Building a Culture of Democracy in the Third World Nations

by Dr. S.K. Wahyono

An objective of reformation in Third World countries has been to implement democracy, and over the last decade this theme has fueled political discussion in various media. It has also been manifest in a number of political experiments that have yielded no shortage of victims.

The hustle and bustle of these democratic experiments have been injected with extra energy from outside players, including both direct and formal action by certain senior officials and governments and the indirect participation of expert observers and the NGOs that they sponsor. Democracy has been used as a tool of official foreign policy by many Western countries to exert pressure towards their economic advantage over the Third World countries.

Democracy is Not Universal

Many people have come to believe that democracy must be universally adopted as it is practiced in the West, in particular the U.S. Many also believe that democracy is identical with a particular system of government whereby once again it is the Western model that is held up as an example for the world to follow. When the process of democratization of developing countries did not proceed as had been hoped, despite having copied the Western system, it gradually became clear that democracy was no more universal than it was simply a particular form of government. Democracy was revealed as being a way of life, a culture and tradition at work within a community. That is why democracy takes on different manifestations in countries where alternative cultures and traditions prevail.

A professor of political science at Toronto University in Canada, C.B Macpherson, in his book ”The Real World of Democracy” (1965) noted that there were three types of democracy: liberal democracy as practiced in Western nations, non-liberal democracy which had been a feature of the former Soviet bloc and other socialist nations, and a second kind of non-liberal democracy that was practiced in the developing countries. These three bore similarities in the matters of elections and in their legislative, executive and judicial arms, but their decision making processes and the working relationship between the different arms of government institutional supra and infrastructure are varied.

These differences have occurred because the seeds of Western democracy were sown in the midst of a society that was already liberal and capitalistic -- and hence the character of their democracy. Meanwhile the developing countries were mostly born out of a revolutionary struggle against a number of those same Western powers. This lent a different character to the democracy that took root in these nations, with most of their people sharing a negative perception of liberalism and viewing capitalism as the ideology of their oppressor.

The American and French republics have liberal democracies, but Taiwan's and Singapore’s democracies are of a different color. The kingdoms of England, Holland and Sweden all have liberal democracies, but those of Saudi Arabia and Malaysia do not. Semi-colonial nations like Canada, Australia and New Zealand flourish under healthy liberal democracies. The conclusion is that democracy is not born from a particular system of government, but from the character and culture of the people themselves.

This conclusion needs be commonly understood in order to avoid unnecessary conflict and to allow nations in the Third World to build a clear vision for their nations' futures. There should be no further rush to pull down the existing political order, or moreover to change the constitution, if the real problem is that of building the national culture.

Democracy as a Culture

Lappe and Du Bois concluded in their book ”The Quickening on America” (1994), that democracy is not a matter of  "what you have”, but rests with "what you do". A democracy must fulfill the essential criteria of a democratic culture. In their book they mention examples from -- and skills in -- community life, media and government that are required to build a culture of democracy.

According to Macpherson, democracy operating in the West is based on "the society and the politics of choice – of competition – of the market". The societies of developing countries, on the other hand, are unfamiliar with opportunities to make their own choices, compete freely on the basis of personal competence, the freedom of the open market system; all of which creates many difficulties for them "parachuting in” a Western style democracy.

In the meantime, the West itself has moved away from "liberal democracy” in the direction of  "welfare democracy” which is in fact a welfare state and a regulatory state, which then take the form of “ new social democracy” or “The Third Way” as outlined by Anthony Giddens in his book “The Third Way” (1998). In such a welfare state the government is responsible for the welfare of the people with their high living standard. This involves guaranteeing a reasonable minimum wage and providing a security net for the unemployed and others. It becomes a heavy economic burden and the government on the one hand has to open foreign markets, but on the other hand also finds itself obliged to protect employment from the threat of cheap imported goods through applying quotas and high tariffs on goods that would otherwise out-compete those locally produced.

The welfare states now operating in the West, including the U.S., are only pretending to promulgate democracy and free markets to the rest of the world, while keeping their domestic market protective. Free trade and free market would actually threaten their own nations' futures. The balance between government, the economy and civil society in the global order, remain a dream of Anthony Giddens.

Global capitalists such as George Soros, as he points out in his book ”Open Society” (2001), suggest that what Western nations really need is not democratic development among the developing nations, which he called the periphery, but nations with stable governments that can guarantee the interest of foreign investments. Soros went as far as to question whether or not stability could be sustained by democratized countries. Sloganeered Western democracy can be contra-productive to Western nations who see their capital and industry fleeing to Asian countries in response to high labor costs at home. Under a democratic free market, corporations can freely move their capital internationally, but the labor force does not enjoy the same luxury of mobility. Finding highly paid work outside their country is very difficult for the labor force of the Western nations.

