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Democracy and Non-Democracy

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The concept of Democracy and Non-Democracy began with the advent of the State. The clear distinction between the two concepts became clear when democracy came into practice in 508 BC. The first form of democracy, what is known today as Athenian Democracy, was introduced in Athens by Cleisthenes. Democracy has, since then evolved into a more nuanced form of State, one that was described by Abraham Lincoln during his Gettysburg Address where he described a democracy as a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”. The idea of Non-Democracy has been prevalent for a long time, though the forms of Non-Democracy have taken various shapes. In a Non-Democracy, the power is vested not with the people but rather with one person, or one group. Historically, all States have once been Non-Democracies, mainly Monarchies. Over time, different forms of Non-Democracies began to take shape, some of them being Dictatorships, Authoritarian Regimes, etc. As the States and governments become more complicated, so does the idea of Democracy and Non-Democracy and what constitutes under these two distinct concepts.

Democracy

Democracy is defined as is a type of government or political system ruled by citizens, i.e., people who are members of a society. In a democracy, citizens hold some level of power and authority, and they participate actively in the political, or decision-making process of their government. Therefore, democracy as a system of government has four key elements:

  1. “A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
  2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
  3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
  4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.”

The basic idea of democracy is that the government is based on the consent of the governed. The United States of America is considered to be the most perfect example of democracy by many western political scientists, where through direct and indirect elections, the citizens of the State can be involved in all decision of the government and State. In a democracy, the people are sovereign—they are the highest form of political authority. The powers of the government are given to them by the people, to the leaders of the State. The government holds this power only temporarily. Laws and policies require majority support in parliament, but the rights of minorities are protected in various ways. These ways include the freedom to criticise their elected leaders and representative. They are also free to observe all the different procedures that parliament and the government takes. Elected representatives are obligated to listen and come under review from those citizens who have elected them. Hence, the citizens have the power of checks and balances which keeps the government on track.

To keep the government on a constant rotation, elections have to occur at regular intervals, as prescribed by the laws of the individual States. Those in power cannot extend their terms in office without asking for the consent of the people again in an election. These elections are meant to be administered by a neutral, fair and professional body that treats all political parties and candidates equally. For example, the Election Commission of India. These bodies allow for voters to be able to vote in secret, without fear of intimidations and violence. The process must be free of corruption, intimidation, and fraud. Therefore there are independent observers who observe the voting and vote-count to ensure the process is free of such illegal situations. Democracies tend to have an impartial and independent tribunal to resolve disputes about the election results. This is why it takes a lot of time to organize a good, democratic election. Any country can hold an election, but for an election to be free and fair requires a lot of organization, preparation, and training of political parties, electoral officials, and civil society organizations who monitor the process.

If democracy is to work, citizens must not only participate and exercise their rights but also observe certain principles and rules of democratic conduct. For example, they must follow the Rule of Law. The citizens of the State are obligated to question the decisions of the government, but not reject the government’s authority. One of the basic requirement for Democracy is a compromise. Groups with different interests and opinions must be willing to sit down with one another and negotiate. Therefore, though there are different forms of Democracy, these are the basic elements of a Democratic State. In theory, the Democratic States can be considered to be the perfect example of the Modern State. However, there are many problems in practice. Winston Churchill remarked, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Democracy has been criticised under various issues such as economic inefficiency, political unrealism, dysfunctional ideas and practices, moral corruption and sociopolitical issues.

Non-democracy

The concept of Non-Democracy is extremely wide and involves various forms of government, such as Authoritarianism, Monarchy, Dictatorship, Totalitarianism, etc. Non-democracy is basically the opposite of Democracy, where the Head of State has total power over the various parts of the government and State. The power no longer lies with the people but rather with one person, or one group of people who make all the decisions without the consent of the State’s citizens. To understand Non-Democracy, we must look at the various forms of Non-Democracy. There are eight basic forms of Non- Democracy; Authoritarianism, Totalitarianism, Dictatorship, Sultanism, Monarchy, Oligarchy, Technocracy, and Theocracy.

Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority as well as the administration of said authority. An authoritarian government is characterized by a highly concentrated and centralized power maintained by political repression and the exclusion of potential challengers. It uses political parties and mass organizations to mobilize people around the goals of the regime. Authoritarianism emphasizes arbitrary law rather than the rule of law, including election rigging and political decisions being made by a select group of officials behind closed doors. Authoritarianism is marked by “indefinite political tenure” of an autocratic state or a ruling-party state.

