Essay: Citizenship and the democratic process
Whenever we want to talk about the importance of the people of a country and the power setup that is utilized in that country to serve these people, we have to discuss issues related to citizenship and democratic process. There need to be detailed research and discussion on the democratic process and the citizen status in a country to identify problems that undermine the proper functioning of a society. In a country we cannot only blame the government for not providing standards needs to the common people. Each and every person has to be involved in the democratic process to choose leaders that, when in power and control the government, can work for the betterment of the citizens. The civil society of any country has to play an important role in ensuring to advocate the ethical and moral standards that are required to run any society. Media has to play its role in identifying problems related to citizens and highlight probable solution by open and unbiased discussions. In the same way judiciary has to play its role to ensure that justice prevails in the society.
In the upcoming discussion problems related to the issues of citizenship and democracy will be identified. These identified problems will then be justified with clear example. At the end of each problem discussion there would be suggestions related to the plausible solutions.
Who is a good Citizen in a Democracy?
How do we define a citizen in a democratic state? There are political views that identify a good citizen to be the one who is obedient. Then is the problem of who is obedient and who is not. There are many countries in the world with democratically elected governments. But there is an issue of the distribution of resources in those countries. So if we act on the definition of a “good citizen to be the one who is obedient”, would mean that he/she should abide by the discriminatory laws that are set by the so called democratically elected representatives but these laws only serve the wealthy and powerful.
The definition of a good citizen is based, in many countries on the situational requirements of those countries. For example if a country is facing racism tensions, it would identify a good citizen to be someone who fights against racism. In another country they might be engaged in continuous wars with its neighbors and they might think that a good citizen is someone who can volunteer in the military. We have many countries where the democracy is still young. In those countries a good citizen is the one who is interested in the political process and who votes during the elections. In some democratic countries people advocating peace are called good citizens as the countries are facing civil unrests.
We can see from the above discussion that there are many definitions of a good citizen in a democratic state. But what should a concise definition of a good citizen should be? We have been brainstorming this issue and we have come up with the analogy that a good citizen should be defined on the basis of his/her basic skills, the expectations that citizen has and what is he delivering in return, the responsibilities of the state and the extant to the state is performing these responsibilities. From this discussion we can conclude that the a good citizen is who has realistic expectation from the state and who performs his duties allotted to him by the state keeping in mind that the state has provided its citizens proper education and health and living facilities within its reach.
Multinational corporations and their control over global economy
We live in a capitalist world. The resources of the world are controlled by huge corporations who can easily influence the democratic governments of different countries, rich and poor. The power that these corporations enjoy has produced a gap between what a country might want to do for its citizens and what the requirements of these multinational corporations might be. For example a country has a tax collection mechanism on products and services and these tax collections are then spent for the welfare of its citizens. Now comes a huge company that will probably soon control a specific sector by its huge advertisement and lobbying budgets. The government might be asked by these companies to relax their tax laws or introduce new laws to facilitate these corporations. The government of these countries, most of the times are not aware of the hidden profit agendas of these corporations and wants them to invest in their countries. The government then might have no choice to amend tax law. These amended laws are then abused as they become ineffective when changed. This is just one example, there are hundreds of more examples how these huge multinational corporations can abuse the democratic structures of different countries.
There is not straight solution to the problem of multinational corporations and their undue influence. In my opinion the governments and the citizens have to share the responsibility is such cases. The people have to think above their social and cultural backgrounds and elect people to govern them who have clear agendas and are not corrupt. The people in power in these countries have to work on the capacity building of their citizens. When they are dealing with multinational corporations, they should have the capability of making decision that would be beneficial in both long and short run. They should not amend laws in accordance of the demands of the multinational corporations. Instead they should try to negotiate keeping in mind the welfare of their citizens.
Terrorism and national security
Terrorism has proved to be a new epidemic in the twenty first century. The governments of different countries are faced with a challenge to try and stop terrorism to happen and on the same time protect the civil liberties of their citizens. This is tough job for the governments to perform. Governments and its intelligence agencies need to apply surveillance techniques that could sometimes breach the privacy of some or many of its citizens. For example intelligence agencies may be monitoring telephone calls, emails, social networking activities, online communications and other online activities of its citizens without their permission. This is a dilemma in this situation, if the citizen is not informed, his/her privacy is breached, if they are informed, the intelligence becomes meaningless.
There are cases where the secret agencies have to keep people in custodies that is not allowed by the law. Intelligences agencies might have credible information about a citizen that ask for an investigation of the citizen but there might not be enough data to get an arrest warrant. There is a provision in the constitution of many democratic countries to keep a citizen in custody for a certain amount of time before any changes can be pressed but intelligences may need more time.
