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• The liberal democratic model-Tuesday 08th April 2014 •
The events concerning Sri Lanka at the !"#$ at %eneva have &ocused our minds on the issue o& the accountability o& a government' A liberal democracy is( by any ob)ective standard( the only system o& governance *hich has *ithin it the checks and balances( mechanisms( processes and procedures that can( up to some e+tent even( provide &or a responsive system o& government( *here the rulers have even a modicum o& accountability to the people they govern' ,ut it is not per&ect' A liberal democratic system o& government *herein the government is accountable to the governed has been described by analysts and commentators( as the only &orm o& government suitable &or gro*nups- All other &orms o& government( it is claimed( treat people as under-aged children' .n the past( *here *ithin a nation state most o& the people *ere illiterate( such paternalism( may be( could be )usti&ied( as nanny governance- .n the current day and age( there is no space &or such thinking' /rdinary citi0ens are educated( kno*ledgeable and in this internet and mobile phone age( more 1*orld a*are2 and in touch *ith developing situations globally' .t is truly the in&ormation age' As a result( as populations become more educated and in&ormed( governments *hich try to behave like the proverbial 1nanny(2 limiting citi0ens2 rights( curtailing media &reedom and &reedom o& association( limiting social media such as 3acebook and T*itter( and giving the de&ence and security establishments a prominent role to crush dissent *ill be less acceptable to its o*n people and the global community' 4ven nationalism and national sovereignty( described( *ith ample reason( as the 1last resort o& the scoundrel(2 is no de&ence &rom the prying eyes o& the global community( even i& the citi0ens2 rights to dissent and &reedom o& e+pression are curtailed'
4+tra-national la*s( international treaties( ! treaties( rules o& groups o& nations such as the 4uropean community( institutions such as the .nternational $ourt o& 5ustice at the "ague( the .nternational $riminal $ourt( and the 4uropean $ourt o& "uman #ights are all limitations on national sovereignty *hich nation states have voluntarily imposed on themselves' Sometimes( as happened to Sri Lanka( )ust at this time( )usti&iably or un)usti&iably( depending on your point o& vie*( the global community may impose an in6uiry into a domestic situation *ithin a nation state( *here it is &elt that the state itsel& is unable to resolve a situation in accordance *ith internationally-acceptable norms o& behaviour' There&ore there is no such thing as absolute national sovereignty( it is 6uali&ied( limited and tempered by global standards o& behaviour' 7emocracy a delicate plant 7emocracy *ith universal su&&rage is a very delicate plant( particularly( but( not only in its early years' 4ven *here seemingly regular &ree and &air elections take place 8electo-cracies9( a true liberal democratic environment may not prosper' Less so( *here the people have a lesser opportunity to &reely e+press their vie*s at elections and through the media' :olity .; is an independent organisation *hich maintains a democratic data base &or 1<= nation states' The 2012 data reveals nation states going through periods o&
&actionalism and various other events *hich change the democratic &abric &undamentally( such as autocratic backsliding( e+ecutive coups( violent revolutions( and collapse o& central authority( resulting in &ailed states and military coups' According to :olity .;( almost 100 countries are imper&ect democracies' This is double the number in 1>>0' .n 1800 there *ere none' The number o& &ull autocracies is also do*n? in 1>>0( :olity .; estimates there *ere around >0 in 1>>0( no* do*n to around 20' ,ut sadly( in nations *hich :olity .; describes as 1anocracies2 @ those *hose governance is highly unstable( ine&&ective andAor corrupt @ the number has increased &rom around 20 in 1>>0( to around B0 in 2012' These are either crumbling autocracies or &ailing democracies' They are also very vulnerable to outbreaks o& armed con&lict and &orcible sei0ures o& po*er' Sadly there are only 10 nation states *hich :olity .; describes as &ull democracies in 2012' There are si+ to nine states *hich can be described as 16uali&ied2 democracies or democracies *ith limitations' Anocracies number bet*een one to &ive( *hile there around &ive closed autocracies and bet*een si+ and 10 un6uali&ied autocracies' 3undamental re6uirements Let2s e+amine the &undamental re6uirements &or an accountable liberal democratic system o& government' Strange as it may seem( the most &undamental &actor *hich is re6uired to ensure a democratic system is t*o sets o& restraints' /ne restraint( among the people( and another( bet*een the people and the state' These restraints rest on &our basic &eatures( all essential' 