DEFINITION: Democracy is a large state company whose shareholders are the population of the country. Every four years, the shareholders fill the vacancies in the company management through an open call for applicants. Through the election process, the shareholders employ the individuals who they entrust with the task to run the company for a four year term.
The definition above roughly outlines the reality of democracy, which is often lost in the maze of theoretical definitions which paint democracy as an abstract, distant concept, rather than the reality we live in. Democracy places all the decision making powers in the hands of the people and all the accountability on the elected officials. However, over time, this definition has been reversed in practice, and the vote of the people is no longer an exercise of civic power, but a confirmation of the power of those who are being elected. The importance of democracy in its essence, regardless of definition, cannot be overstated. It allows for equal representation, checks and balances, and it prevents the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual. However, it is not only important to have democracy in place, but it should also be done right. If we stop treating democracy as an abstract concept and take a more pragmatic approach, citizens will fully grasp the importance of civic participation and the will take their role in democracy more seriously – just like shareholders in large companies.
Big businesses take good care of who they allow into their management. They are fully aware of the fact that the company is only as strong as its weakest link, so they devote a lot of time and energy into the vetting process for potential employees. They conduct interviews, workshops and background checks in order to diligently make their final choice. During the election campaign, the citizens should do the same. It is not enough for candidates to have a catchy slogan, or attack their opponents in negative ads. They should also bring forth a specific plan and strategy for their future contribution to the country as a government official. They should also rove that there is nothing in their past that could expose the country to embarrassment if they are elected to office. Only after carefully examining their past, present and future should a citizen cast their vote and put an individual in charge of their prosperity.
The election process has to be transparent and efficient. Management boards in big companies allow all the shareholders to participate in decision making and that is the only way to ensure that everybody's voice is heard and their interests are protected. If a shareholder refused or failed to participate, they would lose their right to complain of negative effects of the decision of the majority. In a general election, every voter who refuses or fails to vote allows other people to shape their reality for the next four years. Even worse, in corrupt societies, this allows for manipulation and vote tampering. Each citizen should be aware of the importance of exercising their democratic rights and participants in the decision making process, which will impact their lives.
Even after the new company management is chosen, they are still accountable to the shareholders for the decisions they make and for the outcome of their activities. If the managers prove to be incompetent, the shareholders have the right to remove and replace them. The citizens in a democracy also have this right, but they are often oblivious of this fact. They seem to view the elections as a irreversible process which condemns them to any type of negative outcome which may arise in the period after the elections. However, responsible citizens in a democracy have the right and duty to react and demand the replacement of the individuals who are harming them and their country. This means that the citizens will have to carefully monitor the activities of the government, and react accordingly. It is clear that an effective democracy can only be attained by a responsible population.
Another beautiful and important aspect of democracy is its flexibility and adaptability to new circumstances. In recent times, that is more important than ever, with the changing demographics of the population all over the world. Regardless of the changes in the population, each individual should be able to contribute to the decision making process and to be represented in the government. Democracy is capable of expanding its reach to all newcomers, while maintaining its fundamental principles and purpose – equality for all and accountability of those in power. Unfortunately, there has been a shift towards sharp divisions among various groups of citizens and many attempts to suppress the voices of minorities in countries which are democracies on paper. Whether we look at Europe, the United States or Africa, many countries are struggling with a new wave of intolerance which excludes large groups of people from relevant decision making processes. It is clear that for far too long we hae taken the benefits of democracy for granted and we were caught off guard by the new situation. However, the good news is that democracy is resilient and it is capable of overcoming any obstacle, if it is taken back by those who actually hold the power – the people.
Once the citizens of democracies all around the world become aware of the real nature of democracy, and not its textbook definition, they will take ownership of their part in the democratic process and become more responsible in their role. Citizens should embrace their position as shareholders in the large company they call their country, and diligently choose and supervise their management. Instead of being spectators of their own lives, they should become active participants in the shaping of the democracy they want to live in. It is not only important to live in a democracy, but to ensure that our concept of democracy allows for the equal distribution of benefits for all citizens in the country. Only then can we say what we are responsible shareholders in our democratic system.
Pharmacy Faculty (University of Sarajevo)