Wednesday, September 18, 2013

FDA Discourse Series--Perspectives on Democracy

Arab Spring provided a movement for the betterment of people from the Middle East. Yet, as Egypt continues to show, democracy advancement is a painful and challenging process as the forces of status quo confront the forces of progression.
To further its goals of, 
  1. ensuring that people become more knowledgeable about the outcomes of government processes so that they can then make better-informed decisions;
  2. getting people involved in monitoring government processes at all levels of government, as well as in providing sound, practical, and effective suggestions for making these processes more democratic
the Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) shares different perspectives on democracy. The perspectives derive from persons interested in volunteering at the FDA. These persons may have different nationalities, and/or different ethnic and culture backgrounds.

How do you feel about democracy advancement?
  1. "According to Stanford University, democracy can be defined as a system of government in which a country’s political leaders are chosen by the people in regular, free, and fair elections. I feel that democratic advancement is absolutely vital to the future success of a country as well as their institutions and federal policies. To paraphrase Barack Obama, “democracy depends not only on elections but they also depend on strong and accountable institutions.” Therefore, democratic advancement is manifested through more than simply an unbiased and fair elections, but also institutional checks and balances. I feel that democratic advancement is an extremely complex and delicate subject, especially as it pertains to those nondemocratic countries and countries undergoing democratic transition."

  2.  "I think Winston Churchill's statement that "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried" relates to an extent to my thoughts on democracy. Democracy certainly has its flaws. For instance, in a democracy, there may be a tyranny of the majority, voting by uneducated, ill-informed people, and/or inefficiencies and delayed resolutions of major issues. However, it is preferable to all other forms of government. When a government is accountable to its people, there is a smaller likelihood of corruption, the basic rights and freedoms of citizens are more likely to be ensured and democracies are less likely to go to war. A government should always hold the interests of its people at its core, and democracy is the best form of government to do so. Democratic advancement is therefore very important. However, I also think that democratic advancement will be a slow going process as institutions are sticky and are hard to change. Furthermore, in the developing world, regime changes towards democratic systems will produce instability, as we have seen in Arab countries following the Arab Spring. Still, I think it is possible for these nations to eventually obtain democratic political systems."

  3. "I believe in the rights of a people to vote their leaders, more than that, I believe democracy in itself as just being the first step and elected officials should develop a country by providing infrastructure to maintain the confidence of the people that elected them. It also institutes a process where the leaders are held accountable for what the people elected them to do unlike authoritarian/military rules etc. where the people do not have a voice and cannot cry for reform where it needs to happen.

    Democracy provides the means to remove elected officials, scrutinize policy makers and transparency in government.... I am a Canadian of Nigerian descent so democracy and the space for this type of government to not just be instituted but run the country properly, providing basic infrastructure and eliminating corruption in government is extremely important especially as my country has a democratic leader and the country is in political ruins because the elected officials are corrupt and are destroying the very fabric of the country.

    I think democracy if properly executed is an excellent idea which fosters development, general welfare and social justice in the community. Every member of the community has a say (voice) in how the community is to ensure their welfare is paramount.

    However that being said, in many countries in the world especially in the developing countries, democracy is not properly executed because the people who are supposed to represent their communities in the government often go there representing only themselves. In these situations the structures meant to act as checks and balances and ensure that democracy functions properly are non-existence due to greed, corruption and poverty.

    I will use my country of birth as an example; this is a similar situation in many other African countries. Nigeria gained independence from the British government almost 53 years ago (October 1, 1960). It has had about 21 years of democracy and 32 years of military rule. At the end of the last military regime in 1999, there was so much hope and expectation of a better life by the general populace as one of the ‘dividends’ of democracy. Unfortunately 14 years after, there is little to show due to lots of corruption by democratically elected leaders. The various military governments were oppressive and did not allow the people much freedom. The same has happened several times under democratically elected government. I have often wondered how democracy can work properly in a country like Nigeria as the level of greed and corruption is so much and oppression seems to be ingrained in the system. Almost everyone who wants to get into government is thinking about how they will get their share of the ‘national cake’ and not what they will go and do to make the lives of the fellow citizens and future generations better. Those who want to make a positive impact get frustrated by the way the system works. The many years of military dictatorship has not allowed many citizens understand the true meaning of democracy and what it is about. In my opinion, it is very important to focus on educating the youth in these countries on the real meaning of democracy and how it should work.

    In countries like Iraq and Egypt Islamic extremists have continued to prevent democracy from working because it is perceived as a ‘Western’ culture which allows everyone to have a voice and prevents what non-Muslims perceive as oppression." 

  4. "Being a post-secondary student living in the country that I do, I believe strongly in advancing democracy and improving it not only at home, but around the world where people welcome it. I believe that a country can only progress if the government serves its people, and not vice versa. For a governmental system to be successful, I believe that it must serve the interests of the people it represents as a whole and constantly seeking for ways to better and protect society. This can truly come about when the people of the society are the drivers of the governmental processes rather than a handful privileged of the elite few. With that comes transparency and accountability as citizens become more involved in their government and want to know why certain decisions are being made. When government officials know that they are being watched and therefore will be held accountable if they abuse their power, they will (or try to) put their best foot forward as much as possible or get ousted come next election. While the benefits of democracy are undeniable, there are still sadly a great many countries who do not practice democracy, or have democracy in the most superficial terms. What democracy advancement means to me is to give people as much information as possible so that they can begin to change their system to be as fair as possible, transparent to all, and accountable to the general population. On the surface, many elections may appear to be democratic as leaders are “elected”, but upon closer inspection, we can see that there are really other important elements of democracy." 

