The panel discussion on democracy in different regions reveals its multi-dimensional character
Jain University took another initiative in promoting research and development by hosting the Executive Board Meeting of the Global Barometer Survey on December 6 and 7 in Bangalore. This meeting comprising a battery of dignitaries representing the voices of democracy from around the world, was organized by the Centre for Research in Social Sciences and Education of Jain University in association with Institute of Contemporary Studies, IIM, Bangalore. During the meet, there was a public interaction in the form of a panel discussion including members of Global Barometer Surveys. The Latino Barometer was represented by Dr. Marta Lagos , Eurasia Barometer by Dr. Christian Harper, Afro Barometer by Dr. Robert Mattes, East Asian Barometer by Dr. Yun Han Chu and the Arab Barometer by Dr. Mohamed al Masri. The event was moderated by the noted Indian Political Analyst, Prof. Yogendra Yadav, Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The discussion was aptly titled, ‘Multiple Meanings of Democracy: Citizen Voices from Around the World.’
For the uninitiated, the Global Barometer Survey is a research effort to comprehensively measure at mass level, the current social, political and economic atmosphere around the world. In essence this applied research programme looks upon the difference in public opinion on political values, democracy, and governance, supported effectively by the barometer representatives from different regions of the world. Surveys under Global Barometer covers three continents and 48 per cent of world’s population.
Setting the stage for the panel discussion, Prof. Yadav delegated democracy the enviable position of being not only the flavour of the decade but the flavour of the century. He emphasised that while the concept of democracy is flourishing around the world as the only viable way of governance, our very idea of being democratic might have shrunk. “The meaning of democracy is shifting instead of enriching”, he added. It is moving towards a scenario where the meaning of democracy has become restricted to a ‘narrow institutional checklist’ on governance.
Even rejection of authoritarian power does not mean that the President is not seen as the one having absolute power.
Panellists from different parts of the world discussed how their particular regions view democracy as a form of governance and how nations with specific conditions are changing their priorities. The stark difference revealed by panellists exposed the different meanings that people associate with democracy. A case in point is the research conducted by the Arab Barometer. Surveys under the Arab Barometer was held in the face of four major arguments in the Arab region: Arab Culture is not compatible to democracy; implementing democracy is going to threaten peace and security of the country; Arab people are not born democrats so they are not ready for democracy and change in governance will not come from the Arab people. As its representative Mohammed Al-Masri revealed that while majority of people reject authoritarian governance, a chunk of people advocate the Sharia Islamic political system. Yet, for majority of Arabs, the basic definition of democracy revolves around basic provisions such as free education, social justice, corruption free governance and the freedom to criticise the government in power. Democracy indeed has different meanings for different people, as Dr. Marta Lagos, representing the Latino Barometer puts it, “Variety is more striking than similarity.” According to Dr. Lagos this difference comes out very strongly when the opinions of the Latin American people are taken into account. She further explains that while there is no denying the fact Latin countries expressively support democracy, a system of Presidential form of government with high hierarchy culture is embedded in its political system. “Even rejection of authoritarian power does not mean that the President is not seen as the one having absolute power”, she adds. While the idea of right to election and right to vote is primary to people in Latin America, the ideas of equity and good governance remains central to a large number people in Asia. Interestingly she sums up, “We cannot say there is a single Latin American Democracy but 18 different meanings of democracy existing in the same region.”
Eurasia which comprises mainly of the post- Soviet era countries is at a transitional stage which also reflects in what democracy means to the people of this region. As Dr. Christian Harper states, “In order to make sense of what democracy means to the people of this region, one should understand the history of this region.” Closely linked with the rise and fall of the different cycles of powers, democracy here is linked to freedom of movement, social mobility, existence of a free market economy among other things.
Democracy in a sense is as diverse as the people it belongs to. While there is no ‘barometer’ that can accurately measure the pressure of good governance, such collective research efforts can go a long way in providing better governance to the citizens of the world. As candidly put by Yu Han Chu, “There is a need to understand what democracy means to common people, as it shows their aspirations as well as how they evaluate a democratic form of government.”