Democracy in Britain face to face in Manipur


I have recently received an email from RONGMEI RINGAM from Manipur, who wrote: “I enjoy reading your articles, may God bless you abundantly … I know you have a heart for us and for the country. It will be nicer if you write about the goodness of U K Government”.

Thank you Rongmei. I am going to write it in a simple language for the benefit of youngsters within the limits of my averaged articles.

Suffices it to sum up that democracy in Manipur is a representative democracy with a lot of corruption during the election and after, which does not happen in the UK.

Corruption means the misuse of public office for private gains. It seriously undermines democracy and accountability. It causes serious economic and developmental delay.

Democracy is a familiar word but vague in political terms. The term ‘democracy’ was first used in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in 507 BCE. It comes from the Greek word ‘demokratia’ meaning “rule of the people”.

For Aristotle, only in a democracy the citizens can have a share in freedom and equality.

Democracy can be defined as a form of government in which all eligible people have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.

The term democracy is typically used in the context of a political state, but the principles are applicable to private organisations and other groups as well.

Majority rule is often stated as a characteristic of democracy. However, it is also possible for a minority to be oppressed by a “tyranny of the majority” in the absence of governmental or constitutional protections of individual or group rights.

An essential part of an “ideal” democracy is competitive elections that are fair both substantively and procedurally. Freedom of press and freedom of political expression are also considered to be essential.

Theoretically, the essence of democracy is the capacity of individuals to participate freely and fully in the life of their society.

Democracy has now taken a number of forms, both in theory and practice. The following are a few kinds of them but many details and aspects are not independent of one another.

1. Representative Democracy. It involves the selection of government officials by the people being represented. The democratic head of the state is also democratically elected. The most common mechanisms involve election of the candidate with a majority or a plurality of the

2. Parliamentary Democracy. It is a representative democracy where government is appointed by parliamentary representatives as opposed to a “presidential rule”, where the President is both head of state and head of government and is elected by the voters.

3. Presidential Democracy. It is a system where the public elects the president through free and fair elections. The president serves as both the head of state and head of government, and controls most of the executive powers. The president serves for a specific term and cannot exceed that tenure of time.

4. Constitutional Democracy. It is also known as liberal democracy. It is a common form of representative democracy. Elections should be free and fair. And the political process should be competitive.

5. Semi-presidential Democracy. It is a system of democracy where the government contains both a Prime Minister and a President. The Prime Minister has no fixed term but the President has a fixed term. This form of democracy is less common than a presidential system.

6. Liberal Democracy. It has various forms. (a) A constitutional republic, such as the USA, France, Germany, Italy, or India. (b) A constitutional monarchy, such as the UK, Spain, or Japan. (c) A presidential system such as the USA, Brazil, Mexico or Argentina. (d) A semi-presidential system such as, France, Russia, Poland or Ukraine (e) a parliamentary system such as the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand or India.

7. Direct Democracy. This is a utopian democracy. The belief is that every citizen over a certain age except those in prison (Britain), has a right to attend political meetings, vote on issues being discussed at that meeting and accept the majority decision. In practice many people do not have the time to commit themselves to attend meetings. Technological development in the future may change this.

Democracies in practice are not all freedom for everybody. They have specific limits on specific freedoms, such as on anti-democratic speech, on attempts to undermine human rights and on the promotion of justification of terrorism.

How does democracy work in the UK? A British citizen over the age of 18 can vote on how they would like the country to be run. In a General Election a person will be given a choice on who the person can vote for to be the local Member of Parliament. British Parliament has been in existence since 1215 CE.

There are 650 MPs who together make up the House of Commons at Parliament in London. Here laws and other major decisions affecting the country are debated and voted upon. Usually, the party making up the Government will win the votes, simple because they have more MPs, though not always.

MPs represent their constituents and if those constituents let them know that they are unhappy with a piece of legislation, an MP can go against their party’s policies.

The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. There are 750 members. The public do not elect the Lords. It compliments the work of the Commons, helping in making laws, keeping a check on government activities. Both Houses have to agree on the wording of a law before it comes into force.

The voters choose a candidate they like mostly from the members of the political parties.
Each party has a different way of looking at the world and issues affecting the country. The voters know about it from the newspapers and televisions. During an election time, political
parties also produce a manifesto that tells them what they would do if they got into power.
That can help them to make a choice.

An MP represents his/her local area in Parliament, campaigning on issues and debating on government policies affecting local constituency views. Many MPs hold regular local “Surgeries” at week-ends where a constituent can get in touch for any problem. Those who do not hold “surgeries” have other means of communicating with their constituents. One does not have to bribe them.

Elections in the UK are fair and smooth and no voter is bribed. Voting for a party simply depends on the party, home policies such as domestic economy, education, health care and social benefit system.

Britain is a representative democracy. That is, the people hand over the responsibility of decision making to someone else who wishes to be in that position. Every 4 years in Britain, the people have the choice to vote into power those who they wish to represent them to Parliament.

These MPs meet in the House of Commons to discuss matters and pass ‘acts’ which then become British law known as the ‘statute’ of Parliament.

Britain, as well as being a representative democracy, is also a liberal democracy. This embraces among other things, that elections must be free and fair, the whole issues of civil liberties, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion etc (within the confines of the law). In Britain these have been safeguarded by what is called the “rule of law”.

The rule of law guarantees someone equality before the law. What is more, it ensures that the powers of those in government can be curtailed by laws that are enforceable in courts. The practice of law in Britain is thus extremely fair and unbiased.

Further refinement in British laws are brought about by the impact of the European Court, which can act as a ‘check and balance’ against the government. The European court is also an appeal court.

Unlike many other nations, Britain has no written constitution. Much of the British Constitution is embodied in written documents, written statutes, court judgements, and treaties. They do not have law books like the Indian Penal code or Italian Penal code.

Britain has what is called the “statutory laws”. These are laws made by statutes of Parliament or Acts of Parliament, the legislature of the country – laws passed through the House of Commons and the House of Lords then signed by the monarch – as opposed to the common law, which has developed through the courts (judges) making the law up as they go along.

As regards the Prime Ministers almost all of them were educated at Oxford or Cambridge where they had experience in politics. The incumbent government has members, three fourths of which went to private schools. So they are well adept in their job.

Finally, the easiest way to remember: democracy is a government in which two idiots can outvote a genius. A better one is – “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (Abraham Lincoln – 16th USA President).

The writer is based in the UK


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