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There have been and still are so many commenting on democracy as if they understand it. But from their writings it seems they are only repeating the word as a media virus they picked up on and repeat (as a good virus must to propagate) ad infinitum hoping that it will somehow "stick."|
There are so many forms of democracy, and derivatives of democracy, being applied around the world that it is incorrect to use the word as a blanket definition from which one could create a mind's image of what the word means.
A government system that contains what can be gleaned as the "good points" from the different forms while excising the "bad points" is what China is trying to create, but with the constant rhetoric that only throws out the "word" as if that is sufficient and that somehow the form they imagine is really what they imagine, the comments by those eager to see their imagined form as the one established in China as "the one" are not all that helpful.
Perhaps an examination of the common existing forms can allow those interested posters that like to do more that simply pontificate, to actually come up with some constructive options would be more helpful.
To that end, I propose we start with these, and ourselves extract what can be seen as the "good points" of the various forms to then offer a more cohesive option.
To avoid comments of "plagiarism" most of this - the explanations - comes from my poli sci classes. What is 'me' is easily noticed.
"A democracy is a form of government in which ordinary citizens may take part in governing, in contrast with monarchy or dictatorship." A far to simplistic definition but common in many dictionaries.
This is a key point - "Ordinary citizens may take part in governing" a non-existent aspect of current democracies where those "taking part in governing" are those with either the money to spend to get into power or those that can be bought by enough people that will supply them with the money to get into power.
In contrast, already in China, the people in even the higher echelons of the Central Government "were" ordinary citizens that worked there way up through the different levels of government to get to the positions they now hold. They didn't "buy" there way in. Their "daddy" or their daddy's buddies didn't arrange their position, they had to go through the "trenches" as it were.
As Edmund Burke said:
'I cannot help concurring [e.g., with Aristotle, inter alios] that an absolute democracy, no more than an absolute monarchy, is not to be reckoned among the legitimate forms of government. They think it rather the corruption and degeneracy than the sound constitution of a republic.'
Traditionally, the purpose of democracy is to prevent tyranny. Democracy is not intended to give "good" government, but to place some limits to the abuse of power.
Using this criteria, I would say that the China leadership since Deng Xiaoping has been approaching far closer to this - ordinary citizens taking part - than is say the current Bush regime.
No system yet exists that can ideally create order in society - and the various versions of democracy in place in countries that try some form of it today show that democracy as they practice it is not morally ideal. At the heart of the existing democracies seems to be the belief that if a majority can be convinced to be in agreement it is legitimate to damage or oppress the minority.
What is needed of course, as has been stated before, is a form of government that incorporates aspects of good government from different systems to create a new system.
At present only China is trying to create a new system that has good points from other systems blended into a better system. It is not yet complete and that is why the work is ongoing. Those blinded by their own propaganda into thinking "their" system by itself is already perfect have already fallen into a trap from which they cannot escape simply because they are not willing to exam their failures and thus have a starting point from which to correct those failures.
To my eyes, only China has a government that has accepted that errors have been made and who is willing to try and address those errors to the betterment of the lives of the people in her country.
Then one must examine the various forms that are commonly referred to as "democracy" and see which one best serves the purpose.
Both historic and present-day references to all the differing types of democratic systems tells us that whatever the country and whatever the epoch, "democracy" has always been understood and practiced differently. It is, however, important to realize that democracy is neither fixed as an idea nor as a state structure, but is subject to change.
<b>roportional Representation</b> describes a various, multi-winner system, which tries to ensure that the proportional support gained by different groups is accurately reflected in the election result. Proportional Representation is also used to describe this (intended) effect. This usually involves parties in a parliament or legislative assembly that receive a number of seats in proportion to vote percentage whether those votes are from a universal model or voted from among a group that then places members of that group to represent them in a larger parliament.
Systems that follow Proportional Representation, attempt to ensure that minorities are represented fairly and equally in the nation's legislative bodies, according to their proportion in the community.
This differs decidedly from <b>Majoritarian</b> forms of democracy that tend to give legislative power only to the two most popular political parties. Majoritarian forms of democracy - noted as <b>"First-Past-the-Post"</b> often results in more bitter partisanship and systemic discrimination against political minorities.
Electoral systems that do not result in Proportional Representation are known as <b>Majoritarian</b> systems.
Proportional Representation is unfamiliar to most citizens of the US and Canada but it is actually a much more common system of voting than "First-Past-the-Post."
The <b>"First-Past-the-Post" (FPTP or FPP)</b> electoral system is a voting system for single-member districts, variously called first-past-the-post, winner-take-all, plurality voting, or relative majority. In political science, it is known as <b>Single-Member District Plurality</b> or SMDP. This system is in use at all levels of politics; it is very common in former British colonies.
FPTP encourages tactical voting - known as "compromising": voters are encouraged to vote for one of the two options most likely to win, even if it is not their most preferred option.
Because of these anomalies and the tactical-voting tendencies a "law" has come into being called <b>"Durverger's Law"</b> that predicts that constituencies that use FPTP systems will become two-party systems. Durverger's Law is attributed to Maurice Durveger, a French sociologist who observed the effect and published his finding in the 50's and 60's. Eventually it began to be called a "law." A frequent consequence of Durverger's Law is the spoiler effect, where a third-party candidate takes votes away from one of the two leading candidates. (I hear the ghost of Ralph Nader rattling its chains).
Countries that use "First-Past-the-Post" are usually smaller countries such as Bahamas, Belize, Botswana, Grenada, Jamaica Nepal, Samoa, and others - and some of the large countries - the United Kingdom and the United States. It is also found in Canada but developed differently as Canada also has multiple regional parties, as does India. It is used to elect the lower or only house in the legislature.
Perhaps one is looking into <b>Direct Democracy</b> - a system in which all citizens are allowed to influence policy by means of direct vote or referendum on any particular issue.
Direct Democracy is considered effective because it tends to devolve power by dispersing power throughout many people. Policy decisions are more likely to be made for the benefit of the majority, not the benefit of factions or those in power.
The main objection to democracy as a form of government and to Direct Democracy in particular is that it is open to demagoguery. Another objection to Direct Democracy is that of practicality and efficiency. Deciding all or most matters of public importance by direct referendum is slow, expensive, and often leads to public apathy. This form is really only viable on a "town" basis and not at a country level unless the country is small and wealthy.
Then there is <b>Indirect Democracy</b>: a very broad term for governing through elected representatives. A problem with Indirect Democracy is that power is centralized to a small base or group, thus increasing likelihood of corruption. As well, while Indirect Democracy may be said by some to eliminate demagoguery, there is little reason to believe; and no actual indication to show; that the elected representatives are not themselves demagogues or subject to being purchased by or controlled by demagogues.
To clarify; A demagogue is a leader who obtains power by appealing to the gut feelings of the public, usually by powerful use of rhetoric and propaganda. H. L. Mencken defined a demagogue as "One who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows [or believes] to be idiots." The word is nowadays mostly used as for propaganda and as a political insult: political opponents are described as demagogues, but people we approve of are "men of the people", or "great speechmakers".
Needless to say, by definition and by act, George Bush/Dick Cheney show themselves to be demagogues.
Then there is the <b>opulism</b> model - similar to demagoguery but with a "twist." At the most basic, Populism is more an ideology that the common person is oppressed by the elite. An elite that exists only to serve its own interests and therefore must be torn down and power needs to be taken from this self-serving elite for the benefit and advancement of the oppressed masses. A Populist reaches out to ordinary people, talking about their economic and other concerns. Individual Populists have variously promised to "stand up to corporations" and "put people first."
In the current US election exercise, Howard Dean and John Edwards fit this ideology as did the 2003 campaign of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Previous elections saw the Populist campaigns of Ross Perot in 1996 and Jerry Brown in 1992. All - save for Schwarzenegger - failed because on a large scale Populists have their support base too scattered and leave themselves too easily open to attack and without a strong defense.
A more enlightened form of Indirect Democracy is <b>Delegative Democracy</b>. In this form of democracy, delegates are selected and expected to act on the wishes of the people. In this system, the constituents may recall the delegate at any time. Representatives are expected to only work for the electors and to only put forth the wishes of the electors, advance the views of the electors and if they fail to do so are subject to immediate recall or removal with a minimal process.
The more familiar - if not applied - form is called <b>Representative Democracy</b> which is a system in which the people elect government officials who then make decisions on their behalf. Essentially, a Representative Democracy is a form of Indirect Democracy in which, while the representatives are selected "democratically" they can still be recalled or removed but this is more difficult that a pure Indirect Democracy.
