If there is a single barometer of the political landscape of a given country, then it is elections. In the last three months, we have witnessed elections in, among other countries, the US, Afghanistan, the Czech Republic and Ukraine. Each, in their own way, is pivotal.
Within the cacophony of debate on globalization and its effects, there is a chorus of debate about politics and on the nature of democracy itself. Most agree that the nature of politics is changing, and that the mechanisms of politics and of democracy are becoming outdated in a sort of evolutionary manner.
Such a view needs to be examined. First, this is a purely Western perspective, ignoring the fact that the world is divided into vastly different historical timeframe continuums. In parts of Africa, Central America and Haiti, elections serve as milestones for planned coups (military or tribal), with the inevitable ensuing massacres and purges. In the Islamic world, we have 25 countries without a single functioning democracy, where socio-political evolution has stopped in the 17th century. Local factions, coalitions, religious mullahs and (war) lords still control every aspect of society. China and Russia, who have never known democracy, are not much different. In China, voting is still far below the historical horizon, held in darkness by the perpetual Chinese cultural mindset of overseeing master Vs subject. In Russia, the mindset of most people, from peasant to Putin, remains Tsarist. Putin’s seemingly outlandish statements protesting against the course of events in Ukraine and telling the West to mind it’s business do not represent a departure from his norm, but rather a return to it. Our surprise simply betrays a naive hope that somehow Russia is actually up-to-speed with the West. It’s not.
For some countries, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, simply having an election where the majority of people vote and don’t get jailed in the process, is a milestone, a huge first step. Like all first steps, it is a stutter, often leading to a fall. But like most young infants, the country will get back up, stumble forward, and slowly learn as it goes along. In Ukraine, the majority got upset by being repeatedly cheated, and had a fit. There, the angry infant is up on its feet, swaying uncertainly, but ready to walk alone.
In the Czech Republic, the US and the West, we have luxurious preconditions, starting with not being politically harassed or perhaps even shot on one’s way to the voting booth, and ending with the evolutionary events that created our present civil society. Here, the lack of voter participation does stem from apathy. However, the causes of the apathy differ. In post-communist countries, there is still a disconnect with the fact that democracy is dependent on – and influenced by – voter participation. In Western Europe and the US, where the past few generations have lived in relative peace and have enveloped themselves in the rising mantra of consumerism, voter apathy stems from a combination of freedom of economic movement as well as a disconnect that the voters have with the candidates. The candidates, carefully manicured stereotypes with pre-programmed statements, are thrust forth from parties whose ideological differences seem to get narrower and narrower. However, when those differences rise up and become apparent as well as important, as was the case in the recent US elections, voters do man the battle lines, proving that the system still has a very legitimate and decisive role.
In such developed countries, it’s not democracy that is in need of reform, but rather societal values. Society needs to lean forward from its comfortable couch and look beyond its manicured lawn and realize that we live on a planet that, despite globalization, actually consists of many different worlds. Some of them have real meaningful elections, but most of them still do not.
|The New Presence||winter 2004|
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