LETTERS: The complexity of democracy

Democracy has become a watchword in international debates about political progression in various parts of the world. Lack of democracy is widely viewed as the root of ills that plague some societies. Which begs the question: is democracy a means or an end or both?

Editor,

RE: “Duplicity killed democracy” (The New Times, October 3).

 

Democracy has become a watchword in international debates about political progression in various parts of the world. Lack of democracy is widely viewed as the root of ills that plague some societies. Which begs the question: is democracy a means or an end or both?

 

Inherent in the concept of democracy is the certainty that people should be allowed to participate in making decisions about how they are governed — the ends conception of democracy — because they have certain fundamental rights and freedoms and a society is democratic to the extent that these concepts reinforces each other.

 

Another way of looking at it is in terms of freedom: freedom from a coercive state and freedom to exercise certain rights.

In practice, democracy is a whole lot more complex than its theoretical postulates imply. Take the idea of democracy as an end. Immediate definitional difficulties arise about concepts such as “people”, “decision-making” and “governance.”

Is “people” synonymous with the majority? Moreover, how can particular “wills” arising from segmented population conflate with the “general will?”

On the means side, what rights supersede all others?

All societies that describe themselves as democratic have at one time or another had to grapple with these questions. In any event, the rights held by citizens impose limits on what the government can do or take away.

Because of the conflicting demands and expectations the component parts of democracy sometimes make on the system, the one insurance against the overriding of weaker or minority components lies in the second sphere of democracy — the means — represented in the protections and rights that are guaranteed to every citizen.

Imboko Ndiranga

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