When Saddam Hussein would routinely win his presidential campaigns with around 97 per cent of the vote, I used to wonder how on earth he couldn’t attain a magical 99 per cent. Was his election campaign worse than the Hilary Clinton group? How could they not do better?
Ah, democracy in the modern age! Yes, granted, like many a leader in the modern age, here was a typical dictator who went to the polls. Their version of democracy, and a laughable exercise of engaging with the electorate.
I cast my mind over history and it dawns upon me that very few political systems are truly successful, Saddam and his 97 per cent (or whatever it was decided as) aside of course. Tyranny, oligarchies, dictatorships, communist committees, generals and bad men, have, with few exceptions, been successful in the long term.
Is the flawed election system of the US any better, whereby 2,864,974 more people voted against Trump, yet the electoral college gave him the majority he required? Does anyone know what the electoral college actually is, and can you graduate with honours at this college? I’m guessing that the president would not even be allowed to enrol as he apparently does not even read his daily briefs. Didn’t his university go bust anyway?
Speaking of enrolling, not every American citizen is actually on the electoral roll. Go back to the 1960s and many regions in America prevented non-whites from enrolling. South Africa once did the same before Madiba became the beacon for democracy.
These days, many of those people enrolled in the US fail to turn out to vote with 60 per cent considered a decent benchmark for elections. And to vote for what? A presidential campaign that takes months to occur, and prior to that many months more of jostling across party delegations and interest groups to gain your party’s nomination. When does anyone actually govern? Usually, a party is fun, however, I just shake my head at the way money and favours can get you the nod in American parties. At least they have two main parties to contend with.
Athens has a plethora and there are even more in countries such as Italy that routinely experience a party with less than 35 per cent of votes including preferences, gaining power.
Ironically, the US has a policy of supporting democracy around the world, going as far as to install/support fantastic and fun-loving dictators, I mean presidents in many Latin, Arabic or African nations. This is democracy at its best, of course. Then if the Washington democratically elected president pisses off US interests, just force them out. Russia is a great model of that ethos across eastern Europe. The Georgians piss you off? No problem, just send in a change of administration or create a breakaway republic. Ukraine elects a new leader not aligned to Russian interests, well, we have a solution.
How is it that Vladimir Putin is apparently one of the richest people in the world, yet he takes a humble salary to lead the people? I want to know his secret. Is he good at the stock market? Putin of course is up for a new presidential term that will take him through to 2024. Or perhaps I have it wrong and he may extend the stay further.
It is ironic that Russia is accused of influencing the US election. I mean come on, what do the Americans do? I am aghast that a foreign nation seeks to influence an election. I am just smirking that it has apparently happened in the US and that the FBI, once accused of bringing down JFK, will probably now bring down Trump.
I was reading recently that a Republican senator receives $174,000 as a base salary, then helps bring in millions for his campaign from the Koch Brothers, National Rifle Association, Israeli lobby, and more. A cynic would say it’s a coincidence his voting record may align with their needs, but hey, this is democracy in America!
Democracy is an Athenian gift to the world, a precious gift. I just want you to consider a few facts. In the ancient world, it was progressive and a way to close the gap between the richer and less richer in Athens. The reforms commenced by Cleisthenes, followed by the brilliant Solon and then Pericles gave us a forum to bring in the people of Athens to debate and vote. What was missing in this set-up? Women, foreigners who lived there for decades and slaves. In other words, democracy had a brilliant start; for its time it was progressive and far-reaching. Yet it excluded people.
Speaking of far-reaching, Pericles was elected leader every year for almost three decades, being deposed just once. Some would say he controlled Athens, and we call it the Periclean Age (one of the greatest, if not the greatest, era in history).
Athens had a policy, not too dissimilar to imperial US, in that they would install a democracy or a friendly government in their sphere of influence. It is ironic that Athens had an empire, yet Athens was a democracy that was inclusive, women/slaves/foreigners aside.
