16 Nov 2005

The body of democracy

Original article is not about Singapore, but discusses democracy in a wide enough context to be interesting to us.

By Gisela Stuart

A contract of trust between citizens and politicians on a defined national community – we can elect you, we can remove you – is fundamental to a democracy, says the German-born British Labour MP Gisela Stuart.

Anthony Barnett & Isabel Hilton say that democracy is under attack from without and from within – and that the best way to respond is to open up the debate and find new forms of direct participation. As they ask: “If the basis for democracy is deliberation, then we have to ask who hosts the conversation?”

The experience of different nation-states offers a variety of possible hosts. The constitution of the United Sates of America declares government to be by the people for the people; in the Federal Republic of Germany it is “the people and the component states, the Länder”; in Switzerland, there are local plebiscites on everything from whether women should have the vote to whether someone should be given Swiss nationality; the European Union can issue invitations to apply for membership, but only insofar as its own member-states have given it powers to do so; the United Nations is open to all those nations which have signed up to a set of universal principles.

A question of belonging

The assumption that the more participation the better for democracy can be questioned, for it is incomplete: we need to know who takes responsibility for decisions. Democratic representatives must be seen as accountable, and this goes wider than accepting an election result. The process of fighting general elections makes it clear that democracy is a battle of ideas and of competing priorities. There will be winners and losers. It is no coincidence that we talk of “fighting” elections.

This is not the case in our transnational institutions, which are based on the hope that it is possible to divine, by a process of talks and negotiations, benevolent universal world governance that establishes peace and tranquillity across the world. Democracy is the privilege of those living in a few areas of the world and it is not an accident that all are based in nation-states. Viable democracy requires a strong sense of community or demos. Britain has this as does the US and France – but it is not so for the European Union, still less the world and its institutions such as the United Nations......

[Read more....]

The body of democracy by Gisela Stuart - openDemocracy

No comments: