It never fails. Discussions about democracy and governance always go back to the conventional criteria of Western-style democracy without asking if they reflect our reality and times.
Conclusions about good vs. bad are quickly drawn impeding any kind of useful debate. The group that considers itself “good”, labels the other as “bad” and then feels entitled. A better way may be to stop thinking in these terms and throw away thoughts of copy-paste.
No wonder we haven’t been able to move on from Dutch paternalism on the one hand, and us being defensive on the other hand. A meaningful discussion about democracy and governance should be guided by: What’s appropriate or inappropriate in our context and times? What are the consequences of our actions for the greater good?
In Southeast Asia there’s been an increasingly strong voice for an Asian-way of doing things. Many attribute the spectacular development in that region to looking East rather than West. Singapore is undoubtedly at the forefront and has been called “the 20th century’s development miracle”.
Whilst the West considers Singapore only “semi-democratic”, 84% of Singaporeans is satisfied with their government. In the U.S., the self-proclaimed stronghold of Western democracy, only 35% is satisfied with government (Gallup Poll 2020).
What’s the state of our democracy? Many citizens feel powerless, without a say in government’s decision-making. Members of Parliament consider themselves almighty since there’s no (significant) judicial review. Cultural nationalism and Christian dogmas are often invoked to suppress diversity, dissenting and minorities’ voices.
The biggest challenge however is political patronage (favoritism). This remains the preferred manner to get politicians elected and voters attain favors from them. Patronage stimulates short-term pragmatism rather than longterm programmatic thinking. Voters and politicians aren’t interested in problems that are beyond their short horizon. That’s until they become the problems du jour. Shouldn’t democracy be about the effectiveness of making hard choices that may not be popular? Should’t democracy be about doing what’s appropriate in our context and times?
These issues deserve a rigorous debate. We could turn a deaf ear to them, but the consequences thereof will soon stare us in the face.