Friday, 23 November 2012

Democratic Masochism

In a discussion yesterday, Alexandru F. Ghita coined the term democratic masochism for the countries which seem to vote the same people over and over again despite their obvious lack of credibility. I have always been wondering about the cause of this phenomenon and it would appear that habit is stronger than common sense or the ability to change. The main rationale appears to be "well, we know that the people we have running our country are [insert negative word here] but at least we know who they are and we have been seeing them over some time, so they must know something. Why elect someone new, with ideas different than those we have been living with up to now? Right?'' Wrong.

We cannot escape our human nature: we are creatures of habit; we seek the same thing over and over again, not because we really enjoy it, but mainly because we are used to it and our expectations meet reality every time. Truth is, that occasionally something happens and wakes us up from our lethargy. However, events of that significance occur only once in a lifetime and we cannot count on them; thus, we have to make the change ourselves.

For those of you thinking "sure but this does not happen with me or my country" I would challenge you to remember how much the political leadership in Southern Europe has changed over the past 10-15 years. Any new faces? Any new ideologies, morals or beliefs? None whatsoever. The same adherence to old regimes, undemocratic and obsolete beliefs, rigid principles combined with an exquisite ability of politicians to switch to any side of the political spectrum suits better to their plans of assuring a position of power. Name one country in the South, or maybe in the whole of Europe as well, where this has not been taking place over the past years.

The worst part is that younger politicians seem to be a carbon copy of the older generation. You cannot enter the political life of a country with an ideology of your own. No political party will ever accept you in its ranks if you do not fully embrace its beliefs and support each and every decision it makes, whether it makes sense or not. Independent thinking is punishable with expulsion, and that would mean the end of one's political career. The only solution would be forming a new party, but only very few would be willing to go through the trouble of obtaining just 1% or less in elections, with the hope that someday that percentage will rise.
So what does the future hold for us in politics? Although the formation of new parties continues, very few of them will ever be in a position to obtain enough votes to affect anything. For example, the Pirate Party in Sweden received a 7.13% in the European election and its German affiliate a 2% in the national ones. Nevertheless, the German participants seem unable to act on what they preach and thus the party appears to be on the brink of disaster, with voters repulsed from what they are watching.

Which brings us to credibility. If the leader(s) of a party cannot act on what they say, then nobody will ever do the same. That is the main reason why Golden Dawn has been so successful in Greece: they may support nationalistic, racist and fascist ideas but at least they abide to what they preach and people know what to expect from them.

This is where is all boils down: honesty. If politicians are honest then people trust them with their votes. And believe me, people know...


  1. Excellent post. In fact I would go further and say that new blood is frozen out of politics, particularly in Greece, by the proportional representation system. The supposed virtue of this system is that it accurately represents the voter's preferences. However it boils down to proportion of what? - parties!

    Parties are voted in by proportion of votes, and then proceed to fill seats with politicians from the party ranks according to the preferences of the PM. Parties must vote as a block, or members face expulsion. New politicians must start at the bottom in a party and jostle their way up inside the party...

    Therefore no constituency is represented by a local, and no independent can put himself up for election in a local constituency. In fact PR completely eliminates independents and within the parties there can be no independent voices like the famous English backbenchers. Effectively there can be no dissent. Meanwhile as events occur over time, localities have no one to turn to represent their local interests in parliament as their is no representation on the ground.

    This reduces politics to 'party lines' ruled by the top, with total lack of accountability and representation on the ground. Large commercial interests, unions and lobbies are the only social forces with enough clout to affect the party lines.

    Leading to endless mafiosi style deals behind closed doors (lack of transparency & accountability).

    1. Thank you for your kind words.

      It is indeed time for the system of representation to change as it has become obsolete. I specifically hate it when in elections one cannot vote for two people from different parties, even though they deserve it more than others, and you can only choose a specific party to cast your vote. In essence, this means that we cannot even elect the best of each party, we have to either elect one party or the other.

      The only problem with unions and lobbies is incentives: union leaders are more likely to arrange with politicians for privileges concerning themselves, than to actually help their fellow workers. I would not go as far as saying that this is the general case, but in many cases you can see that union leaders and lobbyists have much more privileges than the average employee has.

      Accountability, transparency and credibility are major issues in all Southern EU nations, and unless people change the way they vote and the people they elect (or unless the system in general changes and abstention and blank votes are not counted out when the proportions are being calculated) then the future is unfortunately bound to be as bad as the present...