Sunday, April 19, 2009

A change of leadership

We have been playing around with the notion of democracy so much that we actually think we are a democratic nation. Going by the unhappiness over the sudden and abrupt change of leadership in women's advocate group, AWARE, it's become apparent that we have no concept at all about what "democracy" means, or what its implications are. Or the fact that adopting democratic principles presupposes the voting members are responsible people who perform their due diligence before they vote and then are prepared to live with the decision they have made.

No. Here, democracy's peachy -- as long as it returns the status quo. But all hell breaks loose when the unexpected results. Accusations fly over questionable tactics and ethics; hidden agenda and conspiracy theories surface; and everyone wonders what went wrong, as if the defeat of the incumbent was a moral violation of some sort.

Democracy is a contest, not a procedure. There will be a winner and there will be a loser. The one who knows and prepares the ground best wins, the other... well, there's always the next election. My guess is that the previous leadership of AWARE simply took this election as a formal procedure to legitimize its position in the forthcoming term, and wasn't prepared to slug it out with a candidate who was in it to win it. Result: ah, there's the beauty of democracy, isn't it? If the people feel it's time for a change of leadership, then leadership makes a peaceful transition, thus eliminating a full-blown civil war ending with the loser's head on a pike.

But at this time in our nation's development, we haven't quite figured out this aspect of our cherished democratic principles yet. If AWARE is any indication of the ground today, then we're looking at a people that really want to see change take place. The next General Election may prove to be a hotter, more serious contest than it has ever been since independence. The previously lethargic opposition may take this incident as a sign to launch a major offensive to capitalize on shifting ground support while the incumbents should know by now to prep for a real battle on their hands this time.

Could this event mark a turning point in our voters' appreciation of the concept of democracy: that their choices really do matter, and that they have to be responsible for the votes they will be casting? That their votes must be based on an intelligent assessment of the options available and not simply made as a matter of course or reflex? An advocacy group can take time out for hand-wringing (though I think they would much prefer neck-wringing), but national government has no time for anything else other than business as usual regardless of the result. And we, the voters, must learn to peacefully accept the outcome because it was the choice we made. Else it'll be another battle of different coloured shirts as we tear our own country apart. Who needs enemies then?

If we didn't know the first thing about democracy before, now's the time to be AWARE.

No comments: