Democracy has been a major political phenomenon in the modern world. First, since its emergence in Ancient Greece with philosophers such as Plato discussing various principles that guide the body politic, it has enjoyed tremendous growth over the years and across the continents. This essay addresses this concept in detail and provides an overview of the various forms of democracy that are in place. As a basis, the author acknowledges the underlying fact that democracy does not have specific definition. However, the concepts of freedom and unity are of paramount importance to the exercise of democracy in any form. Further, the writer goes ahead to analyze the various obstacles to democratic consolidation as well as the factors that promote it. In the author’s understanding, democracy is an achievement that should be promoted in society because of the inherent support for human autonomy and unity. In states such as South Africa, democracy has paved way for a thriving economy featuring infrastructural development. Furthermore, because of democracy, societies have limited conflicts among other societal problems.
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Introduction to Democracy and Democratic consolidation
It is amazing the way societies achieve their common objectives despite the different needs exhibited by the various society members. However, all these point to the different forms of governance that exist. In addition, the forms of governance represent a set of political establishments by which a government of a state is organized in order to exercise its powers over a house in the assembly body politic; synonymous to government system. These forms include the following, democracy, traditional, autocracy, parliamentary, party system, confederation, unitary of federation, to name but a few. In this essay, the writer pays strict attention to the democracy, its consolidation, its obstacles, as well as its enabling factors.
It is not so easy, as it may seem, to define democracy. For instance, some people may consider the United States to be a representative republic, whereas others may consider the former Soviet Union as a totalitarian state. Nevertheless, coming with an effective definition of a government is quite complicated. Its trickiness comes in when trying to identify the basics of the form under scrutiny. For example, in the case of democracy, if one cites election as a distinguishing factor, countries that feature authoritarianism and representative regimes both use elections in order to elect members to public office.
To start with, democracy represents a political type of government, which derives governing power from people either through the referendum process, which is also referred to as direct democracy, or by the elected representatives of the people, also referred to as representative democracy. Democracy etymologically originates in the Greek work demokratia, and designates the people’s rule, that was invented from demos (people), and Kratos (power) between the 4th and 5th century BC with an aim of designating political systems that were prevalent in some Greek city-states such as. However, democracy does not have specific universal definition but the most crucial factors are freedom and equality. Nevertheless, in democracy, all members within the regime should be equal in terms of their adherence to law, and they should be able access power without discrimination. As an illustration, for instance in the case of representative democracy, all members possess equality in terms of their right to vote, and freedom to solicit for votes in order to be elected into public office. Moreover, these rights are protected by the use of a constitution (Cheibub, Dahl and Shapiro, 2003; Preuss, 1991:353).
Democracy exists in different forms, in some there is better representation as well as a more expression of freedom compared to others (Gaus and Kukathas, 2004:143). Moreover, there should be proper legislation in the exercise of democracy through the establishment of checks and balances in order to promote even distribution of power within the political realm; this could be expressed in the establishment of power separation mechanisms with an aim of facilitating democracy (Barak, 2006:40).
Democracy originated in Ancient Greece (Dunn, 1994) though other societies have promoted it, such as Ancient Rome, Europe as well as North and South America. Therefore, the term democracy has been used in many countries within different contexts. For instance, there are countries that use the term under the philosophical concepts of equality in term of rights, while in others such as USA it implies power separation. Nevertheless, democracy does not have to be only in relation to political states; it may also be in contexts of organizations as well as other groups.
Nevertheless, there are a number of forms, which constitute democracy. Even though they possess an element of exclusivity to each other, their specific factors may be independent of each other but they can co-exist in a single regime. The first form is representative; this type of democracy involves the represented people selecting their government officials. For instance, their respective constituents elect members of parliament. Similarly, Members elect senators of their states in order to represent them and their interests. In addition, in a democratic republic, the state head is elected democratically. In addition, the famous election mechanism involves majority/plurality of votes. Representative democracy operates under the auspices of freedom both on the elector and under the elected in terms of policy implementation.
The second form of democracy is parliamentary democracy, which exhibits a government that is appointed by the representatives of parliament. In addition, the government works through delegation means where by the executive ministry exercise its delegated duties in a climate featuring checks and balances from the legislative parliament that is elected by the citizens (Mahan, 1897). Third, is the liberal democracy, in which the representative makes decisions under the guidance of the rule of law plus the use of the constitution that protects individuals’ rights and their freedoms. Further, in this form of government, leaders are constrained by the constitution in as far as the majority rule can be taken into consideration against minorities’ rights.
Direct democracy allows citizens to take part personally in the decision making process, in contrast to the use of representatives. This form of democracy allows citizens to alter the laws of the constitution, propose suggestion and initiatives, and make drastic decisions such as termination of service of officials whose term has not yet ended. An illustration of this form of democracy has been seen in California, where over 20 million voters were involved in decision making, and in Switzerland where a referendum was conducted by more that 5 million voters semi-annually or quarterly. However, this and many more examples that exhibit weaker forms of direct democracy, and there has not yet been seen larger as well as fundamental illustration of direct democracy. Other forms of democracy include participatory democracy, social democracy, anarchist democracy, Iroquois democracy, sortation (without elections) democracy, consensus democracy, supranational democracy, cosmopolitan, and non-governmental democracy.
However, democratic consolidation is a political process that results after the breakdown of authoritarian regimes, and then after democratic transition. According to Philippe Schmitter as cited by Przeworski, consolidation represents a situation where social relations are turned into social values, and the interaction patterns are regularized and promoted; freedom and resistance to external influence is also fostered (1991:23).
