Devon Dick: Democracy does not work?
Recently, just before a group of us played a game of Masters League-level football, the discussion was about democracy. The majority of persons proclaimed confidently that democracy does not work. Apart from Justice David Batts, I was the lone voice to challenge that proposition. I was challenged to show where democracy works.
The point of view that democracy does not work is popular among people from different class, colour and creed. Years ago, the late Eric Downie, educator, told me tongue in cheek that most successful school principals are benevolent dictators.
So there is an admiration for totalitarian rule, and the usual example of that is Singapore, which experienced totalitarian rule and economic prosperity. The proponents of this argument see a causal relationship between a lack of democracy and economic development as if Singapore could not have a similar development with a different form of governance.
This anti-democratic stance could be an aversion to the abilities of ordinary, humble folk. This is a legacy of colonialism. Many post-emancipation missionary documents were replete with references to persons of African ancestry as half-civilised and savages. Many believed that Africans were from an inferior civilisation and culture when compared to the Europeans.
The belief was that Europeans were superior intellectually and mentally. Sadly today, some Jamaicans believe that they are superior to fellow Jamaicans in the ability to make good choices through voting in general elections. Deep down, they would not mind if voting was restricted to those who are certified with tertiary education and have some financial and social standing.
Furthermore, this anti-democratic party is fuelled by the arrogance of the certified educated minority class. They feel that they know what is best for others. They are the only ones who understand complex issues. Because they might reason quickly, they claim certain issues are impatient of debate and are quick to move on with the philosophy that the devil take the hindmost. They have little time for public education to foster awareness, understanding, agreement and support. They have no stomach for motivating and mobilising the followers. They are not into moral suasion of the majority but rather of a take it or leave it attitude. They are moving with a coalition of the willing and not the masses.
But what is democracy? US President Abraham Lincoln puts it succinctly as 'government of the people, by the people, for the people.' It is a structure of participation in which all the eligible members of a state can vote to elect their representatives.
It means that people are part of the decision-making process through their elected representatives.
There is a Stanford University website that outlines four features of democracy, that is:
1. A system of government for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
2. There is active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
3. There is the protection of the human rights of all citizens.
4. There is a rule of law in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
Who would not want this type of democracy? Because people corrupt the democratic process does not mean it is not a great system of governance, and we should cherish it.
In addition, the top seven countries with the highest per capita income are mainly democracies, namely, Luxembourg, Norway, Qatar, Macao SAR, China, and Switzerland. Singapore is number eight on the list. It means that a democratic government can produce development.
Democracy is not perfect but it can work in the interest of the majority to produce peace and prosperity. Long live democracy in Jamaica.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.