With Egypt’s first democratically elected President being ousted, and Iran’s new president having started his term, there is both optimism and skeptisim in the region. The media at best has done a wonderful job at feeding into our fears and doubts. Election periods in transitional and developing countries have been everything but nonviolent. But, elections are to be the start of everything but violence according to Western pioneers of democracy. Why then do we observe this differing trend? Is it because democracy may not be the best option for these countries or because their governments are expected to uphold the Western form of liberal democracy, which they have never known?
It is a little bit of both and more. I am no expert on elections so I will draw from simple circumstances to explain a complex process. I write for common man and not for experts, but I am sure they too can benefit from what I have to say.
Situation A: An elementary school teacher knows the results of administering a surprise test to her third-grade class on a chapter they have yet to get to. The class will fail.
Analysis A: The students have not even been taught the lesson and concepts and so testing them is like expecting failure. If the class fails it reflects poorly on the teacher and if she is wise, she will not take that risk. These are a class of third graders and unlike seniors in high school they do not possess the ability to draw from their past knowledge.
A transitional country is comparable to this class of third graders, and Western powers are the teacher, although far from the type described above they fall in the category of most-hated teachers because they fail to take into consideration the comprehension level of the students. This is not rocket science, mere sanity on part of the leadership dictating the terms of democracy. A country that has never known democracy cannot miraculously become a proponent of liberal democracy. It needs full immersion training. This training should not be limited to the leadership and participants of the elections, but extended to the voters; because it is from them that the rebels emerge out of fear of being run over by the system. And if Western states can’t do that, then forget democracy, because no knowledge is a very dangerous state of being.
Situation B: Past monarchies for the most part have been the peak of prosperity for their kingdoms. And even today a few of the existing kingdoms enjoy peaceful existence, while transitional and developing democracies are blood thirsty. Let us analyze the Persian civilization, which under traditional monarchy was the landmark of all present civilizations. It held strong until Western values interfered with its magnificence and brought the country to what it has become today.
Analysis B: The West cannot blame internal actors for destabilization of the region. They have to trace their footsteps and will learn that it was them who are inherently responsible for the mess. Democracy has screwed traditional societies and this is why it will not be successful in societies with deep rooted histories in peaceful monarchy reign. For instance it was America’s backing of Shah Pahlavi that led to uproar amid his subjects which in turn led to mass scale support of a religious fanatic in Iran. And who bears the heat of this support? Not the West or Israel (even though they like to pretend they are all worked up about their own babies (Khomeini was born as a result of Western support of the shah)), but Iranians!
Situation C: Two colleagues who absolutely loathe each other will not produce productive outputs as a team. It would be useful if a person of higher authority mediates the issue. Dictating the resolve would curtail the problem but will not root it out, leaving room for eruption of future problems.
Analysis C: Why then do you expect that giving someone the right to vote will resolve deeply rooted enmity in Sudan, Burma, Afghanistan or Pakistan? Democracy is such a privileged opportunity. If it wasn’t, for instance, the people of Kashmir would have decided on the future they seek for themselves and neither the leadership of India nor Pakistan would see sense in continuing to be rivals over this issue. If democracy is to succeed there needs to be a change in attitude in the form of governance. Unless elite access is transferred to all stakeholders equally, democracy will continue to be a failure for the Kashmiris and other communities around the developing world.
It is clearly more complicated than the three scenarios I presented above, but we need to understand the basics to make sense of all the jargon. And I am aware that there are many contrary opinions and I welcome you to share your comments here. Just bear in mind that we do not live in a perfect and simple society, for if we did we would not be arguing for alternative solutions!