The opposition to the US led war on Iraq .has been unprecedented. Over 15 million persons across 2000 cities have
marched denouncing the war, the participation of their respective governments in any war effort and calling for the defence of the sovereignty of the Iraqi people and an end to the unjust and illegal war.
In addition to expressing opposition to the unilateral actions of the US and its contempt for the sovereignty and rights of the Iraqi and world people, these marches also raised certain crucial questions about the banner of democracy that Bush and company have been waving in the face of the world’s people. Bush has used the excuse of bringing ‘rule of law’ and the introduction of democracy to justify his actions in Iraq. In a manner reminiscent of the colonial empire and the white man’s burden of ‘civilizing’ the world, Bush and Blair have talked of bringing democracy to the Arab world. Yet these ‘model’ democracies of the Anglo American world did not care to listen to public opinion. In fact Bush had announced his war plans even before he took the Congress – the so-called highest seat of representative democracy in the US – into confidence. Similarly too, Blair had decided to support the US war even prior to consulting his Parliament or perhaps even his Cabinet! What these events bring out starkly is that the Anglo American model of democracy while giving the vote to the people, completely marginalizes them and their representative institutions from the crucial decision making bodies. The decision to declare a war, the decision to sign a treaty, the stand to take in the realm of foreign policy – these have been matters exclusively in the domain of the Executive in the Anglo American system of democracy. This ensures utter flexibility to the rulers to work out their positions untrammeled by constraints of public debate or the need to secure the consent of the elected representatives. In contrast some of the European countries which have other forms of representative democracies, often require the prior consent of Parliament before wars can be declared, or treaties signed. The case in point is Turkey where Parliamentary approval for stationing US troops was not forthcoming and which resulted in the US having to work out alternate means to move their troops into northern Iraq.
The nature of Anglo American democracy raises serious questions about it serving as a model for the world’s people. Yet the institutions such as World Bank and the IMF, in their prescription to countries for effecting changes towards democracy, unabashedly push the Anglo American model. This comes as no surprise because the extreme centralized system of decision making afforded by this system ensures crucial military, investment and fiscal decisions to be made by a few. Whether it be the Westminster model that requires periodic approval for the government of the day rather than ratification of individual decisions of the government by Parliament or the Presidential system of the US which requires only budgetary approval rather than individual decisions to be debated or authorized, it ensures that the grip of the industrialist-militarist cliques can directly control those in power in these countries.
It is no coincidence that this centralized form of ‘democracy’ has been developing hand in hand with the decline of voter participation in electoral processes in these countries and the resultant diminishing of the power of political parties to effectively control those whom they bring to power. Witness the dismay in the Labour Party over Blair’s positions during the Iraq war and his total disregard for public opinion leave alone the opinion within the party he is a member of. Clearly those at the helm of affairs are accountable only to a small group of financiers, industrialists and their strategic interests above all else. This is reflected in the dramatic changes in the system of representative democracy as seen today in the Anglo American world today. Facts show that in the past one hundred years, voter turn-out in the US has declined by 25%. Political parties in many cases are not geared to reflect popular opinions but represent powerful interests, while the media serves to prettify and present the view that there is ‘popular’ support for certain parties or personalities. In democracies like the US, parties are more often than not giant campaign machineries to run specific election campaigns coupled with the depoliticisation of the ordinary voter.
It is in this scenario that the mighty show of world public opinion has to raise deeper and wider questions in order to effectively block the ambitions of the ruling cliques of countries like the US and UK. The shallowness of the talk of democracy made by the Anglo Americans while they themselves are free to ignore opinion within their countries, the grave dangers of selective media campaigns thrust on the people in order to distort and hide the views of those who oppose the US and UK need to be exposed. Further, unless there is a serious assessment of the ‘rule of law’ and ‘democracy’ within the western developed countries, there can be no talk of regime change in order to usher in a ‘better’ system of governance in developing countries or countries which have a system different from the Anglo American model. The curbing of rights, particularly those of immigrants, after the events of September 11 in the western world shows how fragile the notion of rule of law is. Detentions without trial for long years and racial profiling are reminiscent of fascist states, not of a democracy. Episodic elections are not adequate means to ensure regular and consistent incorporation of the views of the general public in the decision making of the country. The need to have independent media and means of obtaining information is essential as we saw the dangers of ‘embedded’ newsmakers during the Iraq war. The need to deepen representative democracy in order that people or their representatives can monitor or have a say in determining the policies of the government of the day (and not just an overall Yes or No which is what voting in elections is all about) is required. These questions need to be asked and answers sought in order that the voices on the streets are empowered enough to change the vital decisions being taken in their name currently.