We felt that democracy was better because it:
- Promotes equality among citizens;
- Enhances the dignity of the individual;
- Improves the quality of decision-making;
- Provides a method to resolve conflicts; and
- Allows room to correct mistakes.
The first step towards thinking carefully about the outcomes of democracy is to recognise that democracy is just a form of government. It can only create conditions for achieving something. The citizens have to take advantage of those conditions and achieve those goals.
Accountable, responsive and legitimate government
In democracy Whenever possible and necessary, citizens should be able to participate in decision making, that affects them all.
- Therefore, the most basic outcome of democracy should be that it produces a government that is accountable to the citizens, and responsive to the needs and expectations of the citizens.
- We can also expect that the democratic government develops mechanisms for citizens to hold the government accountable and mechanisms for citizens to take part in decision making whenever they think fit.
- Democracy’s ability to generate its own support is itself an outcome that cannot be ignored.
Democracy ensures that decision making will be based on norms and procedures. So, a citizen who wants to know if a decision was taken through the correct procedures can find this out. She has the right and the means to examine the process of decision making. This is known as transparency.
There is one respect in which democratic government is certainly better than its alternatives:
- democratic government is legitimate government. It may be slow, less efficient, not always very responsive or clean. But a democratic government is people’s own government. That is why there is an overwhelming support for the idea of democracy all over the world.
Economic growth and development
Overall, we cannot say that democracy is a guarantee of economic development. But we can expect democracy not to lag behind dictatorships in this respect.
Reduction of inequality and poverty
A small number of ultra-rich enjoy a highly disproportionate share of wealth and incomes. Not only that, their share in the total income of the country has been increasing.
Those at the bottom of the society have very little to depend upon. Their incomes have been declining. Sometimes they find it difficult to meet their basic needs of life, such as food, clothing, house, education and health.
In actual life, democracies do not appear to be very successful in reducing economic inequalities.
No society can fully and permanently resolve conflicts among different groups. But we can certainly learn to respect these differences and we can also evolve mechanisms to negotiate the differences. Democracy is best suited to produce this outcome.
But the example of Sri Lanka reminds us that a democracy must fulfil two conditions in order to achieve this outcome:
- It is necessary to understand that democracy is not simply rule by majority opinion. The majority always needs to work with the minority so that governments function to represent the general view. Majority and minority opinions are not permanent.
- It is also necessary that rule by majority does not become rule by majority community in terms of religion or race or linguistic group, etc.
Dignity and freedom of the citizens
Democracy stands much superior to any other form of government in promoting dignity and freedom of the individual. Every individual wants to receive respect from fellow beings. Often conflicts arise among individuals because some feel that they are not treated with due respect.
Take the case of dignity of women. Most societies across the world were historically male dominated societies. Long struggles by women have created some sensitivity today that respect to and equal treatment of women are necessary ingredients of a democratic society.
Democracy in India has strengthened the claims of the disadvantaged and discriminated castes for equal status and equal opportunity. There are instances still of caste-based inequalities and atrocities, but these lack the moral and legal foundations. Perhaps it is the recognition that makes ordinary citizens value their democratic rights.