By Stephen Fitzgerald
I’ve spoken previously about the lack of human rights protection in Australia and now we might have a look at the reasons for political resistance in what we can call the egregious illiberal democracy.
An outstandingly bad illiberal democracy, also called a partial democracy, low intensity democracy, empty democracy, hybrid regime or guided democracy, is a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of transparency, civil liberties and human rights. It is not an “open society”. There are many countries that are categorised as neither ‘free’ nor ‘not free’, but as ‘probably free’, falling somewhere between democratic and nondemocratic regimes. This may be because a constitution limiting government powers exists, but those in power ignore its liberties, or because an adequate legal constitutional framework of liberties or freedoms does not exist.
José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International reminds us that:
“Only where there is freedom of expression, transparency in all political processes and strong democratic institutions, can civil society and the media hold those in power to account and corruption be fought successfully.”
2018 showed that around the world systemic corruption and social inequality reinforce each other, leading to popular disenchantment with political establishments and providing a fertile ground for the rise of so-called populist politicians. 69 per cent of the 176 countries on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2016 scored below 50, on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean), exposing how massive and pervasive public sector corruption is around the world. This year more countries declined in the index than improved, showing the need for urgent action.
Corruption and inequality feed off each other, creating a vicious circle between corruption, unequal distribution of power in society, and unequal distribution of wealth. As the Panama Papers showed, it is still far too easy for the rich and powerful to exploit the opaqueness of the local and global financial and political systems to enrich themselves at the expense of the public good. In too many countries, people are deprived of their most basic needs and go to bed hungry every night because of corruption, while the powerful and corrupt enjoy lavish lifestyles with impunity.
Corruption needs to be fought with urgency, so that the lives of everyday people improve. Grand corruption cases, from Petrobras and Odebrecht in Brazil to Ukrainian ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, show how collusion between businesses and politicians denies national economies of billions of dollars of revenues that were siphoned off to benefit the few at the expense of the many. This kind of systemic corruption violates human rights, prevents sustainable development and fuels social exclusion and inequality. It’s starting to sound very familiar and very close to home.
As soon as we see a resistance to human rights and civil liberties protection, limiting or manipulation of the press and one-sided journalism, lawyers weakening the judiciary in favour of the wealthy, escalating inequality and poverty, corporate exploitation and, politicians governing for themselves, we start to seriously question the system. Many are now turning away from the major political parties and looking towards independents who promise to change that entrenched system and break the cycle of crony capitalism.
Implementation of and, technical fixes to specific anti-corruption legislation are a start but, not enough. What is urgently needed are deep-rooted systemic reforms that even up the growing imbalance of power and wealth by empowering citizens to stop the widespread impunity for corruption, hold the powerful to account, and have a real say in the decisions that affect their daily lives. These reforms could also include the disclosure through public registries of who owns what companies and who donate what to election funds in return for political favours.
Corporate and political collusion and corruption is systemic across the western world and is the key factor destroying 21st century democracy. The indicators are lighting up to show that Australia is far from exempt. Countries at the bottom of Corruption Perceptions Index are characterised by widespread impunity for corruption and poor governance. Something that we are seeing in Australian federal politics right now.
The base of support of the Australian Liberal National Party have always been the wealthy financial elite and this must now ring alarm bells throughout society. This is collusion, corruption and cronyism staring us in the face. The outcome is that segments of the population are willing to trade the rights and lives of the poor and marginalised for their own economic prosperity and, traditional parties and politicians also refuse to acknowledge their own roles in creating and feeding the monster before folding themselves into his arms.
When monsters run rampant
Countries around the world, from Hungary to Turkey to Cambodia and the Philippines, have turned to noisy leaders who promise instant renewals and silver-bullet solutions under the banner of a right-wing, nativist “populism”. The preferred term of cohort and controlled media outlets, even though the key constituencies backing these candidates comprise the nations’ elite. So, it’s about propaganda and should be viewed as another flashing red light to democracy. Like the LNP calling themselves ‘liberal’ is a lie and a flashing red light.
In São Paulo, people joined the largest women-led protest in Brazilian history, as women and LGBT people who feared Bolsonaro’s history of racist, sexist and homophobic statements urged Brazilians to vote for anyone else. “Ele Nāo,” they yelled – “Not Him.”
“… already one of the world’s most unequal countries in terms of income distribution, and while the poor unquestionably benefited from the previous Workers’ Party’s policies, including a hike in the minimum wage, the vast majority of the economic gains achieved under da Silva went to the richest 1 percent of Brazil’s population. So even as a new lower-middle class earned more than it ever had, Brazil’s obscene levels of income inequality expanded during the good years” (under a leftist government).
Democracy hadn’t delivered what many expected. 32 percent of Brazilians agreed that “democracy may have problems but is the best system of government.” No other Latin American nation showed less support for democracy, while two-thirds of Brazilians had lost faith in political parties, the presidency and Congress. More than half of Brazilians said they would support a more authoritarian style of government if it “solved problems”. This led to retired military officer Bolsonaro’s rise to power as he declared liberation from socialism!
Oh crap! So, there we have it – Corruption, exploitation and destruction under a left-wing government. Corruption, exploitation and destruction under a right-wing government and, corruption, exploitation and destruction under a military dictatorship. And, what’s the driving force behind this. The driving force is who runs the government to benefit themselves and who screws society with the blessing of the elected government. It’s happening right here in Australia and you can’t call that democracy.
True democracy is an Australian’s birth right
As people become more aware of the nature of the political landscape, each federal, state or local by-election (e.g. Victoria and Wentworth) has become, in part, a referendum on the state of Australian democracy as a whole. Any victory for an elitist conservative figure paves the way for escalation of the anti-democratic process and an escalation in social inequality. This also threatens progressive political opponents who are undermined and denigrated as part of the elitist political strategy. Vehement and vicious attacks on political opponents are another clear indicator of those with intention to undermining democracy in favour of themselves and their backers.
Under Australia’s two party preferred political system we see alternate parties denigrated by the left and right to keep them suppressed. Two party preferred, not three party preferred is the war cry. We see alternate political parties denigrating the left and right to try to carve their way into a position of political power. From where I stand, political parties are not working for democracy, they are working for themselves and once again, the financial elite. So, it’s time to change the system.
What choices do we have? Where do we turn to establish a democracy for the people by the people? If it’s not political parties, what is it? I think now is the time for a monumental social experiment. We are definitely in the mood and we are well on the way so, let’s keep pushing and flood the parliament with independents. Give independents the balance of power in both houses of parliament and we are in with a chance of knocking off elitist rule and establishing our democratic birth right.
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