2. Democracy, Politics and Policy


Political processes and democracy

Political processes are the chain of activities and events stemming from the very beginnings of raising an issue (i.e., a problem on which conflicting views exist). On the political agenda there may be argumentation and a possible confrontation with political struggles (perhaps supported by a coalition gaining strength for its own aims). Negotiations and a final compromise to find a solution (and its implementation) may result at the very end of the whole process.

"Political struggle" involves competition between social groups for leadership in society, for the capacity to determine how the fruits of development will be distributed and the common resources of society used for different interests.

In every society a political struggle is going on within the framework of an existing political structure. It defines how political power is formally distributed between political institutions. At the same time, political fights often demand changes in the existing division of power. These changes can be minor and gradual, or more drastic. The advantage of democracy is that changes can occur in an orderly and peaceful manner, even in cases where there is a dramatic shift in the balance of power as a result of democratic elections.

Modern democracy

Democracy is "rule" by the people. It is derived from the Greek words demos, (people) and kratos (rule). It involves several notions of governance - such as in the definition of 'peoples', who should legitimately rule with forms of accountability and popular participatory decision-making (Rupesinghe 1991).

The modern concept of democracy is tied to principles of popular sovereignty and respect for the will of the people. The 'people' comprise all adult members of a given political community, in accordance with (political) equality. Thus, a necessary requirement is the right to participate politically, which (at the same time) has been recognized as a universal human right.

The concepts of democracy and human rights not only presuppose each other but are genuinely intertwined. At the same time there is also tension between the two concepts. Majority decision-making may encroach upon specific human rights and the modern concept of democracy and human rights includes respect for minority rights and concerns. Moreover, the right to participation should be given a broad meaning, in order to cover large segments of society and be based on the notion of active citizens (whose role is not only limited to the right to vote in periodic elections). Participatory development and good government are the other key words of democracy (Rosas 1991).

One lesson taught by history is that even good politics and well-intended politicians are open to abuse if they are not sufficiently controlled by people. In democracies one has to strengthen the so-called civil society as an active "watch-dog" between elections. In fact, in many countries politics and politicians do not have a very good reputation. Politics is sometimes seen as a "dirty business" and politicians are seen as people pursuing their own self-interests. Although these kinds of situations can easily be found in every country, they should be exceptions and not the rule. Politics play a vital part in every society. By securing peace between and within nations, the key task of the politician(s) is to advance the welfare of their people and support a balanced, healthy and sustainable development process within their society. Essentially, they should represent their people. If they do not succeed, they should be replaced via new elections. This is a simple proof of democracy. Citizens as voters and active members of society should properly use their voting rights and responsibilities.

Political power

Power is getting things done, even against the will of others. This is a wide and general definition of power. Usually political power is related to the power of the state. Stakeholder's political power can be seen in its capacity to influence the decisions of state to serve stakeholder's interests. In democratic societies only the state has the monopoly of enforcing people to obey laws. Even law enforcement is possible only after an independent judge has decided in a formally regulated process that breaking of law has occurred.

Democracy and development

The problem between political democracy and economic development is most complex. Liberal democratic theory sometimes asserts that a political democracy is a necessary prerequisite for rapid economic development. Real life evidence of the directions of this causal link are manifold. There are many examples of countries, where economic efficiency and economic growth comes first, followed later by political democracy. On the other hand, there is also sufficient evidence that strict autocratic rule and a fully centralised socialist economy has led to economic inefficiency and ultimately to a breakdown of the system. With regards to developing countries, basic needs development strategies assert that development is a process of self-reliant growth achieved through the participation of the people acting in their own interests as they see them, and under their own control. The first objectives must be to end poverty, provide productive employment and satisfy the basic needs of all people. "Democracy can not be eaten" but economic democracy, including the informal (but not illegal) sectors, and the gradual development of market based economy, strengthens the basis of democracy.

A stable and sustainable democracy requires a certain level of economic development, which can provide a viable social contract (Emmerij 1991). The further development of markets requires solid legislative framework including the stability of property rights, competitive markets, freedom of trade unions, order and safety, reliable public administration and judicial system as well as public infrastructure development including training and education and other welfare services for people. All of these, in part, cannot be organised without a relatively strong state with a sufficient base for enterprise and personal taxation, which a viable economy can provide. Thus, it can be concluded that healthy and sustainable economic and political development can proceed when there are positive and balanced interactions between private and public sectors.

Difference between policy and politics

A policy is the outcome of politics implemented by the state within different sectors of society. The political processes and institutions that formulate the policies make final decisions on the contents, goals and resources for certain policies.

"Policy is the totality of procedures and principles of action aimed at achieving specific goals". According to another characterisation, policy means "a generally accepted and purposeful course of action, which has important consequences for a large number of people and a significant amount of resources" (Ellefson 1992). This definition creates a difference between policies and one-time or small-scale routine decisions (which still can be part of some policies).

In fact, the concept of (sectoral) policy organises the public activities in certain vital areas such as education, health, employment, trade and commerce, social security, communication, agriculture and forestry according to specific goals, principles and guidelines, so that the implementation of activities is efficient, logical, equitable and transparent to the citizens. The implementation of the policies are usually reinforced by laws or government decision and supported by adequate financial resources. Declared policies also help both government and the parliament as well as the responsible state authorities to see the totality of activities  and  the authorities to see the places of small decisions in proper  context. For citizens and enterprises state policies means predictability and transparency and for all stakeholders possibilities for follow-up the policies and initiate changes if they see enough reasons for that.  In short, policies are part of good governance.         

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