Monday, June 19, 2006

Democratic Dictatorships

In South Africa the ANC have won in the last general election almost 70% of the vote. It has never been out of power since the fall of Apartheid. The Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said recently

"Dictatorship never announces its arrival,"

"It won't, like drum majorettes, beat drums and parade down the street to announce it has arrived." "The main concern of the committee centres on signs that we may be drifting towards dictatorship.

Now much of the background to this is to do with Jacob Zuma the former Deputy President who was accused of rape but was acquitted. During his trial he admitted to having unprotected sex with his accuser but claimed that he took a shower afterwards to cut the risk of contracting HIV. Now the Congress of South African Trade Unions is very much in favour of Zuma which the current president Mbeki does not. So a lot of the reason for such talk is inevitably political in nature. But is their a grain of truth in it.

While the reason that the ANC has 70% of the vote is because 70% of the electorate voted for them. But the question is does power breed power. Is there a certain point where in a democracy that a party can be so big and in power that removes the ability for the opposition to get in. i.e. leading to the case where a democracy can be a dictatorship.

Much of politics is about money the ability to get your message across is more important then your message. Now if you are the party in power and in the position where you are going to be the only party in power you are going to be the largest receiver of political donations. Who is going to back a dead horse. Not many, especially in a place where there is a perception that society is more or less democratic. While people fighting the good fight will always attract sympathy especially from foreign donor’s, if a party is on the surface democratic and the former home of Nelson Mandela who is going to back the opposition against such a party. Thus this leads to the main party having an large advantage in the financial stakes.

But that is not the main cause of power breeding power. When a party is so much a part of the history of a struggle for freedom. It comes very much the symbol of what was fought for. What ever the ANC will do it will always be the party that ended Apartheid it will always be the party that ended the oppression of the black population. That is a very powerful symbol, something that people feel a loyalty to something that is very difficult to vote against. As it seems in some respects to be voting against what they stood for. Then that thought can come institutionalised the very idea of voting for something else seems wrong it comes very natural to vote for that party. And while there are differing ideas about how the country should be run there these are considered to be dealt with in house. Where we end up with a big tent party where differing ideas exist but whether these ideas become government policy or not is dealt with in house and not by the electorate. Thus the electorate no longer dictate government policy it is dictated to them. This state has all the hallmarks on the outside of democracy but isn’t, it is dictatorship.

Desmond Tutu said of the ANC in 2004.

An unthinking, uncritical, kowtowing party line-toeing is fatal to a vibrant democracy. I am concerned to see how many have so easily been seemingly cowed and apparently intimidated to comply. I am sure proportional representation has been a very good thing but it should have been linked to constituency representation. I fear that the party lists have had a deleterious impact on people even if that was not the intention. It is lucrative to be on a party list. The rewards are substantial and if calling in question party positions jeopardises one's chances to get on the list then not too many are foolhardy and opt for silence to become voting cattle for the party.

Imagine an Ireland where Collins and Dev had agreed on the treaty. Where the IRA didn’t split where the civil war never happened and Sinn Fein had never split. We would have had a Dail with Sinn Fein being the dominate party. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail would never have come into existence and while parties like Labour and the Greens would exist and parties like the PD’s would break away. They would never have had the ability to beat Sinn Fein in an election. Currently combined Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have 110 seats. Or 66% of the seats and that is quiet low in 1981 (random pick) they held 74% of the vote. We would probably have had 80 years of 1 party government. I think it would be quiet likely but due to the civil war that ripped the country and possibly most vitally the dominate party of the struggle for freedom apart. The split introduced choice and allowing real democracy to flourish. And while Fianna Fail does show many of the aspects of the big tent, they are not un-opposed there is a wide section of choice and the public can dictate policy. However due to its big nature Fianna Fail does tend to distort the field somewhat, Fianna Fail is not a vote for any ideology but for a set of managers. But the presence and the ability of other parties to gain power means that the electorate not a party dictates policy.

In the world now a lot of the talk from the neo-cons is about democracy promotion (will I avoid Richards Eddie Holt award for using the word neo-con incorrectly :) ) a laudable aim, the talk is all about getting people a vote giving a chance to express a vote. But that is not the founding principle of democracy indeed Saddam got won 100% of a vote in 2002 . The real test of democracy is does the opposition have the ability to get into power can the people dictate to the government. Because without that you merely have dictatorship with a democratic mandate. So how do you do this, parties created from struggles for freedom have to be encouraged to split when those rights it fought for are won. For without this you merely have a democratic dictatorship.

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