Edmund Burkes principle states that "representatives should act upon their own conscience in a representative democracy" but this runs counter to the expected action that representatives should consider the views of their electors.
Some critics argue that Representative Democracy means party politics come too much into play and the representatives will be forced more to follow the party line on issues rather than either the will or conscience of their constituents. Some try and excuse this by claiming that the constituents expressed their will in the election but the electors cannot of course know in advance what will occur at any future time and they are also not aware of any "backroom" dealings. If the representative ignores the will and or conscience of the elector in making the party line 'his' line on new issues, then the representative violates the trust of the elector. This "toeing" of the party line also results in candidates making deals with financial supporters once the representative is elected and leads thus to corruption and a violation of the trust of the elector.
Les Marshall, an expert on the spread of democracy to nations that have not traditionally had these institutions, writes - "globally, there is no alternative to Multi-party Representative Democracy" for those states that embrace democratic methods at all. This is not controversial: Representative Democracy is the most commonly used system of government in countries generally considered "democratic". However, it should be noted that the definition used to classify countries as "democratic" was crafted by Europeans and is directly influenced by the dominating cultures in those countries; care should be taken when applying it to other cultures that are tribal in nature and do not have the same historical background as the current "democratic" countries.
As noted above, although fashioning itself via rhetoric and propaganda as a "Representative Democracy" the US is actually a "Single-Member District Plurality" masquerading as a Representational Democracy.
Then there are aspects of democracy that are practiced in various States in the US such as Florida which adheres to a form of <b>Athenian Democracy</b>. In Athenian Democracy, the right to vote was severely restricted. At the time, women, slaves and "outsiders" or visitors were not allowed to vote. In the last election in Florida, thousands of residents of Florida had their right to vote stripped from them by Katherine Harris - Florida secretary of state and Bush's presidential campaign co-chairwoman. It is estimated that in 2004 as many as 40,000 Floridians will not be allowed to vote for one reason or another - the main group affected by this draconian policy will be the African-American community.
One must then investigate whether a <b>arliamentary</b> or <b>Presidential</b> system of government is to be used.
In representative forms of democracy such as the Parliamentary and Presidential systems of government, power is not exercised directly by the people. Instead, power is transferred to state bodies, which, in turn, perform the acts of state, ostensibly in the name of the people.
There are many differences between these two for study and perhaps the most important being that in the Parliamentary form, the entire government is elected in a single election, while in the Presidential form the President and Congress are elected in separate elections.
The American president and the members of Congress are elected during separate elections. In a parliamentary system of government, however, the government and members of parliament are elected in a single election, even when the possibility of differing coalitions exists.
Parliament elects the government in a parliamentary system; parliament also has the power to vote the government out of office.
Under what could be termed "normal circumstances" the Congress in America does not have the power to remove the president from office. Congress cannot force the president out of office, for instance, because it holds a different opinion or because the ruling majority in Congress has changed. Only if the president commits a criminal offence, can the House of Representatives and Congress force the president out of office following a vote on impeachment and it is passed by a two-thirds-majority vote. Unfortunately, deciding on whether the President commits an offense that could be termed 'criminal' is the purview of the House and the Congress and if the party dominant is the same party as the President, such is unlikely.
This also means, however, that the president lacks an important means of keeping discipline in Congress. The president is unable - unlike the British prime minister for example - to dissolve parliament and order new elections.
While in the classic Parliamentary system of government the "Prime Minister" is also a member of parliament, the American constitution "demands" incompatibility between government office and parliamentary mandate. The president and the members of his/her government - with the exception of the vice-president, who is also the chairman of Congress - cannot be members of Congress. But, if again, the party in majority is the same party as the current president, carte blanche is usually expected and granted.
The job of the executive is split in a Parliamentary system of government. Representative duties of state are performed by the state president or monarch. The real power of government is reserved for the head of government, that is, the prime minister, chancellor or premier. In the United States, in contrast, the president is both head of state and head of government.
The president of the United States is formally - but not in constitutional reality - prevented from introducing legislative initiatives. The president is only permitted to veto legislative initiatives from Congress. The president's veto, however, can be overruled with a two-thirds-majority vote in both houses of Congress. In a parliamentary system the government may introduce legislation and sometimes has an absolute right to veto laws.
