John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Category: Democracy

INDIA….A DEMOCRATIC MIRACLE

parmesh04I recently read a history of modern India, entitled “India After Gandhi” by Ramachandra Guha.

It is a very big book, about a very big country.

Although it runs to almost 800 pages, it is well worth reading in full.

India is already the seventh largest economy in the world, is growing at 7% a year, and could be the 3rd biggest economy ten years from now.

It is a large exporter of software, and it will surprise many to learn that it is also the largest producer of milk in the world.

Guha’s book shows how India survived as a democracy, and remained united, while authoritarian regimes elsewhere broke up.

Although India obtained its independence peacefully, civil disturbances after partition meant that the new Republic of India had to absorb 8 million refugees from what is now Pakistan. Democracy has taken secure root in India. Voter turnout in the first national election, in the late 1940s, was 46% and it has been increasing ever since.

Initially the Congress party dominated the political scene and pursued a socialist and protectionist economic policy. Since the early 1990’s, that approach has been reversed. Congress is no longer dominant, and political power has been dispersed among numerous parties. This has made decision making more difficult.

Like Ireland in the 1960’s, India in the 1990s, opened itself up for international investment and trade. This has contributed to the rapid economic growth in the country.

Even more rapid growth is possible because, unlike China, India has a youthful population.

It’s economy is still held back by excessive bureaucracy and corruption. If those  artificial obstacles can be removed, India can become the driver of growth for the global economy.

Understanding the diversity of India, with its numerous languages, races,  and religions, is important to anyone who wants to do business in the county.

THE EU IS ALREADY DEMOCRATIC…..TWO WAYS IN WHICH THAT CAN BE MADE MORE VISIBLE

The-UK-and-EU-flags-010One of the recurring themes in the debate about UK membership on the EU is the (false) claim that the EU is not democratic.

All EU legislation has to be passed by a democratically elected European Parliament and also by a Council of Ministers who represent the democratically elected governments of the 28 EU countries.

It is true that the members of the European Commission are not democratically elected by the people, but their names must be proposed by democratically elected governments of the 28 countries, and the Commission as a whole must be approved by the democratically elected European Parliament.

In many countries, Ministers serve in government who have not, as individuals, been elected directly. Their democratic mandate comes from the elected government of which they are part.

This is not to say the there is no room to improve the democratic legitimacy of the EU, and of its policies. I believe the EU could respond to the UK referendum by further enhancing EU wide democracy.

I make two suggestions to improve the visibility of the democratic character of the EU, and create a genuinely European democratic debate, rather than 28 separate national debates about EU matters

  • The President of the European Commission should be directly elected in a two round election by the entire people of the EU, at the same time as the European Parliament Elections
  • It should be possible for the National Parliament of the 28 to come together to request that the Commission put forward a proposal on a particular matter. National Parliaments( if a minimum number agree) already have a right to petition to delay a piece of EU legislation, so why not give them a positive right to seek the promotion of a piece of legislation (if they can obtain a similar level of support across a number of countries).

NIGERIA……15 YEARS OF CIVILIAN RULE

I am just back from a visit to Nigeria where I spoke at an event in the capital of the Rivers State, Port Harcourt, on democracy. The event was also addressed by the former  UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw MP.

Nigeria has had civilian democratic rule for 15 years now, the longest period of democracy since it gained its independence. Nigeria had previously had a number of, often brutal, military regimes, and it is now suffering  a major sectarian terrorist problem. 13% of its budget has to go on security.

It has a number of strengths, 
+ huge oil revenues,

+ 7% economic growth, 
+ a current account surplus of 12% of GDP, 
+ a Debt/GDP ratio of only 21%, and 
+ a strong, and free, press.

It has 500 living languages, far more than the EU has.

On the other hand, it has high unemployment and visible poverty. Adult literacy is only 61% (as against an African average of 67%).

42% of the population do not have access to clean drinking water, and life expectancy, at 52 years, is below the average for Africa.

Poverty is greatest in the predominantly Muslim north of the country. 

Agricultural yields are well below the average for comparable countries, and this is partly because there is a big deficit in transport and electricity infrastructure, which could be used to modernise farming methods.

Democracy is not as strong as it should be. Turnout in elections is as low as 28% and there are widespread suspicions of electoral malpractice

One of the reasons for under investment in Nigeria is corruption.

One  impressive aspect of the conference I attended was the open and frank way in which the corruption problem was discussed.

Various measures to stamp out corruption were suggested, such as

  • strengthening the independence of the judiciary
  • arrangements to ensure that the police always act independently of politicians
  • shifting the burden of proof, in cases where any payments are made in particular defined circumstances, to   require those who made  or received the payment to prove that the motive was not corrupt
  • early passage of  a Petroleum Industry Bill, to prevent the siphoning off of the country’s huge oil and gas revenues

To eliminate fraud in elections, which is widespread, the Indian practice of staggering elections over a number of weeks to allow greater independent scrutiny of electoral practices might be considered.

Politicians in Nigeria are very well paid, but are expected to deliver gifts to their supporters, a practice which encourages corruption.

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