Tuesday, July 02, 2013

An important aspect of democracy that some don't seem to have noticed

Watching the commentary on recent events in Egypt, and hearing the discussion about the moves to unseat Egypt's elected President, it reminds me of a recurring argument that inevitably follows when someone says that they are in favour of the promotion of liberal democracy.

I've often been asked about what happens when a new electoral process results in an illiberal government. I've been told that "if you promote liberal democracy, for example, in many countries in the Middle East, you create a situation whereby a totalitarian-ish Islamist party can take power".

Surely this presents us with a paradox?

Well... no it doesn't. If you hold an election, and the resulting constitutional settlement allows the winner to abolish, or rig, subsequent elections, then the election was not part of a process that could be described as 'liberal democratic' in the first place.

The reality of having to seek a renewed mandate on broadly the terms that you won the old one - that's a vital part of the covenant of a liberal democracy. It's not an optional extra.

When you create a situation in which everyone can vote to decide who the next government is, you have not created a democracy. You've had an election. It's not the same thing. (John Dewey is well worth reading on this).

I know little about Egypt, and almost nothing about Mohamed Morsi. But unless the Egyptian constitution would not permit him to rig the next election, it's not particularly anti-democratic for him to be overthrown so soon after an election - especially if he's been using his time in office to abolish important liberties.


Strategist said...

Another take on this is that it's a counter-revolution, pure and simple. As in, the people with all the property and power who were out for a bit, used the occurrence of massive street protests to resume the reins of power.

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