Dēmokratía!

(Dêmos; people) and (kratos; power)! Two Greek words existed for thousands of years and more years yet to come. When put together, Demokratia; Democracy is coined. “Power to the people” or “Rule of the people”; both the literal meaning for such a political practice. Cleisthenes once introduced an oath stating: “To advise according to the laws what was best for the people”. Aristotle; the Greek polymath then said “democracy is the form of government in which… the free are the many and the rich are the few”. This highlights a paradox of democracy in that it attempts to be equal to all, yet often the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer, and a growing wealth gap will certainly impact governance.

Thousands of years after, and specifically in 2007, the UN resolved to observe 15 September as the International Day of Democracy. The resolution acknowledged that: “while democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy and that democracy does not belong to any country or region…democracy is a universal value based on the freely-expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems, and their full participation in all aspects of life”.
Usually, the drive behind democracy is to inhibit the accumulation of too much authority in the hands of one or a certain group. It reposes on a stable relation between giving enough power for what Alexander Hamilton called “vigorous and energetic government” and avoiding giving out so much power that it becomes abused. On the other hand Winston Churchill once described it as the “least bad” form of government.

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Addressing inequality and poverty in the Pacific Islands

By Danileen Kristel Parel, Supervising Research Specialist, Philippines Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) and Felipe F. Salvosa IIPublications Division Chief, Philippines Institute for Development studies

Participants during the GDN 14th Annual conference

Pacific Asian Participants from the GDN 14th Annual Development Conference, June 2013

Pacific Island countries are facing challenges in addressing low income economic growth with high levels of vulnerabilities resulting from the impact of global economic crises. The three presentations during this session at the 2013 GDN Annual Conference tackle the issues specific to inclusive growth, poverty and inequality in the Pacific Island Countries. Speakers argue that for inclusive growth to be achieved, barriers to the participation of the poor in economic activities should be removed. According to Neelesh Gounder, University of South Pacific, broader macroeconomic growth policies like trade liberalisation need to be considered to promote growth in a broader sense.

Experience from Fiji

Masilina Tuiloa Rotuivaqali, University of South Pacific focus on the importance of social protection in economic growth. He claims that by paying attention to social protection policies, increased productivity and social stability can be achieved. Prior to 2008, social policies that focus on vulnerable groups have not existed. Although some social policies have been implemented in Fiji in 2008, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu still remain to have very limited formal social protection in place. Thus, there is a need for an integrated social policy framework in all three countries, namely Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. This framework should be at the grassroots level to include relevant vulnerable groups.

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Human rights, citizenship and the Arab spring

“Human rights” in the Middle East is a very problematic issue. However, the state of human rights differs from one state to another. Some states within the region do have a record of progressive understanding of human rights and its implementations as the case of Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco.

On the other hand, there are some states within the region that do encounter grave violations due to authoritarian regimes and repressive measures that led to diminished social activism within the society.

Flickr User: Essam Sharaf (CC)

In 2010, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region witnessed unprecedented waves of protests; commonly referred to as the “Arab Spring”. The chain reaction of such a phenomena demanded thorough socio-economic change and in-depth political transformation. People in many countries of the region called for respect for their human rights, an end to repression, new social contract built on representation and Citizenship rights.

Citizenship within the state was always a controversial issue, in terms of citizens and citizenship concept as stated by Aristotle, “a citizenship is one who shares both shares in the government and also in his turn submits to be governed; their condition, it is true, is different in different states; the best is that in which a man is enabled to choose and to persevere in a course of virtue during his whole life, both in his public and private state”.

This in return would clarify two main aspects of citizenship. The first of which would be a “legal” definition establishing what would be called a formal relationship between the people vis-a-vis the government and secondly that role a person has to play in a certain manner that entails virtue. Furthermore, this conceptualization of citizenship entails distinguishing between what would be considered as public and private spheres that touches on the dichotomy of state and civil society.

Ideas of citizenship are thus derived from the theoretical framework of liberalism. In the political form of liberal theory, it ascribes to individual’s power in their own lives and an equal say in how the government is run.

The impoverished societies of the Middle East need more plurality in terms of ideas, less repression of peaceful dissent, more political participation, and more institutions that would in a way channel popular desire for change, and for a better future. This poses serious complexities when coming to think of it in the context of the MENA region. States within the MENA region are deformed since inception, fragmented, and carry a colonial heritage and colonial political institutions; states that deal with citizens as subjects, and carry among them the traits of authoritarianism.

I do believe that governments within the region for sure have roles to play in terms of negating some paranoid and prejudiced beliefs within the society. Education along with social activism would surely allow for a better perception of what has to be a relation between all citizens within the state.