The virtues of democracy
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-01-15
Democracy has its virtues and its vices. This was a major point in the talk of Lucca Fazzi of the University of Trent which he delivered during the Nov. 3 to 4, 2007 Movement for Unity in Politics International Congress that was organized by the Focolare Movement in Loppiano, Italy.

Fazzi said: “The mechanism of elective democracy holds different virtues.”

The first virtue is that political power is based on citizens’ legitimization and in the last instance it depends on it. The election mechanism represents a way to ground political decisions on the citizens’ will ensuring a level of consistency between them. It fosters a feeling of community belonging among the individuals and spurs accountability.

The second virtue is linked to the principles of universalism which highlight the fact that every citizen has the right to participate to the res publica. So every citizen independent of his origin, gender, religious and political ideas is entitled to the same right, without discrimination.

The third virtue is representation: since every citizen can express his opinion through voting, the elected politician will thus represent the goals and preferences of the majority. When governments are considered the mirror of a nation (in good or bad), we tend to emphasize even metaphorically the elected members as those who represent the people’s will, thus, the democratic mechanism is a guarantee of political programs which represent the citizens’ will.

The fourth virtue of elective democracy is based on the politician’s individual responsibility. During the election period politicians present their program platforms asking for consent. They personally become more visible to public opinion. Once elected, they become directly responsible for their work. If they carry out convincing programs for the citizens they will be re-elected; if not, they will personally pay the toll of defaults and wrong decisions.

The fifth virtue is that of political decisions accountability. The logic of general elections imposes on elected politicians at the end of the term the task of accounting for the work done in order to be re-elected. The democratic mechanism, thus, entails incentives to publicize the activities of policy-makers and favors assessment by the electorate.”

Fazzi then enumerates the present failings of democracy.

He added: “Elective democracy has been the institution which mostly fostered economic and social development in Western societies worldwide. In the last two decades, however, it registered a decline and the presence of critical features which have shed doubts on the pillars of the democratic model itself.

The effects of this crisis have been the subject-matter of many debates and vast literature, analyzed as follows: drop of participation rates in general and administrative elections, increased lack of confidence in institutions, growing citizen disappointment in the democratic system.

There are obviously many reasons that explain the citizens’ estrangement from democratic institutions: since the end of the cultural revolutions of the 1970s and 1960s, contemporary societies have been characterized by dynamics of strong resurgence and the presence of widespread individualistic attitudes and behaviors; high levels of wealth have at the same time watered down the reasons behind past vindications and led to prevailing broad acquiesce toward the status quo.

The crisis of representative democracy has been accelerated by the crisis of traditional political parties which played a pivot role in mobilizing and organizing consent towards institutions (Urbinati, 2006). There has been an increasingly widespread perception of a loss in relevance of national and domestic political decisions in the evolution of the phenomena bearing global origin. Traditional political representation and the institutional mechanisms needed for its reproduction today are considered less crucial compared to those of the past and in some ways they are less apt to address the new and complex problems of modern societies.”

Stagnant Philippine democracy

In simpler terms, Fazzi noted that many democracies have evolved into what is called “The Peter Principle” in management. The Peter Principle states that people in an organization tend to rise to their level of incompetence.

In like manner, societies that subscribe to democracy have evolved new, bigger needs and the situation now seeks a reinvention of the democratic system of government in order to properly service the newly evolved needs.

These problems that Fazzi discusses affect countries that have already registered a successful experience with democracy. Going through the five virtues of democracy that Fazzi outlined, we find that we Filipinos have not really experienced the full bloom of democracy in our country — not when the majority of our voters are unenlightened and un-empowered to make our democracy work.

Here, the majority who are ignorant are manipulated and exploited by the oligarchy ­— the 3% who corners over 85% of the country’s wealth. The majority elects the nominees of these oligarchs but when these nominees sit in the legislature and the executive branches of government — they serve the agenda of the few and not that of the majority who voted for them.

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