DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN DEMOCRACY AND THEIR COMPARATIVE STUDY WITH THE WEST AND THE NASCENT DEMOCRACIES OF ASIA AND AFRICA
Representative democracy, although not in the same form, operates in USA, UK and INDIA. Both UK and INDIA have adopted parliamentary form of government. The Parliament in UK consists of House of Commons and House of Lords. The members of the Commons are elected by the people on the basis of territorial representation and most of the members of the House of Lords are nominated by the Prime Minster and a small proportion of members retain their seats by virtue of heredity. The House of Lords acts as a supplementary body to assist the House of Commons in the law making process. The power of the House of Lords is confined to delay the law making process which can be extended for a period up to one year. The Queen acts as a nominal head of the government. The Prime Minister, who is the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons, is the real executive head of the government. India has also got a two housed parliament consisting of Lok Shabha and Rajya Shabha. The power of the Lok Shabha is confined to making law and amending the constitution and Rajya Shabha like the House of Lords in UK provides a safeguard against any hasty and ill considered enactment of law by the Lok Shabha. The members of the Lok Shabha like the House of Commons in UK are elected by the people directly on the basis of territorial representation. The members of the Rajya Shabha are elected by the members of the state legislatures, although a small percentage of its members are reserved for people who have made contribution in the fields of art, science, literature and social affairs. The President like the Queen in UK Is the nominal head. The Prime Minister is the real executive head of the state.
USA has adopted presidential form of government. The President is elected directly by the people. The members of the Congress consisting of the House of Representative and the Senate are elected by the people directly on basis of territorial representation. The president, who is the executive head, appoint the members of his cabinet to assist him to carry out his executive functions. The Senate, the upper house of the Congress performs some executive functions. All the important appointments and foreign treaties made by the President, before they become valid, must be approved by a two third majority votes of the Senate. The President, who is the executive head, has some control over the enactment of law. He has the power to veto any bill passed by the congress, although such veto can be overridden if it is passed by the Congress by a two third majority votes.
The concept of separation of power is another feature of modern democracy, regardless of the fact whether or not the constitution has adopted for a parliamentary or presidential form of government. Before the advent of the modern states all the executive, legislative and judicial functions were concentrated either in the hands of the monarchs or autocrats. Such concentration of power in one hand resulted in the abuse of such power. Montesqui, the French political philosopher for the first time advocated for the separation of power. Separation of power, although not in the same form, operates both in presidential and parliamentary form of government. In UK there is personal union and organic separation and in USA there is there is personal separation and organic union. Despite the fact that each organ of the government should be kept independent of the other, some form of co- operation is necessary between the executive and legislative branch of the government for the smooth running of the administration. Such checks and balance between these two branches of government, while providing safeguard against arbitrary action of the executive and ill considered and hasty enactment of law by the legislature, helps to maintain a balance of power between them. Judiciary, on the other hand, should be kept separated from the other branches of the government so that it can act independently unhampered by the interference from the executive branch of the government. Incorporation of fundamental rights in the constitution is `another important feature of modern democratic government. Violation of fundamental rights, no matter, whether by individual or government should be resisted by all possible means. The Judiciary, while protecting the fundamental rights, should ensure that the security of the state is not threatened. A balance should be maintained so that the security of the state is not threatened and at the same time individual rights and liberties are not violated. The constitution is the supreme law of the land. It enumerates the functions of all organs of the government including their inter-relationship. The executive and the legislative branch of the government, while exercising their power, should keep themselves confined within the jurisdiction of the constitution. Any enactment of law outside the jurisdiction of the constitution may be declared null and void by the Supreme Court. Such power of judicial review, which was practised by Supreme Court of USA without any constitutional authority, has been constitutionally inherited by many democratic countries in the world.
The representatives of the people who are periodically elected by them can be elected either through plurality or proportional system. Under plurality system the country is divided in different constituencies. The candidates in each constituency contest the election either nominated by the parties or independently and a single winner is chosen in a given community by having the most votes regardless of the fact whether or not he or she has the majority votes. The main advantage of this system is that the candidates can identify the candidates they have elected. If any candidate fails to deliver the promises he or she made before the election the electorate has the chance to replace them in the next election. The disadvantage of the system is that it distorts the percentage of votes cast and a result the minority parties cannot get any representation in the Parliament. Under PR system as the seats in the Parliament are apportioned in proportion to percentage of votes cast, the minority parties can get some seats in the Parliament providing a scope for the formation of a coalition government. Coalition government tends to be weak as it lacks stability.
