Saturday, April 21, 2007

Emerging And Retreating: A Tale Of Two Democracies

Sanjoy Majumder's report for the BBC says:

Bhutan holds fake national poll
The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is taking a big step to end 100 years of monarchy by staging a mock election.
The large North American republic of USA has taken several big steps to end 200 years of democratic rule by staging a series of mock elections.
The idea is to familiarise the people of this isolated nation with the concept of parliamentary democracy before next year's national election.
The idea here is to present the people of this inward-looking nation with familiar forms, so the appearance of representative democracy can be bolstered via national events that seem just like elections.
In 1998 the king gave up absolute power and in 2006 he abdicated to his son [photo].
After 12 years in the White House, our main problem was finally evicted in 1993. But eight years later, under highly suspicious circumstances, his son was installed in his former office, where he remains to this day.
But many still hold much affection for the former king, who once said that Bhutan's priority was not its GDP but its gross national happiness.
And many still hold much affection for our main problem, who once said "Message: We Care!" -- not because of that, or because of anything else he ever said or did, but because of the lies that they were fed about him -- over and over and over, until they swallowed them -- the poor fools.

Many currently hold much affection for his son -- for the very same reason.
For the nearly 700,000 people who make up the breathtakingly beautiful kingdom of Bhutan, it is a chance to experience what democracy might feel like.
For the more than 300,000,000 people who make up the breathtakingly apathetic country of USA, each election is a reminder of what democracy used to feel like.
Voters spread across this landlocked country high up in the Himalayan mountains, will trudge to their nearest polling station on Saturday to choose from one of four mock parties - the Blue, Red, Green or Yellow Thunder Dragon Party, named after the country's national symbol.
They have four major parties; we have only two. That's different. But both of our parties both represent our national symbol, and so do all four of theirs. So that's the same. Their national symbol evokes Thunder, and so does ours, so that's the same. They have a Dragon; we have the Pentagon. Two fire-breathing monsters -- and what do you know? That's the same, too!
The two most successful parties will compete in a run-off in May, in which high-school students will act as candidates.
Our two most successful candidates will represent their parties in a mock election a year from November, and by that time running high-school students as candidates may seem like a very good idea.
Some 10,000 officials are involved in the logistics, with special observers from neighbouring India, which has helped train them.
In post-democratic USA, logistics are fouled up as a matter of policy, and foreign observers are not permitted to interfere with our mock elections. Neither are domestic observers, for that matter. So that's different.
It is all part of a process unleashed by the former king, Jigme Wangchuk, who has pledged to turn Bhutan into a parliamentary democracy by 2008.
In both countries, elections are part of a process that is gradually replacing one form of government with another. That's the same.

But in Bhutan, they freely admit that the elections are just pretend. So that's different.
But many Bhutanese are looking at their South Asian neighbours, many of whom are in political turmoil, and wondering if it is really such a good thing.
And many Americans are looking at their beer bellies, or their television sets, or a great huge stack of unpaid bills, and they're not even thinking about democracy anymore. That's not a good thing.

But many other Americans are becoming politically active for the first time in their lives, living with a bit of purpose for a change, trying to learn more about what's happening, hoping to do something about it. And that's different!