By Mahira Qadeer Khan
Governance refer to structures and processes that are designed to ensure accountability, transparency, responsiveness, rule of law, stability, equity and inclusiveness, empowerment, and broad-based participation. Governance also represents the norms, values and rules of the game through which public affairs are managed in a manner that is transparent, participatory, inclusive and responsive. Governance therefore can be subtle and may not be easily observable. In a broad sense, governance is about the culture and institutional environment in which citizens and stakeholders interact among themselves and participate in public affairs. It is more than the organs of the government.
International agencies such as UNDP, the World Bank, the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and others define governance as the exercise of authority or power in order to manage a country’s economic, political and administrative affairs. The 2009 Global Monitoring Report sees governance as ‘power relationships’, ‘formal and informal processes of formulating policies and allocating resources’, ‘processes of decision-making’ and ‘mechanisms for holding governments accountable.’
Democracy and Dictatorship are two types of governance over a nation. Both show difference in terms of their methodology and perception. There are lots of salient differences between the two notions. It is just about the distribution of power and who holds it.
Democracy is said to be the purest form of government. Democracies are elected by the majority of the people. It is based on the idea that all citizens are equal and treated the same under the law. This form of government is made by people, hence they have the right to choose what laws to create, implement and enact. People can also keep and manage their own property. Democracy is more about letting people make choices which are better for them and not someone else. This government displays more of a freer society with options. This helps people to create changes and social reforms, so that the majority can be happy.
Today, for the first time in history, there are more democratic states than non-democratic states. Indeed, some view the rise of democracy as perhaps the most important event to have transpired in the 20th century. The 2001 – 2002 survey of Freedom House—Freedom in the World— reports that about 65 percent of the world’s population lives in free or partly free states that afford their citizens some degree of basic rights and civil liberties. The Survey also showed that of the world’s 192 countries, 121 (63 percent) were “electoral democracies”. This is significant change from 1987 when only 66 out of 167 countries (40 percent) were in this category. The Freedom House survey goes on to point out that human liberty has steadily expanded throughout the 20th century and, “when viewed from the perspective of the century as a whole, democracy and civil liberties have made important and dramatic progress.” The United Nations studies show that since 1980, “81 countries have taken significant steps in democratization, with 53 military regimes replaced by civilian governments”. Globalization has been an important factor in accelerating democracy’s growth in recent years but it has also created as many challenges as it has addressed. In a globalized world, the rapid development and global proliferation of new technologies and telecommunications, and integration of the world economy through trade and investment, have increased the role and power of regional and global institutions that do not have to respond to the democratic control of citizens.
Scholars have pointed out that older, Western democracies tended to have three things in their favor that facilitated both transition to and consolidation of democracy. These were economic prosperity and equality (enhanced by early industrialization); a modern and diversified social structure in which a middle class plays a primary role; and a national culture that tolerates diversity and prefers accommodation. Today, however, many countries—particularly in the developing world—are struggling to consolidate democracies born out of popular revolutions that reflect the will of the people, but in very poor and sometimes ethnically divided countries where the pre-conditions of the older democracies do not prevail. This is not to say that democracy is inapplicable to these newer transitions.
Indeed, as Safty points out “from Poland to Yemen, from Bulgaria to Taiwan (province), from Mauritius to Guatemala, and from Albania to Nigeria, democratization seemed to respond to a universal human yearning for freedom and life with dignity, undiminished by our cultural diversity and ethnic differences.” It is merely to point out, rather, that newer democracies face many challenges their older siblings did not and to point out the fact that, indeed, democracy has proven to be a flexible and adaptable system under a variety of circumstances. Guiseppe di Palma lists four aspects that he feels influence the success of a modern democratic transition. These are: the quality of the finished product (the democratic rules and institutions that are chosen); the mode of decision making leading to the selection of rules and institutions (i.e., pacts and negotiations versus unilateral action); the type of alliances and coalitions forged during the transition; and the timing imposed on the various tasks and stages of the transition.xxiii
On a related issue, simply because a democracy is old does not mean that it is any more likely to be stable or permanent. Przeworski found that “it is not true that democracy is more likely to be around if it has been around a long time,” rather sustainability is more a function of income and human development having improved, and the stakes in the process having risen over time. In addition, long-established democracies face their own unique challenges. In consolidated democracies, there is a growing trend of apathy and disillusionment among voters, particularly the young, with respect to politics whereas in emerging democracies voter turnout tends to be high and many democratic movements are led by youth. A 1999 survey by The Economist found that in 11 of 12 established democracies, public confidence in political leaders and institutions has declined steadily over the past few decades. Similarly, in her 1999 book, Pippa Norris found that that there is an “increased tension between democratic values, which seem to have triumphed across the globe, and … the erosion of confidence in the institutions of representative democracy.”
Democracy, therefore, is “a form of governance of a state” and becomes consolidated in political situations where it is “the only game in town” i.e. those competing for power play by its rules. There are as many different permutations of the definition of democracy as there are paths to achieving it. Despite the many differences in how democracy is defined—be it in maximalist or minimalist terms, or be it in terms of institutions, processes or outcomes—one can argue that there are two fundamental underlying rationales of democracy—namely, that all people are equal (equality) and that all people are free (liberty).
Different scholars have come up with different answers to the question of whether democracy stimulates economic growth or vice versa. Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi conclude that they “do not know whether democracy fosters or hinders economic growth.” On his own and more recently, Przeworski has said that while the jury is still out on whether democracies generate economic development or vice versa, “democracies are much more likely to survive in wealthy societies.” Robert Kaplan, on the other hand, concludes that certain prerequisites are needed in a society before democracy can take root, including a certain level of employment, economic stability and civil peace. As he put it, “Africans wanted a better life and have instead been given the right to vote.”
