Democracy can be perceived in different ways. Current news items constantly show that there is more than choice. The American newspaper Wall Street Journal has revealed that the Prime Minister of Malaysia placed hundreds of millions of dollars from public funds and companies in the steps of his stepson. This one spent the money on luxury real estate in Manhattan and in Beverly Hills (California). The president then obstructed investigations and dismissed the attorney general who wanted to investigate the case.
The case shows contempt for the mandate from the voters, corruption and abuse of the judiciary. In a widely used democracy index from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Malaysia in 2015 was ranked 68th out of 167 countries.
- Is elections every four or five years in itself a full-fledged democracy?
- What is democratic governance?
- What other channels for influencing exist than the election channel?
- What is meant by responsiveness and trust in a democracy?
According to SUNGLASSESTRACKER, Greece, a member of the EU’s monetary union and thus a euro country , took on too much debt before and after the financial crisis in 2008. The country was almost placed under the administration of the EU Commission, the EU’s central bank and the International Monetary Fund – the so-called Troika . The Greek authorities were imposed strict austerity measures that significantly reduced the public sector, sharply reduced wage levels and raised unemployment to a very high level (above 25 per cent).
As part of the eurozone, Greece was bound by the common monetary and interest rate policy. Elected Greek politicians were in reality no longer accountable to their constituents, but to the Troika. At the same time, Greece was hit by a refugee crisis that the rest of the EU did little to remedy. Greece still had a democracy with elections, but the independence of the elected representatives in economic policy was revoked indefinitely. In 2015, Greece was number 40 on the EIU’s democracy index .
2: Choice is not enough
These examples illustrate an important relationship. Periodic elections are a necessary condition for democratic governance, but they are far from sufficient. Election fraud is widespread in many countries, both in the event of unsafe organization of the election, in the event of threats, in the case of cheating with the ballot papers and in the event of fraud during the count. It can also be difficult for the opposition to speak out because the media is controlled by the government. Demonstrations and other markings may also be prohibited or associated with risk.
In several African countries, most recently in The Gambia, the head of state has long refused to relinquish power after losing an election. This has to do with the fact that politics in some parts of the world function as a form of legalized theft . That is, the formal position of power gives free access to enrich themselves, their families and their supporters with state revenues. Government power not only gives decision-making authority, but also access to key resources and great wealth. A regime change could mean that another president and another group enrich themselves. Then it becomes extra important to cling to power. This is the situation in many of the former Soviet republics. Elections can be held, but democracy is undermined by massive inequality and systematic corruption .
Far more countries are holding elections today than a few decades ago, just over a hundred. The system of government in many of these countries is nevertheless not democratic in any reasonable sense. Democracy means democracy, but in many countries that formally have elections, the population has very little to say. It is a small group that decides most things. In fact, in many parts of the world, there has been a setback for democratic government in recent years – with more authoritarian moves despite formal elections.
3: What is democratic governance?
Democracy can be direct or indirect . Democracy in the classical Greek city-states was directly in the sense that all free men (but a very small minority of all adults) participated in the decisions. This was possible when the political unit was small and clear, with few participants.
In modern states, not all decisions can be made by direct voting. The decision-making power is then delegated to representatives through elections, with the exception of some selected cases where referendums can be arranged . In Switzerland, referendums are widespread, while they are used less frequently and more exceptionally in most other countries. In Norway, the authorities can adopt the use of a referendum in individual cases, such as the issue of EU membership. Here, the result of the vote is formally advisory, even though the authorities nevertheless commit themselves politically to bowing to the outcome.