As a former prime minister committed to building democracy in Thailand and helping draft the people’s constitution in 1997, Mr. Anand Panyarachun has made some observations on the pillars that hold up the architecture of sustainable democracy.
He outlined the pillars of democracy in the Amartya Sen Lecture Series on Sustaiable Development, held on 24 June 2008 in Brussels, Belgium. Mr. Anand cited democracy and development as two sides of the same coin, saying that democracy is the art of the possible and starts with the wisdom of the voting public. However, the voting public must understand its responsibilities in a democracy and have access to the means to exercise choice in the democratic process. In addition to responsible citizenship through participation in voting, democracy requires that citizens be well-informed on the issues that their communities and societies face in an increasingly globalizing and interconnected world.
Mr. Anand pointed out that, in Asia as in the West, democracy is won not just through the ballot box. The real struggle is fought out on the streets by students, farmers, workers, and other ordinary citizens who come out en masse to express their dissatisfaction.
It was in Asia that Mahatma Gandhi crafted non-violence as a force for political change. Subsequently, over the course of five decades, there have been street protests in the Republic of Korea, and the people’s power has swept across Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and other countries.
Mr. Anand stressed that for democracy to live, citizens must resist the temptation to be complacent. Each community, workplace, and school needs programs for promoting grassroots democracy. An apathetic electorate is easy prey for any organized group to seize power by force or fraud, giving rise to totalitarianism.
In his view, there are seven main pillars of the architecture of democracy, namely elections, political tolerance, the rule of law, freedom of expression, accountability and transparency, decentralization, and civil society. Democracy becomes dysfunctional when the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the legislature, the private sector, the police, and the military all use their power to enrich themselves and advance their own interests at the expense of civil society.
According to Mr. Anand, the pillars of democracy are necessary but they are insufficient without leaders to build and maintain them. The qualities of leadership for sustainable democracy are to be found in those who act in an honest, transparent, and accountable manner. They are consensus builders, open-minded and fair, and are also committed to justice and to advancing the public interest. Also, they are tolerant of opposing positions.
To foster a sustainable democracy, Mr. Anand said that a nation must focus its efforts on building a system that empowers people not only through the right to vote, but also through norms, institutions, and values that support that right and make it meaningful. What is important is that the seeds of democracy must be homegrown, for it to be accepted and to function. Each society must work out its own contradictions, its own competing priorities.
“Experience everywhere highlights the fragility of democracy. Even when seemingly well-established, democracy can be subject to tampering, especially in times of crisis. I do not believe there is a democracy so strong that it is invulnerable to the greed and ambitions of men. To nurture and sustain democracy, its beneficiaries must also serve as its guardians; the common people must be ever vigilant and wise. For most of humanity, history has not ended. The struggle for and against democracy will continue far into the night,” Mr. Anand said.