3irst o& all( a democracy needs citi0ens *ho have the capacity to tolerate dissent' 7issent( that is( *hich operates *ithin the la*' There must be space &or *hat has been described as a 1loyal opposition2' Loyalty o& the citi0en to the democratic political process must override their loyalty to their o*n particular political point o& vie*' $iti0ens must accept the legitimacy o& a government run by and even &or their opponents' They must have the con&idence that they( *ho oppose the present administration( *ill in time have their o*n turn in government' Chile the legitimacy o& dissent is accepted( the use o& &orce must be ruled out' Secondly( democracies need 1guardians2' Those *ho hold positions o& political( bureaucratic( )udicial or military and police po*er must act *ithin the la*( recognising the need to comply *ith constitutional limitations placed on their behaviour and that the citi0ens have the right to challenge e+cesses or abuse o& po*er( through recourse to an independent 5udiciary' The role o& an independent media to dra* attention and communicate such abusive behaviour is also essential' The guardians are di&&erent( &rom those *ho are re&erred to as 1bandits(2 in that the
guardians use their po*ers not &or their o*n material or political advantage( but act according to la*( observing the legal limitations on their authority( and act in &avour o& a nation o& the bene&it o& the nation as a *hole and not in a partisan manner' /ne may( perhaps( contra distinguish a 1statesman2 &rom a mere 1politician2 in this conte+t' n&ortunately( throughout the history o& mankind( po*er and *ealth have been con)oined- The idea that the t*o should be separate is a relatively ne* and revolutionary concept( not yet totally and universally accepted' $oncepts o& constitutional la* such as the #ule o& La* and the Separation o& :o*ers( and the .ndependence o& the 5udiciary and 3undamental "uman #ights and 3reedoms( have all evolved in the conte+t o& empo*ering and institutionalising( this separation o& po*er &rom pecuniary *ealth' 3undamentally( the 1loot( shoot and scoot2 tendency in undemocratic regimes is the very antithesis o& this concept o& guardianship' Thirdly( democracies need properly &unctioning markets( supported by a *ell-&unctioning state' ,y a &unctioning market( analysts de&initely do not mean the abuse o& po*er by the state to turn ordinary citi0ens2 assets into a ruling classes2 private *ealth' So-called entrepreneurs *ho build their &ortunes on such blatant the&t are no more legitimate than the politicians *ho connive *ith them' :roperly &unctioning markets support prosperity' A social system *hich is able to ensure a decent and reasonably secure standard o& living is also most likely to ensure a stable society' This enables citi0ens to place trust in the rational economic behaviour o& their &ello* citi0ens and in a stable and predictable economic &uture' Dost importantly( e&&ectively &unctioning markets loosen the connection bet*een &inancial prosperity and political po*er' 4&&ectively &unctioning markets make it possible &or people to regard the outcomes o& elections as important( but most importantly( not as a matter o& li&e and death either &or themselves or &or their &amilies' This lo*ers the temperature o& politics to a bearable level( rather than to one o& basic survival' 3ourthly( democracies need a commonly-accepted legal regime' Dost importantly( constitutional la*s and conventions' Such la*s enacted and implemented in accordance *ith accepted procedures shapes the rules o& political( social and
economic activities *ithin the state' A country that lacks the #ule o& La* is permanently on the verge o& chaos or tyranny' As succinctly stated by Lord ,ingham( &ormer Lord $hie& 5ustice o& 4ngland( described as the greatest 4nglish )udge since Corld Car ..( the #ule o& La* implies that 1All persons and authorities *ithin the state( *hether public or private( should be bound by and entitled to the bene&it o& la*s publicly made( taking e&&ect 8generally9 in the &uture and publicly administered in the courts2' 4lected dictatorship The &our principles enunciated above( should make it abundantly clear( that being a democracy is more than )ust being an electo-cracy( each adult( one vote( periodically/r evenE one person impersonates an adult( by a rigged vote( on a regular basis- The survival o& a democratic system re6uires and entails a comple+ *eb o& rights( obligations( po*ers and most importantly constraints' ,asically a democracy is the political e+pression o& &ree individuals acting in concert( other*ise it simply cannot e+ist' 3undamentally( those *ho have *on an election do not have the right to do as they please' That is not democracy( but merely an electocracy( an elected dictatorship- Cithout the &our &undamental re6uirements o&- true citi0ens( honest guardians( &unctioning markets and )ust la*s( there cannot e+ist a liberal