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Monday, January 19, 2009

What Does Democracy Means?

With U.S. President-elect, Barack Obama, Tuesday's inauguration ceremony, the world leader is set for change. Mr Obama is U.S. first ever blacks to be elected into the Presidency office. It has been over 400 good long years since the emancipation of slavery by the great Lincoln.

The below is an interesting article on the topic of "Democracy". Just what does that term mean?

During the home-run to the U.S. Presidency 2008, I read with amusement various quarters online talking about waiting for a 'Singaporean Obama' to come to the rescue of Singapore.

The fact is that if the situation in Singapore were that dreadful, we most certainly would not sit back and wait for the 'messiah' to come to our rescue. Rather, while waiting for the 'Singaporean Obama' to appear we would have got down to start paving the way for his messianic appearance in all its glory, and so begin right now to set the Democratic process going, hadn't we?

The point I'm driving home is that Democracy in America and the West did not just happen with the wave of a wand. And Democracy as it is practised in America today is only 40 years old, though the U.S as a Nation was founded on July 4, 1776.

I may also add that in the run-up to the recently concluded U.S. Presidential Election, there were many who harboured doubts that finally, the majority of white American voters would really vote for an African-American. And the fact that they in fact did was what caused that 'spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion' and euphoria, all of which no doubt contributed to making the November 2008 American Presidential Election a historic occasion of momentous significance.

Just as Rome was not built in a day, so a Democracy as it is understood and practised in the West cannot be established overnight. Now why do I emphasize the point about 'Democracy as it is practised in the West? The explanation is provided by the many other countries in the world that also subscribe to Democracy. As a concept, Democracy means different things to the different leaders and peoples of the world.

The late Chairman Mao Ze-dong also believed in Democracy. To Chairman Mao, Democracy meant 'freedom from foreign domination and exploitation, freedom from hunger and disease, and the opportunity for the Chinese people to build a just and caring society where the principle of "From each according to his ability, and to each according to his needs" might be implemented. [In this instance, some people might justifiably say that Mao was more of a romantic than a political reformer. But let me not digress and distract you, the reader.]

Then again in America, the staunchest proponent of Democracy in the world, capital punishment is still carried out while in other Democratic countries like Australia, that form of punishment is considered inhumane and a blatant transgression of the very principles of 'human rights' considered as the very essence of Democracy by the great majority of Australians.

Our very own Republic of Singapore also believes in "a Democratic Society based on justice and equality... ...", and a society where every citizen is expected to contribute according to his ability and will be rewarded in direct proportion to his contribution. So who has the right to dictate what Democracy should mean for this whole world?

The point here really is, that Democracy certainly cannot be a 'one size fits all' system of governance. For it to work effectively and meaningfully, it has to take into consideration differences in situation and circumstances, differences in terms of religion and culture, and the individual country's natural endowments, particular needs and constraints.

Democracy is by no means a manual of instructions or even a set of guidelines to follow for the establishment of a just, humane and an equitable socitey where all its citizens, without exception, are equal before the laws of the land. Democracy entails a process over time to attain to full maturity.

Also, Freedom is not a birth-right but a privilege to be earned. And until one understands that one's freedom to smoke as and when/where one likes , one must also take full cognizance of another's freedom to be able to breathe unpolluted, fresh air, we have quite some steep slope to climb before we reach the peak of our endeavour.

Indeed for Democracy to succeed one needs to understand that the moment one chooses to be a member of a community for security or protection, and for a more meaningful and an enriching life, one must be prepared to surrender a measure of individual rights and freedom for the greater good of the community of which one is a member.

Indeed there is no Democracy anywhere on this planet that grants its citizens unbridled freedom. For when this happens CHAOS takes over the reins from Democracy and the outcome is lawlessness and mayhem. For sure, Democracy does not confer on the individual the right to do the wrong.

This leads us to the all-important question of educating the people for the successful implementation of the Democratic model as a form of governance. And as educating the people is a time-consuming process and in direct relation to the rate that a people is capable of learning, so to that extent is the implementation of the Democratic process facilitated or hindered. In other words, the speed with which Democracy may be implemented will be depend upon a people's capacity for learning.

The message here is that evolution over revolution is the civilized route to take in our aspiration to bring about the changes that would enhance the overall well-being of our people. Evolution takes time at the same time as it takes people through a process of learning. And it is precisely this learning process that is so crucial to the success of any model of Democracy.

Revolution, on the other hand, brings about the possibility or opportunity to bring about change overnight without the people at large necessarily knowing how to go about helping to formulate and implement the change(s) that they seek.

The choice as to the route to take must by now be clear for those who cherish peaceful and sustainable change.

Ho Cheow Seng



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