In Kaplan’s view, economic development first will increase the chances that a democracy will be sustainable. Still other scholars, such as Tom Carothers, aver that political and economic development are synergistic and must not be artificially separated or sequenced. The argument for “sequencing” is seen by many as artificial and nothing more than a thin veil for authoritarianism. According to this view, it is the poor, and indeed all citizens of a society, who must decide whether they prefer to eat or to vote or to do both. This is a choice that they and no one else can make. And it is only through the exercise of democracy that such a choice can be made. While it is often claimed that authoritarian regimes are better at bringing about economic development, comprehensive statistical analyses do not back up this hypothesis. First, as Przeworski found, wide-ranging statistical analyses confirm that no linkage can be drawn between authoritarian regimes and economic development. Second, the recent economic crises in South East Asia proved that poor governance and lack of accountability and transparency can derail economic progress. And third, even if non-democratic governance were proven to promote economic growth, democratic governance has an intrinsic human development value in that it enables political and social participation. This is because human development is a measure of far more than just economic well-being. It is a process of enhancing human capabilities in a way that expands choice and participation. In this way, democracy and its values go to the very heart of human development. Indeed, as Amartya Sen has pointed out, “since democracy and political liberty have importance in themselves, the case for them remains untarnished.”
Amartya Sen has long argued that poverty should be defined in terms of capabilities absolutely and in terms of commodities only relatively. This shifts the focus then from what people have to what they can do. In other words, “people are poor when they can do less and they can do it less well… Poverty is in one sense a lack of capacity to achieve well being.” By defining poverty in terms of the inability to choose, to participate or to have a voice in decisions that affect one’s life, as well as in terms of material wealth, bolstering the human rights inherent in democratic systems is an obvious means towards poverty alleviation. The democratic process is superior, Dahl points out, in three different ways. First, the democratic process promotes individual and collective freedom better than any other alternative regime; second, it promotes human development, in the capacity for moral autonomy and personal responsibility for one’s choices; and third, the democratic process, though not perfect, is the best way by which people can protect and advance their common interests and goods.liii In short, while it may be unclear whether democratic governance enhances economic growth, it is. The democratic process is superior, Dahl points out, in three different ways.
First, the democratic process promotes individual and collective freedom better than any other alternative regime; second, it promotes human development, in the capacity for moral autonomy and personal responsibility for one’s choices; and third, the democratic process, though not perfect, is the best way by which people can protect and advance their common interests and goods. In short, while it may be unclear whether democratic governance enhances economic growth, it is clear that democratic governance enhances human development. Thus, to explore the merits democratic governance from the perspective of economic growth alone is to miss the forest for the tree. Flowing from the above is the lesson that poverty alleviation strategies can only be sustained and effective in the long term where the affected group is involved at all levels of the decision making process. Although many types of regimes including non-democratic ones—such as present-day Cuba or Chile under Pinochet—have been able to reduce poverty in the short-term, they have not been able to sustain such efforts. This can only be done through the effective participation of the poor in decisions that affect their lives, and this participation is most completely realized through democratic regimes. This lesson has been reinforced with many examples from developing countries themselves.
In Thailand, for example, local communities are planning their own development projects and mobilizing their own resources to bring them to fruition. In Bangladesh, entire villages, rather than just “the poor” segments, are mobilized to combat poverty through home-grown collective projects. In Bulgaria, local civil society organizations have trained unemployed workers in harvesting and other skills. These are all examples of local government structures and civil society organizations, operating through the principles of democratic governance, directly impacting on the quality of life of disadvantaged communities. Even though democracy is not a “cure all” for human development and poverty alleviation, it holds more potential for achieving these goals than any other system of government. Democracy creates opportunities and enhances capabilities of the poor and underprivileged. As such, it has an intrinsic human development value. Moreover, most stable democracies tend to have lower levels of poverty, and, on the flip side, democracies that let their citizens remain in protracted poverty tend to be short-lived.
Democratic governance has three distinct advantages over authoritarian regimes. First, democracies are better able to manage conflicts and avoid violent political change because they provide opportunities for the people to participate in the political process of the country. Second, democracies are better able to avoid threats to human survival because the checks by the opposition parties, uncensored criticism of public policies and the fear of being voted out of office. Third, democracies lead to greater awareness of social development concerns including health, primary health care and rights of women and minorities. In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, a debate is taking place in the United States and indeed the whole world about the determinants of the rise of extremist and fundamentalist movements within some of the Islamic countries. Though the causes of national and international terrorism are highly complex, one of the predominant views being expressed is that the lack of effective democratic institutions and processes in many of the muslim countries leads to exclusion and foster extremist organizations because their members do not have adequate opportunities to participate in the political process in the country. The 2001-2002 survey by the Freedom House, for example, showed the “democracy deficit” in the Islamic World, especially in the Arab Region.
The concept of governance like, Democracy is overrated as mentioned below. Democracy was introduced into Russia without any adequate protection for human rights. And many human rights were protected in 19th Century Britain long before the emergence of anything that we would call democracy. In the Middle East today, we find parties standing for election, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which regards an electoral victory as the opportunity to crush dissent and impose a way of life that for many citizens is simply unacceptable. In such circumstances democracy is a threat to human rights and not a way of protecting them.
And the lessons that they learned need to be learned again today, as our politicians lead us forth under the banner of democracy, without pausing to examine what democracy actually requires.
Mahira Qadeer Khan is a lecturer at the University of London