democratic system o& governance' Such a rules-based liberal democratic system is a bul*ark against corrupt( abusive and autocratic governments' Liberal democracies are on average richer than non democracies' They are less likely to go to *ar and have a better record &or &ighting corruption' Dore &undamentally a liberal democratic environment gives citi0ens the space to speak their minds &reely and shape their o*n and their children2s &utures' .n the second hal& o& the 20th century principles o& liberal democracy has taken root in some very challenging political and social environments' :ost-!a0i %ermany( postcolonial .ndia( *hich had the *orld2s largest population o& poor people( and postapartheid South A&rica' The process o& de-colonisation created a host o& ne* democracies in Asia and A&rica' .n countries such as %reece( Spain( Argentina( ,ra0il and $hile( autocratic regimes *ere replaced' ,y the year 2000( 3reedom "ouse( a think tank( classi&ied 120 countries as democracies' ,ut in the 21st century although more people than ever be&ore( estimated to be 40F o& the *orld2s population( live in countries *hich *ill hold &ree and &air elections( democracy2s global advance has come to a halt and may even have gone into reverse' 3reedom "ouse estimates that 201G *as the eighth consecutive year in *hich global &reedom declined' Dany nominal democracies have slipped
to*ards autocracy( maintaining the out*ard appearance o& democracy through elections( the veneer o& an electo-cracy( but devoid o& the rights( institutions and la*s that have sho*n to be an e6ually important aspect o& a &unctioning liberal democratic system' 7eclining democracy Analysts cite t*o main reasons &or this declineE one is the &inancial crisis o& 200=-208 and the other the rise o& the :eople2s #epublic o& $hina' The &inancial crisis *as brought about by populist governments playing up to the voters2 greed and steadily enhancing entitlements and handouts over decades( allo*ing very dangerous levels o& national debt to develop' The politicians( playing up to the voters *ish &or the easy 1*el&are state2 based una&&ordable li&estyle( believed that they had tamed the boom and bust cycles and *ere able to control economic risks' 3inally( *hen the credit crunch hit home( the ta+payer had to take the hit as governments had to bail out the &inancial service providers to re&inance their high risk lending' /n the other hand( the %overnment o& $hina has destroyed the democratic *orld2s monopoly on economic progress' $hina has been doubling living standards roughly every G0 years( pulling phenomenally large numbers o& people out o& poverty' The $hinese authorities claim that their ,ei)ing Dodel @ tight control o& the state by the $ommunist party( coupled *ith a relentless e&&ort to recruit talented people into the $ommunist :arty2s upper ranks @ delivers economic progress in a superior manner than *hat the traditional liberal democracy does? in that it does not allo* dissenting opinion to dissipate the drive to development and also does not provide space &or gridlock bet*een the %overnment and its opponents( as seen in the nited States bet*een the 7emocratic :resident and #epublican-controlled $ongress' $hina says its political leadership changes( *ithin the $ommunist party( every decade or so( and the supply o& &resh talent at the peak o& the pyramid o& po*er is achieved by party cadres being promoted on their ability to deliver in lo*er level posts in the hierarchy' $ritics condemn $hina &or crushing dissent and public opinion' Het the $ommunist regime2s obsession *ith control parado+ically means it has to pay close attention to public opinion' Some $hinese commentators argue that democracy is destroying the Cest( particularly America( by institutionalising gridlock( trivialising decision making and thro*ing up incompetent leaders *ith no track record' They say that democracy makes things 1overtly complicated and &rivolous2 and allo*s 1certain s*eet-talking politicians to mislead the people2' They point out that 1many developing countries that
have introduced democratic values o& governance are e+periencing disorder and chaos2' They say that $hina o&&ers an alternative model and counties such as #*anda( 7ubai and ;ietnam seems to be taking this seriously by curtailing democracy and dissent and racing headlong on a steamroller o& economic development' 3reedom in political choice is &undamental /ther analysts &eel that this challenge to liberal democratic principles &rom the ,ei)ing Dodel is not sustainable' As citi0enry gains more economic capacity and *ealth( he yearns &or &reedom' 3reedom in political choice is &undamental' As long as a nation is struggling to &eed its poor( the citi0enry *ill tolerate a government imposing a policy and repressing dissent thereto' ,ut once a level o& prosperity has been reached( citi0ens yearn a&ter political &reedom' Chether the ,ei)ing Dodel can &ace up to that challenge remains to be seen' 3or liberal democracies too( the challenge comes &rom *ithin( &rom the voter stakeholders themselves' Chat :lato( stated as his greatest *orry about democracy( that 1citi0ens *ould live &rom day to day( indulging the pleasure o& the moment2 has turned out to be true' :opulist government have got into the bad habit o& running up huge debts as a matter o& course( borro*ing to give voters( *hat they *ant in the short term( to ensure the re-electability o& the politicians in po*er' ,alancing budgets is history' This &lagrant spending e+travagan0a is taking place in the conte+t o& an ageing population' There are less and less people o& *orking to generate the &inances to support retired *orkers' The result is that many populist democracies no* &ace the challenge o& choosing bet*een inherited entitlement bills and investments in the &uture' $ynicism o& voters to*ards the political class also raises challenges to democracy' Surveys have sho*n that 1people have no trust in government2 and think that 1politicians tell lies all the time2/&ten democratic political systems have been subverted by interest groups( even by dynasties' :atrick 3rench( a ,ritish historian has noted that every member o& .ndia2s lo*er house under the age o& G0 is member o& a politically dynastic &amily' An analysis on this basis o& Lanka2s recent :rovincial $ouncil elections in the *est and south *ill raise eyebro*s' 4lections to the &ore /ne reason that liberal democracy seems to be in )eopardy is due to elections being seen as the main re6uirement and not the other &undamental re6uirements' As has been mentioned( the #ule o& La* is vital' The po*er o& the state has to be checked by an independent 5udiciary' The po*er o& the individual also must be limited so as not to
violate another2s rights' Cithout the &reedom o& speech and the &reedom to associate and communicate( citi0ens cannot articulate their grievances or push &or pre&erred policies' Da)oritarianism is a great threat' Too o&ten *inning an election is taken to mean that the ma)ority has the unconstrained po*er to do *hat it likes' These are dangerous trends' The only *ay to control this is to limit the po*er o& national institutions' The nited !ations $harter( the niversal 7eclaration o& "uman #ights and the 4uropean nion( all place constraints on a nation2s discretion' Such checks and balances on the po*er o& the state2s domestic policies are re6uired in the interest o& promoting good governance' The gro*ing si0e and po*er o& the state is one &actor *hich )eopardises the survival o& a liberal democracy' The relentless e+pansion o& government( into business and enterprise( into the provision o& goods and services hitherto provided by private enterprise( reduces liberty and hands even more po*er to vested special interest groups' The governments have the habit o& making promises that it cannot &ul&il( given the economic realities o& the national budget' .n the 1>80s giving control o& monetary policy to independent central banks tamed the rampant in&lation o& the time' The same principle o& limiting government should be e+tended to a broader sector in order to ensure the survival o& liberal democratic systems' This can be done in many *ays' Tight &iscal rules can be imposed( making &iscal responsibility an obligation o& the budget process' ,alancing budgets can be made compulsory' Sunset clauses can be introduced into legislation providing &reebies and handouts to voters( so that politicians are &orced to rene* la*s( *ithin a time&rame and reconsider the a&&ordability and practical nature o& the la*' !on-partisan independent commissions to handle long-term policy &ormulation( to manage the Administrative Service( the :olice Service( the 5udiciary and the Dilitary( and other national instructions is another option' Such constraints can strengthen democracy by preventing people voting &or spending policies that produce bankruptcy' They can protect minorities &rom persecution and ensure an independent :ublic Service( :olice Service and 5udiciary' 7elegation also can be made to the voting public( by institutionalising re&erendums on important issues' 4ven allo*ing re&erendums to initiate policy re&orm( like in $ali&ornia( SA' Chile globalism constraints the po*er o& the state( localism( by empo*ering voters and micro level po*er( can only strengthen democracy' The devolution o& po*er using the principle o& subsidiarity @ that po*er must be e+ercised at the point closest to its
impact is important' These *ill go a long a*ay in ensuring accountable liberal democratic governance' 8The *riter is a la*yer( *ho has over G0 years o& e+perience as a $4/ in both State and private sectors' "e retired &rom the o&&ice o& Secretary( Dinistry o& 3inance and currently is the Danaging 7irector o& the Sri Lanka ,usiness 7evelopment $entre'9
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