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How democracy is defeated

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The great Winston Churchill’s description of democracy can be paraphrased as a very bad form of government, but others are even worse. This means that even if we experience difficulties under democracy, we will be worse off under an alternate form.

Almost every African country that gained independence from colonial rule in the 20th century has in its constitution a provision for universal suffrage. That is every male or female aged at least eighteen years has the right to vote during general and presidential elections. In developed countries which boast of being model democracies— such as Britain, the United States and France— universal suffrage was attained after a long struggle by those who were excluded.

At first, only men with property and education had the right to vote in these countries. Members of the working class were not allowed to vote. Rich people argued that if poor people were allowed to vote, they would put in office someone who would, like Robin Hood, rob them of their wealth and give it to the poor. Uneducated people were excluded because they were said to incapable of understanding the intricacies of a government. It was alleged that most of these people had weak characters, were drunks and crooks and were often talking about things of no public interest. In short, they were said to behave irresponsibility.

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In Britain, women were not allowed to vote until the end of World War I. In France, women qualified for voting in the year 1944. When I was attending United Nations meetings in the 1960s in Geneva, Switzerland, I saw women demonstrating for the right to vote. These women in Switzerland, and perhaps elsewhere in the world, won the franchise after African women. Why were women being excluded? It was said they would not be exercising free will but would be taking orders from their husbands or fathers on how to vote.

One defeat found in democracy is the influence of demagogues versus honest politicians and statesmen. A presidential candidate will not win if he tells voters that “I will promote development by making sure everyone works harder, I will encourage foreign investment and cancel subsidies which contribute to budgetary deficit”.

The candidate who wins is the one who says there is enough wealth in the country. I will raise taxes on the rich people and their companies and give the money to the poor. Many people, especially the poorly educated, are easy to deceive.

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The first candidate mentioned above is more deserving of high office because, before distributing wealth, he wants to concentrate on increasing it. You cannot give someone more than what you have; hence, under democracy, some people get elected through false promises.

Democracy is satisfactory when people vote on such promises a sim proving employment prospects, reducing inflation and curbing cases of crime. Democracy gets spoiled when people vote on the basis of tribal and religious antagonism. Democracy is at its best when capable people from both majority and minority groups are eligible for top jobs and get elected. The English people deserve commendations in this respect. They are considerably more numerous than the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish, but they never monopolise the high office of prime minister or any other office. In the long existence of the United Kingdom, members of the minority sub-nations, Scots Welsh, Irish have ascended to top positions on the same terms as the English. This is what should be done under genuine democracy. Democracy is not just about majority rule but prioritising the interests of minorities as well.

The spirit of democracy is defeated when a presidential candidate with 40 percent of the votes is declared winner just because his rivals have scored even less. That person goes to office with at least 65 percent of the people against him. Here democracy is defeated. In satisfactory democracies, re-runs are instituted between the first two runners-up. Countries which do not provide for reruns are, in most cases, ruled by someone who is imposed on people by the most populous tribe or religion. This is defeated democracy.

Democracy is defeated when you have life presidents and there are no age limits for presidents and parliamentarians. Because someone is popular and capable when young does not mean that someone will remain so even when he is over 79 years old. The great Nelson Mandela did not think so and declined to serve when he attained 80 years. The people of Zimbabwe did not mind Robert Mugabe continuing to rule them even when he was over 90. He left when Zimbabwe had been so impoverished that, for business and salaries, the government and firms had to use currencies of other countries. Democracy is spoiled when leaders who have lost their capabilities are tolerated to hang on for their personal benefits and those of their cronies.

Democracy is also defeated when political parties are mostly funded by a few billionaires who often determine who should hold office in the party and government.

This does not fit the classic definition of democracy as government of the people, by the people for the people. It is a return to rule by the rich only which the introduction of universal suffrage was intended to abolish.

Democracy is defeated where corruption and violence prevail and deter capable people from offering themselves for service in high places.

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