Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

The deification of Democracy

December 25, 2017

Bad decisions, wrong decisions, stupid decisions, promulgation of ridiculous laws, mayhem and murder are all justified today if they were decisions taken, or actions performed, “democratically”. “Democratic” applies as an adjective for any action or decision supported by a majority.

Democracy may be the best political system available for a society at a given time. But it is not sacrosanct and it is definitely not the best system for all societies at all times. Corporations and other enterprises prefer not to use “democratic” management for very good reasons. Armies and police forces and even bureaucracies cannot operate democratically. The worst schools are those where teachers are subject to the whims of the incompetent. No family company operates democratically. It is self-deception to imagine that the UN or the EU are democratic organisations. The idea that all countries must always be better off with a “democratic” system is flawed.

baying for democracy

We have deified “democratic” to the extent that the number of bodies is always given precedence over the existence – let alone the quality – of minds or the behaviour of those bodies. We have made a god of “universal suffrage” and a religion of systems that seem “democratic”. Even if the critical faculties of the human brain are not fully developed till the age of 25, voting age is being reduced everywhere to give half-developed minds the vote. Even if a true democracy can only be a form of anarchy, the semblance of majority choice of political parties is considered sufficient to attain a state of grace. A numerical majority in favour can validate falsity. Behaviour has no part to play. Experience and knowledge have no part to play.

…. it is mere existence as an individual that suffices to have an “equal vote”. And if everyone has the vote it is assumed that “democracy” has been attained – as if it were some sort of state of grace.  The only real criterion is that of age, even if some countries still have some other criteria in force. The merit of the individual is irrelevant. Votes can and are bought by promises or by free meals or by money or by a bus-ride. A “bought” or coerced vote weighs as heavy as one that is freely given. (There is nothing wrong in buying or selling votes – the flaw lies in that the seller has a vote equal to that of free elector). A fool has the same vote as a wise man. A large tax contributor is equated to a small tax contributor. Government servants paid for by taxes have the same weight of vote as the tax payers. Priests and politicians have the vote. The behaviour of an individual does not affect his vote. Experience, intelligence, wisdom, competence or criminality are all considered equally irrelevant. A majority vote is considered to be the “will of the people” where “constitutions” are supposed to prevent excesses against minorities. But constitutions are subject to the same majority vote. One hundred and one idiots take precedence over one hundred wiser men. And we inevitably get the politicians that universal suffrage deserves. This democracy and its universal suffrage needs also to be tempered by merit. But meritocracy smacks of elitism and no self-respecting socialist could tolerate that.

Universal Suffrage which ignores merit has led to the Lowest Common Factor becoming what counts and not the Highest Common Multiple that is being sought.

The primary flaw lies in the assumption that all humans are “equal” – whatever that is supposed to mean. No one disputes that people behave differently, have varying competence, have varying intelligence, have varying value to the society they are in and yet there is a mindless regurgitation of the litany that “all humans are equal”.

Equality and excellence cannot coexist.


 

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Trump leads — is it a perversion of democracy?

May 24, 2016

Donald Trump leads – just – in the polls and there is some panic. The RCP poll of polls shows Trump leading Clinton for the first time by just 0.2 percentage points (43.4 to 43.2).

Trump leads 22nd May 2016

Trump leads 22nd May 2016

But this support for Trump is not reflected in the US media. Overwhelmingly – and I would guess over 90% – of the main stream media are contemptuous of Trump. The liberal media is filled with anti-Trump vitriol. (These attacks are counter productive and I have written elsewhere of how Trump and the anti-establishment wave he is riding feed on these attacks). The consensus even among my friends – who do reflect the media – is that a Trump victory would be a catastrophe for the US and the world. Trump supporters are considered fools or worse. They are supposed to be the racists and the rednecks and all the stupid and “angry” people.

The US media attacks on Trump show a hint of panic (especially the liberal-left media). They are still missing the point that attacking Trump increases his support. It is only by adopting an anti-establishment stance that some of this support could be siphoned away.

Suppose Trump does win the election. Will the media and the establishment accept the “verdict of the people”? Will they still be extolling the virtues of democracy and universal suffrage where the stupid have as much of a vote as the intelligent? I suspect that Trump will not be as bad a President as people fear. But if he wins, it will be because of the inherently, perverse nature of democracy.

