Democratization: to what extent do the principles and procedures of democracy operate and direct society in the countries you visited?
‘Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy’. Benito Mussolini.
Democracy is a flawed yet beautiful concept that many states generally esteem to. Winston Church commented on this saying, ‘It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried’. It is difficult enough for a “secular” country to obtain and maintain democracy so we also question then, is Islam and democracy compatible? And how did the countries compare?
What constitutes a Democracy?
The Democracy Index is based on five categories:
- Electoral process and pluralism
- Civil liberties (eg. Human Rights, Freedom of Media/Religion)
- The functioning of Government (e.g. Separation of powers)
- Political participation
- Political Culture (e.g. transparency)
Other forms of government that aren’t full democracies include flawed democracies; hybrid regimes, and authoritarian regimes. Democracy is often tested in times of war, terrorism and mass migration. Increasing insecurity and fearful mood of perceived threats (economic, political, social and security) undermine democratic values (‘liberty, equality, fraternity, reason, tolerance and free expression’)(Democracy Index 2015).
The Economist Intelligence Unit published the Democracy Index 2015 report indicating the countries rank in comparison to the world.
|68 (flawed)||97 (hybrid)||17 (full)||
|Electoral Process & Pluralism||
|Functioning of government||
(Another good study is Transparency International. Corruption Perceptions Index shows the perceived level of corruption in the public sector, believing corruption and conflict go together.)
Despite data representation, on the ground, the statistics aren’t felt so strongly. Tourists don’t feel oppression. Many still led relatively peaceful and flourishing lives, however it still was the goal of many citizen’s to have democracy and we will see why…
Malaysia: ‘Do you mind “on”ing the lights for me?’
Malaysia’s elections in 2013 occurred with numerous allegations of dirty campaign tricks. That is enough to justify Malaysia’s data as a flawed democracy. Electricity cuts during the counting of votes is suspicious.
Malaysia has a constitutional monarchy, though the King has little affiliation with government. One prominent journalist said she doesn’t like their current leader, Najib Abdul Razak but he has a good economic forecast. This was echoed throughout many citizens asking what other option, or opposition do they have?
A university professor said democracy is a good ideology but not at the sacrifice of stability. In times of crisis, it’s detrimental to change leadership. However because the party has been in power for so long, accountability has considerably weakened so that corruption is ‘out on display’ and well-known.
Tun Mahathir, the longest running Prime Minister of Malaysia, echoed the importance of security and leadership. He has joined protests against the current government. But they are optimistic with their somewhat free media, economic plans and a functioning (although corrupt) government is democratic to an extent. If civil liberties were adjusted and systematic privileges to Bumpiputras ceased, it would be a more democratic society. While the National Religion of Muslim faith is the norm, civilian liberties are not given freely to other faiths – they are tolerated but discriminated against. Examples include Article 153 of their constitution safeguarding the position of Bumiputras which affect scholarship opportunities, business licenses and federal public service positions to other ethnicities and faiths.
Turkey: power hungry
There are two stories that I have heard regarding Turkey’s elections. One is the AKP won justly, the other is that they were rigged but achieved this in smarter ways than Malaysia – through preventing competition. Despite the allegations, a media representative expressed that if government inspectors searched their paper and found propaganda they would be heavily taxed. Information changes perceptions of government and the world around us (exemplifying the importance of press freedom in democracy), so locals either loved President Erdogan or hated his leadership. He was described as power hungry or the “father of turkey” with advertisements on billboards looking like a world leader. There are current concerns of changing laws to give more him executive power.
A representative of the AKP party said, “Turkey has the most free media” and encouraged us to read newspapers to see editors analysing government practice. This may be true, but only to an extent. Every media representative we spoke with spoke of the dangers of imprisonment for being outspoken (media outlets had cameras set up incase anything happened). In recent headlines, Zaman Media has been taken by government and peaceful protests have turned tense as police used tear gas and water canons to raid the building. It’s not an opposition newspaper, but its largest and widest circulation in Turkey with a high audience. The AKP representative says this takeover has ‘nothing to do with journalism’, but they would have been identified as links to terrorism.
One lady who inspired me, journalist and Editor-In-Chief at Today’s Zaman Sevgi Akarçeşme, was sued over replies to her tweeter posts. In court, she questioned how you be responsible for others personal responses? Interestingly, Turkey has the ‘World’s biggest prison for media journalists‘.
Spain, a constitutional monarchy with strong democratic values considering its transition to democracy was in the 1970s. What differs in Spain is the system of governance including self autonomous communities, although their current issue is lack of new government in Spain to lead the country. There are current issues and negotiations between Catalonia and Madrid with Catalonia (autonomous community including Barcelona), with pushing for independence. Whilst this is happening, it is being accomplished democratically. The people we spoke to in Madrid transit, Cordoba and Granda were not concerned about their government in comparison to others we visited.
While there are concerns and security threats, the immediate concerns of government were not felt of evidenced. While we didn’t speak to media outlets, the locals were so relaxed, playing with children, drinking tea and eating tapas. For myself, Cordoba felt like the safest, friendliest of the cities visited.
Morocco: ‘We love the King’
Morocco’s political system is a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy. It’s said that parliament is an illusion of democracy that is maintained for the sake of the citizens. Whilst it’s called a constitutional monarchy, it’s more like a monarchy that has a constitution and separation of roles but not of power. And while there were protests around the Arab Spring only promises were formed, no reforms.
Citizens often complain about government but not the King. More than previous leaders, most people love King Mohammed VI with his photo displayed everywhere. Law is based on French civil law, the constitution and a combination of traditions with the King having extensive executive powers and privileges, including deploying military and dissolving government.
PJD, those in power, have not made a clear commitment to the modern universal principles to quality as the Muslim democratic force it claims to be. One of the main Islamist opposition is Justice and Charity by Sheikh Abdessalam Yassin (Sufi), which rejects dual authority of the King as both head of state and commander of the faithful. But they have been banned from politics (undemocratic). There are few civilian freedoms with major issues existing such as poverty, jobs, divisions amongst urban-rural, Arab-Berber and traditionalist-modernist. Democracy doesn’t seem on their minds with love for the King. And why risk democracy like Europe or America, one student says, if they can ‘imports up, islamists down and illegal immigrants out’.
The democratic system itself is imperfect and is under current struggles with security, economic, political and social perceived threats. As a student touring these places, if uninformed, we were not aware of democratic tensions – it is the people who live there, affected daily, who are most aware and most affected. As a tourist, I did not feel their governments as “authoritarian”, but sensed the people who were welcoming, hospitable and had similar concerns to the everyday Australian.
WINSTON CHURCHILL, speech, House of Commons, November 11, 1947.—Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897–1963, ed. Robert Rhodes James, vol. 7, p. 7566 (1974).
Feature photo found here.