Foldvary: Democracy for Afghanistan
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Democracy for Afghanistan
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
A struggle for power is now taking place in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance, Pashtun leaders, and other military forces have taken control of most of the country from the Taliban government. Officials in the United Nations are attempting for forge a coalition government. The former King is ready to serve in a unifying role.
This war-ravaged country has been wreaked for the past decade by various factions fighting to control territory. The problem with a coalition government is that it would be unstable. The reason for the fragility is the top-down structure of the governance. The chiefs of the government obtain wealth and power from the people, and there is a conflict to get the spoils. The structure of a coalition governance makes the struggle for power inevitable.
Electing the chiefs with a vote by the people does not help much, for two reasons. First, after they get elected, the chiefs become de-facto dictators until the next election. They extract wealth, force their will on the people, and control the candidates for the next election. Secondly, the election process itself is only a shell of democracy. People either vote according to their ethnic affiliation, which makes it again a struggle for power among the ethnic groups, or else they are given a slate of candidates who all seek loot, so the people lose no matter who wins.
This is a flaw not of democracy as such, but of the type now common in the world: mass democracy. The alternative is small-group democracy, decentralizing not just the functions of government, but the power down to the very local neighborhood level.
Many political theorists have recognized the importance of local control. Robert Putnam in his recent book Bowling Alone, decrying the “empty public forums of our democracy,” proposes that government be “decentralized as far as possible to bring decisions to smaller, local jurisdictions.” Gordon Tullock in The New Federalist proposes that many services can be devolved to the neighborhood level, which could become a predominant level of government. John Dewey in The Public and Its Problems wrote that democracy begins in the neighborhood community, with face-to-face associations. Thomas Jefferson in his Letter to Kercheval, July 12, 1816, suggested that counties be divided into wards of sufficiently small size that every citizen could attend to public business and “act in person.” The French writer De Tocqueville in Democracy in America stated that local civic activity in America was the heart of American democracy, since people more closely identified their own interest with local affairs.
To achieve real democracy in Afghanistan, power has to be based in local villages and city neighborhoods. Each village, town, and city neighborhood would be a cell in the body politic and would elect a council. These councils would elect a provincial legislature. The national parliament would be elected by the provincial legislatures. Power would flow up from the people, rather than down from the national chiefs and religious authorities.
Sadly, this truly democratic cellular structure will not be established. The United Nations, United States, and other country governments that are influential are not pushing for decentralized voting. They are instead attempting to cobble together the same old coalition structure that other parliaments have. Why don’t the U.S. and other powers push for real local democracy?
Because they realize that if Afghanistan were to achieve real grass-roots bottom-up democracy, then folks would start asking why we don’t try that at home. That is why it has not been proposed for Kosovo, Bosnia, East Timor, and the other areas under international supervision. The usual mass democracy model fails the people, but it does not fail the chiefs of government. The chiefs can extract wealth and power so long as the people vote en mass. The chiefs of state dare not even discuss small-group voting.
Cellular democracy, with local voting and power that flows bottom-up, is the only solution to the power seeking endemic in both dictatorships and the elected chiefs of mass democracy. We can help bring this about by implementing it in our voluntary organizations. Form small groups that elect a board or council, and have the top leadership elected bottom up from these councils. Let it be a model for government.
The old Soviet Union was originally to be governed this way. “Soviet” means council, and there were to be local Soviets that elected higher-level Soviets. The slogan was “All power to the Soviets!” But it became a top-down dictatorship instead.
It’s time to restructure our thinking about democracy. Mass democracy fails. Small-group voting can overcome the problem of voter apathy and power seeking. Let the call go forth: vote only in small groups! All power to the people and the neighborhoods!
Copyright 2001 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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