Saturday, September 04, 2010

We get the govt we deserve

COMMENT - It is the duty of politicians to differentiate themselves from their colleagues in other parties, so the people are not merely presented with different faces, but with different policies. Democracy does not work, it fails, if all parties have the same policies. Voting is not about voting in 'good chaps', but having a clear choice on the direction of the country and government policy. When both parties present the same platform, democracy has failed.

We get the govt we deserve
By The Post
Sat 04 Sep. 2010, 04:00 CAT

THE observation by Edgar Mainza, SACCORD programmes officer, that because of the failure by leaders in Zambia to be servants of the people and provide for their needs, many people were being discouraged from taking part in the process of voting is disappointing.

The feeling that their votes in the past have not made any difference or that their vote was a ticket for others to enrich themselves should not stop them from participating in elections. The feeling that all politicians are the same and therefore there is no reason for them to vote again is defeatist.

We wish to remind all of you that voting is not only your right, but rather your duty. If you withhold your vote, Zambians run a risk of getting into public offices people who have no national interest at heart and who are going to jeopardise the future of your children. Exercise your right therefore and take up your citizen duty. If you haven’t registered as a voter, find a way to quickly register so that you can vote in next year’s elections.

The neglect of the duty of participating in the choice of leaders at all levels brings catastrophic results to the nation. It is a great mistake to shun this responsibility. All citizens who have reached the voting age should register and participate in electing leaders. It should be understood that the neglect of participating in the voting and in the election of good leaders allows unworthy candidates to take leadership positions and brings disharmony in our country. To neglect to vote is to lose a person’s right and the nation’s right.

Let us not forget that political rights consist in the capacity of private citizens to participate in government. They exist for public good and they are not strictly rights but rather privileges. And the most important political right or privilege is the vote. Whether a nation will have good or bad laws, an upright or inefficient government depends on the voters. A person who is able to vote but never votes is guilty of serious omission. Citizens who do not care for their duty of voting are an easy prey of tyranny.

Citizens cannot be required to take part in the political process, and they are free to express their dissatisfaction by not participating. But without the lifeblood of citizen action, our democracy will begin to weaken. Voting in the election of public officials is the most visible and common form of participation in the governance of our country, and also the most fundamental.

The essence of democratic action is the active, freely chosen participation of citizens in the public life of their community and nation. Without this broad, sustaining participation, democracy will begin to wither and become the preserve of the small select number of groups and organisations. But with the active engagement of individuals across the spectrum of society, democracies can weather the inevitable economic and political storms that sweep over every society, without sacrificing the freedoms and rights that they are sworn to uphold.

Active involvement in public life is often narrowly defined as the struggle for political office. But citizen participation in a democratic society is much broader than just taking part in election contests. Whatever the level of their contribution, a healthy democracy depends upon the continuing, informed participation of the broad range of its citizens.

Democracies rest upon the principle that political leaders and their governments exist to serve the people; the people do not exist to serve them.

In other words, the people are citizens of the democratic state, not its subjects. While the state protects the rights of citizens, in return, the citizens give the state their loyalty. Under an authoritarian system, on the other hand, the state, as an entity separate from the society, demands loyalty and service from its people without any reciprocal obligation to secure their consent for its actions.

Clearly, democracy is more than a set of constitutional rules and procedures that determine how a government functions. In a democracy, government is only one element co-existing in a social fabric of many and varied institutions, political parties, organisations and associations. This diversity is called pluralism, and it assumes that the many organised groups and institutions in a democratic society do not depend upon government for their existence, legitimacy or authority.

And a healthy democracy depends in large part on the development of a democratic civic culture. Culture in this sense does not refer to art, literature or music but to the behaviours, practices and norms that define the ability of a people to govern themselves. In a society that is not democratic, the political system encourages a culture of passivity and apathy. The regime and its leaders seek to mould an obedient and docile citizenry.

And by contrast, the civic culture of a democratic society is shaped by the freely chosen activities of individuals and groups. It is therefore very important to step up civic education. And in this regard, SACCORD deserves credit for its commitment to ensuring that there is adequate voter education. Education is a vital component of any society, but especially of a democracy. As Thomas Jefferson wrote: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never shall be.”

In contrast to dictatorships which seek to inculcate an attitude of passive acceptance, the object of democratic civic education is to produce citizens who are independent, questioning and analytical in their outlook, yet deeply familiar with the precepts and practices of democracy. People may be born with an appetite for personal freedom. But they are not born with knowledge about the social and political arrangements that make freedom possible over time for themselves and their children. Such things must be acquired through education programmes like those being conducted by SACCORD. They must be learned.

And as Mainza has correctly observed, democracy is about leaders serving the interests of the people and a democratic government should be accountable in terms of the way it uses public resources and fulfils campaign promises. One of the most important American contributions to democratic practices has been the development of a system of checks and balances to ensure that political power is dispersed and decentralised. It is a system founded on the deeply held belief that government is best when its potential for abuse if curbed, and when it is held as close to the people as possible.

And judging by the record of the past, the two most decisive factors affecting the future consolidation and expansion of democracy in Zambia will be economic development and political leadership. We say this because economic development makes democracy possible; political leadership makes it real.

There is no need to give up hope in the democratic processes simply because those we have elected have disappointed us by their conduct and practices. What we should realise is that these elections we periodically hold do not in themselves guarantee us anything. They offer us instead the opportunity to succeed as well as the risk of failure. In Jefferson’s ringing but shrewd phrase, the promise of democracy is “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

The holding of elections, as part of our democratic processes, is then both a promise and a challenge. It is a promise that free human beings, working together, can govern themselves in manner that will serve their aspirations for personal freedom, economic opportunity and social justice. It is a challenge because the success of our democratic enterprise rests upon our shoulders as citizens of this country and on no one else. Government of and by the people means that the citizens of a democratic society share in its benefits and in its burdens – and a free person, when he fails, blames nobody. We must therefore take responsibility, collectively and individually, for the fate of the society in which we ourselves have chosen to live. In the end, we get the government we deserve.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home