Domocracy. What does it involve? Many people think that elections every few years is enough to make a country a democracy. This is not so. This essay looks at the requirements for a democracy.
Democracy requires votes. Every adult person should be able to vote regardless of gender, colour, race, religion, sexuality or political belief. Some countries deny the vote to people in prison. This is only valid if there are no political prisoners.
The following are examples of countries that are (or were) not democracies because voting is not allowed or is restricted.
The voting may take different forms:
- Switzerland before 1971: women were not allowed to vote.
- South Africa before 1990: non-white people were denied the vote.
- Jordan in 2003; Chile between 1973 and 1990: elections were suspended.
- Saudi Arabia: nobody votes.
Voting may be by region (state, county or constituency) or proportional. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
- Voting for the head of state (usually a president). The president may be a figurehead with only symbolic power (as in India or Germany) or a powerful head of state (as in USA or France).
- Voting for a body that makes laws: a senate (as in USA), congress (India) or parliament (as in UK). Candidates may stand independently or as a member of as political party.
- Voting for local government (many countries), local officials (as in USA).
- Voting on issues of importance to the community or country (Switzerland).
For votes to meaningful, the voter must have freedom and not be intimidated. Voting must be secret to allow complete freedom to vote.
The following are examples of countries that are or were not democracies because of a lack of real freedom to vote.
- Zimbabwe since 1995: the governing party intimidates opponents and makes party membership a requisite for certain privilages.
- Colombia since 1990: opponents are assasinated by government run death squads.
- Nigeria in 2003: elections were marred by violence and intimidation.
- Iraq in 2002: non-secret ballots.
For voting to be meaningful, there must be a real choice for the voter. Excluding parties or people from standing as candidates lessens voter choice.
The following are examples of countries that are or were not democracies because of a lack of real choice of candidates.
Another way of removing choice and real power in an election is by gerrymandering. The election must be based on constituencies for gerrymandering to be possible.
- Turkey: in all elections, political parties representing Kurdish interests are banned from standing.
- Pakistan in 2002: several candidates were not allowed to stand by the president who had taken power in a military coup.
- Iraq before 2003: only the Ba'ath party could put up candidates for election.
- Russia before 1989: only the Communist party could put up candidates for election.
- USA: the Communist party is banned.
This occurred for many years up to 1976 in Northern Ireland (a province of the UK). A city would have two populations: half would be Catholic; the other half Protestant.
The Protestant part of the city would be divided into more constituencies than the Catholic side so there would always be more representitives from the Protestant side.
It is possible to have many political parties but still have an uneven election.
The financing of political parties can be an issue.
It is illegal for foreigners to make contributions to political parties in the USA - the USA however frequently makes donations to favoured parties in elections in an attempt to influence the result. Three examples are Nicaragua in the 1980s, Chile in 1970 and Iraq in 2003.
In many countries a few selected parties are financed by business while the majorty are financed only by their members. Parties with more finance can advertise more to get their message across.
People need information and education if they are to use their vote effectively.
In most countries of the world the providers of information, the media, are often owned by a few large corporations. This lessens sources of news and information and does not allow people to make informed choices.
This is a big problem in most Western countries which have votes for all, little political intimidation, many political parties and fair voting systems.
A country is only democratic if people have a right to elect the representitives of their choice with a full undestanding of the issues.
© 2006 KryssTal
KryssTal Related Page
Why the Western media does not always report everything that is going on in the world. How language is used to obscure the facts and mold opinion.