Come on, just admit it. Did anyone of us ever really get anything out of democracy, perhaps except the brief moment of joy when you see the candidate that you liked (hated) won (lost) the election?
Look at Taiwan, before all this mess about Chen Shui Bian, his alleged self-directed shooting act as well as the more recent corruption charges, could you remember why he was voted into power in the first place? Everyone complains about the eight years of Democratic Progressive Party rule, but they were in power in the first place because people were dissatisfied with the KMT. Eight years have passed, and people forgot why they voted out the KMT in the first place, and voted them in again. Now let me ask you, what real change did you think that has been put forward through this 3 presidential elections? I really don't know.
Well I know some of you are probably going to say that Taiwan is still a young and immature democratic society, we should perhaps look at other countries, like the US instead. Since I was a kid, US presidents went from Bush, Clinton, Bush jr. and Obama, or Republican, Democrat, Republican and Democrat. Their policy debates included budget surplus/deficit, military spending, gun control, social security, foreign policy, blah blah blah... Obama says, "Change! Yes, we can!" That's a real catchy slogan man! But what has really been achieved by the system of democracy itself?
The answer is not easy. This is because democracy was never meant to be there to achieve something. Instead, it is there to make sure the other guy doesn't achieve anything, or better known as "checks and balances". It is a system designed to prevent one side having too much power to do whatever they want, at least not without punishment, or facing the fear of being voted out of office on your next term. It is also about the idea that every one will be represented, along with their views and beliefs, even if they are minorities, or more ideally, especially if they are minorities. At least that's the definition on paper.
Don't get me wrong. I did not for an instance said that I am against democracy. It is just maybe that there will never be true democracy in the world. And maybe that's why it sucks. People are just deceived time and time again to believe in some faint hope that seemingly will never come true. You can call me a cynic or a pessimist, but I think most people are too naive or optimistic. I see myself as a realist, just driven by facts and truth.
Why am I writing all this? Its just that with all this heat going on due to the anticipation of the upcoming Singapore and Malaysia elections, I would just like to reflect on what democracy means to me, and maybe you and the society. Just my two cents' worth.
And please, don't even for a second that you think I am a fan of dictators. Even though democracy has its flaws, one would definitely like to live in a democratic country instead of under a dictatorship of the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Kim, or Castro. "The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting", said Charles Bukowski. (I don't really know who this guy is but I really like this quote.)
In a democracy, candidates voted into the government are given the power to rule, but they also face the possibility that this power will be striped by the people when voting comes. This is the real difference between democracy and dictatorship. Now comes my real question. What happens in the 4 to 5 years between the elections?
Back to reality, voters don't get any say on the policies once the elections are over. Once the candidates are voted into power, they are given the right and power to decide for the greater benefit of the people, or so they claim to be. The people couldn't even make sure the politicians will hold on to their promises.
The hope of the people lies in that a democracy also usually means more than one party in the parliament, not-including self-declared democratic socialist countries, which means there will be some form of checks and balances in play. Yet the way I see it, the democracy systems in the world seems to resemble more of an oligarchy, where a small group of people holds all the power, with both elitism and nepotism often in play. Ask yourself, is democracy really fair? Does all the different needs and views of the people from different social groups represented and cared for? I seriously doubt so. Yet perhaps it is as fair as a system can be.
So basically, summarising my chain of thoughts,
1) You can't really change anything by voting. Sorry to break it to you. If you really want to change, be a politician and let others vote you into the system.
2) When the elections are near, the politicians will promise you a lot of things that you will like to hear. (Maybe along with some threats)
3) Once the elections are over, the politicians will have all the power to do all they want.
4) Opposing parties/candidates in the government are the real people with any form of power to affect the decision making process.
So maybe you don't agree with me, but actually consciously or subconsciously, we all know these. We are taught to believe that voting is both a right and a duty, and as such we are to choose as carefully as we might, and then leave it to them. Once they are in power, it is really nothing much we can do.
But that is perhaps the real reason everyone is so hyped up during this pre-election period. Even friends who are genuinely ignorant and disinterested about social issues want to engage in pre-election discussions and share their views, just to be part of this process. This is the only time that the people feel that they are involved, and their views are deemed important. This is the time when the voices of the people can be heard and not ignored. This is the time when the editorial pages and political blog posts are really read and spread around. This is the only time, that the politicians will not seemed so high up and unreachable, and instead will try to act like grassroots and go door to door in order to shake your hands.
The people go to political rallies not to listen to what the candidates have to say, but hoping to hear what they already have in mind, to come out from the mouths of the candidates. They are not there to be enlightened, but to be heard.
This is what democracy is really about. The campaigns. Rallies. Elections. Voting. And the power that comes with it. So enjoy it while it last. Savour whatever glory that you might feel the moment the results are announced. And life moves on.
Democracy sucks. It really does. But after all it is still the best in the world. (Sounds like a sad world eh?)
As Thomas Jefferson once said, "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty." The way I see it, democracy gives people liberty, once every five years. That's it. But still, its better than none at all. At the end of the day, having that silver lining is perhaps not too bad after all.