Democracy, warts and all, is the best system yet

Kenya election results

A police officer guards ballot boxes at the constituency tallying centre in Oloolaiser High School in Kajiado North, Kajiado County on August 10, 2022.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

There are many forms of government in the world. They include military, presidential systems, parliamentary ones, monarchies, democracies and autocratic governments. But whatever the form, they are all either democracies or autocratic .

A democracy can be defined in many ways . However, its basic features include regular, free and fair elections and regular change of regime.

An autocratic government is the very opposite of that. Autocratic governments do not conduct elections.

But there are sophisticated autocratic governments. These are governments which hide their autocratic tendencies and use tricks to maintain power. Where they conduct elections, such sophisticated autocratic governments use tricks to win.

Nic Cheeseman and Klass, in their book, How to Rig Elections, have given several examples of tactics used by autocratic governments masquerading as democracies .

Ukraine’s 2004 elections

In Ukraine’s 2004 elections, voters in opposition strongholds went to the polling centres determined to vote out the incumbent government. They took the ballots dutifully and cast them in favour of the opposition.

Then they went home to await the results. What they did not know is that they had been tricked by electoral officials.

They had been given pens with disappearing ink to mark their ballots. It disappeared within four minutes of marking a ballot. Their ballots were, therefore, declared invalid.

In 1998, in St Petersburg, Russia, a member of the local assembly, Oleg Sergeyev, was running for re-election.

The sitting governor, Vladimir, disliked him and plotted his fall. The governor bribed two retired pensioners, who were also called Oleg Sergeyev, to vie for the same position.

Voters found on the ballot three persons sharing the name ‘Oleg Sergeyev’ and hence split their votes.

The real Oleg, who was seeking re-election, lost.

Other autocratic governments will not conduct elections but will use an “economic/ social agreement” to justify their existence. The public will acquiesce to that government’s monopoly of power in exchange for rapid economic development .

China, select East Asia states like Singapore and many wealthy Middle East countries appear to fall into this category.

But ,how sustainable are autocratic governments of whatever form ?

Jesus said man does not live on bread alone. He was very right. A governed people’s happiness must be holistic and has to include offering the citizenry entitlements like freedom of expression and opinion . Only a democracy can render such benefits.

Libya under Mummar Gaddafi consistently ranked the best country in Africa as per the United Nation's Human Development Index. But that did not insulate Gaddafi from the Arab spring that toppled him.

The same reason explains democratic Taiwan’s reluctance to rejoin China despite sharing geographical, cultural and economic ties.

This is the reason Iran is currently in turmoil, as the young generation leads an uprising against the undemocratic clerical regime.

In a world where interconnectivity is on the rise, diffusion of international democratic norms can only accelerate.

Francis Fukuyama was right in End of History and the last Man.

Evolutionary pattern

Fukuyama endorsed Karl Marx’s view of human history as being linear. This means it follows a certain evolutionary pattern. Currently, there is no other conceivable better governmental system that has better appeal to humanity than a democracy. Therefore, autocratic governments are all headed to failure and or collapse.

However good economic outcomes the Rwandese government may render to its citizens, however rapid growth Chinese government may render to its people, the entire human race will converge into some democratic future.

Of course this will not occur in a single instance.

Samuel Huntington was right in his Clash of Civilisations treatise where, he prophesied culture-inspired clashes.

But ultimately, the historical march towards democracy is unstoppable. Autocrats are therefore advised to adapt to that future early enough by turning into Democrats.

Dr Kang’ata is the Governor, Murang’a County.