“The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
The next best are loved and praised;
The next are feared;
The next despised:
They have no faith in their people,
And their people become unfaithful to them.
When the best rulers achieve their purpose
Their subjects claim the achievement as their own.”
(Ancient Chines Philosopher Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching)
A democratic country is administered by the elected representatives. There are periodic elections to find out whether the nation wants the same set of representatives or they want change.
After taking various decisions, the elected representatives don’t carry out the decisions themselves. There is the executive consisting of people who have a more enduring life cycle than the elected representatives so that the country doesn’t run into chaos even if there is political instability in the short run.
Checks and balances to the legislature and the executive are provided by the judiciary and the press. In a robust and developed democracy, the judiciary is autonomous and there is freedom of press. Freedom of expression for every citizen is a part of parcel of healthy democracy. But in the countries where corruption is rampant, attempts are made to curb ‘free speech’ by carrot and stick policy.
Another signs of weak democracy is when the voters are not concerned with their own long term future. At election time they sell their vote eagerly for a few bucks or some cheap goodies that is not essential to their livelihood. It does not matter if the politicians later on deprive them of facilities like good roads or better educational or healthcare facilities. We sacrifice our long term goals for short term useless gains.
In a mature democracy all these elements of democracy – the legislature, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, and the press – function in a robust and autonomous manner so that ultimately it is the system that runs the country (based on a strong constitution) and not an individual as it used to happen during the times of kings.
The demerits of democracy is that development and decision making processes are sometimes slowed down. But at least it prevents the country from falling into the hands of a dictator. Time and again we have seen that:
Power tends to corrupt and
Absolute power corrupts
The US prides itself as the champion of democracy. But it is not so. Because it is the world’s most powerful country, it bullies others into accepting that it is the champion of human rights.
There is not a single day when the US president is not in the news around the world. In most of the countries politicians let their presence felt in a dominant way. Their photos greet us on every page of the newspaper and from every street corner. About their presence in the electronic media, the less said the better. The politician constructs a bus shed out of our money but puts his photo prominently on it.
Some of the small countries like Switzerland show the signs of the best developed countries in terms of public governance. Such countries are run so smoothly that you hardly know who is your mayor of the locality. These countries seem to be following the principles of Tao Te Ching quoted in the beginning.