  5. I feel democracy advancement plays a crucial role in people information to become aware of various situations, understand issues and provide their input through their thoughts. Democracy advancement provides expert opinion from various experts for people to review and understand the the impact of a decision and make a difference. The electoral fairness audit is a creative way to analyze the electoral campaign and to hope people can have better chance of choosing the right leader to represent them.  

What does a people-based democracy mean to you?
  1. "When I think of a people-based democracy, I think of the symbiotic relationship between the government and the citizen. I agree with Stanford University when they state that government authority comes from the citizen and is based on the citizen’s consent. The key role of the citizen in a democracy is participation, and participation can take many different forms. The primary function of participation involves voting in elections in a peaceful, non-coerced way, while being respectful of the different views of others (collectively and individually). To me, a people-based democracy means the peaceful actions, reactions and interactions between the government and the citizen."

  2.  "A people-based democracy is a political system that is powered by the will of the people, meaning that the people of a country participate in decision-making in their state either directly or indirectly through representatives. This indicates that free and fair elections are key. The state should always be accountable to its people, and there should be mechanisms to remove leaders from their positions when they abuse their power and act against the will of the people." 

  3. "I had never heard of a people-based democracy and checked online and did not find very much as a clear definition. From my understanding, a people-based democracy is democracy with people running the democracy; which follows my initial point as where people have a stake in electing their officials, this leads to a more successful democracy as with anything else in life, once people are committed, have a buy-in, are part of a process of instituting something, there is larger drive for it to succeed.There becomes a personal stake for its success as with a democracy with the people running the democracy."  

  4. "A people-based democracy means that government is comprised of individuals just like you and I. Our government is made up of common people who share our ideas, beliefs and goals. They can be our teachers, our brothers, our next door neighbours. In a democratic system, we want leaders who can speak for us and represent our interests and looks out for our well-being as a whole, so it does not matter where this individual comes from as long as we agree with his ideas and like the way he makes decisions. In people-based democracy, everybody is equal and this equality is crucial, for everyone gets a say in how they believe they should be governed." 

  5. I have grown up in India which is one of the largest democratic countries in the world. Democracy has brought a totally different set of beliefs, views, reforms in India since 1947. People have received the right to choose their leader in India, have received right to exercise their rights of beliefs, religion and many other rights. The ability to include people in conversation over an ongoing issue is what makes democracy different than other methods, and which is what appeals to me the most.

Question for Readers

Are there any common themes / ideas in these perspectives on democracy?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Open Letter to the FDA--Shortcomings of Some Canadian Media During Elections?

Don't Gamble With Our Community
Issues, Not Odds 

A recent article in the Calgary Herald introduced the Calgary community to six local residents intending to run for mayor of Calgary against incumbent Naheed Nenshi.(“Longshots line up to take on Nenshi in mayoral race” 30 August 2013). This Article brought good news to all of us who support democracy, for we know that an election with only one choice can never be true democracy.

Nevertheless, we were disappointed by the rhetorical choices made by the article’s author and editors. Referring to the six candidates as 'longshots' in the headline and 'crazy' in the article, and to Mayor Nenshi as a 'shoo-in' – all within the first five paragraphs – the article subtly but powerfully encourages readers to dismiss them as viable candidates.

The terms ‘longshot’ and ‘shoo-in’ refer to the chances of being elected – something of interest perhaps to bookies and gamblers looking to make money on election results. But these terms do not refer to the factors that are (or should be) relevant in supporting and voting for a candidate, factors such as the candidate's experience and his or her position on relevant issues. Admittedly, these factors are included in the article’s brief bios of five of the six candidates, but only after priming the reader to focus on the odds.

It might be argued that readers need to know the chances of a candidate winning so that they can make an informed choice come election day. But those odds largely reflect expectations around who the majority of voters will vote for; they say nothing about who is the best candidate for office. By directing attention to irrelevant information, reporting on the chance of a candidate’s winning actually encourages voters to make uninformed choices on election day: why learn about the issues when I already know who's going to win (or lose) anyway?

The Calgary Herald has already done the community a valuable service by introducing these six candidates to the public and letting us know that we can expect a choice this October; we hope that the Calgary Herald will continue to be inclusive in its coverage of this year's mayoral race.

But reporting on the odds of a candidate's success undermines our democracy by enabling and encouraging voters to appeal to (apparent or actual) popularity when casting their ballot. As such, we ask that the journalists and editors at the Calgary Herald help empower Calgarians to vote on the issues this election by focusing its reporting on relevant factors – e.g., the candidates' experience and their position on issues – and leaving discussion of their chances of winning for the bookies, gamblers, and others who treat our elections as an opportunity to make money on a bet.

Anonymous letter to the Foundation for Democratic Advancement
September 4, 2013

This letter and any other open letter do not necessarily represent the views of the FDA. The FDA supports broad and diverse speech.