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The Limitations of Representative Democracy in South Asia and the way out. M M Akash Professor Economics Department University of Dhaka Bangladesh. Introduction. The aims of this paper are: Define “Representative democracy” Identification of its various limitations.

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The Limitations of Representative Democracy in South Asia and the way out.


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    1. The Limitations of Representative Democracy in South Asia and the way out. M M Akash Professor Economics Department University of Dhaka Bangladesh

    2. Introduction The aims of this paper are: • Define “Representative democracy” • Identification of its various limitations. • Suggesting a model of alternative new democracy for developing countries of South Asia

    3. Definition of Representative Democracy • The narrow definition of R.D. implies five conditions: Freedom of Expression, Right to dissent, Right to Vote and Elect the Representative Government, Presence of a free Media and a Multiparty System. • A full blooded definition claims “Democracy is a state system of the people, by the people and for the people” and it actually transcends the boundary of the narrow idea of representative Democracy..

    4. Ideal Democracy: Meaning of its three components • “Of the people “means people own the state, state is not an alienated organ of power above the people. • “By the people” means all the organs of the state and all their functions can be controlled by the people. • “For the people” means the results of democratic rule is good for the people as judged by themselves. • The second definition is a larger, more complete and more ideal definition of Democracy. The five institutions covering mainly civil and political rights are necessary but not sufficient for the ideal definition of democracy.

    5. Fundamental Problem of Narrow Representative Democracy • In any class divided South Asian society we may define “People” in terms of two major criteria: non exploiters and overwhelming majority of the population. • In every South Asian state there is going on various power struggles between the “PEOPLE” and “PEOPLE’S ENEMIES”. • The Narrow definition of democracy overlooks the existing inequalities and gives equal political right to both people and people’s enemies. • Naturally people rarely succeed to realize political success with rudimentary economic power, scanty knowledge and lower social power. They have numerical advantage but real strength is generally poor. (E.g. Bourgeoisie Democracies in South Asia and USA) • But we also know merely economically empowered people without formal political and civil rights or freedom do not run their country by themselves. (E.g. Democracy in North Korea!) • Neither Economic democracy nor political democracy is isolatedly sufficient for full democracy.

    6. Other Various Limitations of Representative System (contd.) 1. No direct Participation, Voice and Vigilance • Citizens get no direct say on any particular issue, or day to day policies which actually affect them hugely. • If Media does not pick up their issues, then the voice remains unheard! • Democracy becomes power of the people for the Election Day alone! • There are always artificial limits to participation. Often even in the most "open" democracies, defined groups (such as children, non-citizens, and criminals) are not given any voice.

    7. Other Various Limitations of Representative System (contd.) 2. Corrupt Practice-Corrupt Candidates-Mediocre Leaders • Because representatives are given power, they are prone to corruption. Their power can be used to enrich themselves and their friends (as opposed to those of their constituents). • Because of the concentration of power, use of money and muscle it becomes extremely difficult for an ordinary citizen to get elected. Corrupts are winning candidates. • Given the chance of winning of the better candidates less, bad money drives good money away. Mediocre become leaders.

    8. Other Various Limitations of Representative System (contd.) 3. Serving the interests of a few and Bipolar Politics • Decision-making processes involving a small number of elected representatives can be easily captured by the elite to promote their interest mainly. • Politicians serving the same elite class need to differentiate themselves from each other in order to distinguish themselves as the best candidate for office. This requires them to focus on trivial issues of conflict and avoid reaching significant agreements with their opponents. As a result national issues or common issues are ignored too. • Under Bipolar politics either the two elite captured parties make a compromise for ruling people by turn or may cut each other’s throat and pave the way for non democratic intervention.

    9. Other Various Limitations of Representative System (contd.) 4. No Right to recall and “Winner takes all” politics • People can not withdraw their support and change their representative whenever they feel so. They have to wait till next election. • The minority loses everything even if it gets 49% of votes.

    10. Other Various Limitations of Representative System 5.Threat of temporary suspension of democracy • Democratic majority or a revolutionary movement in a particular country can sometimes suspend the democratic laws and rules for a transitional period. There is a danger that it may become permanent. • Temporary emergency can be proclaimed by the democratic polity especially at any crisis moment. • Representative democracies often concentrate all power in the hand of a single leader. Thus, suffer from the inherent flaw of feudal governments: kill the king and the entire state is critically injured. If a president, prime minister, party chairman, etc. is killed the entire body becomes unstable and paves the way for non democratic intervention.

    11. Ideal Conditions of Comprehensive Democracy • An opportunity for vibrant fearless public discourse on all issues concerning people’s interest. • The election system should be free, fair and Pluralist. • Every contestant should enjoy level playing field. • Representatives should always be transparent and continuously remain accountable to its constituents in pre and post election period. • People should have the opportunity to protest or counteract the abuse of representative power in all areas affecting their interest. • Ideal democracy is possible only in primitive societies and in a family where the members run their affairs on the basis of certain principles e.g. collective ownership, from each according to his/her capacity and to each according to his/her needs and democratic decision making process as long as scarcity and trade-off exists.

    12. Incomplete Democracies: The Two Typical Cases • In highly unequal societies ideal conditions of democracy are absent: • China Case--- (Negative features) At macro level constitutionally guaranteed monopoly of political power, limited civil and political rights, Recent rise in inequality-----( Positive features), Major means of production is controlled by the state and they are run efficiently, Surplus from them are redistributed to ensure minimum social securities for all citizens, Decentralized Administration with election system at grass root levels and inner party democracy. • USA Case—(Negative Features) Concentration of income, wealth, political power in few hands, State baling out corporate Capital, Curtailing social security expenditures, A bi-party system of election, External aggression etc. (Positive Features) Rule of Law, Transparency, largely uncensored media, multi party system, No feudal heritage, etc.

    13. Practice of Democracy as a culture • People always try to be empowered in the various spheres of political practice, economic practice, educational practice, health practice, etc. • Democratic culture is a culture of decision making through open debate and reasoning. and minority giving way to the majority. • Examples of Non –State Democracy: Inner party democracy, Neighborhood democracy, Grass root democracy, Enterprise democracy, Academic democracy, Democratization of Military, judiciary and bureaucracy, etc.

    14. The Dream of Death of Democracy: The Chinese Marxist View • I quote from Li Shenming– “My understanding is that, generally speaking, the democracy shaped in human societies can be divided into three categories: primitive democracy, state democracy and future socialist democracy in communist societies. Each category has its specificity, so each constitutes a specific form of democracy. The first and the third share a similatity because both give equal rights to all tribal and social members in economy, politics and culture. Hence these two can be termed ‘full democracy’. The democracy we talk a lot about nowadays is mainly the second one, namely state democracy. Again, state democracy can be divided farther into slave democracy, feudal democracy, capitilist democracy and socialist democracy. The types debated most heatedly today are the capitalist and socialist democracies. None of the four subcategories is full democracy, thus the ‘incomplete democracies’, which in this sense have a ‘common nature’ shared by slave democracy, feudal democracy, capitalist democracy and socialist democracy”. [ Li Shenming, 2008-09, P-268]

    15. Experiences of Democracy through Capturing State Power or Revolution • Bourgeoisie democratic revolutions in Europe compromised their democratic spirit for narrow bourgeoisie interest and out of their fear against people’s uprisings. • Socialist revolution in USSR after a spring of development of comprehensive democratization, later at some point of history became bureaucratic, centralized and stagnant and elitist. • National liberation revolution established various kinds of national democracies against • their two common enemies---- Feudalism or remnants of feudalism and Imperialism or neo-colonialism. The record of their achievements is mixed.

    16. Experience of Democracy through reforming Social/Economic/Administrative Institutions. • It has been proved again and again “Absolute Power corrupts absolutely” • Representative Democracy may be a necessary evil at least at macro level as a state form. • We must try to ensure constant transparency, vigilance and effective countervailing power against our representatives to enforce their accountability to their constituencies.. • An active media. An active civil society, independent judiciary, pro people or at least a neutral bureaucracy, Ombudsman system, Powerful Control commissions of the democratic parties, Institutions for check and balance and scope for complain from the weak against the powerful, proportionate election system, Decentralization, all these may help greatly to perfect the existing partial democracies in South Asia.

    17. The Way Out: New opportunities • We are going through an I.C.T revolution. • It enables people to get all information about all policies and functions. • It enables them to participate in every policy making. • It enables them to forward complains against negative effects of the policies. • They can now form a collective opinion and organize countervailing public power more easily, more cheaply and with lesser risk.

    18. The Way Out: New challenges • The two most noteworthy democratic achievements of the current epoch are: The Wall Street Movement and The Arab Spring Movement. • The future challenge is to retain the leadership of these movements under People, democratic majority of the society. • To ensure universal education. • To reduce the existing digital divide. • To build the social and physical infrastructure for ensuring effective access to I.C.T for marginal people and marginal areas..

    19. Final Goal “This is the project for direct political democracy, economic democracy ( beyond the confines of the market economy and state planning) as well as democracy in the social realm and ecological democracy. In short, inclusive democracy is a form of social organization which reintegrates society with economy, polity with nature.” (source: http://www.inclusivedemocracy.org/index.html)