The basic problem is that “universal suffrage” with an “equal vote” for everyone is fundamentally unjust.

……. it is mere existence as an individual that suffices to have an “equal vote”. And if everyone has the vote it is assumed that “democracy” has been attained – as if it were some sort of state of grace.  The only real criterion is that of age, even if some countries still have some other criteria in force. The merit of the individual is irrelevant. Votes can and are bought by promises or by free meals or by money or by a bus-ride. A “bought” or coerced vote weighs as heavy as one that is freely given. (There is nothing wrong in buying or selling votes – the flaw lies in that the seller has a vote equal to that of free elector). A fool has the same vote as a wise man. A large tax contributor is equated to a small tax contributor. Government servants paid for by taxes have the same weight of vote as the tax payers. Priests and politicians have the vote. The behaviour of an individual does not affect his vote. Experience, intelligence, wisdom, competence or criminality are all considered equally irrelevant. A majority vote is considered to be the “will of the people” where “constitutions” are supposed to prevent excesses against minorities. But constitutions are subject to the same majority vote. One hundred and one idiots take precedence over one hundred wiser men. And we inevitably get the politicians that universal suffrage deserves. This democracy and its universal suffrage needs also to be tempered by merit. But meritocracy smacks of elitism and no self-respecting socialist could tolerate that.

Universal Suffrage which ignores merit has led to the Lowest Common Factor becoming what counts and not the Highest Common Multiple that is being sought. And that was not, I think , what Lincoln intended.

Perhaps what is needed is a differential vote. Every one would have a basic vote but extra fractions of a vote could be earned for merit – for intelligence, for service, for wealth creation, … . It is probably time for “democracy” to shift towards a “meritocracy”.


 

Democracies are condemned to a pursuit of the mediocre

April 14, 2016

For any human characteristic or behaviour, and applying whatever set of values, the “best” are always in – and must always be – a minority.

A majority view – on anything – therefore cannot – ever – be the “best” view.

Which must mean therefore that a democracy can never be “best”. It may be good enough – but it can never be best. A democracy does not even lead to the pursuit of the “average” or even the “median”. If anything it tends to the “mode”. A democracy is inherently then for the pursuit of the nondescript, for being unexceptionable, for conformity. It is for sustaining the mediocre.

mode median mean

mode median mean

If the human objective is the pursuit of excellence – by whatever standard and for whatever characteristic – then a democracy is not the way to go. Excellence requires the selection, and the promotion, of minorities. In fact a democracy is incompatible with the quest for excellence.

Socialist democracies try to level down while capitalist democracies try to level up. But both favour mediocrity to excellence.


 

Where have all the leaders gone?

March 28, 2016

Democracy and leadership are incompatible. The “democratic process” does not give value to leadership, only to popularity. 

By definition a “full” democracy would have all the electorate determining every little decision by a majority vote. Such a “full” democracy can never work. That would be closer to anarchy than anything else. In practice, therefore, most “democratic” states use the democratic process sparingly and primarily at the time of elections. The elections are meant to choose leaders who will then lead during their term in office. In between elections, decisions are generally to be taken by the anointed leaders in a limited but semi-autocratic fashion. Presidents and Prime Ministers become temporary, limited dictators or kings. But the more “democracy” that is applied, whether through parliamentary limitations or by passing the buck in a referendum, the more heads of government follow the wishes of the majority rather than lead. Street demonstrations, opinion polls, popularity polls, on-line polls, parliamentary votes and referenda are all supposed to be, and taken to be, expressions of the democratic will of the people. Increasingly heads of government are forced to “follow” the wishes of the masses rather than even trying to “lead”. The “democratic process” does not give value to leadership, only to popularity. 

Political wolves who once led the human flock have been turned into sheep.

I suspect this is because democracy and leadership are fundamentally incompatible. The greater the level of democracy that is applied, the more a titular leader is required to follow rather than to lead. Corporations know this very well. Shareholders apply democracy only at shareholder meetings. And here they choose their leaders who become dictators for a time. Operations are autocratic and are only democratic as an “act of benevolence”. When the shareholders are not satisfied, they change the dictator but they rarely interfere with the exercise of his authority.