I would now like to make a comparative study between the working of democracy between the West and the nascent democracies of Asia and Africa. In the West the transition from autocracy to democracy was slow and gradual process and was carried out in far less complicated conditions than those which confront the democracies of Asia and Africa. As democracy demands participation of people in the affairs of the government, it requires higher standard of living among far more people than do other form of government. In the under developed countries of Asia` and Africa, the priority of the people is to strive for economic emancipation, whilst trying to preserve democratic values and traditions. It is difficult to maintain a delicate balance between political freedom and socio-economic progress. In the West, however, people with economic means and political weight, who need not have to fight for survival, can easily participate in the affairs of the government. Such participation goes a long way to contribute towards the successful working of democratic institutions. The society in the underdeveloped countries of Asia and Africa is divided between small favoured elite and impoverished masses. Such society is not conducive for the development of democratic institutions. Such conditions are more appropriate for oligarchy and autocracy. Moreover, the political history of the people of Asia and Africa is more associated with oligarchy and despotic rule. They inherited the democratic institutions from their colonial master UK. They found it difficult to adjust themselves with free democratic institutions, which they consider was insecurely grafted upon their older and deep rooted system of authority. Consequently the experiment of such new political institutions exhibited certain disquieting features, hampering the growth and development of democratic institutions. In democracies periodical elections are held to determine the kind of government the people want to have. Such elections can be held either on restricted or universal adult suffrage. The adoption of universal adult suffrage amongst people majority of whom are illiterate or semi-literate in nascent democracies of Asia and Africa is beset with formidable obstacles and difficulties. In the West the adoption of universal adult suffrage had been gradual and was accompanied by a corresponding extension of universal adult education. However, the adoption of universal adult suffrage amongst the people of Asia and Africa was a step in the right direction. It has raised the level of alertness and political consciousness among the masses and it is through the trial of election that people will learn the art of self government. As I have mentioned before that the representatives of the people to run the government on their behalf can be elected either by plurality or proportional system. Both systems have got its advantages and disadvantages. Despite its disadvantages the proportional system is more democratic than plurality system because it ensures that the seats in the Parliament are apportioned in proportion to percentage of votes cast. As it is easy to operate and less expensive, the nascent democracies of Asia and Africa have adopted plurality system. Mass illiteracy, coupled with problems complicated by the lack of communication between the voters and the candidates, is likely to make it difficult for the PR system to operate successfully in the emerging democracies of Asia and Africa. As the minority party are represented in the Parliament it may not be possible for any major party to secure absolute majority in order to form the government. Coalition government tends to be weak and lacks stability because the major party may have to rely on the minor party to stay in power. In the emerging democracies coalition government cannot work because the political parties lack the qualities required to ensure that the process of democracy can work successfully. Unstable government is likely to hinder the development of political institutions and economic growth. Such situation is unlikely to arise under PS. It is quite likely that a major party will secure the majority required to form the government, ensuring the stability of the government and consequently the development of political institutions and economic growth. Impoverished masses in Asia and Africa with no political or economic background are finding it difficult to get used to electing their representatives through PS. Any attempt to changeover to PR system may have the reverse effect, hampering the growth and development of political institutions. In the West, however, the electorate with good political and economic background did not find it difficult to adapt to the changeover from PS to PR. Besides, the highly organised and well disciplined political parties also contributed towards the successful changeover from PS to PR.
Political parties play and important part towards the successful working of a democratic form of government. Good organisation, discipline and able leadership are some of the requisites of any political party. In the West both the ruling and the opposition party play their respective role towards the successful working of democratic form of government. The opposition party abide by the decision of the ruling party, while the ruling party also recognise the rights and grievances of the opposition party. They work hand in hand in order to ensure that the process of democracy can work successfully. In the nascent democracies of Asia and Africa the role of the political parties, which is marred by dirty intrigues, lack of discipline, able leadership and above all greed for power, are not conducive to create an environment for the growth and development of any democratic institution. The role of the opposition party has not yet been appreciated or understood. The opposition has not yet learnt the art of constitutional opposition. The ruling party always tries to brand the opposition as anti-state and subversive. There seems to be a confusion between opposition to the state and opposition to the government. Democracy demands people to participate in the affairs of the government. As it is not possible for the people to take part directly in the affairs of the government, public opinion should be formed and make their wishes known in respect of its formulation of policies. Democracy, therefore, provides a scope to the people to form their opinion and an opportunity to the opposition to generate alternative policies. Such fair play of power between the opposition and the ruling party is the main essence democratic institution. The well organised public opinion depends for its existence on a responsible and free press and a literate, serious and educated public. The nascent democracies of Asia and Africa lack these qualities.
Another disquieting feature noticeable in the nascent democracies of Asia and Africa is the tendency of the ruling party to stay in power by adopting any means, regardless of the fact whether people want them to stay in power or not. In order to achieve this objective they try to rig the votes. The ruling party deploy all their resources including the use of force in order to intimidate the voters to cast their votes in their favour.
The government Bangladesh in 1990 adopted a system known as care taker government in order to ensure that a free and fair election can be held unhampered by the interference from the party in power. Such interim government, which was an appointed body, was entrusted with the task of holding the election assisted by the Election Commission. They could not adopt any policy either national or inter-national other than running the day- to-day administration of the country. The system operated successfully because the elections held from 1990 to 2006 was free and fair. As it was an appointed body it contradicted with the democratic principle, i.e. the basic structure of the constitution. The Supreme Court by virtue of its power of judicial review declared the provision of care taker government as null and void because it was found inconsistent with the fundamental structure of the constitution. Consequently the provision was scrapped in 2011 by the Parliament.
Submitted/written by :
VFJ A K M Abedur Rahman, Retired VAT Control officer, HM Customs and Excise, UK