The Athenian form of democracy was in many ways replicated by the republican senate of Rome through their annual election of consuls. When the republic crumbled, democracy essentially disappeared as emperors, tyrants, dictators, royals, and numerous jackasses ruled the planet. Some were disgusting and others benevolent.
I mention the term republic and I wish to take us forward to Australia, not a republic. A brilliant example of democracy in action. The nation transitioned from the colonies and a British dependency to an independent nation. Oh wait, we are still British. Okay, we do have other redeeming features. Compulsory voting which really eliminates the discussion of low voter turnout. Australia also has three tiers of government, ensuing a larger voice for the people. Yes sometimes local government will host a range of undesirables or local attention seekers with no community heart in elected positions. This is the point, it is democracy and the people vote them in.
At state and Commonwealth level we do have a Senate that scrutinises what the equivalent of Congress will vote on. All these systems and levels of government ensure a voice for the people with regular elections, and a corruption body at the state level. The counter balance to this is, just like Trump and his obsession with Fox News, many politicians are beholden to the media and to social media. The old days of Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, John Howard, and Gough Whitlam just doing as they were elected has given way to media moguls or shock jocks.
Freedom of the media is a key pillar of democracy; essential. Therefore, do not get me wrong, it is the role of media to keep the government of the day to account, not drive policy unless the people are asking. It is our job to give the community a platform. It is not our job to drive the agenda à la conservative ‘journalist’ Andrew Bolt and nor our fascination with social media commentators.
The current prime minister was castigated for having a beer with his grandkid on his lap. How was it that this became an outrage on social media? He is under enough stress trying to keep us all happy, and his very conservative powerbrokers, yet he is entitled to have a beer at the cricket. Probably as a publicity stunt anyway. I grew up with ouzo all around me, being from Lesvos and it has not made me a worse person as I rarely drink.
Julia Gillard once tripped in India due to a dodgy heel. Social media was all over it. Lighten up and check in on her. Was she ok, what brand of heel, how was India? No, people laughed at her, seriously. Fair dinkum.
To be fair, social media provides elected leaders a platform to communicate, and a connection with the public. The question remains though, do they and their media spin people (they should be djs on a turntable) spend too much time obsessing with it rather than chasing good policies and governing? Maybe there should be more of a balance.
Australia and New Zealand are arguably two of the best when it comes to stable and overall functioning democracies. We complain at the high turnover of elected Aussie leaders. Spare a thought then for the Hellenic Republic with an endless number since independence. I have actually lost count (and not because of my lack of maths).
What we should turn over is monarchs instead. Look at the Hellenic Republic. The wonderful buddies we call the Great Powers, who gave us numerous non-Hellenes as monarchs, and for what? What a waste of public money, poor decision-making such as their role in the collapse of Hellenic forces in the 1922 Asia Minor catastrophe, lack of opposition to the 1967 coup of an elected government and the list goes on. And yet somewhere in Europe these exiled ‘Hellenic’ royals are treated, something like royalty. Seriously?!
In Australia, we have all these tiers of government, yet we have a monarchy. Seriously. The British still rule. Rule Britannia still exists here. Last I checked, we are a truly multicultural nation.
Amazing that the colonies were set up with slave, I mean, penal labour. Yes of course stealing some loaves of bread should lead to deportation to the other side of the world. We have a British queen, and it is not the band! Seriously.
When Australia finally has its own fair dinkum elected president or monarch, then we will have the next step of democratic maturity.
Maybe one day we will also have an ethnically diverse PM or president. One day. Until then, Australia and the Hellenic Republic have a system that allows the governing party to provide the prime minister, arguably better than the billions spent to find one bloke to sit in day care Washington. In the former country, if Newspoll is highlighting bad results, simply change to anther leader that may also struggle with Newspoll results. You cannot do that in America.
In Australia, it should be pointed out that elected members of government have a lower rate of ethnic diversity and women than the Opposition party. It makes a mockery of multiculturalism. In fact, I recall an Abbott, or some would say Tony sABBOTTage, cabinet that was virtually devoid of diversity to the point I thought we had become Britain in 1900. Ironically, both have a British monarch. Seriously.
