Here’s a very quick comment relating to two recent stories about democracy in Afghanistan and Sark.

First, our Foreign Secretary, David Miliband was on the Today programme talking about Afghanistan. When the interviewer asked him whether they’d be better off working with someone else instead of Karzai, Miliband said that he had to respect the choice of the Afghan people. But what if they’d voted for the Taliban, or even Osama bin Laden? What if  Osama was elected president and had, like Berlusconi, gained immunity from prosecution as the head of state? Would democracy still be respected?

The second story is about Sark, a channel island that’s a British protectorate and still feudal. Democracy should be coming there soon, if only because of the European Convention (although the islands aren’t part of the EU). No invasion force has been sent by the UK/US to enforce democracy here, as yet!

The reason for raising these is that they show how the story of democracy isn’t as simple as we’re led to believe. There hasn’t been a straightforward progression to a perfect democracy in the West, with the rest of the world catching up. It’s not as cut and dried as ‘democracies’ and ‘dictatorships’. There are different kinds of democracy: the channel islands don’t have political parties, South America has seen experiments in more participative forms, and so on. It’s not just a case of having people vote between two parties. And as these cases show, whether democracies are judged to be democracies and/or forced to change is not down to political theory, but down to politics and power.


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