The nature of Western democracy

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Muharram 19, 1437 2015-11-01


by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 9, Muharram, 1437)

After each election in the West — Barack Obama’s first election as president of the US in 2008, Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the British Labour Party in August and the recent election of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister of Canada — much euphoria is generated. People assume that that better times are at hand. Obama was elected on the slogan, “Yes, we can,” but he has been a huge disappointment for those who put their trust in him: the downtrodden masses of America. Corbyn in Britain and Trudeau in Canada have yet to be tested.

Often, it is not insincerity on the part of the individual concerned, although in Obama’s case, it can be safely assumed that his elevation to the White House was not the result of his ability, considerable as it is, but that the US establishment wanted a figure like him in there. Corbyn has been a maverick all his life and he is already facing considerable opposition from within his own party ranks. There is talk that in the unlikely event of his becoming prime minister, the military would carry out a coup to “protect British interests.” So much for democracy! Trudeau is young and idealistic but it would be wrong to assume that he would be able or allowed to deliver on all his campaign promises.

This has to do with the nature of Western democracy. It is neither participatory, nor even fully representative. It is not participatory because people have little say in formulating party policy. And it is not fully representative because elected officials (in this case members of parliament — MPs) do not reflect their constituents’ concerns in the party except insofar as they might adversely affect a party’s standing. Upon election, MPs become spokespersons for the party rather than their constituents.

The role of the masses is merely to vote for a candidate from among a preselected set of choices whose agenda has been set by others. After election, members of parliament (MPs) disappear into the bowels of the party machinery and reappear only on occasions when some celebration is taking place, such as a National Day, Independence Day, etc. The degree of control the party leader or whip exercises over MPs is enormous. They are required to toe the party line. Little independent thinking is allowed.

Even more serious is the fact that unelected ad-visors surround party leaders drawing an iron curtain around them. The advisors decide what the leader is supposed to know; what issues are to be presented and who gets to meet them. There is an even higher agenda at work. Major policies are formulated not by the party but by their financial backers. These are the barons of industry and commerce. They decide what kind of monetary or economic policy the “elected” official is supposed to adopt. Obama’s example again offers a good case study of this phenomenon. While he was elected on the platform of change and he promised to end wars, he has not refrained from waging wars or killing innocent people through such illegal acts as drone attacks. The overwhelming majority of Americans do not want wars or the killing of innocent people but those who make US policy want endless wars because they benefit from them. Party leaders can promise anything but delivering on those promises is a different matter.

This is not to suggest that they do not fulfill any promises at all. They do but only in a narrow sense where people’s personal lives are affected. The mega-decisions affecting the lives of millions of people are made not by elected officials but by executives of corporations and chiefs of banks. Elected officials merely implement such policies. So what does it say about the nature of Western democracy?

It can best be described as a system of oligarchy where people live the illusion of having a choice to choose their leaders. People are treated as mice and told to choose between a black or white cat to rule them.

Some choice, some freedom! Welcome to Western democracy in all its glory.

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