A DEMOCRATIC PARADIGM MUST TAKE SHAPE *
Sadeq Jawad Sulaiman
Muscat: July 20,2005
A democratic paradigm must take shape. By that I mean a universal standard for democratic practice must be adopted as an integral component of good governance.
Like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the democratic standard should be based on recognition of the intrinsic dignity of the human individual, and hence the inviolability of his/her human, political, and civil rights.
Even though the political, economic, and social benefits from democratic governance are manifest, the argument for democracy must be founded in a humanistic motif, that is, in the inherent right of societies everywhere to secure for themselves a polity that is genuinely representative and constitutionally bound to a national environment of justice, equality, and human dignity. Failing that a polity would be deemed failing the democratic and thereby the good governance test.
A universal democratic standard for good governance is necessary in order to set out the essential requisites of a bona fide democratic system. It is necessary in order to expose undemocratic rule wherever it is practiced, nonchalantly or under camouflage. It is necessary in order to identify for remedy deficits in governing systems yet lacking in democratic fulfillment. It is necessary in order to pinpoint areas where civil society would focus and impel governments to reform.
And it is needed to challenge despotic rule. Despotism begets autocratic privilege, which begets discriminatory practices, which defy equal citizenship rights and deny equal protection under the laws. It spreads corruption, scorns merit, punishes integrity, and makes formal favoritism in exchange for political loyalty pass off as a societal norm. As a result, civil society is crippled, human dignity compromised.
Under pressure despots may proclaim social justice, equality, accountability, transparency, and such; in reality they continue to discriminate, defy, and cover up. Under pressure they may allow elections to be held; in reality they never let out of their control either the electoral process or the assemblies elected. On the surface they may appear benign; in reality they are harmful. A universal democratic standard would expose such façade, bare manipulation, and offer a precise mechanism for impelling governments to live up truthfully to the democratic norm.
Good governance is not possible under undemocratic conditions. Balanced economic development is not attainable where autocratic privilege reigns.. Social progress falters where anachronistic custom and tradition are constantly thrown in the way of positive change. Where these drawbacks persist, a vast majority of the people remain disenfranchised, left out of economic opportunity, and denied the freedom of choice outside the dictates of yesterday’s convention.
Likewise, a just despot is a stark oxymoron. A leader may otherwise be a good, fair-minded person, but functioning as a despot strips him/her of all claim to goodness or fairness. Seeing for oneself the prerogative to govern without being elected is audacious and presumptuous. Seeing in oneself by birthright the unique wisdom to decide in behalf of the entire nation is certainly not modest. And it is neither good nor fair.
To have human development apace worldwide, there has to be a universal commitment to help improve the quality of every national experience. To measure fulfillment of that commitment a universal democracy standard has to be in place. Arguments for culture specific considerations invariably seek to obstruct or otherwise dilute the content and limit the scope of democratic reform. Entrenched power and privilege are the hardest to give up. The universal will to overcome and advance on the path of democracy should be even more persistent.
No amount of dialogue with undemocratic regimes would come to much if democracy continues to be discussed as a political expedient rather than a moral imperative. Coming from this conviction I think your efforts would be better rewarded if you work to adopt a universal democracy standard. Democracy discussions would be more fruitful backed and prompted by a universal standard.
In all that we do context matters. It makes a world of difference whether we approach an issue in a humanistic context or from a parochial standpoint. In the former we are prompted to be consistent, fair, and inclusive; in the latter we are prone to become selective, contentious, and exclusivist. And since we live in an increasingly interdependent world, and at unprecedented proximity with one another, it would serve us well to increasingly approach our common interests and concerns in a context of ethical universalism. It only stands to reason that problems that are common to us all are approached through understandings that are shared by us all.
And so if it be peace, justice, equality, dignity, cooperation, economic and social development, personal fulfillment, and such that we commonly desire, and since these are not attainable under undemocratic conditions, it stands to reason that we adopt a common standard for democracy for all societies to comply with, and measure compliance. As rational and moral beings we cannot do less. * * *
* Remarks have been presented by Sadeq Jawad Sulaiman (former Ambassador in Washington) to the NO PEACE WITH JUSTICE WORKSHOP ON PLURALISM / ELECTORAL PROCESS convened in Venice, Italy. July 21-23.