Monday, October 24, 2005
Instruments of Democracy
I just read something a few minutes ago and it upset me a little bit. It also reemphasized a point about democracy I think escapes most debates about its power to transform societies. An editor in Afghanistan was arrested when articles assessed to be anti-Islam were publsihed in his magazine. Apparently the democratically elected government in Afghanistan approved a bill in March 2004 banning all news and media content insulting to Islam. The Primary Court in Kabul convicted the editor for violating the law, but luckily the editor has the right to appeal the conviction to the Second Court.
The presence of the freedom of press, transparent and accountable political leadership, separation of powers, freedom of speech, rule of law, political parties and other institutions of freedom are the truest measure of democacy's influence in a society. People tend to equate democracy with elections and then assume the story ends there. However, without the most essential elements and instituations of democracy the possibility of elections being manipulated and perversed in the hands of an oppressive leadership remains a significant threat.
Don't get me wrong elections are important. Ounce for ounce they are probably the most important aspect of a democracy because they represent the people's most direct voice in choosing how they will be governed and what sort of society they will represent. However, without those other important institutions elections could be a one time event in fledgling democracies. One time elections in new democracies usually lead to only one thing, dictatorships.