Democracy and Corrupt Elite
Edip Yuksel, J.D.
“Our people naturally looked to the United Nations for solidarity and support in their struggle against the Fascist dictatorship. For eight years they cried out in the wilderness for help; unfortunately, their cries seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.” (Uganda’s President Godfrey Binaisa, after overthrowing Idi Amin’s junta, chiding the delegates of General Assembly for their indifference to his people’s plight) (1)
Thomas M. Franck, in his article titled “The Emerging Right to Democratic Governance,” cites various international agreements and practices indicating a new international trend towards considering democracy a new legal right, transforming the democratic entitlement from moral prescription to international legal obligation (2). The would be Idi Amin impersonators should think twice before attempting to declare their dictatorship. “Dictatorship of the proletariat” is no more a hip, nor the fascist dictatorship called “modernization.” Democracy is the contemporary goal of the international community. It might soon become an international religion. The “democratic entitlement is the craving of governments for validation” (3). The superstition asserting that “parliamentary democracy is a western illusion and neocolonialist trap for unwary Third World peoples” is no more a popular reaction. Three vital elements for a democratic governance have already became buzzwords in international agreements and the operations of United Nations. The trinity of Self-determination, Freedom of Expression, and Free and Open Elections now promise the coming of the omnipresent democracy. Intelligentsia now can diagnose the legitimacy of a democratic system by checking up the quadrilateral indicators named with fancy words: pedigree, determinacy, coherence and adherence.
The author wrestles in futile to clarify the most problematic element of democracy, that is, self-determination. Article 1 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights which has been ratified by 113 states as of November 1991, and almost has become a customary law, proclaims that “all peoples have the right of self-determination.” It is a concept with a powerful appeal to self-interested rational utility-maximizing humans, since it includes the sweet word “self”. But, when you ask about the idendity of those “peoples,” those who are deemed to be eligible for the right for self-determination, it loses its magical appeal. Self-determination quickly mutates and becomes Janus, the mythological goddess: one of her jovial face promising self-determination for people and her other cantankerous face protecting the rights of those who already determined their fate from those who had not yet. More than 30 million Kurdish people, for instance, has always met with the grumpy international face of Janus who always has generously smiled to those countries that brutally panelized Kurdish people for their gullible demand for equal enjoyment of the so-called right to self-determination. Neither their geographical separation, nor their distinct ethnicity and culture, nor their population entitled them to have this right. It seems that to enjoy that right you must prove your eligibility by shedding barrels of human blood in a brutal international ritual called war. Pedigree, thus, is not self-determination, but winning a bloody war for self-determination. Unfortunately, I cannot see where we can draw a line to stop other “people” who crave for their right of self-determination. Why deprive Militia of Montana from self-determination, or deny the people of S. Carolina from declaring their independence from the dictatorship of federal government of United States?
The second element, Free Expression, is clearer than the previous element. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is my favorite article, specifically recognizes this right. Article 20 recognizes the right to peaceful assembly and association. The Covenant of Civil and Political Rights expresses these rights more specifically in various articles (4).
Electoral Right, according to the author, is a recently emerging and evolving democratic right. Article 21 of the Universal Declaration acknowledges a universal and equal suffrage held by secret vote or free voting procedure. Article 25 of the Civil and Political Covenant extends this right to every citizen. The author cites many examples of recent international efforts to promote and monitor free democratic elections in troubled countries.
Nevertheless, the author is silent regarding the implementations of this right in western countries, especially in the USA. When we reflect on the role of interest groups and lobbyists in the political landscape of Washington, we cannot stop but ask ourselves: is this really a “democracy” representing all the people? Is this the system that was hailed as “by the people for the people of the people”? How can electoral participation be considered “equal” in a country where 1% of population owns the 39% of total wealth and lobbyists are the respected pigs of the political carnival? Why not question the practice of democracy and its electoral system? Can “democracy” be a new clandestine, efficient and clever device to establish the dicta of the powerful elite? Can it be another “opium of masses,” a diabolic mass-deception?
Well, I do believe that democracy is the best system we have so far. But, I think we should not ignore its problems and should always keep our critical eye on it. Every week, approximately 1500 US patents are issued for new inventions in physical sciences. We should not be arrogant that we have invented the ultimate political system. I think we should use our creativity to improve and better the democratic system. We should test them in our neighborhoods, colleges and towns. Even if it requires to abandon the non-surprising element of “free election.” I believe that it will be wrong to sanctify a procedure. I do agree with Professor Reisman that elections “serve as evidence of popular sovereignty and become the basis for international endorsement of the elected government” (5). But, I think, free elections is only one of the evidences of popular sovereignty.
As for the tension between enforcing or monitoring free elections and sovereignty of governments in their domestic affairs. . . I think this tension is caused by the patronizing attitude of western world. A universal observation of all elections by UN can eliminate this problem. This will save the monitored countries from the presumed stigma and humility. An international treaty can declare UN observation as a routine procedure of free elections in the territory of all parties. The author envisions a world democracy: “if voluntary acceptance of monitoring becomes the general practice of states, it will gradually evolve from an optional to a customary and, ultimately, mandatory means of satisfying the democratic entitlement” (6). Unfortunately, his and my hope seems to be a utopia, since the arrogance of super powers is a Himalayan barrier against such a simple international watch.
There is no doubt that democracy, even in its lame form, provides some protection for human rights. Knowing the enormous desire of the powerful elite to dictate their interest, and their incredible ability to mutate and adapt, a democratic system should be armored by protective procedures against this corrupt elite. Fighting against this political virus is not primarily an international task, but a duty of each citizen. A never ending duty.
(1) Thomas M. Franck, The Emerging Right To Democratic Governance, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 86:46, p. 83).
(2) Id., p. 47
(3) Id., p. 50
(4) Articles 18, 19, and 22.
(5) Supra 1 at 75.
(6) Id., 85