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8 Interesting Facts About Democracy and Elections

It's not perfect, but its worth treasuring the Power of One

As India looks forward to its 16th democratic government, we bring you some interesting facts on elections and democracy

Maybe it was a stray wind – possibly from the Arab Spring – that made its way into India. Or an unintended consequence of the rabid campaigns waged by major political parties. Perhaps it’s simply a Freudian response to the terrible patriotic songs we’ve been subjected to recently. Or a cry of relief that our Messiah has finally arrived (the BJP poll anthem has NaMo thundering: Saughandh Mujhe Is Mitti Ki, Mai Desh Nahin Mitne Dunga). You know what, it’s just the 120 -150 million first time voters hankering for a new experience to flaunt on Facebook!

The reasons may not be known, but the phenomenon is crystal clear – the Indian middle class voter has developed an uncharacteristic enthusiasm for exercising her franchise. After centuries of fatalistic belief in silent, if grudging, adjustment to the system, a touch of madness has gripped the country – suddenly, everyone has started believing that she – one amongst 1.2 billion people – can change the nation.

The Power Of One. Isn’t that the beauty of a democracy? To know that you have a say in the future of your country, even if it happens only once in five years; to acknowledge the responsibility of making it count. So as post colonial India awaits its 16th democratically elected government this May, here are 8 interesting facts about elections and democracy.

1. The world is becoming more democratic, at least on paper

My school’s motto read Vasudev Kutumbakam, meaning the world is a single family. We might as well add the word “democratic” in the middle. Of the 193 countries that are a part of the United Nations, 167 are democracies – that’s an impressive 87%!  But over one in three people in the world still live in an autocratic system – because China, the most populous country in the world, is not a democracy.

Notable amongst the countries that are recognized as autocracies are: China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Oman & Qatar.

2. Not all democracies are equal

We all know that writing a constitution and holding elections does not ensure a fully functioning democracy – governments can, and will, find ways to function as autocracies in the guise of democracy, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) developed a Democracy Index in 2007 to measure the state of democracy in the world. It uses five parameters to assess a democracy – electoral process and plularism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties. Each parameter is graded and an overall score is calculated, based upon which countries are classified into Full Democracies , Flawed Democracies , Hybrid Regimes and Authoritarian Regimes.

EIU Democracy_Index_2012

India ranks 38th on the 2012 Democracy Index and earns the moniker of a Flawed Democracy (the Index follows a normal distribution – only 15 countries are classified as Full Democracies and majority of countries are grouped into Flawed Democracies or Hybrid Regimes) . While we get a high score on the electoral process (kudos to the Election Commission) and civil liberties, we still have some distance to cover on factors related to political participation and political culture.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the scoring mechanism used by EIU in awarding the ranks is complex and almost secretive, using a combination of surveys and “expert” interviews.

 3. There’s no escaping Elections

Citizens across the world are demanding the right to choose their government through elections. The electoral process may not always be fair – or peaceful – but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for even authoritarian governments to ignore the clarion call of the people. The continent that appears to have benefited most from this is Africa – after decades of witnessing change only by means of coups and massacres, it has seen over 80% of its leaders being replaced by “ballots, not bullets” from 2000 – 2005.

The only 5 countries in the world (with populations greater than 500,000) not to hold elections between 2000 and 2012 are:

China, Eritrea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia & United Arab Emirates.

 4.  225 years of modern democracy

The oldest recognized democracy in the modern world is the United States of America , which adopted its Constitution pledging an elected government and civil rights to some American citizens in 1787 (Not all American citizens had equal rights at that time – the Indian Constitution codifying equal rights for all was truly visionary).

Interestingly, current opinion is divided within the United States on its status as a democracy, with some experts claiming it is an oligarchy. A study conducted by Princeton and Northwestern Universities states : ” “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence”. The report used extensive policy data for the years 1981 and 2002 to arrive at this conclusion, and plans on incorporating these findings into its teachings this September.

The youngest democracies in the world are Egypt and Libya, who embraced democracy in 2012 and are currently in a state of fragile transition.

5. Second Tryst with Democracy

India’s adoption of democracy in 1947 is by no means its first experiment with this system – the Chola Empire of South India had an electoral system in place,  1,000 years ago.

6. Wealth and Democracy make happy bedfellows

According to Alina Rocha Menocal of the Overseas Development Institute, outside of the petro-states & China, the 25 richest countries in the world as ranked by the World Bank are also fully established democracies. Does wealth lead to democracy, or vice-versa? We’ll need to question the chicken on that!

7. More women are making it to Parliament

The proportion of elected women across the world has doubled over the last 15 years, but it’s a still an abysmally low 21%. As we highlighted in our commentary on political empowerment of women, with just 11% women in Parliament, India ranks a shameful 106th on this measure, trailing not just leaders like Rwanda & Cuba, but even our neighbours – China, Pakistan, Nepal & Bangladesh.

8. Problems notwithstanding, it’s worth celebrating democracy

Yes democracy does not guarantee freedom or equality, and in some countries it’s a shallow cloak for corrupt and authoritarian regimes. Nonetheless, isn’t the chance to express your voice – in muted protest or active revolution – better than none? It’s fitting that the United Nations decided that democracies need to be celebrated, and declared September 15 as the International Day of Democracy.

My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Check out other articles from our Women & Politics issue, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB. See you on the other side!

Data Sources: Economic Intelligence Unit, Overseas Development Institute, Inter-Parliamentary Union, Democracy World Map from Wikipedia.

Image Courtesy: dannybirchall via Compfight cc


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