Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics, South Asia / 17.02.2008

Continuing our tour of the post-colonial transitions in governance, we take a look at the unique experience of Hong Kong to see if we can add to our understanding of the relationship between governance and social, political and economic outcomes. The outstanding feature of the political set-up in Hong Kong was its institutional longevity – it was formally the same in the 1980s as it was a hundred years earlier. “There was no election and no universal suffrage until 1982, no political party until the 1990s and still, on the eve of the handover [in 1997], no fully elected assembly.” The question that comes to mind is why the British who were so eager to introduce electoral politics in India and Sri Lanka where the polities were rife with social cleavages, not willing to do so in Hong Kong where there was so much ethnic homogeneity? Leaving aside...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics / 13.02.2008

In an earlier post we had made the point that the alternative to unadulterated democracy was not dictatorship and more efforts at creating imaginative constitutional arrangements for transitional countries might yield better outcomes. We have already discussed the tragic consequences of attempts to introduce unadulterated democracy in British India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Now we can turn to see the outcomes of variations from pure democracy in some other former British colonies. The first interesting case is that of Malaysia – we focus on the variation itself and not on whether it was really a conscious attempt at imaginative adaptation. In this we rely on the chapter by Shamsul A.B. (Development and Democracy in Malaysia: A Comment on its Socio-Historical Roots) in the book that we have been using in the last three posts. The starting point was remarkably similar to the situation in India and Sri...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics, Sri Lanka / 11.02.2008

We found the book The Cultural Construction of Politics in Asia edited by Hans Antlov and Tak-Wing Ngo (St. Martin’s Press, 2000) referred to in an earlier post (Democracy in India – 1) very useful in furthering our analysis of governance based on concrete case studies. In this post we summarize the experience in Sri Lanka using the chapter by Peter Kloos (Democracy, Civil War and the Demise of the Trias Politica in Sri Lanka). The author starts by noting that in 1947 Sri Lanka seemed to have all that was needed to transform itself into an independent democracy and few post-colonial states had such a favorable point of departure: It had already had an elected parliament for more than a decade and a half… [It] had universal suffrage earlier than several European states. It had a high rate of literacy and also a newspaper tradition of a century and a half....

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics / 09.02.2008

By Bettina Robotka Some of the most significant changes in the world since the late eighties like the policy of “glasnost” (transparency) in the former Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the political changes in the socialist world have elevated the representative democracy as the most suitable political system available in the world. Many countries of Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union as well as many in the so-called developing world have since then taken to democracy as the model to be followed in their political setup. Parliamentary Democracy in many parts of the world has proved to be workable though it is also no perfect political system. “Suppose that elections are free and fair and those elected are racists, fascists, and separatists. That is the dilemma”, said the American diplomat Richard Holbrooke about Jugoslavia in the...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics, South Asia / 08.02.2008

The subject of the nature of democracy in India is important and we will continue to record our thoughts and ideas here to improve our understanding and hopefully to converge to a better sense of the phenomenon. In this post, we reproduce some ideas from Dr. Bettina Robotka, a historian at Humboldt University in Berlin.  Dr. Robotka had commented on one of our earlier posts (How Modern is Modern?) and impressed by her arguments we obtained her essay “Democracy in India – A Historical Perspective” which is a chapter in a 2000 book (The Cultural Construction of Politics in Asia) edited by Hans Antlov and Tak-Wing Ngo. Dr. Robotka characterizes the form of governance in India as a “colonial democracy” (the word colonial has no pejorative connotation in the context; it refers to the historical origins of the present system) in which a centralized state replaced the...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Modernity, Politics, South Asia / 04.02.2008

I must admit I was surprised to see a reference to the “lower orders” in Ramachandra Guha’s book (India after Gandhi) in connection with the voting in the 2004 elections in India (How Modern is Modern?). I was curious to see when this sort of characterization disappeared in Europe. Given that we dealt with Hobbes’ articulation of equality in the previous post (Individualism, Social Contract, Governance and Modernity) this also provides a neat opportunity to round off this discussion. As we mentioned, Hobbes’ formulation in 1651 was a theoretical one. It is only when we get to the French Revolution that we see a concrete demonstration of how things changed. Tim Blanning provides a nice account in his 2007 book (The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815) of what happened when a crisis finally forced Louis XVI to call a meeting of the Estates General in 1789....

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Modernity, Pakistan, Politics, South Asia / 02.02.2008

In the last few posts we have left a few loose ends dangling: there have been references to individualism in the context of hierarchy, to social contract in the context of monarchy, and to reason in the context of modernity. In this post we will try to tie the loose ends lightly to highlight some of the connections and hope to come back for a fuller discussion at a later time if there is demand. There is no one better to weave the argument around than Thomas Hobbes (1558-1679) whose famous book The Leviathan (1651) became the foundation for most of Western political philosophy. Of course, Hobbes did not emerge in a vacuum. The seventeenth century is widely accepted as a decisive turning point in Europe that marked the transition from an old decaying order to a new emerging one that many equate with modern society. Very briefly,...

Governance, Politics, South Asia / 01.02.2008

In connection with the discussion on dynastic succession, our reader had helped clarify our thinking by characterizing both traditional monarchy and traditional religion as institutions marked by hierarchical relations between human beings (see Monarchy, Religion, Hierarchy and Modernity). Further, the point was made that in societies ruled by such institutions hierarchical relations were not limited but extended to all social relationships. The interesting question that followed was “What is wrong with hierarchy itself?” The answer was contained in the alternative that was posited by the reader: The alternative to hierarchy is not necessarily individualism, just equality. The importance of this distinction ensues from the realization that hierarchies can never really be eliminated—if nothing else, the hierarchy of knowledge is likely to persist. For example, the hierarchy between an expert and a layperson (say a physician and patient, lawyer and client) cannot easily be eliminated. Nor does it...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Modernity, South Asia / 27.01.2008

The thing I like about a blog is that you can tap into individuals who can say things a whole let better than you can yourself. Here is a contribution from a reader, questioning our positions on monarchy and religion, that we can just lean back and admire.  1. Monarchy and dynastic rule imply accepting hierarchy between human beings at a fundamental level. I think it would be wrong to assume that this hierarchy would be confined just to the relation between monarch and subject. It would have to presuppose the widespread prevalence of hierarchy between husband and wife, parents and children, among friends, at work, and in more diffuse social networks. What the Enlightenment did was to make all people fundamentally equal, whatever their attributes. By accepting monarchy and dynastic rule, I think one is ultimately accepting the continuance of such hierarchies that are morally...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Leadership, Politics / 25.01.2008

In our last post (More on Dynasties and Modernity) we had made the point that “it was the mass of Peoples Party loyalists in Pakistan who were clamoring for the leadership to be passed on to a Bhutto after Benazir—hence the addition of Bhutto to Bilawal’s name.” As if on cue, an op-ed appeared in The News (January 25, 2008) entitled PPP's succession -- not so flawed. The author, a barrister and human rights activist currently based in the UAE, had the following things to say: You will not meet a PPP supporter who will not tell you exactly this--that they want a Bhutto to lead the party. From the workers to the leaders, be they of any ethnic or religious background, all want a Bhutto as their leader. Contrary to what the critics imply, the Bhutto family has not imposed its leadership upon the PPP, or in...