Tag Archives: democracy

Indonesia-A Nation In Search Of Democracy

Booni Hargens, writing in the Jakarta Post, argues Indonesia does not have an historic sense of democracy and concern for the welfare of ordinary people because its elite stands apart from the lives of citizens. “There is still no democratic imagination among our elites. Democratic imagination refers to a set of capabilities to imagine the essence of basic principles like the common good, justice, deliberation and equality.” He believes leadership of his nation lacks vision and courage to fight for democracy in a country in which religious fundamentalists too frequently dominate the debate and stifle forces of independence. Hargens argues three factors will determine success in Indonesia-a free market, a civil society based on democratic principles and changes by the elite to become more active in the democratic process.

There is no question Indonesia is less impacted by militant violent Islamic forces than other Muslim nations such as Pakistan. Indonesia contains Christian groups who have freedom of religion, but even this is under attack from Muslim fundamentalists. Hargens is correct in calling for greater participation in government by moderate Muslim leaders who all too often allow fundamentalists to take the stage of claiming to speak for all Indonesians.

Headscarf Issues Must Be Resolved

Professor Elizabeth Ozdalga, a well-known sociologist, urges resolution of the headscarf issue which has created extensive tension and division within Turkish society. The constitutional amendment to deal with the issue and allow women at universities to wear a headscarf was cancelled by the Constitutional Court earlier this year. Professor Ozdalga, believes the headscarf issue must be seen within a wider perspective pertaining to issues of democracy and freedom of expression within her nation. She argues the extent of religiosity in Turkish society is exaggerated which results in a smaller group being able to generate controversy by using the headscarf issue as one which is of critical importance.

Professor Ozdalga is raising an important issue concerning the headscarf. On one hand, believers in democracy should support the right of women to wear whatever they desire. On the other hand, if the headscarf is the symbol of radical fundamentalist Muslims, the issue shifts. The question raised by the professor is whether or not the headscarf is really of the significance to which secularists have come to believe.

Finnish Schools Get Into Politics

Schools in Finland are beginning to introduce educational material dealing with the political life of the nation. A study by the University of Turku indicates most Finns are politically ignorant and schools are stepping into the breach by engaging students in political issues both on a national and local level. This autumn, all 9th-graders in Finland have been given a teaching packet entitled “Vastuut(ON) which was developed by the Ministries of Justice and Education. The material is presented in the form of a youth magazine.

The magazine focuses intently on municipal decision making and is intended to support teachers who might be wary of plunging into political discussions. There is a sense among Finnish educators that during the sixties left wing materials came into schools which eventually resulted in a backlash from more conservative people. They believe the pendulum has swung the other way and a middle ground approach to politics is now accepted by the population. Najat Quakrim-Solivio, who helped develop the materials notes: “the most difficult task is to tach what the differences are between the various political parties. Today, even the websites of all parties contain exactly the same issues.”

During the past ten years, a project entitled: “The Voice of the Young” allows young people to participate in school decision-making and even participate at meetings called by the mayor.

Is Democracy Possible In An Islamic Society?

The German newspaper, Der Spiegel, raised the question as to whether it is possible for nations based on Islamic principles to actually possess a democratic form of government. It argues although there are “parliaments and sometimes even political opposition groups in many Muslim countries, abut as a general rule political decisions are based on agreements between tribal groups and families.” The newspaper cites the example of Kuwait which elected its first legislative assembly in 1938 and during the past seventy five years has conducted political campaigns and elections. Two years ago women were granted the right to vote.

There is evidence competent members of the legislature who display independence, invariably find themselves out of the running for the next election. The last election witnessed the arrival of female members of the assembly, an action which has resulted in conservatives becoming furious and refusing to have anything to do with the women. The emergence of a conservative opposition does not bode well for the survival of democracy in Kuwait.

Of course, Der Spiegel, ignored the Turkish democracy which is alive and vibrant. Muslim nations can become democratic as Turkey has accomplished.

Nepal– Budding Democracy-Or Headed For Violence?

Lost in daily reports concerning terrorism and the Middle East are interesting developments taking place in the small country of Nepal. In a rather unusual twist of events, a Maoist prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahai, has been sworn in an prime minister and the first act of the new legislature was abolishing the 239 year old monarchy. During the past decade the country has been torn between a Maoist led rebellion and a monarch who wanted to control all power. King Gyanendra from 2005 on tried to rule with an iron fist only to encounter a popular uprising by ordinary citizens who forced him to accept a democratic legislature in 2006. Women, who had limited rights under the monarchy now constitute one third of members of the legislature.

The Maoists still retain their army and it is questionable if they will integrate that armed force into the regular army. A helpful sign is that all parties, including the Maoists, have asked the United Nations to continue assisting the transition to democracy. Will a Maoist government continue adhering to democratic principles is an interesting question.

