Democratization: Beyond the Right to Vote

All Pakistan Democratic Movement (APDM) leader Imran KhanBy Newsbyrd Staff-

“Human empowerment is the driving force behind democratization.”  This is the gist of an article, “The Role of Ordinary People in Democratization,” written by Christian Welzel and Ronald Inglehart, members of the World Values Survey (WVS) Executive Committee.

The WVS is a global network of social scientists who have surveyed the basic values and beliefs of the publics of nearly one hundred societies, on all six continents.

The article examines components of democracy, without pinpointing the “perfect” one.  Nor does it point out the imperfections of ours (America), which is deemed by many throughout the world as the model.

Democracy starts with the Elite

That roomful of America’s earliest citizens who crafted the Constitution of the United States of America were among the wealthiest and most highly regarded members of that early society. They were the elites.  Was the distribution of wealth a major consideration? Not hardly, but personal liberties and the “pursuit of happiness” was! It sounds rather idealistic but our forefathers apparently understood something that every sole on the planet asks numerous times: Will money make me happy? The answer to that question is, “maybe”.

Will the “pursuit of happiness” make me happy? Well, that question answers itself. But only certain societies allow for this elusive pursuit.  Oppressive societies does, or at leaset make it more difficult. The U.S does. And so does France, Australia, Sweden, with a long list to follow. In addition, but to a lesser extent, so do many emerging democracies, such as those that rose from the former Soviet bloc.

But for a democracy to rise where there once was none requires a strong will by the masses. It is this “will” that become the seed of empowerment.

Below are some edited highlights of “The Role of Ordinary People in Democratization”.

“Although elite bargaining was central when representative democracy first emerged and still plays an important role, the development of “effective democracy” reflects the acquisition by ordinary people of resources and values that enable them effectively to pressure elites. The importance of this process, called “human empowerment,” is generally underestimated.

“Democratic regimes throughout the world have evolved along two lines. One is where the elite shapes public policy, rules, regulations and law, but still holds free and fair, regular elections. In this scenario, the preference of the masses matters little. This form of Democracy has been called “electoral”.

“A (genuine) democracy is government by the people in which mass preferences shape public policy, (which in the United States is supported by representative government).

During the “third wave” of democratization, which began in 1974 and peaked in the early 1990s, electoral democracy spread rapidly across large parts of the world. Strategic elite agreements played an important role. Additionally, the international environment, transformed by the end of the Cold War, facilitated democratization—especially in countries where the threat of Soviet military intervention had blocked it, or where Western support had long propped up anticommunist autocracies.

Power to the People

“One can establish electoral democracy almost anywhere, but it may not be deep-rooted or long-lasting if it does not transfer power from the elites to the people.

“The report identified three elements of human-empowerment: action resources, self-expression values, and democratic institutions. Each of these components empowers people on a different level.

“Action resources include material and cognitive resources, such as education and skills, which help people to govern their own lives. Modernization not only increases people’s economic resources, it also brings rising educational levels and moves people into occupations that require independent thinking, making them more articulate and better equipped to participate in politics.

“Societies that emphasize self-expression values have participatory orientations toward society and politics; support gender equality; are relatively tolerant of foreigners, homosexuals, and other out-groups; and rank high on interpersonal trust.

“Democratic institutions provide the civil and political rights that allow people to shape public life as well as their private lives. Together these elements make human empowerment possible. Consequently, effective democracy tends to be found in societies with strong self-expression values and abundant action resources. Rising levels of resources increase people’s ability to place pressure on elites.

“Abundant resources also generate a greater emphasis on self-expression values, leading publics to put greater emphasis on free choice in politics—thereby making it increasingly difficult for elites to resist effective democratization.

Democracy and the Redistribution of Wealth

“Some interpret democracy as resulting from a struggle between propertied elites and impoverished masses, in which both sides are motivated by conflicting interests as regards economic redistribution.

“The masses want widespread suffrage in order to vote in the redistribution of wealth, while the elites oppose such suffrage precisely because they fear such a result. Consequently, elites will concede widespread suffrage only if they believe that it will not lead to extensive redistribution.

“Rising levels of education, expanding mass communication, and more knowledge-intensive work widen people’s intellectual skills. Growing social complexity widens and diversifies people’s social opportunities.

“People get a sense of human autonomy, which leads them to question unlimited and uncontrolled authority over people and makes them receptive to the ideas of individual freedom and equality.

“The concept of modernization influencing the likelihood of democracy in that it brings rising income equality and capital mobility, making universal suffrage more acceptable to the elites, is questionable. (Most academics) believe that greater material and cognitive resources enable the people to mount more powerful collective actions and to put effective pressure on elites.

“From 1987 to 1995 historically unprecedented numbers of demonstrators provided the impetus for outbreaks of democratization from Seoul and Manila to Moscow and East Berlin. Moreover, the struggle was not primarily about economic redistribution but about political liberty. Indeed, democratization in the former communist countries was not motivated by mass pressures for greater economic equality; instead it shifted political power away from an elite class that strongly emphasized economic equality and gave more of such power to the wider populace, which emphasized economic equality less.

Democracy does not emerge simply from an interest in universal suffrage and the redistribution of wealth. It emerges from a struggle for democratic freedoms that go far beyond the right to vote. ”

Photo:  A budding democracy. All Pakistan Democratic Movement (APDM) leader Imran Khan (L) gestures as he addresses a press conference along with Qazi Hussain Ahmed after a meeting in Islamabad on May 14, 2008.








Posted by at March 22, 2012
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