Democracy needs politically mature voters

The article, "Money politics rotting the roots of democracy" (Sept 23), noted that democracy could be infected at its roots because there is a perception in some countries that politicians come forward not to serve the country, but to serve themselves.

Democracy is not the panacea for all of society's problems. While there are many virtues, there are also many downsides.

Democracy works best if there is a mature electorate, comprising people who take an objective, balanced and pragmatic approach to an election.

Unfortunately, in an imperfect world, there are voters who are ignorant and apathetic. There are also many prejudices that influence their decisions.

To make a better-informed judgment, there is a need to sieve out the truth from well-oiled publicity machinery, especially on the Internet. Many facts are also beyond the radar screen, including character defects, hidden agendas and powers influencing the political process.

Voters may have good intentions and want to be rational. However, they may be faced with time, cognitive or environmental constraints, and these can prevent them from finding out relevant information and truths.

Politicians may be tempted to pander to the desires of the masses. They may compromise on socio-economic currency in exchange for political currency, and long-term growth for short-term gains, especially if the electorate is less than willing to take bitter medicine to strengthen and sustain positive improvements.

Democracy guarantees only a voice in public affairs. It institutionalises voice, not effectiveness and efficiency. If the political process is abused, it may not promote true freedom but, instead, curb and restrict it.

As responsible citizens, we have to do our part to prevent the downsides of democracy from taking shape. We have to focus on the betterment of society and not on ethnocentric concerns and self-interests, and ensure that our votes work for the greater good.

The Government, including the Ministry of Education, should strengthen political maturity. It needs to teach our people to think critically and vote wisely.

Patrick Liew Siow Gian (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'Democracy needs politically mature voters'. Print Edition | Subscribe