Australia can reach the next level of maturity by arguing that we need an Indigenous man and woman elected by Indigenous people to every parliament in Australia and to the capital cities. It is of course their land, traditionally. Their thoughts are just as important as the next person. What happened to them in their lands is sad. They survived for 60,000 years. Our democracy can learn from them. Our parliament needs them. Perhaps an Indigenous elder as president.
Britain is an interesting constitutional monarchy. The mess they created in the Arabic world and Africa as an empire is balanced by their championing of democracy, inclusiveness, and cultural diversity.
That said, I do not envisage a person with cultural diversity/heritage gaining the top job this century, though I accept that women as leaders and monarchs are well-established. Next step perhaps would be to abolish the unelected House of Lords. I do like the cricket ground called Lords, though I understand they are different. One hosts cricket and the other hosts the highest class of elites in English society. Come on, have we not reached 2018?
As I type I can understand the rise of fascist-leaning parties in Europe and other places in the world. This is democracy and they, as long as they are not racist, warlike, violent and sexist, are entitled to run without objection. It is up to the electorate to elect them or not, providing they too abide by rules. Rules that many a corrupt government, à la the Hellenic Republic for decades before Tsipras, Mediterranean, Latin America and Asia somehow flaunted over years.
Not all of these places are corrupt. It just appears that many, many nations have suffered in recent decades from corruption. It just seems that too many are accused of it. Ever heard of the political leader who had a billion transferred into his account accidently in Asia? Search it and you will be amazed at the answer you find.
Democracy has many good, bad and ugly points. I have only just touched on what is good (SA gaining a black president was a defining moment in democracy) and what is bad. The ugly bit is arguably this journalist! Just check out my picture if you do not believe me. Seriously.
Around the world, there are many countries where fledgling democracies are in trouble. This is when the people can provide the relevant CPR. Media, rallies, community groups, business groups, even unions and faith, as well need to believe, have a role to play to keep government accountable and democratic.
In a country like America, too many times large donors and massive corporations along with lobby groups control the political agenda. I am not sure what the answer is. Some say social media, yet with a big budget, social media can be manipulated. Just look at Brexit and the supposed campaign to influence the public against staying. Perhaps a salary cap style budget on each campaign. It seems to work in the NRL until teams are caught cheating.
What are the alternatives to a vibrant democracy. I shudder to think what a Jewish person would say about Nazi Germany, a communist under the Greek junta, or a dissident under the Pinochet regime.
Recently, I was reflecting on Nelson Mandela and wondered, are there more like him? George Weah potentially in Liberia, Abraham Lincoln, and arguably Whitlam. Martin Luther King, Sojourner Truth, and Mother Teresa would have for sure, though would they have accepted such a challenge? Some now say Oprah.
They would contrast with the shambles of Nicholas Maduro in Venezeula as one of the most important and asset-rich nations, owing to vast oil reserves, is now a democracy in name only as the opposition has been significantly bullied and the ‘Constituent Assembly’ stacked with his supporters.
I wish democracy well and hope that the days of election victories with 97 per cent for the winning side are over (only Mugabe had better numbers I think). A good democracy is better than a great dictatorship/autocracy, if such a contradictory term exists.
I know Ioannis Kapodistrias was afraid to let democracy flourish in a fledgling country plagued by regional factions, yet Solon felt that Athenians could react positively to his democratic style reforms. Democracy needs a better way to have the best and most industrious leaders in place, and an end to demagogues and dictators. One day. Indeed, there will arrive a day when democracy functions like it does in say Iceland or Australia (please become a republic), places known for minimal corruption and generally striving to look after the interests of the people.
There will be a day when democracy is completely devoid of corruption and a reflection of the benevolent will of the people and the most amazing democrat of them all, Madiba.
*Billy Cotsis is the author of ‘The Many Faces of Hellenic Culture’.