Bad democracy or benign dictatorship?

It seems there is no best system of government as government was described by the American Founding Fathers as a necessary evil. Government is a tool of controlling public affairs and implementing political agendas. This can be carried out through real democracy Even in ancient democracies like that of UK there is public outcry when there is a new law introduced for security reasons as terrorism laws. This is seen by many as interference with privacy and personal freedom.

The separation of powers is a means to exercise control on the government not to fall into oppression, and dictatorship. Limiting the presidential terms, as in the USA, is aimed to save democracy from the grip of a ruler who can use unlimited terms to stifle democratic process. Even in the USA, there are arguments that there is no real democracy as leaders can go against the wishes of the public. US Military presence in Iraq is widely opposed by the Americans according to polls and yet the White House is deaf to this, as for it what matters are the interests of the USA as a state and not the public opinion who have no access to state secrets and therefore can’t dictate to the government what foreign policy it should take.

For other countries, there is the question of which is better a benign dictatorship or a bad democracy. It seems democracy is the best means for political stability as the ballot boxes are the sole arbitrator of who should be in power at the central or local level. Dictatorship means the censorship of all sorts of opposition and the imposition of the rule of those who are in power.

What people expect from any government is justice, good living standards, good management of the nation’s resources and security. But in some cases democratic process becomes just a façade through its institutions like parties and elected officials who turn out corrupt looking just for their personal interests and abusing the trust of those who elected them. Many officials are accused of public fund embezzlements. Even in a transparent democracy, people can choose incompetent leaders who stick to their seats despite their shortcoming leading to political instability and even civil wars.

Democracy can be successful when the voters can make the right choice and those elected should be brave enough to admit their mistakes, resign or call for general elections when they prove inefficient instead of holding to power for personal reasons or for fighting political enemies disregarding national interests. Israel is one of the rare countries in the world whose political leaders are ready to submit their resignation or call for general elections instead of sticking to power indefinitely contrary to their neighbouring republics like Egypt and Syria whose leaders remain unchallenged. In Syria, when there are presidential “elections”, no single Syrian can stand as a candidate against the president as that would amount to national treason or an attempt to stage a coup.

Dictatorship is bad if it means stifling personal freedom making people subservient to the leaders with no right to criticise even local officials or to expose their defects as that can be seen as implicitly exposing the defects of a regime considering itself as infallible. This oppression is carried out through state media that purposely avoids tackling the government setbacks. Any journalist seeking to expose even local scandals can be jailed as allowing this is an indirect criticism of the leader and his regime.

What is important is to have any degree of democracy than not to have it at all. Having a strong leadership is better than having incompetent leaders who turn their country into an angry nation. After all, even in countries like UK, there are critics who say the elected government is an elected dictatorship as it can undertake unpopular policies despite public protests. The difference is that there are regular elections allowing people to vote it out of power. In established dictatorship leaders are there to stay ruling according to their views even if they become archaic just to stay in power. They consider the people just as sheep that should be led in any way.

Whatever form of government, democracy or benign dictatorship, there should be the power of the people to choose who should rule them without stifling their freedoms. They should have guarantees that they won’t be prosecuted if they ask for their rights. After all, people have common sense. They can differentiate between who is good and bad for them. They can acquire the skill of who to vote for if there are regular elections and continuous public debates through transparency about general issues to solve them and not just to speak about them as a façade of the freedom of expression. Those ruling at whatever level should have as a priority the interests of their people and not those of their party or those surrounding them.

Listen to the BBC WHYS show on the subject.

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  1. Hisham said,

    September 13, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Abdelilah. Great post, I really enjoyed it!
    I think that people often got lost in definitions and they loose sight of basic things (I’m not saying I never got confused… I got confused, I can tell you!). But the problem with yesterday’s WHYS show is that people got bogged down in semantics:
    What Anu Anand called “BAD” democracy is considered as “BAD” because, as I see it, is NOT a democracy. Democracy ceases to exist when established institutions are taken over by what scholars like Chomsky call: Private Tyrannies. And we (Moroccans) have a stark example of that: the self appointed elite who act as if they owned the country… you know… the little bourgeois, those who speak only French with their offspring whom they educate in French “Mission”, those who boast for their bank accounts and how influential their connections are…etc
    In America (which by the way has one of –if not THE- most democratic constitutions), the institutions are hijacked by lobby and pressure groups, think tanks, multinationals and military-industrial groups…
    So I think we should be aware of not conflating too easily (for the sake of semantics or because of some lyrical performances by Churchill or others), genuine democracy and dictatorship, the latter often disguised in democratic clothes.
    Thank a lot for this educating post.
    تبارك الله عليك!

  2. Abdelilah Boukili said,

    September 13, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Hi Hisham,
    Thanks for your comment.
    I totally agree with you.

    One thing is for sure, there is no perfect form of government. Only the exemplary implementation of justice and equality without denying personal rights like freedom can make a political system laudable.
    مرة أخرى شكرا على تعليقك

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