Then, there are "Mixed systems":
There are a number of western democracies that are difficult to categorize as being parliamentary or presidential systems of government. This makes two further distinctions necessary:
Firstly, there are those systems of government in which the state president plays a far greater role than do counterparts in a parliamentary system. In such systems, which are often referred to as <b>Semi-Presidential Systems</b>, the state president is elected during direct elections; he/she has considerable influence in the forming of the government as well as other important powers. The government, however, is not dependent on the president alone, but also responsible to parliament, which can also vote it out of office. In addition to the rules written down in the constitution, the structure of the party-political system and the prevailing situation as relates to the majority balance are more important in these semi-presidential systems.
Switzerland has a so-called <b>Directorial Constitution</b> that combines characteristics of the presidential and the parliamentary system of government. Parliament elects the government, but is prevented from voting the government out of office during the legislative period. In return, the government has no power to dissolve parliament. Government office and MP status are incompatible. The government forms a cooperative body. The functions of state president are performed by a member of the government in a fixed cycle. In contrast to the presidential system, the government also has the formal right to initiate laws.
So <b>Presidential Democracy</b>:
The US serves as the best example of a Presidential Democracy - although this is confusing as it is also a "Single-Member District Plurality" masquerading as a Representational Democracy.
It is characterized by a clear division between parliament and government. The president is head of the executive and is voted into power during elections held separately to those for parliament. The president is not a member of parliament. In the same way as parliament cannot vote the president out of office, so the president cannot dissolve parliament. Only if the president were to commit certain crimes would it be possible for him/her to be removed from office during an impeachment process. During recent memory, only one US president has been subjected to an impeachment hearing that could actually remove him from office; and he - Richard Nixon - resigned from office in 1978 before a hearing so he could keep his pension, his library and attedant benifits. At first glance, this suggests a clear division between the government and parliament and should mean that the president cannot rely on a constant majority.
Majorities are formed in parliament from different sides of the House through negotiation and influence and they come together to pass legislation. A readiness for compromise and the ability to reach agreement between all bodies are essential for this system to work and if the majority of the Congress and House are of the same "party" as the president then there is no need for negotiation - only influence, collusion, corruption, the buying and selling of favors both for "present" and "future" considerations. Also of course common in the parliamentary model, but best defined and institutionalized in the "presidential" model.
No one should pretend that democracy is perfect or all-wise; and any that do, show they misunderstand the nature of politics and the various systems. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time" - this is a quote by the former British prime minister Winston Churchill. Mind you, Winston Churchill also said: "Only animals and Americans stand up to bathe (shower)," so one must take posthumously used, out of context quotes, with a "grain of salt."
Yet, it does highlight an important reality: There is no such thing as a perfect democracy, yet despite all the criticism leveled at it, if one can develop a fluid form of democracy by trying to amalgamate the good - or at least "better" points - from the many derivatives, then there is chance for birth of a system from which good government can arise.
Knowledge forms a precondition to commitment. Only those with a basic understanding of how the many and diverse applications of the systems now in practice work, with an understanding of a "goal"; and knowledge of the mechanisms and institutions - BOTH good and bad - that make up a democratic state; and who are willing and able to apply that knowledge to create a system with predominant "Good" and little "Bad" can ever succeed.
Simply mouthing the "word" as if understanding is useless. Blind and automatic application of a model already showing deep failures is unproductive. Only experimentation and a willingness to experiment is a valid road to a goal of a superior system of government. Only by first acknowledging errors can those errors be addressed so as to be corrected.
This is what China, the government of China and the people of China are striving to do; and in my opinion ONLY China, the government of China and the people of China can be said to be doing so.
Others do not want to change. They want blind acceptance of failures, and they fear creation of anything new that will be better than what "they" may now have and which may graphically demonstrate those failures. The easiest and only recourse "they" have is constant ridicule, demand a "rush" to accept "their" failures, and then a self-congratulatory pat on the back when those failures are applied elsewhere.
Those that see themselves as "leaders" need by definition to have others "follow" and the idea that another may be working toward being a "leader" by exposing the failures of a current "leader" always results in the "current leader" degenirating into a posture of force and intimidation - whether in the "animal" kingdom or humankind.