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“Democracy vs Authoritarianism: Why we need democracy?“

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A country’s progress and prosperity depend upon the kind of political system it has and whether it is aligned with the preferences and interests of the people. In general, democracy is considered to be the ideal form of government as it is “government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Democracy is derived from two Greek words; demos, meaning people and kratos, meaning rule. So, democracy means rule by the people. It is a form of government in which the “people” directly or indirectly decide on laws, policies, the decisions of a state, and major undertakings and in which every person is shareholder.

Democracy is a political system in which government is based upon fair and open mandate from all the qualified citizens of a state. At a minimum, it requires representative government, free elections, freedom of speech, protection of individual rights and government by the people. 

Although democracy is considered to be an ideal system of government there is no universally agreed definition of democracy. Today, almost every state claims itself to be democratic because to do otherwise would be to admit that it was limiting the rights of its citizen and is despotic. While some have stronger claims to be democratic. For instance, North America, Europe, East Asia and Australia. 

Athens were the first to practice democracy in the 5th century BCE. It was a kind of direct democracy in which all the adult citizens took part in the process of collective decision making. This ancient democracy was limited to men only excluding women, slaves and foreigners. But today modern democracy accommodates all the opinions. It is not restricted to men only. Modern democracy is not based upon rule by the majority but the consent of minority is also taken into account for smooth functioning of a state.  That’s how democracy has evolved over a period of time to cater for the needs of the citizens of a state and it is still in a state of transition to meet the requirements of the contemporary world.   

Modern democracy provides Representative systems of government based on regular, fair, and competitive elections,Stability and predictability of political institutions and system of accountability with proper checks and balance to eradicate the menace of corruption and other immoral behavior. There is distribution of power so that it is not accumulated in a single institution. The role of government is limited so that it should not intervene in personal matters of the individuals unless there is some harm from others. A democratic system ensuresConstitutional protection of individual rights, Freedom and liberty of citizens under law which is sustained by an independent judiciary.

In Authoritarian states, there is no division of power and it is accumulated in the hands of a single dominant individual or a clan. He is constitutionally not accountable to any institution and people. There is no involvement and participation of individuals in the affairs of state and hence their rights and freedom are limited. No one can hold the autocrat answerable even if he uses his power arbitrarily and without regard to existing bodies of law and they usually cannot be replaced by citizens choosing freely among various competitors in elections. Lack of institutionalization is the central feature of authoritarian executive.

The role of opposition is very limited or non-existent because authoritarian systems lack accommodation of other political groupings and alternative political parties to compete for the power. The role of government is not limited so it can intervene in all the affairs of its citizens. The authoritarian systems lack the power to unite their people in pursuit of their national goals. As individuals’ interests and opinions are not considered, this may lead towards revolts, bloodshed and hatred for both the leader and the state.

Sometimes, crazy autocrats may turn into despotic rules and commit violence against its own people. Citizens lack freedom to express their opinions because of the threat of punishment by the state. 

Problems with Authoritarian governments are that they want to stay in charge indefinitely and often manipulate people using emotions and do not rule logically. The authoritarian system somewhat tries to bring positive changes but it often ends up causing people to hurt because the changes made are not beneficial for everyone and targeting only specific individuals. So, the progress is not uniform. Authoritarian government is a cause of rebellion in society.

An authoritarian government does an excellent job at rallying their support base to keep their support levels high. This effort always comes at the cost of dividing society in some way. 

Authoritarian ​governments often rule without feedback. Both giving and receiving feedback is unpleasant for autocrats. Because they claim themselves to be best for decision making. 

Authoritarianism brings inequality in society. They typically favor the groups who support them and do not go against them and if you are in a minority in an authoritarian government then you will more likely to sacrifice your rights and you would be compelled to agree with the majority. So, such a society cannot be called successful where certain people make others feel inferior and deny them of their basic rights.

That’s why, Democracy is the best form of government due to unlimited number of reasons. Today, it is hard to find any state that does not claim to be democratic while others are in the process of democratization; process through which a politicalregime becomes democratic. 

Democracy means a welfare state that plays a key role in provision of basic needs of its citizens including food, shelter, security and opportunities to live a standard life. As democratic form of government is actually a public government so it is generally peaceful and avoid wars because unlike in authoritarian systems, the authority does not lay with a single dominant individual so people prefer peace over going into wars. Whereas in authoritarianism, the autocrat decides whether to go into war or not. He may pursue his self-interest at the expense of the people so decisions made by a single or limited number of people are mostly ineffective and become the cause of huge destruction.  

When people are given representation and participation in democracy, they accept the outcomes happily and this promotes patriotism. On the other hand, people often start to hate the leader and even their state because of strictness and exploitation.  

In democracy, if the leader and his government are not delivering efficiently across the board then they can be removed by the people or opposition very peacefully. But this is not the case in authoritarianism where it is not easy to get rid of a tyrant ruler. Here we can take the example of French and Russian revolution which involves destruction, killings and bloodshed. Democracy works through institutions that are stable and predictable. In this way the powers of the leader are limited and decisions are made after considering all the pros and cons. 

In authoritarianism, people are kept unaware about the affairs of state. As they have no involvement in decisions made by the state, they lack interest and knowledge about their political system. And that’s how their process of progress is slowed down and they cannot distinguish between right and wrong.  

Democracy, on the other hand, cannot function if people are uneducated and unaware about the policies of a state. They have to have proper knowledge about the society and the state because they are the ones who have to decide their future and most efficient and appropriate leader to rule them. 

In democracy, you learn to co-exist peacefully because everyone’s interests and opinions are considered. The best thing about democracy is that it promotes equality. Everyone is given representation and no one has the right to overpower anybody.  

Today democracies operate quite differently than the time in which they were emerged. In today’s world we can witness the rise of authoritarianism due to lack of trust in institutions which are the basis of democracy. 

The apparatus of democracy needs to be updated for the 21st century in order to preserve democratic values and the rule of law. Society and economy have seen significant changes due to technology and globalization but it is not reflected in our institutions Challenges are global, but government is restricted to national or local issues.

Power is increasingly in networks, but our institutions are still islands of hierarchy. Due to growing interdependence technology has created opportunities for connection and participation, social and cultural expectations have shifted in this direction, but our institutions have been slow to adopt new models for engagement. Institutions must operate with the transparency and responsiveness that citizens have come to expect while also proving competent to govern. In addition, the public square must be renewed to support the informed, civil deliberation a democracy requires. 

The Future of Democracy program will bring together thoughtful leaders and leading thinkers to re-imagine democracy for the new era. Together we will develop new ideas for how to reinvent democratic institutions and rebuild the public square for the 21st century.

Saliha Manzoor
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