Obstacles to Democratic Consolidation
Many obstacles hamper democracy in the world both in developing and developed countries. Moreover, democracy is not an old system of government but a more overt system during the 18th century. Before then, people were mostly governed by dictatorship, or one-party regimes. In addition, it could be very naive and irrational to consider historically Europeans as peaceful and united people compared to the current Afghans or Iraqis for that matter. This is actually because the past featured violence, corruption and feuding as could be observed in the modern Afghanistan. In terms of obstacles to democracy, one cannot postulate that lack of high levels of intelligence hampers the consolidation of democracy since nations in East Asia where there is bound to be high intelligence than Europe and the USA. This is because the USA as well as Europe has exhibited effective democratic regimes over the years. However, democracy requires situations that are difficult and rare to attain, and requires that the population should not be deeply divided into many grouping such as race.
To start with, through democracy, the majority has power over the minority. However, an intelligent minority could have more advantage over the majority. Besides, a democratic regime could not concentrate on minorities’ needs both ethically as well as practically. This could consequently lead to a feeling of oppression, thus declined loyalty and obligation towards the government. As a result, the minority may resort to violence, hence reverting to a cycle of rebellion, repression, and finally democratic consolidation collapse. Therefore, for democracy to work there should not be too serious divisions in the population. As a remedy therefore, the population’s minority group should only be weak and small to submit within the oppression or migrate out of the state; they might as well decide to assimilate themselves into majority groups. Alternatively, if possible they might finally reach a compromise in which powers are to be devolved, entrenched constitutional rights for the minorities. In addition, the majority rule could have its powers limited though this is almost a situation of pure democracy. Nevertheless, currently there is deep population division in most states, and the existing boundaries were established in the colonial times, and have hostile communities such as the Ndebele and Shona in Zimbabwe, Arabs and Kurds in Iraq, Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, to name but a few. In this case, it is very difficult to unite the communities mentioned in each state because of their animosity to each other.
Religion blocks democracy, for instance, the non-Muslims, and the Muslims in states such as Nigeria, Sudan, Kashmir, Philippines, or Lebanon. Another ancient illustration is that of Protestants and Catholics; it is only in Ireland where there was a single ethnic religion. However, in the modern world, there is less to be said regarding Catholic-Protestant skirmishes. Towards the beginning of the 18th century religious conflicts were becoming intolerable to people, hence some enlightenment values especially among elites arose. The US for instance drafted a bill of rights within its constitution that recognized religious freedom as well as the separation of the state and the church.
Wealth distribution also contributes to democratic decline among the states. A country that is characterized by gross inequality in terms of wealth; for instance when there is a smaller but very rich minority, and large mass of very poor majorities. In addition, this situation is witnessed in third-world countries. The rich majority will use all means necessary to block the impoverished members from attaining any chance for growth. As a result, terrorism will emerge. For example in Latin America, until recent, democracy failed until the emergence of the US foreign policy that promoted dictatorship in circumstance where Communism was rampart.
Democracy cannot survive in states where there are many crooks within the government, which is a possibility in poor countries. In this case, people could struggle to attain power as a way of allowing them make a better living through a series of bribes, corruption in the process of contracting, pubic extortion, as well as using the public office to help one’s relatives. This behavior is referred to as Kleptocracy. In such a case, democracy can never thrive.
Factors promoting democratic consolidation
Democracy is promoted by a number of factors, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union as well as the end of the Cold War. In addition, there has been authentic democratic consolidation in Eastern Europe as well as the former USSR. Furthermore, the Soviet-funded rebellion has ended. Moreover, the USA does not have to support authoritarianism any more. Hence, states such as Brazil, Argentina, as well as South Korea are now experiencing democratic consolidation. Another factor promoting democratic consolidation results from the growth in the economies of the world featuring freer instances of trade. This has consequently reduced the sharp divisions between the rich and the poor. It has also created an affluent as well as adequate middle class, and ultimately reduced the barriers to democracy. Education and literacy could also be a supporting factor in democracy, because religious extremism was only propagated by lack of literacy, hence a source of conflict. Furthermore, literacy should be adequate since little awareness could be a major source of upheavals.
Moreover, for democratic consolidation to take place there is need for a development of unrestricted and buoyant civil society. In addition, members should have their values articulated, and associations that represent interests of the people. Besides, there must be exercise of autonomy within the political society. In addition, nobody should be above the law within the government. This rule is meant to promote the freedoms of individuals within the state. A good example comes from South Africa, marred by apartheid practices, but in the 1994, an achievement was attained by a democratic election that took place leading to the end of civil wars as well as a promotion of democracy in the African continent.
In countries such as Africa, there are many ethnic divisions in terms of boundaries resulting from colonialism. This brings to focus a major problem in terms of democratic consolidation. Thus, as a remedy, the redrawing of these boundaries could help promote democracy since it is easier to alter the existing boundaries than changing people. However, most significantly is the fact that democracy should begin with a personal change, before it moves to a regional and finally, state change. For it to be achieve the people should be able to recognize their various uniqueness and understand beauty only comes because of this uniqueness. In addition, examples are countries such as South Africa where democracy has thrived after long moments of apartheid, and now stands as one of the pinnacles of progress in the world. Another unique consideration is that democracy promotes human freedom and dignity. Countries exhibiting dictatorship have seen human rights thrown to dust because of the oppressive behaviors of people. Public offices should be considered avenues through which leaders implement the needs of the people of the state, and not avenues for self-enrichment.