Social issues

Has democracy hit a road bump (or maybe a Mexican wall)?


Let me start by clarifying that I’m not into politics and I don’t follow it closely other than the bare minimum required to have intelligent conversations. However, even to a political illiterate like me, it seems as if governments in certain countries have become less and less effective.

America, supposedly the poster child of democracy where everyone has a say has ended up with a President who did not win the popular vote and seems to spend an awful amount of time on Twitter. He’s somehow managed to carry on as President despite investigations  around collusion with Russia and makes headlines every other day for saying the wrong things.

In the latest incident, the US government was shut for three days but luckily it has now reopened. In the first place, though, isn’t it rather ridiculous that it is no longer surprising or worrying when the US government has to shutdown because the Senate can’t get funding approved? In other words, this is equivalent to the government temporarily shutting down because it is not able to pay its bills. If it was a company, I’m sure that this situation would not be deemed acceptable by shareholders, creditors, customers, etc.

The Conservative government in the UK took democracy to another level by asking the people to vote on Brexit. Considering that politicians who are supposed to be highly educated with teams of advisors could not agree on this issue, David Cameron had the brilliant idea of leaving it to the public to decide. On top of that, the politicians campaigned for their sides with inaccurate information which misled the people. Last year, Theresa May made a similar mistake by calling for early elections based on poll data showing strong support for the Conservatives. Instead, the Conservatives lost their majority and May is now stuck with a minority government while trying to negotiate a Brexit deal .

Moving to the Far East, the two giants of Asia emerging markets – China and India – could not be more different. China has a highly centralised and controlling government, from the lack of freedom of speech to capital controls limiting currency outflows; the anti-corruption drive with random people disappearances to government ownership in most ‘important’ sectors such as rail, banking and telecom; internet and media censorship to a centralised system which dictates when heating gets turned on; the list goes on. India, on the other hand, is a democracy with elected state and central governments. While there is regulation and certain restrictions on foreign ownership, it is by and large a free economy.

Even though both countries have grown rapidly in the past decade, China is miles ahead of India in terms of addressing poverty (8% vs 21% of population below the poverty line according to the World Bank in 2011), infrastructure build-out and innovation with some of the largest tech companies globally such as Alibaba, Tencent and Huawei. We’ll have to wait another decade before we can see which country fares better, but for now, it seems like China is ahead in the race.

In my beloved hometown, Malaysia, we have a democratic system riddled with fraudulent votes. As a result, Najib is still in power despite being linked to large scale corruption and evidence showing that over $600 million was deposited into his personal account. It also helps that his government has become more supportive of the Malay community which makes up the majority of voters and taking more hardline Islamic politics.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a supporter of democracy and highly value my rights and freedom. Democracy at least gives people the option to vote for a change if things aren’t going well. The communist regime is definitely riskier and can go horribly long, as evidenced in North Korea where the Kim dynasty decided to close the economy and fire missiles to threaten the rest of the world. Throughout history, there have been numerous examples of power crazy maniacs rising to become dictators and deciding to slaughter millions. Even so, it might be time to revamp the electoral system and also breed a new generation of politicians as the current version of democracy may not be working well.

So what do you think? Is the current version of democracy still fit for purpose?




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