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Democracy alone will not save us

  • Published at 12:05 am November 20th, 2019
Democracy electoral Counteract
We need to counteract the majoritarian tendencies of electoral democracies BIGSTOCK

We need the politics of love

It is often said that the ills of our country are rooted in the sorry state of our democracy.

This is not untrue. Many of our problems are rooted in lack of our democracy. However, the establishment (or reestablishment) of democracy will not save us, in the various layers of the meanings of the terms “democracy” and “save.”

Let us start with the very first layer of democracy that any common citizen could perceive: The electoral process -- our electoral system is still first past the post, condemning our parliament into a two-party dominant system, following Duverger’s Law. 

Much like American democracy, this erodes the possibility of small third parties to gain seats in the parliament and erodes the majoritarian tendency of the winning party. Also, unlike the US, our members of parliament are not able to vote against their party leader, rendering intra-party diversity impossible. 

Thereby, reform is needed in the electoral process in favour of proportional representation, a system that allows more parties to join the parliament in proportion to the votes they receive and minority votes are not wasted.

Alright, we have already started delving into the broader meaning of democracy by talking about institutional reform, and that is liberal democracy. Liberal democracy is a good antidote to authoritarianism, which is now a global concern. Instituting this broader form of democracy is largely excluded from our political discourse. Most of the political parties that raise concerns about the health of our democracy only talk about elections, but not about institutions. This is an aspect that needs to be raised.

What we need is a strong republic that can counteract the majoritarian tendency of electoral democracy.  We need separation of powers between the three branches of the government: The executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. 

We need federalism so that the power is not centralized. We need a bicameral parliament, with a lower house elected directly through PRP and an upper house with representatives from the states. We need the judiciary to be free and independent, with appointments being confirmed by the lower and upper house after the president’s nomination. 

We need checks and balances between the three branches. We need an independent police force free from political coercion. We need an independent human rights commission and an anti-corruption commission. We need to appoint more judges and make the summons process digitized, among other reforms, to make the judicial process speedier. 

Working too much with reform for too long, we often realize that the greatest institutions can still be subverted. It is true that our institutions had been destroyed by the colonizers and we are still living under the institutions they established to oppress us. And it is also true that many of our ills are caused by these faulty institutions. But at the same time, states with strong institutions are also seeing a rise in authoritarian leaders. It is true that they are facing more roadblocks than those of our own, but they are still on the rise. 

Liberal democratic institutions are there in America, but they could not completely prevent the rise of Donald Trump. Yes, it contained him. The courts did strike down many of Trump’s moronic plans, including the Muslim ban. But the institutions in America, however strong, are not above subversion. The power of money in American politics is immense, and even the judiciary is appointed by the president. 

Yes, with confirmation, and it is extremely difficult to completely control both the houses in an overwhelming majority. But, however improbable, it is not impossible. 

Democracies, in its bare-boned form, can turn illiberal and majoritarian due to the strife, real or perceived, of the time. The democratic procedure of the liberal democracy, then, becomes an enemy of itself. 

What is to be done, then? Well, we cannot completely prevent the authoritarian’s rise to power via institutional methods while being liberal. But we can do liberal politics well to counter the illiberalism of the authoritarians. Authoritarians always exist, but they only become popular during a time when people perceive that the liberals, or elites, have left them behind. 

The progress of the progressive and the liberals do often leave the commoners behind, who are often perceived as less enlightened. Therefore, they feel disenfranchised and start looking for easy solutions. And what is easier than to hate?

Love. And that is the politics that we must play. We must build communities that cross classes, cultures, nations, borders and all other divides. Community building is the only antidote to sectarianism. Alternative-building must also be done through community-building. An alternative needs to be built that talks about liberal democratic reforms without sounding elitist. This, of course, is not foolproof and would take a lot of time. But this is the most sustainable way. A sustainable challenge is the only way to sustain democracy.

Therefore, democracy will not save us, in its bare institutional form. We need a sustained democratic project to save our republic. 

Anupam Debashis Roy is an editor of Muktiforum. He can be reached at [email protected]