Governance & Democracy: by Choice or by Chance?

The debate initiated in “The Economist” on What is Wrong with Democracy makes an interesting discussion. Governance is an essential part of democracies or that of Confucian learned traditions or of the autocrats being crucial element of development discourse. Good governance symbolizes paradigm shift in the role of governments which may have differences in the theoretical formulation, policy prescription or conceptualization under various systems. The recent book on “Intelligent Governance for the 21st Century, a Middle Way between West and East” by Nicolas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels makes timely entry for analyzing western and eastern models of governance. The growing opinion about western democracies is that they have become associated with debt and dysfunction at home and extensive overreach abroad. The Economist argues that they are losing forward momentum due to financial crisis of 2007-08 and the rise of China. Another book on “The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy” by Daniel A. Bell, also argued that people in Western democracies are unsure about whether one person, one vote is a good way of choosing governments. However, it has become matter of faith and any suggestion to the contrary is shocking. He further argued that a perfected version of Chinese authoritarianism is not merely a viable alternative to the Western norm but in fact might be better and maybe not just for China. In the debate on democracies most rose in 20th century under a difficult environment faced to Germany, India, South Africa (1990s), Greece (1974), Spain (1975), Argentina (1983), Brazil (1985) and Chile (1989). The collapse of the Soviet Union created many fledgling democracies in central Europe, A host of new democracies also emerged in Africa and Asia. According an American think-tank there are about 120 countries with a political system based on democracy to make it 63% in the world. Today in most democracies people are protecting against corrupt, abusive democratic governments. This is notwithstanding the fact that most democracies are on average richer than non-democracies and are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. Recently, world applauded the collapse of the autocratic regimes, but their toppling out turned out to be difficult for new democratic governments following revolutions like Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa and Ukraine’s Orange revolution a decade ago, despite people spoke their minds clearly against autocratic systems and hoped shaping their future in democracies. The question here underlines, what is wrong with democracy, where people in different parts of the world are not satisfied and question the very idea of democratic system. The argument of Chinese Communist Party makes an interesting discussion which has broken the democratic world’s monopoly on economic progress to leave an idea with people to be disillusioned with the workings of their political systems. The Chinese argue that their eastern tight model of governance is based on centuries long Confucian learned traditions, which is coupled with a relentless effort by Communist Party to recruit talented people into its upper ranks, which is more efficient than democracies. The Chinese political system and governance has doubled the living standards of its people and rise is consistent. The 2013 Pew Survey of Global Attitudes showed that 85% of Chinese were “very satisfied” with their country’s direction, compared with 31% of Americans. Many Chinese intellectuals are positively boastful of the delivery of their system of governance compared to democracies and argue that western democracies institutionalize gridlock, trivialize decision-making and elect second-rate leaders to govern. Many developing countries with Western values and political systems are experiencing disorder and chaos, because democracy is making simple things overly complicated and frivolous and allows certain sweet-talking politicians to mislead the people. In this debate death of Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew also left a tremendous model and legacy of political system and governance created during his 31 yearlong premiership. Lee Kuan Yew achieved a phenomenal economic growth and immense prosperity for its people despite his country was multiethnic and multiracial. He turned diversity into unity and opportunity that Singaporean per capita income rose from UD$ 500 to USD $55,000 in fifty years (1965 – 2015). Lee Kuan Yew political system and governance in essence refers to all processes of governing by a government apparently based on western model of governance and yet not liberal and democratic in many ways. Compared to Confucian learned traditions Singaporean global indicators like competitiveness, innovation, livability and clean governance standout and they lead as well in social, economic and health global indicators. The leadership in democratic system is important as the charisma of Lee turned a multiethnic and multiracial society contributing for national unity and progress. He made meritocracy and rule of law reign supreme in all walks of national life, gave nation a vision and conduct of rules through personal examples. Lee led an ascetic life. He met his mother once a year as it involved high cost of security given to him during his visit. He avoided his brothers and relatives for their indulgence in corruption, favoritism, and nepotism. Lee gave importance to values in action, policy, or while choosing developmental models. He believed if values are divorced from the system, no society can achieve optimum results. He educated and ordered his society to respect principles of meritocracy and rule of law that set in motion an efficient civil service, discipline, and success of economic policies. In the Lee’s legacy, today’s Singapore advancement in civil service and business is purely on merit. Adherence to rules and code of conduct has become norm for Singaporean and they believe firmly that one cannot grow by bending the rules. The civil service of Singapore has become a role model, where salaries and perks are equal to those offered by the private sector. Singapore’s civil servants on each rung of their career manage a different portfolio while working in a different department. This builds them a broad base knowledge and experience. Singaporean socio-economic growth of multiethnic and multiracial society, their rising equal living standards and stability and harmony are legitimate tests of a good political system reached through good governance. Lee model of governance had zero tolerance against corruption, nepotism, and favoritism. Lee set up an independent bureau of Corrupt Practices Investigations Bureau to ensure integrity of those vested with exercise of power in private and public sectors and no one enjoys immunity. The doctrines of political systems without accountability and balancing the processes of fair interaction and decision-making by the institutions would make it dumb exercise. In Pakistan the debate is about political system, autocratic rules and governance. People worry why democracy in Pakistan is not delivering? Why democratic parties promote corruption, favoritism, and nepotism and why do they not promote meritocracy and rule of law? Perhaps there is nothing wrong with democracy or any comparable system as there is no dearth of governance ideals including that of Islamic democratic values. What we need is rebalancing our approach for a fair, transparent and legitimized democracy to usher meritocracy for an intelligent form of governance. This is possible in true democracy that can distinguish the governance from government. In the exercise of de-politicizing the governance, the critical question is built around politicians if they can desist from personal motives to influence the quality of governance to make democracy function?

Wajid Ali

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