Democ­racy

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of these ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Ac­cord­ing to a lec­ture I picked up on the Stan­ford Univer­sity web­site, Democ­racy con­sists of four ba­sic el­e­ments: a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem for choos­ing and re­plac­ing the gov­ern­ment through free and fair elec­tions; the ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion of the peo­ple, as cit­i­zens, in pol­i­tics and civic life; the pro­tec­tion of the hu­man rights of all cit­i­zens, and a rule of law in which the laws and pro­ce­dures ap­ply equally to all cit­i­zens.

Democ­racy is a means for the peo­ple to choose their lead­ers and to hold their lead­ers ac­count­able for their poli­cies and their con­duct in of­fice. The peo­ple de­cide who will rep­re­sent them in par­lia­ment, and who will head the gov­ern­ment by choos­ing be­tween com­pet­ing par­ties in reg­u­lar, free and fair elec­tions. Gov­ern­ment is based on the con­sent of the gov­erned. Un­for­tu­nately, in many democ­ra­cies those who voted for the los­ing party find that their votes go un­no­ticed and have no value. Laws re­quire ma­jor­ity sup­port in par­lia­ment, which means the rights of mi­nori­ties may or may not be pro­tected.

The peo­ple are the high­est form of po­lit­i­cal au­thor­ity in the long run be­cause a dis­sat­is­fied elec­torate can re­move a gov­ern­ment at a gen­eral elec­tion but, in the short term, the gov­ern­ment does what­ever it wants. The peo­ple are free to crit­i­cize their elected lead­ers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and to ob­serve how they con­duct the busi­ness of gov­ern­ment. Elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the na­tional and lo­cal lev­els are sup­posed to lis­ten to the peo­ple and re­spond to their needs and sug­ges­tions, an all too rare event.

Elec­tions oc­cur at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals as pre­scribed by law. A gov­ern­ment can­not ex­tend its term in of­fice with­out ask­ing for the con­sent of the peo­ple in an elec­tion. For elec­tions to be free and fair, they are ad­min­is­tered by a neu­tral, fair and pro­fes­sional body that treats all po­lit­i­cal par­ties and can­di­dates equally. All par­ties and can­di­dates have the right to cam­paign freely. Vot­ers vote in se­cret, free of in­tim­i­da­tion and vi­o­lence. In­de­pen­dent ob­servers mon­i­tor the vot­ing and the vote count­ing to en­sure that the process is free of cor­rup­tion, in­tim­i­da­tion and fraud. An im­par­tial and in­de­pen­dent tri­bunal re­solves any dis­putes about the elec­tion re­sults.

The key role of cit­i­zens in a democ­racy is to par­tic­i­pate in pub­lic life. Cit­i­zens have an obli­ga­tion to be­come in­formed about pub­lic is­sues, to watch care­fully how their po­lit­i­cal lead­ers use their pow­ers. Vot­ing in elec­tions is an­other im­por­tant civic duty of all cit­i­zens. Par­tic­i­pa­tion can also in­volve cam­paign­ing for a po­lit­i­cal party or can­di­date, stand­ing as a can­di­date for po­lit­i­cal of­fice, de­bat­ing pub­lic is­sues, at­tend­ing com­mu­nity meet­ings, pe­ti­tion­ing the gov­ern­ment, and even protest­ing. A vi­tal form of par­tic­i­pa­tion comes through mem­ber­ship of in­de­pen­dent, non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, what we call “civil so­ci­ety”, rep­re­sent­ing a va­ri­ety of in­ter­ests and be­liefs: farm­ers, work­ers, doc­tors, teach­ers, busi­ness own­ers, reli­gious be­liev­ers, women, stu­dents, hu­man rights ac­tivists.

In a democ­racy ev­ery cit­i­zen has cer­tain ba­sic rights guar­an­teed un­der in­ter­na­tional law that the state can­not take away: the right to have your own be­liefs, and to say and write what you think; free­dom of re­li­gion; the right to en­joy your own cul­ture; free­dom to choose be­tween dif­fer­ent sources of news and opin­ion; the right to as­so­ciate with other peo­ple, and to form and join or­gan­i­sa­tions of your own choice, in­clud­ing trade unions; free­dom to move about the coun­try or to leave the coun­try; the right to as­sem­ble freely, and to protest gov­ern­ment ac­tions.

Ev­ery­one has an obli­ga­tion to ex­er­cise these rights peace­fully, with re­spect for the law and for the rights of oth­ers. Democ­racy is a sys­tem of rule by laws, not by in­di­vid­u­als. The rule of law pro­tects the rights of cit­i­zens, main­tains or­der, and lim­its the power of gov­ern­ment. All cit­i­zens are equal un­der the law. No one may be dis­crim­i­nated against on the ba­sis of their race, re­li­gion, eth­nic group or gen­der. No one may be ar­rested, im­pris­oned or ex­iled ar­bi­trar­ily. If you are de­tained, you have the right to know the charges against you, and to be pre­sumed in­no­cent un­til proven guilty ac­cord­ing to the law. Any­one charged with a crime has the right to a fair, speedy, and pub­lic trial by an im­par­tial court.

No one may be taxed or pros­e­cuted ex­cept by a law es­tab­lished in ad­vance. No one is above the law, not even a king or an elected pres­i­dent. Courts that are in­de­pen­dent of the other branches of gov­ern­ment en­force the law. No ruler, min­is­ter, or po­lit­i­cal party can tell a judge how to de­cide a case.

Tor­ture and cruel and in­hu­mane treat­ment are ab­so­lutely for­bid­den. Of­fice­hold­ers can­not use their power to en­rich them­selves. In­de­pen­dent courts and com­mis­sions pun­ish cor­rup­tion, no mat­ter who is guilty. In a democ­racy it is im­pos­si­ble for ev­ery­one to achieve ev­ery­thing they want. Democ­racy re­quires com­pro­mise.

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