is congenitally faulty or that the majority of people are not necessarily competent enough to make the right choice?

As Franklin D. Roosevelt rightly put it, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.”


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