Totalitarianism is an extreme version of authoritarianism. Authoritarianism primarily differs from totalitarianism in that social and economic institutions exist free from governmental control. By contrast, totalitarianism is a political system where the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life wherever necessary. The term ‘an authoritarian regime’ denotes a state in which the single power holder – an individual ‘dictator,’ a committee or a junta or an otherwise small group of the political elite – monopolizes political power. However, a totalitarian regime attempts to control virtually all aspects of the social life, including economy, education, art, science, private life, and morals of citizens. The concept became prominent in Western anti-communist political discourse during the Cold War era in order to highlight perceived similarities between Nazi Germany and other fascist regimes on the one hand and Soviet communism on the other.

A dictatorship is defined as an autocratic form of government in which the government is ruled by an individual: a dictator. In contemporary usage, dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political factors within the state. A dictatorship is a form of government that has the power to govern without the consent of those being governed (similar to authoritarianism).

A monarchy is a form of government in which sovereignty is actually or nominally embodied in a single individual, the monarch. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and rules for life or until abdication. Monarchs may be autocrats (absolute monarchy) or ceremonial heads of state who exercise little or no power or only reserve power, with actual authority vested in a parliament or other body such as a constitutional assembly.

An oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who pass their influence from one generation to the next. Forms of government and other political structures associated with oligarchy usually include aristocracy, meritocracy, plutocracy, military junta, technocracy, and theocracy.

Non-democracies have become a central idea on the debate of whether or not Western Democracy, especially Western Democracy in consideration to intrusion in the workings of other States, has become an ideal in a world where there should be no ideal with relation to how Democracy should be implemented.

Is Singapore a democracy or a non-democracy?

According to the Freedom House, Singapore is not an electoral Democracy. This is because “the country is governed through a parliamentary system, and elections are free from irregularities and vote rigging, but the ruling PAP dominates the political process. The prime minister retains control over the Elections Department, and the country lacks a structurally independent election authority. Opposition campaigns have typically been hamstrung by a ban on political films and television programs, the threat of libel suits, strict regulations on political associations, and the PAP’s influence on the media and the courts.” However, Singapore has become a marvel to behold and applaud. Its success in the context of economy and development has been a direct attack on the idea that “Western-Style” Democracy is the best form of Government.

When one studies statistics or asks its citizens, there can be no doubt that Singapore’s government is delivering positive results. It is also clear that Singapore’s system of governance falls short on many conventional criteria for “good government.” Since most theories of governance hold that good performance requires a good Western-style democracy, Singapore’s record over five decades presents a challenge. Singapore has had only three Prime Minister’s since it’s independence in 1959. Historically, the top-polling party in each GRC won all of its four to six seats, so the system effectively bolstered the majority of the dominant party. This dominant party has been the PAP since the creation of the home rule from the British.

Singapore has consistently been on the top of all the major lists of “freedoms from:” “It ranks first internationally in the World Bank’s measure of “regulatory quality” and second on The Heritage Foundation’s scale of economic freedom, while the U.S. comes in 13th. Gallup’s 2014 World Poll found that eight in 10 Americans see “widespread corruption” in the U.S. government, compared with seven in the Philippines, six in Zimbabwe and one in Singapore. On the World Bank’s “rule of law” index, Singapore scores in the 95th percentile of nations, the U.S. scores in the 91st, the Philippines in the 42nd and Zimbabwe in the 2nd. With a population of almost six million, Singapore’s incidents of robbery were only a seventh of Boston’s, which has a population of only 650,000.” This brings into question of whether or not Singapore can be considered a successful State, where the citizens remain to be happy and content with their government despite being a non-Western-Style democratic State.

Singapore has it’s issues, such as, Singaporeans cannot legally buy chewing gum or hold protests anywhere outside of specifically designated areas, but they enjoy one of the world’s highest per capita incomes and a standard of living superior to almost anywhere else — a far more important priority if you ask many residents, particularly when you factor in that the majority of the world is still considered to be “low-income,” according to a new Pew study. Singaporeans also have restricted freedoms of speech but this is accepted by most of the citizens.

Singapore has been a constant challenge for Western-Style democracy. Whether it be in consideration of its ever-blooming economy or the fact that the citizens seem happy with the way their State is being governed. In contrast to various other Asian nations, Singapore is one of the most stable governments with the constant rise in economic progress and development. Western States and scholars have constantly debated over whether or not such a government can be considered legitimate. However, from the point of the view of the citizens, on whom these government policies impact the most, Singapore is a perfectly sound State with a form of “Democracy” that is accepted. At a memorial for the former prime minister, a Singaporean interviewed by the New York Times probably pronounced it best: “As long as you are economically well-off, with housing and food, who cares about the politics?” he said. “I would much rather live in a country like this than a place where you have every freedom in the world but you are hungry.”

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