Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

Imagining More Inclusive Democracy!

I am a believer of democratic values and democratic governance.  While I say this, I still have reservations!  I feel that democratic governance in current forms have not also been able to cater to the aspirations of all in Southern countries.  (I have not studied democracy in Northern countries, so I do not know whether it has worked well for all in Northern countries in recent decades.)  I also contemplate on the idea that Southern countries have to have structures and systems to make democratic governance more inclusive so as to ensure socio-economic justice and equity for all.  This feeling has been confirmed while I have been part of the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University.  During the program, I have learnt about more than 30 countries in Africa, Latin America, South East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East where there has/had been civil wars/movements with varied aspirations.  In these countries indigenous communities, ethnic minorities, and religious minorities have been carrying out either democratic struggles or armed struggles or both, demanding self-determination or autonomy.  Most of these communities experienced genocides, repression, and severe human rights violations by the state.  I was shocked by the data shown by Dr. Chaiwat Satha-Anand during his lecture in the class that during 1945 to 1990 states have killed at least 12 million, if the low estimate is used, or up to 83 million, if the high figure is used.  We have also been told 90% of the casualties of war/conflicts in last few decades are civilians.  Having learnt about the cases of most heinous forms of human rights violations, I ponder whether people in power in democracy respect minorities.  Do they listen to the concern of the last person?

The root of most of these struggles is embedded in the legacy of colonial misrules that led to territorial demarcation and disruption of autonomous governance mechanisms of indigenous and minority communities without their informed consent.  Post-colonial nation states were built under democratic systems, with models of development copied from the northern countries.  However, the development model could not cater to aspirations of the indigenous and minority communities in most of these countries, either by default or by coincidence, leading to conflicts with the state.  Further, to resolve the conflicts and in post-conflict reconstruction, Kent’s theory of liberal peace was adopted in most conflict torn southern countries.  Democracy and neo-liberal reforms were pushed in post conflict reconstruction processes.  In most cases, election was equated with democracy.  While the governments are still weak to run the state in an effective way, structural reforms were carried out to facilitate market forces to rule and social sectors like health, education, water etc. were privatized, making these services costlier and unaffordable to the commoner.  From what I have observed in most of these countries, I concur with Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economics, that “economic globalization in its current form risks exacerbating poverty and increasing violence if not checked, because it is impossible to separate economic issues from social and political issues” .

While looking at critiques of democracy, though I do not agree with his thoughts on alternatives to democracy, I find relevance in the criticism of Charles Maurras, who criticized democracy claiming that the parliamentary system subordinates the national interest, or common good, to private interests of a parliament’s representatives where only short-sighted interests of individuals prevail.  This has been the lived experience of most of the Southern countries, especially in the neo-liberal era.  Against the prediction of the theorists of globalization, who anticipated rapid development of Africa, Asia and Latin America and reduced division between ‘first’ and ‘third’ worlds, economic globalization has brought in a different picture all together.  The UNDP estimates that 840 million people are malnourished, the great mass of them are living in countries of the Third World.  In some regions hunger has become far more general: across Africa the average household now consumes 25 percent less than in the early 1970s.  There are staggering inequalities.  California alone has a gross domestic product (GDP) of equal value to that of China and India combined; the wealth of the world’s 15 richest people now exceeds the combined GDP of sub-Saharan Africa; the wealth of the richest 84 individuals exceeds the GDP of China.  This data shows inherent issues that emanate from current forms of democratic governance, which allow governments and international institutions to act in the service of large multinational corporations.

So, southern countries have to evolve their structures and systems to make democratic governance more inclusive so as to ensure socio-economic justice and equity for all.  We have to aspire for a more inclusive democratic nation – where the aspirations of the minorities are attended to!  By making structures and systems that automatically address issues of minorities, we can minimize the chances of future conflicts.

Swapan Singh, India
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2014 Session


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