The failings of democracy.

Democracy is an interesting concept. To a lot of the world, it is the “best” system we have, the end all and be all; their pride and joy. Almost the “civilizing” factor of the world, making a difference between “advanced” and “backwards”. It gives us all a voice and makes certain that our country is running the way WE want it to. But what is democracy really? Is the Canadian system even really a democracy– the voice of the people? Or is it more of an oligarchy– the voice of only some? Are our voices really heard, and is the current system fair and free?

Democracy has been and continues to be promoted and propagandized, and delivered on the edge of a gun in many places as the ONLY way to “freedom”.  Elections processes are seen as the proof that a country has really arrived on the international stage and become somehow more mature or ready for development, ready for capitalism… ready to be sold material goods. We strive to bring democracy to every corner of the earth– and spend incredible amounts of money to do so.

In some corners of the world, democracy is marketed at all costs. Multi-millions of dollars are funneled through humanitarian channels to ensure the image that the people have a voice. In some countries elections processes are held while violent civil conflict or war rages on in the background. Threatening intimidation pressures the population to vote for an authoritarian ruler, while any opposition is locked up, threatened, assaulted or killed. Demonstrations are forbidden. Corruption runs rampant. The army is in charge. The police may not help you. In some places police officers (along with other civil employees) do not receive a paycheck and so must take bribes to be able to feed their families. Effective courts do not run. So civil law ceases to exist. In certain parts of the world the face of democracy is tarnished with the propaganda and silence over issues of dissent. In certain places, the arrival of democracy has actually brought more oppression and inequity.

In Canada and the United States, we tell ourselves the voice of the people is the way of the land. But is it really? How much money does a political campaign take? How many lies are told, how much propaganda is smeared, how much do they spend to placate the population? It is not about who is best to run the country, it is about who has the best image to project. About who’s team did the best marketing job. It has very little to do with the constituents that voted for them, and even less to do about the voter’s needs or wants. It is about placation. Giving just enough to stay in power, and spending the majority of the concentration worrying about opinion polls and upcoming elections.  

Only about three-quarters of the voting population historically expresses their vote in Canada. The numbers have been low in the past several years. Many of these voters have no idea what they are really voting for, don’t really know anything about the candidates or the issues at all. They vote the way they do because that’s the way they have always voted, or that’s the way their parents voted.

There are many kinds of democracy. Some call for majority win. In some elections the voters must choose only one representative for each category. In other elections, they get to choose their first, second and third choice of representation. Ours is not the only democracy. And some of these systems seem to be more fair than others. The current Canadian system has been called unfair, so much so that many have called for change in the past elections.

Once the representatives get into office, how much do they really follow through with their campaign promises? Do they still listen to the people, or do they make their own choices? What is their prime motivation?

How often do we remove someone from office for not following through on campaign promises? How often do we remove someone for not listening to their constituents? How thoroughly do we even track these things?

How much of the population actually communicates with their government and tells them what they want? What happens to our letters and emails we send? Are they put on an assistant’s desk and filed under “G” for garbage unless they come in large enough numbers to make a difference in the next election or poll? Or do they actually use them in their governing decisions?

Democracy does have many benefits, but we shouldn’t assume it’s the “best” system. We shouldn’t assume that the voice of the people is really being heard. We should adapt it, and change it when flaws are found to make it more fair and more representative. We should mould it together with some of the other systems and take the pieces that work from others to try and make even better systems. We should not be limited in this tiny box. 

If you do not learn from history– you will be condemned to repeat it. We so often see the problems as they exist, yet make little effort to change. It is time we took action to create better systems. If we lessen the inequity on a structural level in society, we can lessen structural violence. If we lessen structural violence, the cultural violence will also lessen. With the lessening of these two underlying violences– the direct, physical violence will also lessen. Cultural and structural violence lead to physical direct violence. The longer our system is unjust, the longer we will remain a violent society.

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  1. It seems to me that in many parts of Africa they did have a genuine, grass-roots democracy. Colonialism brought our model which is a distant democracy arguing it was better. It may enable decisions to be taken faster but excludes so many of those these decisions effect.

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