Business

Analysis: Breaking the
shackles of our minds

In the last seven days, the world’s two biggest economies saw two different political systems work through their process to select their leaders. The differences and the similarities both warrant introspection.

The champions of democracy would like us to believe that the voice of the people were heard in the United States and were ignored in China. What we don’t stop to think about is the fact that over US$6 billion were spent by the supporters of the two parties for the federal elections, including the presidential contest in the US. Is that the price of democracy in the country that promotes itself as the champion of democracy around the world?
Is that how every democracy should find its best and brightest? Only two parties spent that incredibly large sum of money between them. It was their leaders, not the people, who gave the voters a choice of two. Some 20 other candidates, independents and from minor parties, remained faceless in the media. They were the butt of jokes in the main. Ironically, all that money, much of it spent in vulgar displays of pomp and power achieved very little change.

The popular vote around the country was split almost right down the middle, a difference of just one percentage point. There was really no change at all: the same president, the same Republican-dominated House and the same Democrat-led Senate. If all that money had been spent on rebuilding some of the nation’s broken roadways, it would have kept thousands of American families out of trouble for at least a year. But that is not the American way, certainly not the Republican way. So much for democracy and the free-market economy. If you are still looking for proof that the system is corrupt to the core, ask how many people were indicted for igniting the global financial crisis and which industry is the biggest donor to both sides of politics? The answers: no one, Wall Street.

In yet another irony of our times, the country that finances much of the $16 trillion debt of the champion of capitalism is the champion of communism. Demonized over the years, many of us grew up loathing everything communist. George Orwell’s Animal Farm was in the school curriculum. Who can deny the excesses of the practitioners of Marxist ideology? Should we blame Karl Marx for his thinking, or Stalin and Mao for the millions who were killed? But the evidence in today’s China shows that a nation that is still consciously evolving has on the one hand lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty in recent years. On the other, it recognizes that corruption poses an existential threat to the Communist Party. You won’t hear either the Democrats or the Republicans say that in front of the rolling cameras of the world press. Does Goldman Sachs fund both for charity?

Am I trashing democracy and promoting communism? No, I am not. But I am saying pots shouldn’t call kettles black. And we, the voters, should be able to see the warts, wherever they exist. Everywhere, the right needs to move left, the left needs to move right. Both sides of politics need to find a fair balance at the center, regardless of ideology. Freedom is a basic human right that cannot be left behind for long, even in China. The Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement are just two examples of two different people who have had enough.

The party politburo understands these new realities and is committing itself to greater democracy. This is now stated policy for the next generation to gradually introduce. Indonesia, a new democracy has its own destiny to shape. The lessons, from America to India and from China to Cuba, are there to evaluate. Less than two years away, the next round of elections will redefine the country once again. How much choice will the voters really have? Will horse-trading and marriages of convenience reduce the options from 12 to two? For now, observers and commentators we speak with believe there are 12 in the race. Prabowo Subianto still leads with 14 percent of voting intentions, followed closely by Megawati Soekarnoputri with 13. Put their two parties together and the clear lead would worry both major contenders, Democrats and Golkar. If that is a coalition in the making for the next poll, Indonesia too will have a choice of two, not 12 candidates. In such a scenario, the big money will be spent backing those two partnerships. Inevitably the question will be asked yet again: where did the money come from?

If democracy is deemed the lesser of two evils, then it needs a lot of work. That work-in-progress can be seen at its best in Scandinavia and Australia. That is where democracy has evolved, in keeping with social evolution. Not perfect, not by a long margin. But the evolution, the norms and the guidelines that exist in those two different parts of the world, are worthy of consideration by the lawmakers of this new democracy.

Opinions expressed are my own. The conclusions are based on the monthly poll conducted for the Asia Pacific Association of Political Consultants, by Roy Morgan Research. In September, 2,034 respondents were interviewed. The data is projected to reflect 87 percent of the population 14 years of age and over.

The writer can be contacted at debnath.guharoy@roymorgan.com

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