Liberal democratic systems are on a roll in western societies, triumphing over communism, fascism and totalitarianism. It looks like the road is clear for them to survive for the long term; almost on autopilot. There are safety valves at play with robust politics and exchange of ideas to decide their leaders. In developed countries, the electorates are also aware of their rights and the elected are held accountable. But now we have many nascent democracies, having shaken off the vestiges of untold miseries, trying their luck at democratic ways. At best, they take unsteady steps, feeling their way, not to trip over into an abyss!
India is supposed be the largest democratic country in terms of numbers, but still unable to root out corruption and favoritism. The same cliques are voted in and out, ad nauseam. The vestiges of caste and religion play their part, with the educated mostly staying on the sidelines. They wait for the murky waters to clear; but it would take ages! That the country is considered in league with China says much about the dynamism of their businessmen. Given a toehold, they know how to make the best use of the opportunity, having learnt to overcome manmade obstacles at home. The older generation, made a life out of adversity, but the present are like anyone else, any where. They take things for granted; believing freedom could have been achieved as a matter of right! Of course, one cannot reinvent poverty & subjugation just to teach hardships!
Others, like Indonesia, are just feeling the waters of democratic systems. Indonesia was under a rather benevolent dictatorship, a relative term of course. Democracy seems to be taking roots, showing promise. Other countries in Asia like Bangla Desh, Thailand, Cambodia are also getting on former ground. Japan seems to revel in the whole process, to the extent no one knows for sure who their Prime Minister is, at any moment! But politics is only a distraction for them as they carry on despite the endless politics.
China was always a threat to these countries when communism was at its height during the Mao era. Many had to watch over their back, to prevent their country going the communist way of ruin. Vietnam is now following China, with a more liberal one party rule, with strong capitalist shades. All these look promising, especially as most escaped the contagion of the ongoing economic crisis.
But what about future challenges? The Gini coefficient, a measure of income gap between the rich and the poor, is increasing; a troubling trend. Democracies have to give the common man a real stake in the economy for them to flourish. Communist systems mostly assured them an iron rice bowl, but the people got disillusioned due to few taking free rides. They also developed a privileged class, with positions and benefits given to a select few.
The real test for democracy can still come from China, who holds on to one party rule. They have a top down, no-nonsense, system of governance. There are no election bottlenecks, only come what may approach to tackle serious issues. The communist party is supreme, with those who oppose it termed as traitors to the whole system and the country. Though the spirit of the festival of democracy is still in the air, nascent democratic countries are stymied by corruption, nepotism, and money politics. There are too many vested interests at play, playing out the common man endlessly! There are limits to their patience and the new found exuberance can evaporate, if the systems get mired in non-performance and regress over time. Similar sentiments can envelope East European countries, though their memories of Soviet ruthlessness would have left a lasting impression!
Democracy and freedom are priceless, but memories can prove short. There are always vultures sensing a kill; human beings are emotional and when the push comes to a shove, anything goes! We need to make the democratic systems work in fledgling countries, taking their baby steps. The endless circus of elections benefiting the few privileged is a travesty of justice, democracy and freedom, which can prove a death-knell for all. Democracy should sustain and live up to the hope, and even the hype associated with it; the price to pay otherwise is too much to contemplate.