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Dictatorial Democracies

by Brian Risman, Publisher, www thelawjournal co uk - 03 July 2003

Too many democracies have elected leaders that are dangerously close to dictators. Even countries without such leaders frequently have 'one-party' systems, due to weak or extremist opposition parties presenting no real choice. Whither democracy?

The Italian Prime Minister, the neo-Fascist Berlusconi, has become the leader of the European Union under the six-month system where the leadership is rotated among the heads of governments. On his second day in office, Berlusconi has already lived up to expectations, enraging the European Parliament and their home countries. There are doubts that the European Union will even operate in any reasonable manner during his six-month term.

Yet there he is, the elected leader of Italy, a neo-Fascist heading the European democracies. Despite his politics, leaders such as Tony Blair, who is from the left-wing Labour party, are his friends. Who is this man Berlusconi? He owns and controls the media in Italy, preventing editorial attacks on him; he passes laws preventing his prosecution, including in the ongoing trial in Milan regarding the bribing of judges before his term in office.

Yet he is not the only leader of a democracy who is dangerously close to being a dictator. George Bush of the United States was not elected by the people, but rather by a Supreme Court dominated by judges of his own party, the Republicans. He does not tolerate dissent -- even from other American elected officials. You are with him or against him, as per his famous quote. Now, he has made noises about lifting the Constitutional restriction against a President running more than two terms. He hasn't completed one term -- and I have doubts about the upcoming election in 2004 being any fairer than the one in 2000. And remember, now he holds the reins of power. He didn't in the last election. What happens to anyone who opposes him? The U.S. media have gotten the message -- they cheer, instead of question. It is just safer that way.

Even in countries without these dictatorial leaders, Parliamentary protections are ignored. Tony Blair wanted war with Iraq to keep his friend Bush happy, so he pushed that agenda through Parliament with questionable data and statements. I will give him the benefit of the doubt as to purpose, but will not do so for the cynical manner in which Parliament was manipulated. I am being kind to him because I feel he was used and very naive, rather than filled with evil intentions. Yet the misuse of democracy is still the misuse.

Other countries have similar situations. France re-elected Jacques Chirac as President largely because his opposition in the second-round voting was a neo-Fascist, Le Pen. At least the French rejected fascism. The Italians didn't reject it.

Even less dramatic situations reflect the lack of choice for voters. In Canada, the centre-left Liberal party has a seemingly permanent lock on power federally because the opposition has become dominated by an extreme right-wing party similar to the U.S. Republicans. However, Canadians have not opted like their American cousins for the extreme-right, but have instead voted for the centre. However, the fact remains there is only one choice in the centre, one real choice. As for ignoring democratic institutions, in Ontario (the largest Canadian province), the right-wing provincial government ignored its Parliament in presenting its budget, opting at the advice of its Bush-oriented U.S. Republican advisors to present it instead at the estate and offices of one of their biggest contributors. At least the Ontario electorate is allowed to express its outrage. For now.

The bottom line is that if we do not fight to save democracy, then the slow slide to dictatorship will continue.

Speak up! Contribute your voice!

We need democratic leaders, democratic oppositions, and democratic choices. Now. Before it is too late.

Your thoughts?

Here is a letter received in rebuttal, and my comments following the note. Your comments on this note and the article are of course welcome.

From John de Villiers (USA):

One might not like George Bush or his policies, but he still got a majority, however slim and was chosen in accordance with the constitution.  Heavens, I don't hear the chorus of disapproval about JFK's election victory, when it has been clearly demonstrated that his rigging of the Chicago vote gave him the presidency.  Why is it that the chattering classes somehow always turn a blind eye to the peccadilloes of left leaning politicians egg Stalin and the darling of the Champagne socialists Fidel Castro.

I bet if it had been Kennedy in the Whitehouse and not Nixon at the Watergate time, Kennedy would have stayed. The left wing press just didn't like him, end of story.

Comments from Brian Risman: John, thank you very much for your rebuttal. First, I am a friend of the United States who does not feel comfortable with the current direction of the country. Though not an American, I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican in my sympathies. I would condemn a Democratic President equally if they adopted the same policies. Nor am I a left- or right-winger. I call them as I see them, regardless of their stripe.

George Bush did not get a majority of the popular vote, and only won in the electoral vote because of a questionable Florida vote (and an even more questionable Supreme Court who would not allow a judicial recount of the votes in that State -- what were they afraid of?).

JFK's questionable vote fixing in Chicago is well known, and I condemn it equally. However, putting Kennedy and Joseph Stalin in the same category is rather insulting to your former President. Stalin was a cold-blooded murderer. Kennedy had faults, but certainly was no Stalin. As for Castro, he has a lot of blood on his hands as well. While his tweaking of the American nose drew admiration in Latin America, his rule and attempted export of it to those countries did not.

We don't know if Kennedy would have been forced out as Nixon was over Watergate, rightly or wrongly. I think the difference is that the Nixon era also covered Vietnam and the loss of innocence, resulting in greater questioning of authority. Same for the Kennedy vote fixing noted above -- a different era, a greater innocence.

As for the press being left-wing, I can point to several influential right-wing U.S. commentators that I greatly admire, such as George Will and Charles Krauthammer. Nonetheless, you are correct in that the U.S. media have not been able to predict a Republican victory since 1948. Even the Reagan landslides were not predicted, even though they were obviously going to occur.

However, now George W. Bush (and Tony Blair) are in deep trouble over deceptive statements in arguing for war -- statements made to both countries' legislatures. I had previously given Mr. Bush the benefit of the doubt, calling for him to reveal the evidence in order to convince the allies. Now we know there was no evidence. Now we know there was no morality.

I feel for the families of the fallen and wounded soldiers of both our countries. Soldiers who died for a cause they believed in, but which turned out to be cynical lies. Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair should be ashamed of their cold and callous behaviour.

Should both leaders resign? I think they should. Now. In order to re-establish trust and morality in Government.

Brian Risman

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