Political pluralism, elections, regular change of guards at the helm of State affairs and gradual loosening of restrictions on broadcast and other media are to be found in more countries in the new millennium than ever before. Long innings in the seat of power for rulers are likely to be less assured than previously. Signs of change can be seen. It is here that sometimes vanity blurs sanity and probity when impressions are vainly given that an incorruptible can indeed lead and succeed a team of chronic corrupt.
The Nelson Mandela magic has infected the world of his admirers because of his foresight, fortitude and forbearance. Sadly, it is extremely difficult to sight anyone matching such credentials in the new millennium. There might be leaders ruling over vast wealth and commanding powerful troops, but they are yet to equal the Mandela magic.
Politics is a vital tool of the State policy that determines the mechanisms of governance. Politics without ethics and integrity becomes a mean to secure or procure power for groups and individuals amassing wealth and imposing their whims on the majority but in the name of the "people".
Test in delivery
How political power is obtained, conducted and what results it leads to are the determinants of a polity. Some rulers treat power as private property or even divinely ordained. People in autocracies are placed under abject subjugation. Voltaire and Rousseauís works were and are, therefore, discussed as great humanitarian ideas.
Democracy means freedom of expression, free elections, universal suffrage and a duly elected body of popular representatives that controls government. The focus of many a democracy seems to be on elections only, frequently reducing the polity only to the act of voting as far as popular participation is concerned. As a result, ruling groups become short on delivery and long on rhetoric, clinging to only the singular practice of regular elections at various levels.
Democracy, being more than a process of the ballot, is expected to herald the birth of liberty and put an end to inequality. This means good governance in both letter and spirit. Political integrity, respect for public opinion, commitment to the welfare of all members of the society in a free and participatory manner and mechanism within a given territorial expression, universally recognised and honoured as such, are what make governance truly representative and democratic.
Throughout history, rulers were selected, nominated, elected or accepted as a consequence of coups or under threats of the sword, or installed under the law of primogeniture. Rights such as universal suffrage, popular representations at decision-making levels and freedom of expression were almost unknown in practice in most parts of the world until the 19th century, which made the U.S. system better fare than most others. Ideologues and rulers defined and claimed to conduct the best of governance, as is also the case today.
In a democracy, reason - not emotion - rules. Without knowledge of the political process, popular participation is restricted in scope and depth. Conceptual vocabulary is essential for critical and knowledgeable discussions on political communication and participatory democracy. Investigative initiatives are essential for checks and balances in the governance of the State. Governance can be improved and strengthened on the basis of a) political debate, b) idea mobility, c) citizen activity, d) social responsibility and e) media credibility.
The above can be attainable only in a climate of free and fair atmosphere where opposing views are not only tolerated but also encouraged for public discussion. Communication gets locked in constant crises in the absence of a congenial condition for a "free market of ideas". Mass media lose their credibility - the soul of their foundations - if they fail to maintain their energy for initiatives and vibrancy for investigations. Breaking news and live coverage are instant history that contributes to keeping citizens abreast of the latest events and developments.
There are leaders who talk liberal in public but act brutal behind the curtains. Society needs advanced citizenship. Authoritarian tactics create hindrances to communicating in any form. Democracy is delivery of promises made to the public. It denotes that lack of discourse raises a harvest of distrust, disturbance, destruction and death whereas consultation and consensus create credibility of decisions, actions and, indeed, the personalities involved in the same.
Aptitude to inclusiveness, diversity, identity, social mobility, economic profitability and political opportunity addresses issues amicably. The messenger should not be attacked for delivering messages. He could, however, risk being hurt by furious people when he wears more than one hat and rubs shoulders with others for non-journalistic businesses.
In a functioning democracy, the State does not work against civility. Exchange of experiences and ideas enlarge knowledge, reinforce traditionally accepted and contemporarily valued practices, and infuse new thoughts into their information storage. Under autocratic regimes, refusal to conform means banishment from organised opportunities and appointments decided upon by the ruling groups.
Denizens are deified for debate and dialogue that constitute extensive participation for eventual quality delivery in terms of decisions, directions, measures and actions. Those outside the orbit of decision-making become resentful. In the absence of a better alternative, collective will through consensus is the key to addressing issues of different hues and merits.
Modern democracy, as a functioning polity, is greatly assisted by the mass media and various means of communication enhanced by advanced technology that is growing increasingly user-friendly and affordable to billions of people. During the colonial ages, the rulers took the colonies and their subjects to war without consulting them in any way. In the captivity of imposed participation, othersí views and beliefs are force-fed as those of all present at the charade.
Crux of issue
Focus on communication, therefore, means all citizens are together and equal in making decisions at different levels, whether they concern with social bonding, group action or distance reducing. Within the next 25 years, illiteracy is expected to decline drastically in almost all countries. This will mean new situations and opportunities, as people hope for better living standards and are more aware of their rights and democratic functioning of the State.
In much of world history, audio communication was the means of communication and family memory, handed down from generation to generation, in which the process, facts also got messed up with fiction. Today, more Nepalis are globally connected and get to be nationally connected in terms of national/international radio, TV and print media. Communication, easier and faster than at any time previously, should help deepen understanding and enhance citizen awareness.
(Based on the writerís recently published book, Media for Participatory Democracy.)