18 March 2021

The misuse of the term Democracy


The misuse of the term Democracy. 


Topic by Ignacio

Essay by Lawrence


In my opinion there is a mistaken belief today within political society that the best electoral system is proportional representation. The argument is that PR represents better the opinions of political groups, such as political parties, and even individuals. Thus parliament is made up, in theory, by representatives of most of the political opinions in the country.


The first past the post system (FPTP), in theory, is designed to elect individuals who will represent the constituency. The mechanics are very simple; usually any individual can run for parliament and the person with the most votes is elected to parliament. This system usually elects strong single party majorities which maybe stable, at least more stable than multi-party coalitions, but they can also become blind to the needs of the country.


And this is more or less the sum total of what people usually mean by democracy: the electoral system that is the act of electing members of parliament. This is unfortunate since the electoral system is the most troublesome part of the whole democratic system.


The first past the post system is not designed to elect political parties. But in today’s world parties and groups represent the majority of the political opinions in a country: individual causes are few and far between. Indeed FPTP is an ideal system for dictators to manipulate and get the desired result to keep them in power. A dictator can eliminate the opposition and still go through the motions of holding elections and winning them.


The PR electoral system is just a civilized way of creating instability and maybe chaos in the political environment of a country. By virtue that PR allocates seats in parliament to represent most political opinions which means that there is hardly ever a party with an absolute majority to form a government and implement their manifesto. Thus the more disparate the beliefs in parliament the higher the chances there will be disagreements and short term governments. This is unfortunate since PR opens the door to power for extreme opinions which are not necessary for the good of the country.


But if we are to understand the term democracy as being misused we need to define what we mean by democracy. The issue is that for political philosophers there is more to democracy than just casting a vote and a parliament. Of course, this is not to say that the election process is not a legitimate concern for philosophers. Indeed the electoral process is a key opportunity for corruption and manipulation and therefore at the heart of political morality.


To keep the text short, I will only highlight the main points of what we usually mean by democracy. A functioning democracy should start with the division of powers: administration (government), legislature (parliament), and the Judiciary. The important aspect of the division of powers is that these institutions are independent of each other. Thus the practice of politically appointing judges is already, in my opinion, an infringement of the separation of powers.


The idea behind the separation of powers is to protect the citizens from abuse of power by the government. Theoretically parliament and the fourth estate (the press) are tasked with holding to account the actions and activities of those who exercise power. Transparency is the means of holding those in power to account but the challenge is to balance between accountability and protection of the state. Today the most vociferous voices at holding the government to account, in the traditional manner of the press, are found on social media on the internet. The traditional media tend to support parties with very few independent media.  


In effect there are four institutions whose function is to protect democracy, the state and the people: government, parliament, the judiciary and the press. Although it is reasonable to accept that no human organisation is perfect this structure of democracy is very fragile and unstable. Indeed I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a country with pure 100% honest separation of power instituions.


My final observation is that money is the means to create wealth in a democracy but it is also the toxic poison to corrupt the guardians of democracy. The sole function of money is to buy things and it takes a lot of will power for those in power not to succumb temptation. But in general the health of the economy reflects the stability of the country and this, in my opinion, affects the opinion of people maybe even fragmenting parties into extremes.


So the question is whether there are real democracies? Maybe we use the term democracy not to refer to a set of political standards and objectives but as a hollow term without meaning in the same way I might say my unicorn has a fluffy tail. Therefore, is democracy a real political term or a term from a fictional narrative?


Best Lawrence


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