Could there be a Litmus Test for democracy

Many years ago, the CBC's Patrick Watson produced a multi-part series on democracy, what it meant to this people or that and how it varied from place to place. It's the ultimate hodge-podge. Great series. 

A professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, Alfred de Zayas, thinks its time for citizens everywhere to test the bona fides of their supposed democracies. He proposes beginning with eight questions.

1) whether the political establishment consisting of local and central governments pro-actively informs citizens about proposed legislation and options

2) whether citizens are asked what their priorities are, what they want to change

3) whether citizens are regularly consulted on their needs and preferences

4) whether citizens have access to all necessary information, access to evidence, access to truth, so that they can judiciously exercise democratic rights

5) whether government practices censorship or suppresses key information, whether government indoctrinates in order to “manufacture consent”

6) whether there is a pluralistic media that separates reporting of facts from editorial opinion

7) whether the private-sector media engages in censorship or suppression of key information whether the citizens have realistic opportunity to choose between policy options

8) whether the citizens have realistic opportunity to designate the candidates for election whether the citizens can vote freely without fearing reprisals.

Those who aren't left utterly catatonic after round one should move on to the next level, putting those democratic qualities to the test. Here's what he suggests for Americans:

1) was the citizenry informed and consulted whether to spend 40% of the budget on military?

2) did the citizenry give informed consent to the establishment of the National Security Agency and its world-wide surveillance of persons and companies?

3) does the citizenry approve of the continued persecution of whistleblowers?

4) did the citizenry approve the “bailouts” given to the banks after the financial melt-down of 2007/8?

5) did the population consent to the establishment of tax havens and the protection given to them by law?

6) did the population consent to CIA practices of targeted assassination?

7) did the population consent to torture practices in Guantanamo?

8) did the population consent to the “extraordinary rendition” program?

9) did the population consent to the imposition of killer sanctions on Cuba, Nicaragua, Syria, Venezuela?

10) did the population consent to the Vietnam war? NATO’s assault on Yugoslavia in 1999? NATO’s assault on Libya 2011? NATO’s assault on Syria?

11) did the population consent to the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders in violation of the agreements made 1990 with Soviet President Gorbachev?

12) did the population consent to fracking, large-scale mining, oil prospecting and logging in indigenous lands, e.g. in Alaska?

13) did the population consent to subsidies given to oil and gas industries?

14) did the population consent to subsidies given to nuclear industries?

15) did the population consent to the practice of vaccine hoarding?

16) did the population consent to the opening hours of shops and supermarkets on Sundays and holidays?

I don't gamble but, if I did, I'd bet on a solid victory for the "nays."  Wouldn't you?

This test gets caught up on the notion of "consent." Democracy is fundamentally governance with the (informed) consent of the people. "You were stupid enough to elect me" doesn't cut it, especially when a majority government can emerge from fewer than two out of five votes cast. 36 per cent is not consent. It's consent of one third and even that isn't reliably "informed." A good bit of that 36 per cent comes from voters who believe campaign promises and another chunk comes from voters who vote the same way their granddad did.

Do we have a democracy? Yes but it's not a stellar example to the world. Compared to many countries, corruption here is relatively benign and modest. We have a Trudeau, not an Orban or a Bolsonaro. Which is a very good thing because a great many of us are pretty complacent. We're not deeply seized of the problems of the day. Besides, they're all the same, meh.

Dr. de Zayas thinks it would be fun for our self-proclaimed democracies to go head to head in competition to see which is the most democratic. 

Bearing in mind that many Western countries are advocates of “competition”, it would be interesting to see how these countries actually compete in terms of democratic governance. One could anticipate that some participants in the “Summit for democracy” would probably end up with rather low scores. We would have to conclude that many “democratic” governments actually practice fake democracy based on fake news and fake law.

Bottom line: a democratic government must inform, consult, and give real options to the citizens. The way in which the Western model of “democracy” is practiced does not take the human being and his/her dignity seriously. Thus, in many countries democracy is more of a façade than reality. Alas, most countries attending the “Summit for democracy” will fail the litmus test.

"|More a facade than reality." Oh yeah, 


  1. "did the population consent to the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders in violation of the agreements made 1990 with Soviet President Gorbachev?"

    did the population consent to joining the China-bait-fleet in the South China Sea?

    1. Oh we could ask endless questions, NPoV. I'm less impressed with this approach because it leads to mob rule. We elect representatives to govern us. We send them to our capitals, provide offices and salaries and pensions. We expect them to do what we have neither time nor inclination to do - to explore the issues of the day, get to the bottom of what's happening and then use their judgment to steer the government.

      The two questions you pose bring up NATO in eastern Europe and freedom of navigation and territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. These are not simple issues. They have political and geopolitical dimensions that can be contradictory.

      How much time do you imagine your neighbours have spent pondering conflicting claims to the Spratleys' or overlapping air defence control zones over the region's waters?

      Do you think they would commit to an hour or 90 minutes, three days a week, to be briefed on such questions so that they could reach an informed opinion?

      Could you imagine if we tested people before we allowed them to vote? I have to go, I'm making myself giddy.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Let's Talk Dirt

But What About the Syphilis?