Reforming democracy, reforming social values

Key elections around the world highlight differences in evolution of democracy


By Martin Jan Stransky

Jan 06, 2005


If elections were held today, polls point to Civic Democratic Party Chairman Mirek Topolanek as the next prime minister.

If elections were held today, polls point to Civic Democratic Party Chairman Mirek Topolanek as the next prime minister.

If there is a single barometer of the political situation in a given country, it is elections. In the last three months, we have witnessed elections in, among other countries, the United States, Afghanistan, the CzechRepublic and Ukraine. All, in their own way, are pivotal.

Within the cacophony of debate on globalization and its effects, there is a chorus of debate about politics and the nature of democracy itself. Most agree that the nature of politics is changing and that the mechanisms of politics and democracy are becoming outdated in an evolutionary manner.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 time-frame continuums. In parts of Africa and Central America and in Haiti, elections serve as opportunities for planned coups (military or tribal), with the inevitable ensuing massacres and purges. In the Islamic world, where socio-political evolution stopped in the 17th century, there are 25 countries without a single functioning democracy. Local factions, coalitions, religious mullahs and (war) lords still control every aspect of society. China and Russia, which have never known democracy, are not much different. In China, voting is still held in darkness by the perpetual cultural mindset of overseeing master versus subject. In Russia, the mindset of most people, from peasant to Putin, remains Czarist. Vladimir Putin’s seemingly outlandish statements protesting the course of events in Ukraine and telling the West to mind its own 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 is not.

For some countries, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, simply having an election come off is a precedent-setting step. The Afghan election meant a break with the centuries-old mindset of clan rule and the recent tyrannical rule of Muslim extremists. That’s why there is so much pre-election violence in Iraq, where the war is now being waged predominantly by those same extremists who are supported by external funding from countries such as Syria. No matter what one may think of George W. Bush and his policies, a democratically thinking electorate in any Muslim country is the bane of Muslim dictatorships and terrorist organizations. Like all first steps, the steps of the young, elected government won’t be smooth. But like most infants, the country will get back up, stumble forward, and slowly learn as it goes along.

In the Czech Republic, as in the United States and the rest of the Western world, we have luxurious conditions, starting with freedom from political harassment or the risk of being 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 stems from apathy. The causes of the apathy differ, however. In post-communist countries, there is still a disconnect with the fact that democracy is dependendent on — and influenced by — voter participation. In Western Europe and in the United States, where the past few generations have lived in relative peace and have enveloped themselves in the rising mantra of consumerism, voter apathy stems both from freedom of economic movement and from voters’ disconnection from the candidates. The candidates, carefully manicured stereotypes with pre-programmed statements, are thrust forth from parties whose ideological differences seem to get more and more narrow. However, when those differences rise up and become both apparent and important, as in the recent U.S. elections, voters 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 author is a physician and publisher of The New Presence and Pritomnostmagazines ( This piece was written for The Prague Post.


The Prague Post6.1.2005

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