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Let's become democracy's champions.

Byline: Zahra Niazi

As for many, the terms republic and democracy are either way synonymous with one another. In other words, one can say that a republic is a country having a liberal democratic government given the general perception that a republic is an end product of the voting or the electoral procedures. This perception is a corollary of this widely held notion that the electoral process is the determinant of democracy. The factor mentioned above is unquestionably one of the primary determinants of a meaningful democracy but not a paramount one. Therefore, if one were to ruminate over this argument, a general inference could be drawn that we have quite a few republics scattered throughout the various regional blocs.

Nevertheless, meaningful and real democracies are very few today. And with this, I argue that we have been living in different modes of democratic setups. At times the targets have been the civil liberties, and at other times, the patterns of governance have manifested illiberal propensities.

And as to what a meaningful democracy entails could be described in light of these predominant determining factors namely the guarantee of civil liberties and horizontal accountability, the provision of the rule of law and the eradication of all the various authoritarian tendencies. The latter factor stands to be the most prominent among the various obstacles that keep a state from actually realizing the will of the people since the exercise of popular sovereignty today has become a means towards the establishment of coercive power structures.

A strong case to be made about the context above is the one concerning the state of democratic governments in the Asia-Pacific theatre, particularly in the Southeast Asian region. These regimes, although ostensibly, are democracies but do not manifest the criteria of being democratic in the true sense of the word, notwithstanding the fact that the indicators have been steadily improving. The question then is to what extent has this lacking been a hindrance in the way of achieving economic growth and prosperity. Various studies have suggested that there exists a positive correlation between the level of democracy and economic growth of a state measured in terms of gross domestic product.

However, the case of a few Asian Pacific economies tends to negate this latter claim. Singapore, a parliamentary republic, is often cited as being a classic example of illiberal democracy. However, according to the 2019 global competitiveness report of the World Economic Forum, Singapore has earned the credit of being the most competitive global economy surpassing the US. Similarly, Hong Kong stood in third place, which is also often cited as being only partially democratic. Brazil, Argentina, South Korea and Taiwan, which are even more or less criticized for their democratic deficiencies are among the top ten emerging market economies. However, this by no means intends to imply that illiberal democracies are superior to the liberal ones. An empowering environment could always help generate even more significant economic prosperity in the long run by exploiting the human potentials and offering solutions to the existing shortcomings.

Moreover, a higher enabling environment is always conducive to the blossoming of inventiveness generating innovations, which positively contributes to the economic growth of a state. The recent article 'democracy does cause growth' also makes a similar claim in this context. The article argues that the process of democratization has a productive impact on the economic growth in the long run with an increase in GDP by the introduction of economic reforms, tapering of the social unrest, encouragement of foreign direct investment and the provision of public goods.

A subjective commitment to a meaningful and liberal democracy shall thereby always remain preferable to alternative forms of power structures since it is only a liberal democracy, which ensures individual liberty and reinforces the principles of humanity. Thereby it is now the time to take up the cause of championing for a progressive democratic world in our own individual capacities as a means of not only bolstering up our own individual freedom and exercising the agency of free will but also honouring our collective responsibility so as to ensure a system where all the groups are accorded their just rights.

As for those who would still argue that democracies with authoritative tendencies generate greater economic growth also need to grasp the fact that economic prosperity will do little to generate individual gratification when human freedoms and potentials are being suppressed. In the end, all I would say is that we all are under an obligation to champion for democracy in individual capacities to attain a world where people are granted the status of being humans.
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Author:Zahra Niazi
Publication:The Nation (Karachi, Pakistan)
Date:Oct 21, 2019
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