Thursday, October 11, 2012

Resilience and vigilance in defence of democracy

Resilience and vigilance in defence of democracy
By The Post
Thu 11 Oct. 2012, 14:00 CAT

Michael Sata's "pledge to continue with renewed and reinvigorated energy in consolidating the governance structures which facilitate equity distribution of resources and infrastructure for the betterment of all Zambians and for posterity" is very important.

And it is a pledge that deserves the attention of all Zambians whom he says "have exhibited resilience and vigilance to ensure that Zambia continues to practice free and fair norms of electoral governance and democracy".

This is so because judging by the record of the past, the two most decisive factors affecting the future consolidation and expansion of our democracy will be economic development and political leadership. We say this because economic development, and the fair and equitable distribution of its results, makes democracy possible; political leadership makes it real.

Democracies rest upon the principle that government exists to serve the people; the people do not exist to serve the government. In other words, the people are citizens of a democratic state, not its subjects. While the state protects the rights of its 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 society, demands loyalty and service from its people without any reciprocal obligation to secure their consent for its actions.

When citizens in a democracy vote, for example, they are exercising their right and responsibility to determine who shall rule in their name. In an authoritarian state, by contrast, the act of voting serves only to legitimatise selections already made by the regime. Voting in such a society involves neither rights nor responsibilities exercised by citizens - only a coerced show of public support for the government.

The electorate is the ultimate custodian of its own freedom. From this perspective, democratic government which is elected by and accountable to its citizens, is not the antagonist of individual rights, but their protector. It is to enhance their rights that citizens in a democracy undertake their civic obligations and responsibilities.

Broadly speaking, these responsibilities entail participating in the democratic process to ensure its functioning. At a minimum, citizens should educate themselves about critical issues confronting their society - if only to vote intelligently for candidates running for high office.

The essence of democratic action is the active, freely chosen participation of its 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 a 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 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 - what Michael refers to as "resilience and vigilance to ensure that Zambia continues to practice free and fair norms of electoral governance and democracy."

It is therefore understandable why this government is continuing to create more and more new districts and provinces to reach more and more people as directly as possible. We believe that one of the most important American contributions to democratic practice 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 is curbed, and when it is held as close to the people as possible.

And this reminds us about what Dr Kenneth Kaunda said in his address to the UNIP national council in March 1969: "We are basically agreed in our determination to establish a society characterised by tolerance, free discussion, responsible leadership and the powerful influence of non-leaders in the running of the nation's affairs.

Ever since independence, we have worked for a system of government in which people are able to participate effectively in influencing policies and decisions in the day-to-day running of government. This is what I have called participatory democracy."

And everything possible should be done to get power as far down as possible to the people. If to realise that it means creating new provinces, districts or other structures of government nothing should stop us from doing so.

And also this is in line with Dr Kaunda's thinking on this score: "There is one constant danger I have observed facing this young country of ours. This is a tendency to keep the beaten track. We must be original. I repeat - just because a system is there does not mean that it is good.

It may have been appropriate in the past. It may still be the most suitable system in some other country. But the real test is whether it is the best system for Zambia of 1966 - or 1976. We must be courageous in breaking with outmoded traditions and determined in our efforts to explore new paths into the future" (from the speech at the opening of the University of Zambia, March 18, 1966).

We have to learn to take chances and expand our horizons. We have to have a hunger to explore the possibilities that are there for us; we have to continue experimenting and inventing things, including institutions of governance. We have to be brave to adopt new ways of doing things.

It is said that the future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. Michael is pulling us into the future, and we shouldn't resist, we should continue to follow him. Some of the things he is doing, he is initiating may not turn out successful, but are all part of the process of exploration and discovery.

Even in the economic sphere, we shouldn't be cheated that there is only one way of running a country's economy, and that is through the private sector, through privatising everything and leaving government with no business in business. That's nonsense.

That's a lie. It is a deception. No contemporary democratic state has an economic system that is either completely state-owned or totally free of government regulation and participation. All are mixtures of private enterprise and government oversight. Democracy implies no specific doctrine of economics. Democratic governments have embraced committed socialists and free marketers alike.

Indeed, a good deal of debate in any modern democracy concerns the proper role of government in the economy. Nevertheless, it would be fair to say that the proponents of democracy generally regard economic freedom as a key element in any democratic society. This fact has not precluded economic issues from becoming the chief force dividing - and defining - the "left - right" political spectrum as we know it today.

Social democrats, for example, have stressed the need for equality and social welfare as the core of the government's economic policies. In the past, this has entailed government ownership of the major components of the nation's economy, such as telecommunications, transportation and some heavy industry. They also call upon government to provide medical, unemployment and other welfare benefits to those in need.

By contrast, centrist and conservative political parties usually place much greater stress on the free market economy, as the most effective means of achieving economic growth, technological progress and widespread prosperity.

Virtually all sides to the economic debate, however, share a greater common ground than they might concede in the heat of political argument. For example, both left and right accept the important role played by a free labour movement, independent of government. Workers in a free society have the opportunity to form or join unions to represent their interests in bargaining with employers on such issues as wages, health and retirement benefits, working conditions and grievance procedures.

All these issues call for broadmindedness in our approach. We need to look at these issues without being shackled in dogma. And this is what Michael seems to be attempting to do and as such deserves support.



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