Is the dream of democracy going downhill? The Daily Star

Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking during a campaign event in Hickory, North Carolina, on March 14, 2016.
Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking during a campaign event in Hickory, North Carolina, on March 14, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

The Daily Star/Asia News Network 

Former US presidential contender Mitt Romney lambasted his own party frontrunner Donald Trump and called him a conman, fraud and phony. 

Earlier, former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad had announced that he was quitting the ruling party Umno to protest the alleged “corruption” of sitting premier Najib Tun Razak. 

These are but two examples of how even more advanced democracies are seething with leadership crisis. 

Democracy is going the way of sophisticated equipment in the absence of qualified handlers.

It's the beauty of democracy that sensible stalwarts have taken positions against their party colleagues instead of falling in line with their mischiefs and misdeeds. 

But it's also the irony of democracy that it churns out leaders who provoke such contentions. 

Donald Trump and Najib Razak are popular choices, but their images embody spite for peoples' interests.

Trump, who is an icon of insanity, and Najib, who has ratcheted up disdain for his alleged involvement in a huge financial scam, make the high watermark of a deluge that threatens to submerge democracy and its institutions. 

Not to speak of many other countries of the world where democracy is more an excuse than a cause. 

In these arrested democracies, election is pretension, Parliament is presumption and the Constitution is confusion.

Thus loss of standard in many democracies has created its own double standard. 

But who between people and their politicians are to blame for it? 

Are people bringing down the standards of their leaders? 

Or, are leaders bringing down the standards of their people? 

When insults fly in GOP debates in the United States, or when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi whips up public frenzy to spread religious hatred and vengeance in India, two of the largest democratic machineries in the world show the sign of sputtering. 

It also raises doubts about the efficacy of the system itself. 

One reason for this dismal disturbance is the blurring line between popularity and integrity of politicians. 

And democracy, like an angry sea, throws back to the shore the same garbage dumped in its water. 

Leaders no longer rise to lead their people but to mislead them. 

And it so happens because popularity, instead of being the measure of people looking for strengths in their leaders, has been reduced to leaders looking for weaknesses in their people. 

So larger-than-life leaders are fast becoming a thing of the past and smaller-than-life leaders are stepping into their shoes. 

Mitt Romney asked if the Americans would welcome their children and grandchildren acting the way Donald Trump does, and Mahathir Mohamad vented his frustration saying, “I won't call it Umno anymore, this is Najib's party.” 

They actually meant to lament the loss of moral heights amongst the leaders. 

Can democracy tide over these tumultuous times? Probably not, because the cause of this concern is deeply rooted in its delicate balance. 

Finding respectable leaders leading disillusioned people is almost as impossible as finding disillusioned people following respectable leaders. 

The failure of democracy is seeded in this terrible equation as politicians and people keep dragging each other down.

And, somewhere in that failure, cream of the crop is ceding place to scum of the earth. 

The rise of the the business class everywhere has taken away leadership from selfless leaders and invested it in selfish hands. 

Politicians lusting for money and businessmen lusting for power have created an absurd class of powerful people who don't know where to draw the line between greed and need, ideals and ideas, people and profit, and country and commerce. 

Thus they are turning the clock back on democracy, which is being hustled down the forsaken path. 

If people were subjugated and oppressed by kings, autocrats and feudal lords hundreds of years ago it was the military might that allowed a few to intimidate many. 

Now economic might is doing the same thing, bribery, corruption and other inducements reducing people into chattels who can be bought and sold for cash and kind.

The upshot is that democracy is looking like a spent force. 

And, instead of being the talisman for their freedom and liberty, democracy has created a state of paralysis when people can't even stir a finger against those who lie to them or steal their votes. 

Democracy is thus stewing in its own juice as people, instead of being empowered, have been cowered into the corner.

Donald Trump and Nazib Razak are the poster boys of that petrification when people have no choice but to endorse them. 

The idea that a government should be of the people, by the people and for the people has been shortchanged just like bullets in a gun are replaced by blanks. 

Democracy is perhaps done for the day. We shall see more of the same in future.

A dog-and-pony show, democracy uses a highly promoted, often over-staged performance, to subjugate people by their own choice.

The writer is editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star in Bangladesh.