Thursday, April 19, 2007

Democracy defined

So far Australian involvement in Afghanistan hasn't evoked the debate of Iraq, unlike Canada where the opposition parties have become increasingly critical of their involvement, although there is some anxiety about continued support for the war. Defenders admit that: While the democratically-elected Karzai government might be struggling to satisfy popular demands for law and order and public services, it is undoubtedly a better option than the two likely alternatives: a return of Taliban medievalist theocracy or rule by unstable coalitions of corrupt, brutal and incompetent local warlords. Yet we must ask why a democratically elected government seems to face such increasingly effective opposition. Both the Iraqi and Afghan governments are so dependent on their foreign backers that they do not exercise sovereignty. This is a statement of fact. The fact that parliaments were democratically elected does make them a democratic regime. If elections alone were enough, Imperial Germany was much more democratic than the United States of Woodrow Wilson. No doubt the current governments are infinitely preferable to those who would replace them. There was an argument after the Iraq war about wether not democratic regimes could be established by force. We could imagine a democratic government repressing by force a violent minority insurgency with its own military forces, but if the battle is conducted by military forces not under its control than this government ceases to be sovereign. Overall the Iraq debate has suffered through a failure to define terms and a tendency to use 'democracy' as meaning that which is desirable. So one side Adam Carr: Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed on 9 April and Iraq came under American and British military occupation. The occupation continued until July 2004, when authority was handed over to an interim Iraqi administration. Elections were held in 2005 and a fully democratic government established, despite a continuing terrorist campaign by remnants of the former regime and jihadists from other countries. Yet it is true that current Iraqi government is a 'puppet regime'. Perhaps it has no choice, but if a government is elected democratically and is then unable to exercise effective sovereignty the result must be disillusion. There is a broader point about democracy. Marxists have traditionally tried to strike a balance in the definition of democracy between form and substance. The mere holding of reasonably free and fair elections is likely to indicate a regime that is a considerable improvement on a regime that does not hold elections. However there have to be effective opportunities for subordinate classes to mobilise and influence policy. Sometimes traditions of deference can demobilise subordinate classes, the low levels of electoral turnout in early post-independence India or as Peter Lindert notes in many of the new European democracies of the 1920s are examples. Recent discussion of democracy either regards the liberal aspects as all that is significant, or it goes to the other extreme and dismisses all democracies as frauds, a position sometimes oddly combined with nostalgia for a imagined past of true democracy.



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