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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 15, March 28, 2009

Global Democracy: Consolidation and Expansion

Thursday 2 April 2009, by Mubashir Hasan


Global Democracy

Democracy at any level—global, regional, national or at the level of communities—means, above all, peace and justice, filled stomachs, health, education, shelter; all regulated by an organisation in which citizens collectively regulate their political, social and economic affairs themselves in a manner that their individual freedoms are not restricted and liberty is enhanced.

Peace requires resolution of disputes and differences in a just manner through negotiations, mediation and arbitration and justice requires that it should be meted out by peers.

Essential nourishment, good health, education, shelter for the entire population of the globe is also essential pre-requisites of peace and justice. The planet, though divided into regional groupings, nation-states and isolated communities, can have only one objective—regulation of economic activity through an arrangement which ensures the gradual fulfilment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability to each according to his work.

The present-day conditions of the world, especially the sway of undemocratic governments and endemic poverty, make it manifestly clear that the goal of global democracy is far far away.

The Impediment

The principal impediment in the ‘consolidation and expansion of global democracy’, whatever of it might be assumed to be existing, is the chasm between the rich and the poor. There are rich nations and groupings of rich nations and there are poor nations—loosely described as the Third World. Every nation-state is unashamedly divided into rich and poor sections of the population. The division of the humanity between the rich and the poor is based upon the political domination the rich minority exercises over the poor majority.

The monopoly of the rich classes over the legislative process and of the exercise of the executive power of governance is the key factor in the political domination of the rich over the poor. In general, a government in the Third World countries may be described as the government of the elites by the elites and for the elites.

The dominance of a rich nation-state or a group of rich nation-states over poor nation states mainly rests upon the mutuality of the political and economic interests of both, the elites of the rich and poor nation-states. The elites of the poor nations depend upon the supply of weapons, ammunition, intelligence, tear gas and loans from the rich nation-states in order to exercise coercive power of governance over their poor compatriots. The rich nations are glad to oblige. The elites of the rich nation-states have proved to be pillars of strength to the elites of the poor nation-states in maintaining dictatorial regimes and in establishing unfair and iniquitous economic relations between the dominant and dominated nations. This has thrown up the regimes of dictators and corrupt rulers and resulted in massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich nations.

The transfer of wealth from the poor nations contributes to the richness of the rich nations. In nation-states the poverty of the poor classes contributes to the richness of the rich classes of the population. There exists a seemingly irreconcilable conflict between the rich and the poor.

The Mantra of Violence

Under the direction of a relatively small section of the elites, the state in Third World countries exercises coercive power over an overwhelming majority of the population. This coercive power is exercised through organised bodies of armed men, magistrates, prisons, tax collectors and intelligence apparatus.

The threat of violence and the capability of perpetrating violence is the ultimate sanction of the modern state. The present-day globe is run on violence and corruption—overt as well as covert.

Modern nations, big and small, have built huge arsenals to perpetrate violence even at the risk of annihilating the world. Large armies along with armadas of naval and air forces await commands from an infinitesimally small number of men to unleash destruction of masses of innocent humanity and all other life on the planet. Recently, in the so-called great democracies—the USA and Britain—huge protests of the people against the war in Iraq fell on the deaf ears of President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Almost all forms of democracy in the world today favour the rich, work predominantly in the interests of the rich and against the interests of the poor. In order to usher in genuine democracy on the planet Earth, the poor shall have to mobilise their power. They are capable of altering the equation of power between the rich and the poor. Against the seemingly formidable power of bullets and tear gas in the hands of the rich, the poor possess an even more formidable weapon—the weapon of non-violent resistance.

The present-day democracies have manifestly failed on several vital counts:

(a) protection of life, liberty, property and dignity of an overwhelming majority of their citizens;

(b) dispensation of justice among citizens on the basis of equality and fairness; and

(c) provision of equality of opportunity for diverse classes, nations, sects, religions and sexes.

Consolidation and Expansion

The citizens of a democratic state have to forge a new social contract between the citizens and the state. The coercive powers of the state organs at each level should be minimised. Power should be exercised only by men and women elected by those over whom it is exercised. However, when the liberty of a citizen has to be restricted on account of violation of law meant to protect life, property, honour, or to promote health and well being, it must be done through the exercise of the collective power of citizens.

The power of the state being an oppressive power, the less of it is exercised the better it would be. The bigger the area and population of a unit of governance the greater is its potential to act as an oppressive power in disregard of the interest of the majority from a smaller area of population. The best unit of governance is the one in which the power to detain a citizen in custody, to determine whether someone is guilty or innocent of an alleged crime rests with the citizens. In other words, a unit has good governance if the police in its area is under the control of the elected council of the area and if the citizens and not an employee of a higher body determine the guilt or innocence of citizens indicted for a crime. In such a scheme of governance the people govern themselves.

A democracy needs social and economic systems that ensure that the act of production of goods and services is full of joy for citizens, where workers have unions and are not at the mercy of the employers to be fleeced and exploited and where the fruits of production are equitably and judiciously distributed. Neither are the rich very rich nor the poor very poor. Livelihood is freely available. Unemployed, elderly and handicapped are duly supported without offence to their dignity.

On a collective level the citizens of a democratic state cannot call themselves free citizens unless all nations, nationalities, minorities and ethnicities consider themselves to be free within their respective domains, be it a state, tribe or a district. The heavy handed rule of a bigger unit of governance has to give way to the power of a voluntary unity of all the peoples and their areas.

At every level of state authority, federal, State, district, region, tribal etc., citizens should be able to regulate and manage their political, social and economic affairs. Institutions such as those of elected councils and meetings of the general body of the population and town meetings in urban centres should be created. The provisions for the recall of elected persons, for ordering fresh elections of the elected bodies at the will of the masses and for holding referendums at the level of large cities, districts and provinces should be firm and effective. The new structure of governance should convince the people that the coercive instruments of state machinery like the police, magistracy and taxation are not in the hands of an adversary or an oppressor.

[based on the author’s remarks at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, February 27, 2009]

Dr Mubashir Hasan, an indefatigable champion of subcontinental peace and India-Pakistan amity, is a former Minister of Finance and Planning of Pakistan; he held the office under Z.A. Bhutto but resigned while Bhutto was still the Prime Minister. He played a pivotal role in setting up the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy.

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