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Democracy

Updated on January 22, 2015

How and why Living Democratically is a Challenge

Democracy is spearheaded in most nations to facilitate participation of the citizenry in their governance. The general perception is that people in the society govern themselves through a participatory process of choosing their leaders. It is believed that in his capacity as a leader, the elected official will work according to the interests of the people he is mandated to serve. However, critics of democracy hold that this is just a theoretical perception and doesn’t hold any reality. Challenges to democracy means problems that comes while ensuring a democratic set up in the country. It discusses the issues that need to be solved to sustain democracy in the country. This paper examines the various challenges to democracy.

The primary challenge of democracy in many parts of the world is the foundational challenge. This involves the setting up of democratic structures in governance. Countries that do not have the democratic set up face the challenge of making a transition to the democratic style of government. In all over the world a quarter of the countries are still not under democratic leadership. They need to lay the foundation in terms of law and policies that would be followed under democratic set up. Besides, transition to democracy can be fiercely opposed by influential local agents. Democratic transition inevitably also means that previously powerful elites will lose some of their influence. Naturally, they will try to hold on to their privileges. Military elites, for instance, can be reluctant to submit to a civil administration. This is currently one of the main challenges in Egypt, and was previously a major issue in Turkey. Conservative religious elites can also be reluctant to change, for example when it comes to the inclusion of religious minorities or women in politics.

Accompanying the foundational challenge is the problem of expansion. This involves applying the basic principle of democratic government across all the regions, different social groups and various institutions. Countries that have adopted democracy need to ensure that their social groups and the various institutions embrace democracy in their functioning. This ensures that democracy is internalized by the governed and sustains a political culture. Ensuring greater power to local governments, extension of federal principle to all the units of the federation, inclusion of women and minority groups, etc., falls under this challenge. This also means that less and less decisions should remain outside the arena of democratic control. Most countries including India and other democracies like the US face this challenge. In India certain socio-economically backward groups have yet to get the political powers. Additionally, some north-eastern states have not yet fully integrated with the mainstream India. These are examples of challenge of expansion of democracy. Countries need to strengthen the institutions that ensure democracy is upheld. It means strengthening the institution that help in people’s participation and control in the government.

Another challenge facing democracy is the incapacity of the elected members to carry out their mandate effectively. Not all the elected leaders are most capable to form and run the government. This is the explanation as to why minors are not allowed to participate in the electoral process. It is believed that citizens that have attained the majority age are the only set that is able to rationally make political decisions. However, it is still notable that even with their rightful, age; most individuals cannot be able to make right choices. Most governments are the rulers by “majority” and not the government of the people. As a result, the elected officials may compromise the mandate to serve the people to serving their individual interests.

Ensuring that the electorate is well educated and engaged is also a problem to democracy. Since democracy is government of the people, by the people, and for the people, it depends upon the people to play an active and informed role in their own government. If a majority of the people becomes uneducated, ill informed, subject to gross political manipulation, or apathetic, an effective democratic government cannot survive.

Another problem facing democracy is the lack of proper understanding and good relationship between the authority and the governed. This is of great importance in shaping politics in most developing countries especially in Africa and the Middle East. For democracy to be effected there is need for co-ordination from the grassroots to the top administration. This is rare when there are frequent wrangles between the electorate and the general population, and, hence democracy is not exercised.

Though indirectly, it is difficult for a democracy to address important freedoms and ideas where people are struggling to earn a living and struggle to survive on a daily basis. Education, information, public awareness and free debate which are central to any democratic dispensation are important to all humanity that strives to entrench democracy. But human life cannot be sustained by freedom of speech and debate alone. Human beings need food, health, shelter from ravages of nature. The urgency to handle these issues hinders the dispensation of democracy.

Most scholars have also linked the poor performance of democracy to corruption. This has been evidenced especially in Bulgaria and Hungary. In a report by Transparency International, (2010) corruption was rampant in the communist era; political elites spent their time stifling innovation and promoting elitist policies to keep themselves in power at the expense of public welfare. With the fall of communism in the late 80s and early 90s, there was newfound hope that the resulting ‘revolution’ would bring in an era of freedom, prosperity, and security. Unfortunately for many countries in Eastern Europe, this hope would not be fulfilled. Few Eastern European governments have successfully transformed themselves into strong democratic states. Many, including Hungary and Bulgaria find themselves meddling somewhere between the cracks, failing as democratic states. Hungary and Bulgaria have struggled to improve the welfare of the mass public since their transition to democracy; they remain countries that are run by corrupt rulers who are intent on widening the schism between the prosperous elite and the rest of the country. Such corruption and problems in democracy has been hard for the people in most countries who take part in peaceful and stable transitions into democracy but fail to be represented to their expectations.

Prior to these challenges, there is need for prompt redemption of the democratic processes in our countries. This can be done through rigorous reforms. Since all the countries do not have similar democratic problems, different approaches should be followed by those countries to solve their political problems depending on the situations in the countries, the state of their political structures and their response to changes. There is also need to introduce new laws to address the challenges. Since laws play important role to play in political reforms, they should be applied to regulate political behavior, to discourage wrong political practice and encourage good ones. Besides, a literate society is the most important resource to governance. Education brings qualitative changes in the people and enables them to use better tools and knowledge. To build a solid and well-performing political society, the citizenry should be well educated to bring awareness of the political rights of a person.

From above descriptions it is clear that different country face different kinds of challenges to democracy. These challenges depend on what stage of social development the country is. Solutions to these challenges also depend on a particular country’s unique situation. It can be said that there is no pre-prescribed method to tackle the challenge faced by a democracy.

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