Issues related to the need of the government to collect intelligence information and the debate about the privacy rights of the citizens needs to be discussed at many levels. First the constitution experts have to discuss the issues and bring it to public domain, second the judiciary has to play its role in protecting the constitution of the democratic countries from any breaches and thirdly and most importantly the civil society has to engage citizens and advocate their privacy rights keeping in mind the current security situation of the country. When all parts of the democratic countries are involved in this process, there are middle ways that would ensure the security of the country from terrorism and the sanctity of the privacy of the citizens.
What is a good democracy?
Theoretically democracy is considered to be the rule of the people. Which ensures that majority rule and rights of minority and individual are respected. All citizen are equal under the law and have equal right to opportunity, civil rights and liberties. How, practically even in countries where democracy is claimed it exists to various degree. There are various types of democracies such as liberal democracy, poplar democracy, representative democracy, participatory democracy and social democracy.
However the democracy faces challenges all over the world. These include threat from militaries, by centralization where the powers lies away from the locals. In the underdeveloped countries the democratic institutions such as legislative assemblies and the power centers become dominant for the elite class. In these representative democracies the representative are mostly elite and influential people who through their wealth and power get elected however do not safeguard the interest of the citizens. Marginalized groups in both the North and the South often do not participate effectively in such representative democracy. This lead to the poor, minority and marginalized community’s lack of faith on democracy.
Democracy can be strengthening from transforming the representative democracy in to participatory democracy. Institutions need to be strengthened so that it help people participation and control. It will be very vital to decentralize the power and transferred to local bodies which focus on community development through participatory approach.
The Rights and responsibilities of citizens.
Theoretically, there is a long list of rights and responsibilities of Citizen towards state. Ranging from physical protection to social and cultural and religious rights. There are various challenges including lack of awareness of rights and responsibilities among the citizen to make the institutions and state accountable about their rights. In an ideal democracy the state will be responsive to the needs and rights of the citizens and the individuals will be responsible citizen i.e. responsive states and responsible citizen. Political activists, movements and politically conscious citizen can spread the awareness of citizen rights and responsibilities. Moreover, the state institution should have the capacity and will to deliver the rights, services and social and economic needs of the citizen.
Normally when we talk about the rights of the citizens, we forget their responsibilities. No doubt that it is the responsibility of the state to provide equal opportunities to its citizen. The state must work to provide schooling to the children of its citizens. It must provide water and health facilities. But in return the citizen should be ready to help run the democratic government smoothly. They should pay full taxes, they should not engage in illegal activities. The citizens must not be involved in any activities that undermines the democratic setup. Citizens should stay by their states side in the time of natural disasters and other crisis. The citizens should know the limitations that arise for the government while performing their duties.
Status of citizenship and power politics.
Power is the ability to get others to do what you want, while politics is who gets what when and how. Politics is a process of determining how power and resources are distributed in a society with resorting to violence. Citizenship is related to civil, political and social rights. The power holders are not willing to change and want to cling to the status quo while in power politics the power seeker struggle for securing more power. Citizen while trying to gain their rights always struggles with those who cling to the power.
Power politics do not let the rights to the citizen as in power politics the driving force the achieving of power and the concentration of power. Due to power politics the democracies across the world could not address the poverty, extremism, and health and education issues of common people. Now as the world is facing Terrorism, drugs, degradation of natural resources, environmental degradation and ethnic conflict. The strategic power politics is the main constrain to address these issues. This can be solved through rational and responsible democracies in the whole world to have responsible governments and accountable institution working for those societies in particulate and humanity in general.
HIV/AIDS and other epidemics
Since a few decades, HIV/AIDS has become a huge challenge for developing countries. Apart from HIV/AIDS, there are many more diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, influenza and malnutrition have proved to be difficult for countries to control. The citizens of these countries demand their governments to help but there are limited resources. These governments want to help their citizens but they can’t. There are not enough financial and natural resources present in these countries to enable the governments to uplift the circumstances of their citizens. The citizen therefore lose trust in their elected government and democracy itself is undermined. Civil unrests are caused and military takeovers might take place.
The United Nations and the developed countries can play a crucial role is such situations. They can provide financial aid as an immediate measure. In the long run The UN can work with these countries by organizing projects to explore possibilities in these countries to develop economies in these countries. With time these countries can become self-sufficient but as a start they need a big push. There are many natural resources in underdeveloped countries but they do not poses the technical resources needed to exploit these natural resources to serve their communities. The developed countries should engage in joint ventures with the underdeveloped countries in exploring opportunities to develop their economies. With the continuous help and support of the international community, there is no doubt that the underdeveloped countries can be brought up to a level where they can sustain their economies and develop beneficial democratic culture that serves the human rights of the citizens.
The problems discussed above are not the only ones that need to be addressed when it comes to discussion about citizenship and democracy. There are many more issues like drugs, abuse of natural resources by both governments and citizens, racial tensions and religious fundamentalism that undermine a fruitful relation between a citizen and the democratic state. These issues should be of continuous scrutiny among all segments of the society. These issues cannot be resolved overnight, but seriousness, hard work and rational thinking on the part of both the government and citizens can yield fruitful results making the democratic process a success.