Sunday, 13 May 2007

An Australian Experience-the best of both worlds

A primary reason for Australia to be recognised as an oasis of this materialised and tormented world is that people are entitled to enjoy wide-ranging freedom in this country. Australia is a parliamentary democracy, typical of the Western world. The first half of this statement alone seems not saying much, since parliamentary democracy can be had in many other countries. Looking around the globe today, most countries make claims of their democratic institutions, and people of various nationalities do vote for political parties on regular basis. Multi-party elections are as common as the ubiquitous presence of Coca Cola. This rather recent political landscape has made ultra right ideologues extremely happy, vindicating in sheer numbers their unwavering conviction of what is the set mainstream and the right side of history, hence the claim of "end of history".
Few of them heed the irony coming out of this rather monotonous landscape Democratic institutions have done little to improve the pathetic situations and people's well beings in many of these countries. If these political establishments did work wonders as promised, then we would have had 100 plus of the US on this crowded planet. If that looks not an acceptable line of reasoning, since the US is the sole world super power and an embodiment of immense concentration of wealth in the hands of the super rich, then can we expect to have over 100 Australias? Most unlikely.
The point is that democracy and development do not mix well in so many cases. The rich club of OECD after all includes old colonist democracies. There have been few clear signs or certified examples of sharply improved economic performance and remarkably faster growth of a developing country, shortly after democratic institutions, primarily political parties and routine elections as forms of freedom of choice, are introduced and implemented. Magic sparks from a switch of political system may on occasion come from massive foreign aid and over generous allowances from the developed world. These external assistance obviously have much to do with geological and ideological considerations of certain powers, as a regular component of "carrot" strategies, indicating that the rare sparks of growth are rather not truly endogenous. There are in fact more sick or lacklustre democracies than healthy ones. The biggest country of democracy, India, began to shrug off its well known image of dire poverty only very recently, after decades of parliamentary democratic wranglings.
Closer to Australia, an illuminating example is the Philippines, a key ally of the US and bearing an American signature and traditions of democracy much longer than many other Asian countries. I was accidentally involved in a conversation with a number of Filipino students at a the University of Sydney canteen when the Marcos family faced their anticipated downfall. Those students sounded sensitively proud of their ingrained democratic traditions and were optimistic about the future betterment of their countrymen after the crucial "People Power" movement. Nearly twenty years later, elected governments there behave in similar ways in almost every aspect, though with much shorter duration of administration. China under a so-called dictatorship has obviously made a longer stride in economic development in the same time span. It so comes that the pleasing landscape of a near total presence of democracies hides undercurrents and encounters the same old problems of poverty and insecurity in most countries stuck in a developing status. The asserted direct, crucial link between democracy and development has perhaps been well overstated and over simplified.
Regardless of these controversial and academic wranglings over democracy as a working solution to underdevelopment, it is quite safe to say here that Australia has no danger of being mistaken as in the "others" group, and this country is an ideal place to rate democracy as a key component of a genuine oasis. This component is even more significant than the rich resources Australia has its hands on. A huge country with a totalitarian regime cannot be trusted to deliver freedom in many fields and be elevated to a level deserving rightful respect. A developing country may also be driven by rich resources to make wrong decisions in development and wealth building and distribution. In a broad comparison, Australia as a country with similarly rich resources while being democratic in the truest form obviously has the best of both worlds.

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