Friday, June 13, 2014

Ghana: What are the essential pillars of democracy?

 The privileged to be called upon by the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) as one of the resource persons for the 2014 Citizenship Week celebration in the Volta Region. Each year the NCCE dedicates a week to remind Ghanaians, especially the voting ones of their responsibilities as citizens and the role they can play in building; a strong, vibrant and a democratic Ghana. The Citizenship Week creates an environment wherein people in leadership positions, professionals, academics, great and accomplished citizens, are engaged by the NCCP. as volunteers living in their communities to interact with and impart virtues of good citizenship and the need to uphold democratic governance to pupils of basic schools across the country.

It also aims at encouraging mentor-ship lot pupils in the basic schools. The topic for the week's discussion was "Indiscipline; how it weakens die pillars of our democracy". In this week’s feature, I share with readers the essential pillar; if our democracy. In my view:, there are seven main pillars in the architecture of democracy; namely: elections, political tolerance, the rule of law, freedom of expression, accountability and transparency, decentralization, and civil societies. First, free and fair elections lend legitimacy to democracy in preventing one person or i small group in society front imposing certain vested interests on the general population. No one person or grump should exercise a monopoly of power own: the election process.

In a democracy, political parties can be formed and can campaign without intimidation. Some countries require political parties to have a minimum level of popular support before they can participate in elections. All political parties must also have access to a free media and other means to broadcast their election manifestos. The electoral process is supervised, monitored and carried out by a neutral body, often an election commission. However, elections can be rigged and votes bought. Politicians who only appear in their constituencies to enhance their patronage power are a familiar phenomenon in many countries. A political establishment that ceases to reflect aspirations of the citizens loses its political legitimacy.

The second pilar is political tolerance. Free and fair elections do not give a mandate to oppress or sideline those who have voted against the government. It also does lint mean that the majority have a right to rob the minority of its civil liberties, rights, property or life. Tolerance is required for democracy to be sustained. If minority groups do not benefit equitably from the election process, there can be no peace. That absence of peace will make a mockery of efforts to be democratic.
In many countries, there are examples of rewards being given only for those voters who supported the ruling party, with neglect or punishment given those who voted for the opposition. The distribution of food, water supplies and development resources has been used as a weapon of control to win elections.

The third pillar is the rule of law: There has been much debate on the meaning of this. What is dear, though, is the close connection between the rule of law and democracy. W7tcn the political process is subject to laws and a regulatory framework, it enable citizens to fudge the lawfulness of the government. They can find answers to key questions: Does the government govern according to the law or does it take the position that it is exempt from some inconvenient rules? Are procedures of government stable and within the law or does government act in an arbitrary fashion, arresting people who challenge its policies and depriving diem of their liberty-without due process. Democracy becomes dysfunctional when the bureaucracy, the judicial; the legislature, the private sector, the police and the military all use their power to enrich themselves and advance their own interests at the expense of civil society. Laws notwithstanding, corruption undermines the title of law: To ensure the functioning of rule of law, it is vital that the integrity and independence of the judiciary and entire justice system are not subject to undue influence and illegal intervention.

The fourth pillar is freedom of expression. What people in civil society arc allied to say, print, distribute and discuss is indicative of the democratic nature of a political system. A free press is a measure of the freedom of expression in a society: Few governments have a genuinely easy relationship with a free press. Yet, despite all its shortcomings, a free-press, supported by open Internet access, is indispensable to keeping the public informed as part of a functioning democracy. Even in an established democracy, government may seek to manipulate a free-press into serving its own ends. Governments often conduct spin campaigns to advance their agenda and dilute the power of independent media. technology is unleashing powerful new forces through expansion of information dissemination and space for public discourse. In countries with authoritarian practices, freedom of information is high on the government s danger-list. These new forces have made
It much harder for governments to control the flow of information. The fact remains that even democratically-elected governments will go to great lengths to manipulate public opinion -- whether on in the print media or the Internet. State influence and control over the flow of information should give us pause. The trapping of democracy may appear healthy, but the freedom of information and press freedom are hollowed out, then democracy is compromised

The fifth pillar is accountability and transparency. This means that institutions of government and individuals in those institutions must he held accountable for their actions. A government must be accountable to the people who elected it. Furthermore, it must be accountable to an independent judiciary or other impartial institution established to check government action. Decisions must not advance the agendas of vested interest groups over rho public interest. Accountability and transparency have the same purpose: to protect citizens against misguided policies or decisions that enrich a few at the expense of the many. When these two guardian angels are compromised it is an alarm that good governance is at risk, and democracy is stalled.

The sixth pillar rests on local political empowerment.'1'he closer the, government is to the people governed; the more responsive that government is likely to be. At the same time, for decentralized democracy to work there must also be a decentralization of funding, material and human resources and institutional capability. Decentralization of the political process is another way to curl) the concentration of power and influence exercised by political forces. Citizens become more aware, interested and willing to participate in democracy when they see their officials as neighbors and what is at stake as something close to home. Civil society is the vital seventy pillars. An active civil society begins its engagement at the grassroots. Community forums, clubs, activist groups, charities, cooperatives, unions, think-tanks and associations fit under the broad umbrella of civil society. These groups are the participatory vehicles for sustaining grass-moss democracy.

The pillars of democracy outlined above are necessary but insufficient without leaders to build and maintain them. The qualities of leadership for sustainable democracy are to be found in those who act in an honest, transparent and accountable mariner. They are consensus builders, open minded and fai are committed to rustier and no advancing the public interest. And they are tolerant of opposing positions. . There is truth in bull statements. But in admitting our limitations, let us strive to avoid the mistakes of the past and look forward to a new generation of leaders who can build on lessons from the struggles of ordinary citizens for democracy. 

Source: B&FT

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