We know that your GP exams will be coming soon so at Basecamp, we have specially prepared a series of articles addressing different topics.
Democracy refers to a regime whereby political power is widely spread and rests with citizens regardless of their perceived competence or merit. In even illiberal democracies such as Singapore, Russia and Malaysia, there is no basic educational requirement for suffrage. In fact, ballot boxes are often printed with symbols of candidates to ensure that even the illiterate will be able to vote.
Merits of democracy
1. Basic rights are enshrined in a democracy
Democracy entitles its citizens to freedom of speech, religion and assembly, and rights to life and property. Citizens also get to decide who to put in power through voting. As such, in democratic nations, citizens are guaranteed a minimal standard of living and human rights abuse rarely go unpunished.
2. Democracies provide avenues for people to express dissent
In democracies, people are entitled to freedom of speech. This means that people need not resort to radical methods to voice their disapproval.
For instance, any Switzerland citizen can challenge any act by the parliament if he/she can gather enough votes in support of his challenge within 100 days. On the other hand, a Chinese man named Ji Zhongxing resorted to bombing the Beijing capital international airport after spending 8 years petitioning the Chinese government for justice, to no avail.
3. Checks and balances prevent leaders of democratic nations from abusing their power
To ensure that no one gets too much power or abuses his/her power, a system of checks and balances is put in place. This ensures that questionable practices get ratted out.
For instance, when Turkey’s president Erdogan banned Twitter and YouTube after allegations of bribery and abuse of power surfaced online, Turkey’s highest courts ruled against the Twitter and Youtube ban.
Another example that demonstrates the strength of a democracy is the controversial US presidential election in the year 2000. The results of the election was bitterly disputed for several weeks between the Al Gore and George Bush camps. Yet there was no danger of a civil war or a resort to violence because the American people had faith in their institutions.
4. Undemocratic nations have a track record of poor governance because absolute power corrupts
Dictatorial regimes tend to be self-serving and self-glorifying.
Under the brutal reign of Pol Pot, an estimated 1.5 million Cambodians out of a total population of approximately 7 million died of hunger, state execution, disease or overwork. Similarly, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his citizens to retain political power.
Downsides of a democracy
Bipartisanship, a common phenomenon in democracies, hinders swift, decisive action. Opposition parties often oppose the ruling party just to make the latter seem inefficient.
The US government took more than one month to approve the proposed bailout package, while banks and businesses collapsed in the meantime, which then triggered the 2008 global recession.
Conversely, in just two years, China has extended pension coverage to an extra 240 million rural dwellers—far more than the total number of people covered by America’s pension system.
2. Tyranny of the majority
Those in power often pander to the needs of the majority that voted them into office, and the needs of the minority groups may not be met at times.
Turkey has long suppressed the Kurds’ culture, leading to the formation of the terrorist group PKK. In Malaysia, Bumi-putra policies give Malays an unfair advantage over the other ethnic groups.
Additionally, populist policies may be detrimental to the long term growth of a nation.
India’s government passed the National Food Security Act (NFSA) guaranteeing access to subsidised food grains to nearly 70% of its 1.2 billion population. The scheme will set the government back by $18.4 billion a year, which compromises growth. A more recent example is Brexit—Britain’s exit from the European Union is already starting to affect the economy.
3. Tyranny of the minority
It is possible for a minority group to be disproportionately powerful.
Even though the vast majority of Americans want greater gun control, the Republican Party still champions the right to gun ownership. This is because the National Rifle Association funds expensive election campaigns.
However, despite all the shortcomings of democracies, they are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption.