Never let democracy get in the way of a good economy.
Voting is, for a large number of people, a pain in the posterior, but the clashes between the represented and representers are becoming more common and disparate.
The Greek prime minister’s decision to throw the European Union bailout to a referendum sent the market into a tailspin because, in a country currently on perpetual strike, everyone knows the people would reject austerity, not to mention foreign control of government departments.
If the Greeks are given a voice, it will spell the end of the euro and possibly the entire EU, if some are to believed.
The Financial Times’s Gideon Rachman wrote on Tuesday that: “The Brussels authorities react to the prospect of a referendum like a vampire to garlic. Little wonder – the record of the EU in referendums is dreadful. The Irish and the Danes have voted several times to reject EU treaties. Most significantly of all, the Dutch and the French voted to reject the proposed EU constitution in 2005. These votes really shook the European project.”
Whatever you do, don’t let the people decide.
The UN heritage and education agency UNESCO is already paying the price for using democratic principles. When they voted overwhelmingly to give full membership to the Palestinians, it triggered American laws forcing the withdrawal of $60 million in funding.
Electing Hamas to power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2006 already cost millions in aid money for the Palestinians. The West wanted democracy in the Middle East, but the right kind.
The same attitude emerged immediately after the Tunisians held their first free elections and the West immediately expressed concern over the choice of an Islamist party.
Let the people decide, but with provisos.
The Anna Hazare team is again threatening PM Manmohan Singh that the activist will resume his hunger strike if the government fails to pass the Lokpal Bill.
The group is largely anti-corruption, but nobody elected them, in contrast to the government, similar to the many “Occupy” groups around the world.
But all those groups claim to properly represent the people, particularly with their motto, “We are the 99 percent”. The American Tea Party movement doesn’t accept the elected President Obama and so believes they are the true voice of “the people”.
Is an unelected group more or less democratic than the government representatives now?
Democratic votes have been used by the majority to suppress minorities in various countries over the decades. Just last week at the gathering of Commonwealth countries, Uganda hit back at British PM David Cameron’s threats to withhold funding if they did not uphold rights for homosexuals. The people of Uganda are in favour of such moves, if the press and government are correct.
Germans elected Nazi politicians repeatedly in the 1920s and 1930s knowing fully their anti-Semitic policies. Do majority votes justify such moves?
Sometimes, democracy makes me nervous. Ballot initiatives in several US states have banned gay marriage, limited access to abortion and forbidden sharia law being introduced. All target largely minority populations – how do any of us know if we might someday find a majority voting against us?
Some in the digital community like to talk about power being given to the people through social media and the internet more generally.
E-petitions have allowed strong and quick support for measures such as restoring the death penalty in the UK. But does a vocal e-group mean that’s what the population want?
None of these hesitations are reasons to scrap democracy, of course. But there is hypocrisy over how and when democracy is applied by those on top, and a failure to recognise by campaigners on the bottom how flawed the system can be, whether through lack of education, whipped up hysteria, or growing apathy.
Disillusionment with democratic institutions does not excuse people from not voting, then setting up parallel institutions on the grounds they are more democratic. Both can co-exist but there should be more dialogue, as the leaders of St Paul’s Cathedral seem to have recognised in their confrontation with the Occupy London Stock Exchange protestors.
Technology cannot solve any of these problems – even if you brought in e-voting in Greece, the rest of the EU still doesn’t want them exercising their votes.
And if the ups and repeated downs of the markets have proven anything lately, it’s that we are at the mercy of democracy, or rather a subset of it – capital democracy.
Stock brokers, money lenders and bet hedgers vote with their gut to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. They decide as a collective majority what future the world has. And, like voters themselves, they cannot be held accountable – you hold the elected to account, not the electors. You cannot vote them out of office, or suspend their “voting” rights.
They’ve repeatedly destroyed firms and government bank balances, in the past few years especially, and now are essentially preventing the Greeks from voting. We might even call that fascism in some quarters – the minority controlling the majority.
So just maybe, while some countries learn to build new democracies and others reassert them, we should limit the voting rights of the bankers who would rather we didn’t. I’d vote for that.