Looking at the titular leaders of the democratic countries today, there is not a leader of any stature anywhere in sight. I take a political leader to be someone with a vision of where he wants to take his country and his people, and who creates the path for doing so. Countries with proportional representation are – inherently – no longer capable of producing a leader of that school. They throw up administrators and conciliators who can compromise between different factions but whose time horizon is only up to the next election. They are congenitally incapable of leading, of creating a path to a new condition that they can envision and communicate. Most European countries now fall into this category. Countries with two party systems can, in theory, produce a political leader who can be a king for his term. In practice they too are constrained by their parliaments and “popularity ratings”.

Among the current bunch the closest to being a leader is Angela Merkel. There is not another “leader” in all of Europe. The democratic limitations have been further compounded by the extra layers of bureaucracy in Brussels, the European Parliament and the European Courts. The EU is not a place to look for leaders any more. Barack Obama could have been a leader but he has been too risk-averse (a euphemism for scared) to lead. Hillary Clinton is an administrator who would not recognise a vision if it was handed to her. Donald Trump is a maverick and there is just a faint chance that he could turn into a leader, though it is highly unlikely. Trudeau in Canada has just won a popularity contest and will not challenge the conventional wisdom of the masses. China has a head of political party who seems to be losing control of even his own party. Narendra Modi in India is too busy with collecting frequent flyer points and PR to have time to lead. I don’t count Putin who is a straight dictator without too much pretense of being democratic. (But he is allowed to, and he does lead.)

Democracy is fundamentally incompatible with leadership. A “full” democracy needs no leaders to make any decisions – only followers to do as they are told to by the majority. My thesis is that there is a balance to be found between democratic principles and operational authoritarianism.  You can well apply democratic principles when choosing heads of government. But democracy has to be suspended when providing authority to such heads of government; at least during their time in office and perhaps with some other safeguards. But these chosen heads have to be given the room to become, or grow to become, leaders – if they can.  Right now the authority of the chosen heads is so curtailed that they have little chance to be leaders.

I suspect we do need leaders. But they will not appear until the balance is redressed and we recreate the space within which political leaders can exist and operate.


 

 

Half of all union members in the US work for the government

January 29, 2016

It is only to be expected that most people will vote in favour of their own vested interests.

It is also only to be expected that those whose income depends on government spending will vote for the continuation or the increase of government spending or for the continuation or increase of taxation for that purpose.

One of the fundamental strengths of  “democracy” is supposed to be that every individual has an equal vote, but the corresponding weakness is that merit and ability and behaviour are not of any value.

The result is that it is mere existence as an individual that suffices to have an “equal vote”. And if everyone has the vote it is assumed that “democracy” has been attained – as if it were some sort of state of grace.  The only real criterion is that of age, even if some countries still have some other criteria in force. The merit of the individual is irrelevant. Votes can and are bought by promises or by free meals or by money or by a bus-ride. A “bought” or coerced vote weighs as heavy as one that is freely given. (There is nothing wrong in buying or selling votes – the flaw lies in that the seller has a vote equal to that of free elector). A fool has the same vote as a wise man. A large tax contributor is equated to a small tax contributor. Government servants paid for by taxes have the same weight of vote as the tax payers. Priests and politicians have the vote. The behaviour of an individual does not affect his vote. Experience, intelligence, wisdom, competence or criminality are all considered equally irrelevant. A majority vote is considered to be the “will of the people” where “constitutions” are supposed to prevent excesses against minorities. But constitutions are subject to the same majority vote. One hundred and one idiots take precedence over one hundred wiser men.

And there is something nor quite right if a majority living off a minority can vote to continue the oppression.

CNS News: 48.9% of Union Members Worked for Government in 2015

The percentage of American wage and salary workers who belonged to a union was only 11.1 percent in 2015, but the percentage of union members who worked for government was 48.9 percent, according to data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions–was 11.1 percent in 2015, unchanged from 2014,” the BLS said in press release published today. But the 7,241,000 government workers whom the BLS estimates were members of unions in 2015 equaled almost half of the estimated total of 14,795,000 union-member wage and salary workers in the nation.

…… Government wage and salary workers were far more likely to belong to a union than private-sector wage and salary workers, the BLS reported. “Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.2 percent) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.7 percent),” the BLS said in the press release that accompanied the release of the data.

It is only to be expected then, that most of these will vote in favour of increased government spending (which means the Democrats in the US.


 

The value of a vote

May 10, 2015

In all democracies it is universally assumed that “one man, one vote” is sacrosanct. The “vote” is not earned in any way. Just being born and then being of the minimum age is sufficient to be bestowed with “one vote”. The value of a vote has no connection to merit.

In Scandinavia and most of Europe proportional representation means that one votes for political parties rather than for individuals as representatives of a constituency. The number of seats won by a party is then generally proportional to the total number of votes cast and this leads to an over-representation of minority parties but an under-representation of minorities defined in other ways (gender, ethnicity, age). But the party lists from which the “elected officials” are chosen are produced by the members of the party and the names on the list may or may not have been chosen democratically. The value of the vote of a member of a party is something more than one since that vote also has a say in choosing the party list.

In “first past the post” systems as in the UK, every constituency has an identified representative. In spite of party affiliation, in theory, the elected member represents the entire constituency including its minorities. Of course the elected member then mostly behaves as his party dictates. In the recent UK election the number of votes needed to win a seat in parliament varied from just 25,000 for those supporting the SNP to almost 4 million for a UKIP voter. An SNP vote had a weight 160 times greater than than that of a Ukip voter and 12 times greater than that of a Lib Dem voter.

The Telegraph:

UK votes per seat

UK votes per seat

But it seems to me that in both systems (PR or first-past-the-post), it is irrational that the value of a vote is not graduated and somehow proportional to the value or the merit of the voter.  It seems illogical that a “vote bought” is equal to a “vote freely given” or that a “fool” has the same vote as a “wise man” (however those are defined).

(It is) mere existence as an individual that suffices to have an “equal vote”. And if everyone has the vote it is assumed that “democracy” has been attained – as if it were some sort of state of grace.  The only real criterion is that of age, even if some countries still have some other criteria in force. The merit of the individual is irrelevant. Votes can and are bought by promises or by free meals or by money or by a bus-ride. A “bought” or coerced vote weighs as heavy as one that is freely given. (There is nothing wrong in buying or selling votes – the flaw lies in that the seller has a vote equal to that of free elector). A fool has the same vote as a wise man. A large tax contributor is equated to a small tax contributor. Government servants paid for by taxes have the same weight of vote as the tax payers. Priests and politicians have the vote. The behaviour of an individual does not affect his vote. Experience, intelligence, wisdom, competence or criminality are all considered equally irrelevant. …..  One hundred and one idiots take precedence over one hundred wiser men. 

Of course, measuring “merit” is no easy thing and to get agreement would be extremely difficult – but not impossible.

There is no good reason why all votes should be equal. If there is such a thing as a “good” citizen, or if you accept – as I do – that individuals are not equal in ability and competence and their contribution to a society, then constraining everybody to the same value of vote is itself unjust. Votes must be given weight, I think, according to the “goodness” of the voter. It should not be beyond the wit of man to see to it that an individual had a way of “earning” extra value for his vote by those aspects of his performance or achievements which had value to society. We might then get closer to a “true democracy”. Of course that would also imply that other “anti-social” behaviour or lack of competence could get penalised by having some value of a vote taken away. I can imagine that a “good” citizen or an accomplished citizen could perhaps have a vote with a value enhanced from a base value of one to be – say – 1.5 or 1.8, while a “bad citizen” might have it reduced to – say – 0,5.  A murderer or a fraud serving time could perhaps have their vote value reduced to – say – 0.5. Instead of just being endowed with a vote on reaching the age of 18, an 18-year old could perhaps have 0.2 of a vote increasing to the base value of 1.0 on reaching 23 (when his brain is fully developed).

Such a system is not practical – for the moment. But I would prefer if the right to vote was “earned” in some way and that the value of an individual’s vote had some connection to merit.

On the legitimacy and morality of taxation

February 16, 2015

These are two questions that I have been wrestling with. First whether the concept of taxation of individuals by a state is legitimate and moral, and second, what basis of taxation is the least unjust. Here I just consider the legitimacy and morality of the concept of taxation.

Anarchists and libertarians see taxation as theft. They see it as the oppression of the individual (private or corporate) by the greater society – ostensibly for the “common good”. Communists and socialists see it otherwise. For them there is no individual ownership of property and all wealth is owned by the masses. It is a manifestation of the conflict interface between an individual and the larger society. Some – libertarians for example – suggest that the “greater society” cannot abrogate to itself an authority which is not delegated to it by its individual members. And the power to confiscate the property or wealth of some of its members is not an authority that originates with the individual “victim”. Liberal democrats would argue that taxation is merely the membership fee for individuals to be part of the “club” represented by the “greater society”.

There have been many headlines in the last week about HSBC and the manner in which it has assisted its clients to avoid and evade taxation (where avoidance is legal whereas evasion is illegal). The indignation of politicians rings rather hollow. That the poor resent the rich is not surprising. It is inevitable that in a “democracy” the majority poor will seek to oppress the rich minority. But the bottom line is that all taxation is a confiscation of an individual’s property or wealth by a society (state). It is confiscation by force or under the threat of force. But much of the recent turbulence is based on envy and resentment and of various socialist politicians attempting to create a populist wave out of such resentment and envy. (Of course they conveniently forget that the poor are not poor because the rich are rich. Most are poor because they do not, or do not have the opportunity to, create wealth).

I am persuaded that the concept of taxation as practised today is immoral. It is fundamentally a coercion of an individual by a larger (stronger) society. It is an enforced confiscation (by threat of legal action) of an individual’s property or wealth. It cannot be seen as a membership fee for being a member of the society because leaving (or being expelled from) the society is not an option. It is closer to the extortion of “protection money” than to the membership dues for a golf club. The use to which the funds are put is irrelevant. The key point is whether the payment is voluntary or coerced. When early Christians paid a “tithe” to the Church voluntarily it was not immoral. But when the payment was coerced and no longer voluntary, the system became immoral. Similarly Islam requires the payment of zakat on individual wealth over the minimum nisab and this also shifted from a quite unexceptionable and moral voluntary payment to become an obligatory and immoral coercive confiscation.

I don’t quarrel with the need for any society to generate “common funds” to improve the well being of that society. But the legitimacy of appropriating the funds lies only in that the society (state) is stronger than the individual. Might becomes right. I come to the conclusion that a tax code by which the amount a “good citizen” should contribute to society is calculated is quite moral as long as the payment is then voluntary. There would be no moral issue if all taxation was voluntary. The immorality lies in the use of threat or force to confiscate the payment. It is the oppression of the minority by the majority which is immoral. (I observe that all democracies use the very fact of being a “democracy” as being a justification for the oppression of minorities when that is the will of the majority. As if being in the majority – by and of itself – ensures proper behaviour). But, the good socialist will argue, compulsory payment of tax is necessary to ensure the funds for the common good. Without coercion society as a whole would suffer. The common good – as seen by the majority – is worth the oppression of the minority who do not pay their dues.

And so we come full circle. The end justifies the means. Oppression of the minority by a majority is acceptable for the good of the majority. A society must be able to use force and coercion against its own minorities for the greater good. Taxation is made legitimate only because the state is stronger than the individual.

But that does not alter the fact that involuntary taxation is fundamentally immoral.

Whether a tax code should be based on wealth creation or wealth consumption is a question for another day.

In Sweden, party politics negates and undermines parliamentary democracy

December 2, 2014

Currently Sweden is caught up in a so-called “Crisis of Government” which only serves to show that the Government itself is completely subservient to party politics and the exercise of Parliamentary democracy by the members of Parliament has become irrelevant. Of course in most parliamentary democracies, the exercise of democracy is always compromised by the party system which ensures that members of parliament represent their parties first and only very rarely their constituents. The members of the Swedish parliament particularly, are party representatives first, spokesmen for their own voters second and don’t even try very hard to represent any broader constituency. Votes in parliament are all settled in advance and the actual proceedings in parliament are for the sake of form and are relegated to be of little relevance. Parliamentary votes are usually just a formality.

But a possible challenge to the cosy, back-room deals is causing a furore.

Currently the Swedish Parliament has 349 members from 8 parties.

Social Democrats – 113, Moderates – 84, Sweden Democrats – 49, Environment Party – 25, Centre Party – 22, Left Party – 21, Peoples Party – 19, Christian Democrats – 16.

