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Democracy without freedom is a sham democracy

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In a democracy, the minority should never be at the mercy of the ruling party, asserts Abdul Rashid Hanafi.

What is democracy? One of the good known definitions is, government of the people, for the people, by the people (Abraham Lincoln).

To know whether a government is democratic, we need to ask a few questions:

First, does the government recognise the right to free expression of opinion and of opposition and criticism of the government of the day?

Secondly, do citizens have the right to change the government of which they disapprove through constitutional means?

Thirdly, is there fair play for the poor as well as for the rich, private persons and government officials?

Fourthly, are the rights of individuals, subject to their duties to the state, maintained, asserted and exalted?

Fifthly, are citizens free from fear of repression and the threat by stern authorities who may pack them off without warning or fair and open trial or subject them to ill-treatment?

Ideally the answer should be in the iffirmative to all the above questions, but in our current situation, they seem to be more in the negative than the affirmative.

Democracy as a form of government exists by the consent of the people, expressed at the time of elections to enable every segment of the populace to be equally represented in the legistature.

The will of the people in such a form of government must always remain supreme.

Democracy also stands for the welfare of the people and ‘equality’ for all. But to achieve this, there
must be a democratic society.

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For a fully functional democratic society to exist, it requires certain conditions. According to Mill, the people must be willing to work for a democratic constitution and must possess the capacity to implement such a constitution.

The people must also be ready to fight for democracy and for the preservation of their rights. Vigilance is the price of liberty and of democracy.

If, through apathy or careleness or sudden panic, the people can be easly influenced or coerced into surrendering their liberties into the hands of an unscrupulous leader of a party, they will soon lose their rights. Such people are not fit for democracy.

Lastly, Mill insists that the people must perform their civic duties honestly and intelligently. If they fail to  perform their duties, democracy cannot be successfully put into practice.

Another prerequisite for a successful working democracy is education. The people must be properly educated. If citizenship means the contribution of one’s instructed judgement to the common good, then the citizens must be sufficiently ‘instructed’ and be given freedom of choice – free of fear and intimidation.

Many of the defects of democracy are due to a lack of education among the masses. Only when the massess are properly educated, open-minded and expose to a diversity of information can democracy prove successful.

But despite a reasonable level of literacy, a large number of citizens, the educated included – who choose the government in power through their votes – have little or no interest in the government.

Some believe the apathy of the masses, who determine the choice of government, is due to an absence of a reasonable level of intelligence to enable them to evaluate and choose their representatives wisely or to judge the state of public affairs.

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Such attitudes are most likely due to gullibility, passion and vote-catching slogans, media censorship or self-interest than reason or common interests.

In a democracy, the government is normally controlled by a party system.

More often than no,t this system results in serious evils. The ministers waste their time and energy in combating the opposition when they ought to be governing.

Their policies are determined, not by consideration of national welfare, but more by what will increase the popularity of the party. Their actions are also determined, not by what the country needs, but by what will please the greatest number of their supporters and their hidden agenda.

The rule by the majority is the foundation of a democratic system and it is neither the dictatorship of the majority nor the dictatorship of the minority.

Majority and minority are not static. The party elected rules while the loser does not disappear. The loser serves the nation as the opposition party. The winner rules but the opposition holds the leash – a system of checks and balances.

One feature of a society ruled by this system is to ensure that everything is ‘transparent’and ‘accountable’ and after four to five years, the people get to decide again who should be in charge. People who voted for Party X can change their mind to vote for Party Y. The people’s loyalty is to themselves and their country, not to the party, theoretically speaking.

In a democracy, the minority should never be at the mercy of the ruling party. Every individual, regardless of his or her political affiliation and who is ruling, has exactly the same rights as others: the right to a share of the govenment of the state. This includes the right to vote, the right to stand as candidates for election, the right to criticise the government, the right to hold public office as well as freedom of speech, of the press and of association and several other rights enshrined in the constitution.

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We cannot allow any individual with questionable reputation or undemocratic ideology or a party to come to power, using our democratic process, if it does not believe in the rights of every citizen and of the minority and if it believes some should be treated ‘more equally’ than others.

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