South African Democracy At Turning Point

South Africa has made a dramatic switch from being a country in which apartheid and prejudice ruled into one in which there are competing nations which view for leadership. However, the recent case brought by the government against African National Congress leader, Jacob Zuma, threatens to undo much as to what has been accomplished in creating a democracy. Zuma is charged with fraud, money laundering and corruption. His followers are demanding the charges be dropped because he is such a key leader and charging him with crimes distracts from his importance in leading the nation.

This blog does not know if Jacob Zuma is innocent or guilty, but that verdict must be rendered by a court of law.Zuma is a charismatic leader, but he must face charged against him in court and put up a defense that proves the government has a trumped up case. In so doing, Zuma will be telling the people of South Africa that no single person is above the law.

Western Aid To Burma Thug Leaders Will Continue

The government of Australia announced it would continue providing relief to survivors of the Myanmar May cyclone even though it completely disagrees with the policies of that nation’s government. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also said her country would pursue its current policy of supplying aid. The Australian and American leaders met at the annual ASEAN summit meeting which also included Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win. Rice emphasized, “We believe that ASEAN has an important role to play in addressing the root cause of Burma’s grave problem, the repression of the Burmese democracy movement.” Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith also called on Burmese leaders to “respect human rights, to respect the rule of law and we want to see democracy return to Myanmar.”

According to Smith, Burmese Foreign Minister, Nyan Win gave “the usual Myanmar reaction” which is to insist his nation is democratic. It just doesn’t allow elections and criticism of its leaders, but, most probably that is only done in the name of maintaining law and order. In Burma, law and order means doing what you are told by the military junta which rules the nation with an iron fist.

Freedom House Blasts Authoritarian Russia

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the world looked toward the new Russia as a potential leader in the fight for democracy in the world. The dream has faded due to the authoritarian nature of the Putin government which assumed power eight years ago. It inherited a Russia possessing large oil and natural gas resources which could have been used to create a society in which poverty issues were addressed and the basis of a modern democracy encouraged. However, says Freedom House, “over time, we have seen rising oil prices correlate clearly with sharply falling democracy performance, especially in Russia, Kazkakhstan and Azerbaijan.” The wealth is present, but the desire for democracy is not.

Putin placed his fellow members of the old Soviet KGB in leadership positions in government and industry and has squashed anyone who dared challenge his policies. As Freedom House notes, “independent voices of consequence have been muzzled and are unable to challenge or moderate the leadership’s whims and excesses.” One after another independent voice in the media has been silenced.

The only hope for Russia is the possibility newly elected President Medvedev will work to establish the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Bhutan Experiments With Democracy

The secluded kingdom of Bhutan has introduced new tensions for its people by holding the first ever election in which political parties can run candidates. Butan has long been a holdout from the modeern world and was run by a Bhuddist king who finally broke down in 1999 and allowed Internet and televisioin to become part of the national culture. According to Yeshi Zimba, one of the candidates for office, “No one wants this election. His Majesty has guided us thus far, and people are asking why change now?”

However, his Majesty insists Bhutan must enter the 21st century and conduct an election to keep in step with its only recent cash economy, the thousands of tourists who enter the country with money, technological devices, and ideas. It is still a land where law dictates the average Bhutanese person must wear traditional dress when out in public. As Kinzang Tshering noted after listening to competing candidates: “they tell us they are better than the other ones. How should I know which one is better? I think his Majesty is better.”

Perhaps, we have finally discovered the land George Bush would love governing, provided he could occupy the role of His Majesty. Of course, among those who work for him, the Decider does regard himself as His Majesty when it comes to making decisions about war or peace.

US Rips Egypt For Arrests Of Political Opponents

the United States ripped into the Egyptian government for arresting hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood at a time when many are engaged in upcoming elections. “We are concerned,” said the US comment, “by a continuing campaign of arrests in Egypt of individuals who are opponents of the current governing party and are involved in the upcoming local elections.” About 350 members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested in the past few weeks. However, despite harsh words from the White House, Secretry of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this month waived a $1000 million freeze on American aid to Egypt which had been placed due to human rights violations. The Egyptian government responded in anger at interference in their internal affairs.

The Bush administration continues insisting democracy is the path to stability in the Middle East. China retains its authoritarian style government as it slowly moves ahead and it is expected over time the enormous economic development of that nation eventually will result in development of a democratic society. Bush reacted with fury when Hamas won an election and refused to invite them to the Annapolis Conference, but now, he wants the Muslim Brotherhood, whose platform is not that far different from Hamas, to be accorded an opportunity to win an election. If they win, will Bush recognize their victory?