Nation and Nationalism 4 – Limitations of Democracy

When Abraham Lincoln defined Democracy as a government of the people, by the people and for the people I can’t guess what was running in his mind. But this iconic definition of democracy by the most respected American president holds true for the 21st century. What he literally meant was ‘Your karma is in your hands’.

When the government elected becomes corrupt then according to Lincoln’s definition it implies to be a corruption of the people, by the people and for the people. When the government fails then we can imply that it is a failure of the people, by the people and for the people.

American democracy is around 150 years old and Indian democracy is more than 60 years old. In both countries, if the government was by the people then why are they still facing problems of poverty, unemployment and inflation? What went wrong? Was there any problem with people who elected the government or was there any problem with government?

The basic framework upon which democracy is built raises serious doubts. The basic principle of democracy is the rule of the Majority and this is where it sucks.

Let us say there are 4 candidates A, B, C and D who secured 23, 27, 26 and 24 votes respectively from a constituency of 100 voters. By the rule of majority, candidate B wins. He was the choice of only 27 persons whereas the remaining 73 persons didn’t prefer him and their preference was divided among the other three directions. Where is the rule of majority here? A person who was not preferred by 73 % of voters is declared as winner. In a diversified country like India, this kind of representative democracy with the rule of Majority is pretty ambiguous.

We all have different opinion and ours may not be in agreement with others. This disagreement causes conflicts. When Brexit happened, the opinions to leave and remain stood almost equal but Leave campaign won by a minor difference. So, democracy had its last laugh. Nearly half of the citizens desire to stay in EU was almost shattered by the other half and they had to agree to majority’s opinion.

Democracy boasts of equality and if everyone is equal then why does the opinion of minority kept aside?

How about proportional representation? I am not sure whether it is followed anywhere. As explained in the above example, why not give power to the other three persons proportionately according to their vote share.

I asked my friends whether they were satisfied with the person and party they voted. The answer was a humongous NO. They said they chose the best among the worst. And surprisingly, few people confessed that they didn’t even vote.

Citizen’s vote is used differently across the world in the form of Parliamentary and Presidential system of governments. And lately, the concept of coalition governments is coming up due to vast differences in the opinion of people. In the coming days, democracy is going to get new definitions by the budding propagandas across the world. Besides inconceivable alterations, it is going to get interpreted in drastic ways. Wait and watch!

Feature image By Rama (Own work) [CeCILL or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr], via Wikimedia Commons

2 responses to “Nation and Nationalism 4 – Limitations of Democracy”

  1. Proportional representation is followed in many Scandinavian nation-states, such as Sweden. The current system in both Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom is that of the single-member plurality, which awards governmental office to the individual with the most votes per region. So, in the United States, members of congress are elected by acquiring the majority of the votes in their particular district. It suffers the limitation that you mention, yes, but the reasoning behind it is that it encourages party members and candidates to make their platform as all-encompassing as possible. The goal of politicians is to become elected and so the political system forces them to appeal to as many needs as they possibly can. Citizens don’t necessarily get everything they want but the goal is for politicians to compromise so that all citizens are moderately satisfied. The upshot of the single member plurality is that you often get moderate positions and you get stability of office. The downside to it is that minority views are not represented and politicians can fall into the trap of avoiding specifics and details in their platform (to avoid appealing too much to one side over the other). Proportional representation does allow for minority views and focus on specific issues, but regime changes are very frequent in these governments and so there can be a great deal of political instability. This has led some governments to advocate a system of mixed-member representation, which is where party members must reach a certain threshold of votes before proportional representation kicks in.

    I hope this helps clarify this topic a bit for you. If you’d like, I’d be happy to expand upon it more in an essay.


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