The Social Democrats and the Environmental Party with 138 seats (of 349) make up the minority government. Adding in the Left Party which supports them from outside the government gives them 159 seats which is still short of a majority. The conservative, market oriented alliance only commands 141 seats. The Sweden Democrats – which is a right-wing, anti-immigration, anti-immigrant party with neo-Nazi roots – is being shunned by all the other parties.  But the balance of power is clearly held by the Sweden Democrats.

The crunch comes tomorrow when the government’s first budget comes up in Parliament for approval. It is normal practice for other parties to oppose by abstaining from voting for the governments budget but instead voting for their own. So even a minority government gets its budget approved as long as all the rest don’t get behind a single alternative budget. The conservative alliance will present their own budget and vote for it but abstain from voting when the government’s budget comes up. The government’s budget has taken on board much of what the Greens and the Left wanted but has ignored the Sweden Democrats and the conservative alliance. It is fairly obvious that the the Greens and the Left are wielding an influence that is far in excess of their strength in parliament. The Greens are leveraging their minority position in a minority government to extort many concessions from the Social Democrats in power.

But now all the parties and all the media are in a tizzy because the Sweden Democrats could challenge the normal cozy, back-room deals usually done by the parties and which are just rubber-stamped by a parliament where all the members stop thinking for themselves and just follow the party line. The Sweden Democrats – who have no chance of getting their own budget passed – are considering backing the budget presented by the conservative alliance. They are perfectly entitled and perfectly within their parliamentary rights to do that since this is closer to their own budget.  But if they do then the choices for the government are limited. They could defer the vote, return the budget to committee and try to come up with something which commands a majority in parliament. Which is, of course, something they should have done in the first place. Or they could call a new election.

The Social Democrats have their knickers in a real twist. They are blaming the Sweden Democrats of not following practice, of extortion and of being irresponsible. They are blaming the conservative parties of allowing the right-wing forces to succeed – by inaction. And that is rather a strange accusation. But I think they protest too much. The Sweden Democrats will decide on their position today. The media are nearly all criticising them for taking so long to announce how they will vote. Which is also rather strange. If all votes are announced before the voting takes place, what then is the purpose of making speeches and arguing and voting in the parliamentary chamber? The democratic powers of parliament have become a matter of form but seem to have no substance.

Why bother with the parliament if all decisions can effectively be taken in the back-rooms outside of parliament.

If the democratic parliament is to have any real meaning then the government needs to present a budget which commands a real majority of the 349 votes where the votes are free and not constrained by party position (i.e. a minimum of 175 voting in favour).

Actually I expect that the Sweden Democrats will chicken out today and the government budget will get passed tomorrow. If they truly represented their voters they would have to make sure that this government budget fails. It will be a lopsided and essentially an undemocratic budget.  It will be undemocratic in that there will be far too much dictated by the Greens and the far Left and well in excess of their due. If the budget passes, it will be a case of tyranny by the minority.

The only really democratic option – which I would like to see – is that the government takes its responsibility which it should have done in the first place. It needs to revise and formulate a new budget which truly commands a free majority in the house.

Crimea: Hypocrisy when the US and the West attack a democratic referendum

March 17, 2014

Personally I do not believe in referenda as a sustainable democratic method. If all decisions were taken to referenda we would essentially have an anarchy. But the use of referenda – occasionally but often not with great circumspection – has become a common practice in so-called democratic countries whenever an administration finds itself at odds with the great unwashed electorate and at risk of losing an election.

The Crimea has no great tradition or history as a part of Ukraine. It was merely attached to Ukraine in 1954 for administrative and prestige purposes during Khrushchev’s time. I find the developments in the Crimea are now showing up the double standards that always apply in international “diplomacy” in a very clear and sharp light. It is always a case of “do as I say” and never of “do as I do”.

There is little doubt that the Crimean referendum yesterday reflects the wishes of the majority of the inhabitants of that autonomous territory. The Tartars and the Ukrainians living in the Crimea largely boycotted the vote. But it was a direct vote on a simple question. It is being criticised for being illegal and unconstitutional by Obama and the EU and the “West”. But it cannot be criticised for being undemocratic. The claim that it was unconstitutional is a little weird since the current administration in Kiev can hardly be called constitutional. At best one could say that neither the acting government in Kiev (which is not an elected government any more) nor the referendum are in line with the currently suspended Ukrainian constitution.

EU Ministers are rushing to condemn the referendum – but they are careful to quote issues of legality and constitutional impropriety. They are careful not to call the referendum undemocratic. Hague and Cameron particularly show up as being triple-tongued and double-faced. The Crimea – under the Ukrainian constitution – had more autonomy than Scotland has in the UK. How then is a referendum in Scotland on independence acceptable but a referendum in the Crimea is not?  Hague claims that the referendum makes a “mockery of democracy” but that is an intellectually bankrupt statement. He might as well call for all of the UK to vote in Scotland’s referendum for that referendum not also to be a mockery of Democracy. David Cameron is struggling to balance between offering a referendum on EU membership and yet making it a vote which has no possibility of the UK leaving the EU. Democracy will not apply if the vote is “No” to membership. The electorate wants a referendum, so he offers them one. But the UK Parliament – which has surrendered many of its powers to Europe – is loth to allow the unwashed electorate any such power.

The reality today is that almost all “democratic” countries use voting systems which are nowhere near as direct or as represntative of an electorate’s wishes as a refrendum. The US Presidential elections with its electoral college is a case in point. Party democracies in Europe are extremely indirect reflections of the wishes of the electorate. It is political parties which control the names on the party lists. The broad electorate only chooses a Party, and the Party hierarchy and membership usually choose the representatives. The manner in which names enter the Party lists is hardly democratic. European countries which practice proportional representation have a quite “undemocratic” representation in their Parliaments. Extreme minorities have a disproportionately large presence in Parliaments.

There is a lot of noise and bluster from Obama and Kerry and all the EU politicians. But it is the imprudent wooing of Ukraine by the EU and US meddling which has created the current crisis in Ukraine. It is their indiscriminate support of any opposition (just as in Syria) which has allowed the advance of the violent far-right neo Nazis.

I also note that while Obama’s popularity is at an all-time low of 41%, Vladimir Putin’s popularity is at an all-time high of over 70%. And democracy, after all, is just a popularity contest. But the simple fact is that most of the Crimea would prefer to be with Russia than with Ukraine. Obama and his friends may call it illegal and unconstitutional but the Crimean vote yesterday was totally democratic.

Election Commission is the unsung hero of Indian democracy

March 5, 2014

The Indian Election Commission (EC) is one of the institutions which has maintained its autonomy, integrity and independence even though various political parties have from time to time tried to politicise it. It has been the unsung hero of establishing a solid tradition of the Indian style of  “democracy” and of orderly transitions between governments. There was a period during the 1980’s when the respect commanded by the EC among politicians and political parties diminished and election violence increased. But the advent of TN Seshan in 1991 as the Election Commissioner and his tough actions brought the political parties back into line and restored much of the EC’s position.

As the Chief Election Commissioner of Election Commission of India he introduced major electoral reforms and redefined the status and visibility of the Election Commission of India. He was largely successful in curbing electoral malpractices in India and his name became synonymous with transparency and efficiency.

Seshan was not popular with politicians but received enthusiastic support from the public. Governments tried to dilute the Chief Election Commissioner’s powers by appointing additional Commissioners but in 1993 the Supreme Court confirmed the CEC’s supremacy and reaffirmed his constitutional position. Constitutional amendments to alter his position require a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The Congress Party when in government made some half-hearted attempts to introduce constitutional amendments to curb his powers but gave up these attempts because of public opposition and lack of support in parliament.

The EC has just announced the dates of polling and counting for the next general election. The Election Commission on Wednesday announced the schedule for Lok Sabha polls 2014. Polling will be held in nine phases, starting on April 7th and the counting of votes will be held on May 16th. These general elections will see 814 million voters eligible to vote, about 100 million more than at the last general election. The term of the current Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) expires on June 1st and the new House has to be constituted by May 31st. This will be a fascinating election with a number of new forces in play – but more of that later.

The EC – rather than governments or political parties – has become the de facto guardian of free and fair elections in India and must be credited with much of the “success” of the establishment of a sort of “democracy” in India. The robustness of this “democracy” can be judged by the strength of the institution of the Election Commission and the independence of the Chief Election Commissioner.


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