The ‘Unfreeness’ and Unfairness of Free and Fair Democratic Elections, part 1
By Albert Che Suh-Njwi
I will like to revisit the concept of ‘DEMOCRACY’ - the oldest and most popular system of government of all times. Democracy means different things to different people. This explains why scholars, statesmen and the populace do not see eye to eye as far as the concise meaning of humanity’s oldest and most common way of governing society is concerned. There are many parameters to measure democracy. To some people, it means freedom of speech, expression, and opinion, belonging, to own property, to cite but these, but this paper is more concerned with the freedom of choice - in selecting leadership, in the perspective of free and fair elections. The reason is pivoted on the premises that most of our contemporary societal gatherings are governed through the popular phrase: ‘majority carries the vote’.
For the sake of convenience, this article runs in two parts: Part I look revisits the genesis of democracy, which I argue, was founded under misgiving circumstances. I zoom deep into the concept of democracy as far as ‘free and fair elections’ are concerned. It gives insights over the USA and its Western cronies’ claims over the custodianship and championed the course of ‘free and fair democratic elections’.
Part two, revisits the concept of Western democracy and the support given to democratic elections all over the world. With examples drawn from some nasty election leftovers, I expose the black side of democratic-elections, which has been eluded. It will be interesting to unravel the double standards embedded in democratic systems, especially, when envisaged or expected outcomes are not attained. It also sounds a wake-up call to African governments and institutions, which have embraced free and fair democratic elections as the only platform for democracy. I conclude by exploring whether there are better alternatives to democracy as a system of government.
Genesis of the word Democracy: cynicism, contempt or disdain
The word ‘democracy’ originated in the middle of the 5th-4th century BC from the ancient Greek word ‘demo’, meaning ‘people of the community’ and ‘kratos’, meaning ‘power’ or ‘to rule’. It was used to denote the political systems that emerged in some Greek city-states, notably Athens following a popular uprising in 508 BC. Robert Alan Dahl, a prolific writer on democracy has retraced the controversy and suspicion surrounding the genesis and use of the word way back to time memorial. The word, which emerged as a result of an organized chaos, was first used by its aristocratic critics as an epithet to describe and show disdain for the common people who had wrestled power away from them. It will also be pertinent to make a difference between ‘liberal democracy’ and ‘illiberal democracy’. Liberal democracy is practiced in most Western societies, whereby all freedoms (speech or expression, opinion, worship, association, property ownership, choice) and above all, a constitution that protects the rights of the minority are guaranteed. Most of these are missing in illiberal democracies.
Holistic Misperception: a part not a whole
One such controversy comes from the one and only hegemony on planet earth: the USA. On the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, the 16th President of the USA, Abraham Lincoln coined the phrase ‘… government of the people, by the people, for the people’. This phrase since became the basest interpretation of democracy for everyone who could barely pronounce the word. But what is the flaw in this? Firstly, it comes from the USA who claims to hold the cradle of the institutions of ‘liberty’, and the self-proclaimed champion and custodian of democracy. The USA understands democracy from a holistic or partial view to represent the whole of democracy, which is election. Evidence of this is that the most-exciting or electrifying moments in American life is highlighted by ‘election fever’, which heats up and sweeps throughout the US every four years. The US and its Western allies have taken upon themselves to transport this heat by sponsoring ‘free and fair democratic elections’ in Africa, Central Europe, Middle-East, Asia and Latin America under the flame of maintaining international security, stability and prosperity. Any attempt to impose the Western model of liberal democracy in less developed countries without taking the exiting local social-cultural and political institutions into consideration has resulted to the rise of illiberal democracies, with very negative ramifications, which we will see later.
An election is just a component of democracy; it cannot be democracy itself. Other components such as freedom of speech or expression, opinion, worship, association, property ownership, choice, and above all, a constitution that guarantees the rights of the minorities, are essential towards the achievement of smooth Democracy. It is therefore erroneous, null and void to project elections as the sole gate-way to democracy. (To be continued).
*Albert Che Suh-Njwi holds an MSC in Political Science-International Relations and transnational Governance from Vrije University Amsterdam. He is currently an intern-researcher at the African Diaspora Policy Centre (ADPC), The Hague. firstname.lastname@example.org