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Kamala Sarup: Threats and Democracy

Threats and Democracy

By Kamala Sarup

Political theory holds that a sustainable democracy will engender a type of cooperation between the elected representatives of the people which results in accomplishments that are useful to the people who elected them rather than the representatives themselves.

When political deadlocks cause a static condition, or the elected representatives only care about their own personal wealth and accomplishments, such a democracy can easily give rise to a condition which is ripe for social unrest, even revolution or rebellion.

The societal conditions which help foster a successful democracy include a responsible and vibrant press, some type of universal public education system, and a populace literate enough and with enough political awareness to take advantage of the press and education system to educate themselves politically. If these conditions exist, the electorate can effectively judge the politicians they elect and not re-elect them if they find their actions inadequate or not productive enough to solve social ills.

All forms of government are difficult to inculcate and run successfully because of human nature. Democracy is no different. Famed British politician Winston Churchill once remarked that: "It has been said that democracy is the form of government except all the others that have been tried."

If the histories of democratic experiments in Europe and South America are any guide, sometimes several variations are necessary before a people create a workable democracy.

The United States of America, often held out as the most successful democracy in the world based on its economic success and power, is no exception to the rule that democracy is a process rather than a static state.

The American Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in American history, was fought primarily because of the economic conflict over slavery. What emerged from that war was a democracy far different than the one which gave rise to it.

Moreover, repeated cycles of boom and bust in the American business cycle eventually gave rise to the Great Depression of the 1930s which resulted in a great transformation of American democracy known as the New Deal. The New Deal gave more rights to unions and the common person, thus enabling more participation in the American democratic experiment.

What can a nation, such as Nepal, where the democratic tradition is not as developed as in America, Europe or South America, learn from all this?

Local conditions and the cultural background of each nation must be taken into account. There is, perhaps, no "one size fits all" democratic model. In creating and fostering a democracy, a nation must also allow the ingredients which "grow" and nurture democracies: literacy, education. Women's rights as a necessary adjunct to any successful democracy in the 21st Century.

The creation of a democracy is a process. People must be prepared for setbacks in the democratic experiment and not yield to the temptation for a "quick fix". Successful and long-lasting democracies all took time to develop. If a step approach to the realization of a democracy is necessary to achieve certain social needs in the process, perhaps the European models are more easily adaptable to Asian conditions as are the democracies in place in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, all different, yet demonstrably democratic. There may very well be an evolutionary approach to ultimately achieving an American-style democracy.

It is hard to vote intelligently when hungry or without shelter. It is also hard to make informed decisions without the information provided by a responsible press. It is most difficult to exercise democratic rights when the basic security affecting life and limb is lacking due to war and terrorism.

The cornerstone of any successful democracy lies in a constant educational ethos: literacy, universal free education, and ongoing educational opportunities for adults, including job retraining for changing economic circumstances. If the education is available, people will find the way to make it useful to them and, in the process, create the conditions favorable to a democracy suited to their needs.


Kamala Sarup can be reached at

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