Social Stability vs Individual Rights
ADELAIDE - Democracies are both difficult to create and difficult to govern successfully.
First and foremost they require a remarkably self-disciplined population willing to voluntarily conform to a broadly agreed set of ideas about how their society is ordered and governed.
For example, there must be be a mechanism for an orderly change of government, operating to a predetermined cycle that is not subject to political manipulation.
A government which is there with the legitimate consent of the governed, as expressed by free and fair voting in an election.
This may seem self-evident to those of us who already live in such a society but it is manifestly not so in most of the world.
The Economist magazine’s annual Democracy Index tries to measure the state of democracy in 167 countries.
The 2021 index classified 21 countries as full democracies (Australia was ninth), and 53 as flawed democracies (including France at 22th; the cradle of democracy, Greece, at 34th; PNG at 69th).
There were 35 hybrid regimes (not democratic, not authoritarian – Fiji was there at 84th) and 58 authoritarian regimes (Afghanistan last at 167th).
When you look at those numbers, it seems that most people live within less democratic, including authoritarian, political structures, perhaps satisfied with social stability and public order above individual rights and freedoms.
For many such populations, personal rights and freedoms are subordinated to social control because it is believed the state is inherently unstable for some reason.
Perhaps there have been persistent historic inter-ethnic or inter-religious tensions, quarrels over territorial boundaries or they are countries adjacent to actual or potential enemies.
The power of this thinking is evident in so many Russians apparently finding it easy to believe Putin's blatant lies about the supposed cabal of drug addicts and Nazis in charge of Ukraine.
It is also seen in the fact that so many Americans accept that there is a sinister 'deep state' determined to take away their freedoms.
PNG is a flawed democracy in that every five years it elects what amounts to an interchangeable kleptocracy, whose members steal the resources of the state for the benefit of themselves and their cronies.
For these reasons, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison's simplistic binary view of the world is deceptive and misleading. The world does not divide neatly into good guys and bad guys.
At best, as citizens, we can only sometimes confidently identify obviously good or obviously bad behaviour on the part of either our own governments or those of other countries.
Even then, there will often be serious disputation about how some behaviour or decisions ought to be classified, e.g., is Australia's policy in relation to asylum seekers democratic.
There are no easy answers to the questions posed about the flaws and contradictions found within different forms of government because they are products of a society not necessarily expressions of human ideals written into a Constitution.
Kleptocrats Form PNG's Democracy
TUMBY BAY -One bitter lesson we can take from the last 30 years on Planet Earth is that democracy is not self-evidently superior to other forms of government in the eyes of many people.
And it is certainly not readily exportable from one jurisdiction and transplantable in another.
In this context, it is a miracle that the hybrid Westminster system bequeathed to Papua New Guinea by the United Kingdom via Australia continues to function, at least after a fashion.
Whether PNG’s government can ever be more that a rotating, elected kleptocracy or kakistocracy remains to be seen.
I think a point that must be clearly understood when talking about democracy is that historic and social factors such as ethnicity, language, religion and cultural norms are much more important in determining how a nation or state is governed.
There is no generic, one-size-fits-all form of democracy, even if people like Scott Morrison seem to think there is.
British democracy, as practised in the United Kingdom, is quite different to the kind of democracy practised in the United States or Australia, for instance.
The Westminster systems practised in the UK, Australia and Papua New Guinea are all different and dependent on historic and social factors.
The same argument, as noted by Chris Overland, can be made about autocracies.
Those factors that determine what sort of democracy exists in any one country are infinitely malleable.
One of the determinants of that plasticity is quality of leadership. Same goes for autocracies.
In this sense, just as Vladimir Putin has influenced the style of Russian autocracy, Scott Morrison has influenced the style of Australian democracy.
Unfortunately it seems to be the kleptocrats who have influenced the style of democracy in PNG.
In all three cases, the influences of Putin, Morrison and kleptocracy have been extremely detrimental for the population at large.
In Australia, Morrison, just like his hero Donald Trump did in the USA , has poisoned our form of democracy to the point where it is starting to resemble what goes on in PNG.