The second threat now being faced by Western nations is the declining spirit of Puritanism among their leaders. Their present leaders, who grew up in the sixties, have a different outlook on life than that of their parents. They generally tend to hold the view that ”the goal of life was not salvation in the afterlife but happiness in this life. The satisfaction of bodily pleasures, through sex, sport, social activity, entertainment, and eating, was no longer viewed as sinful but as an integral part of happiness”, as observed by John B. Judis in his book ”The Paradox of Democracy” (2000). It should not surprise us to see government and corporate leaders from this generation involved in sex scandals or big corporate frauds.

Under these circumstances, can we still allow Western values to disrupt the lives of the Third World people? Bearing in mind that democracy itself is a living culture, we have to be careful in deploying a Western concept of democracy.

Building a Democratic Culture

From numerous examples of democracy, we can conclude that it needs to be preconditioned on certain character and behavioral traits in community and state life. Essentially these are:

1.     To respect all men as being of equal value.

2.     To respect the basic rights of all men.

3.     To be open-minded in thoughts and feelings.

4.     To resolve problems together through consultation while avoiding violence.

5.   To accept and respect decisions made through joint consensus, whether reached by universal consent or by majority vote.

6.     To be sportive and fair-minded in spirit.

These six character traits, although simple and natural enough, can only be achieved with the support of an adequate education, so as to build a strong basis for rational thinking. Easy natural dialogue and discussion can occur where the participants in the exchange share a common ability to reason. It goes beyond this. Open and successful interchanges develop where the participants display an attitude of sportsmanship -- in other words an ability to accept the superior aspects of a colleague whilst acknowledging (one's own?) personal shortcomings.

This means that democracy is not created as the product of a particular government system, but by the education level of the people, which influences their way of life and their behavior in community life. For example, at present 15% of Indonesians are estimated to be illiterate, another 15% have not graduated primary school, and a further 35% have never progressed beyond a primary school education. With 65% of Indonesians being poorly educated -- and with not even 5% completing their higher education -- Indonesia's democratization reform ended with a mobo-cracy that encourages anarchy. The nine-year compulsory education program, from the first to the ninth year of primary school, must be pushed harder if that nation is to achieve a democratic society. This program must be pursued seriously with the backing of good infrastructure, qualified teachers and adequate funds to support both educational activities and the welfare of the teachers who provide it. Similar large investments in education are needed in most developing countries.

The next step will be to invigorate the nation and character building programs through solidifying national integration. This can overcome regional sentiments, ethnocentrism, tribalism and religious grouping while accentuating personal identification through reference to being a part of a one nation with a one common dream, creating a parallel of sorts to the American dream.

In context of character building, the above six democratic characteristics must be socialized, implanted and demonstrated in community life, beginning from the benches of primary schools whereby in the long run it may take seed, grow and develop as the basis of each country's cultural identity. There are many political leaders -- and even authorities in education -- who remain unaware that the essence of democracy is a sporting spirit --that is to say, an attitude of sportsmanship -- that begins with sports and play activities that children learn in their early school years, which should be taught alongside science and technology. Primary school facilities need to be given serious attention and there must be particular attention must be paid to the provision of adequate space for sport and play activities.

Sportsmanship as the foundation of democracy was underlined by Thomas Vernon Smith in his book “The Democratic Way of Life, An American Interpretation” (1960) when he discussed “democracy as a state of mind” and “democracy as sportsmanship”. Primarily, democracy is a way of life which has it roots in the behavior of the people and the character and culture of the people, therefore its growth depends on the maturity and the ability to reason of the people. As such, for the development of a culture of democracy in the Third World countries, the more advanced Western nations can contribute through providing good education facilities, health care, and environmental improvements, as a positive alternative to exerting counterproductive political and economic pressures.

BWW Society/IAPGS Member Dr. S.K. Wahyono was born in 1939 in Madura, an Indonesian island east of Java. He graduated from the Indonesian Naval Academy in 1962 and went on to complete Submarine Officer School in 1963. He finished Naval Staff College in Newport, Rhode Island in 1972 and completed the National Security Management Course at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C. in 1976. Dr. Wahyono received his Master of Arts degree in 1985, and furthered his studies by obtaining a Ph.D. in Business Administration, which he received four years later from Columbia Pacific University in San Rafael, California.

Beginning his career as a Submarine Navigation Officer, Dr. Wahyono was later promoted to Submarine Commanding Officer. In 1988, he served m the Ministry of Defense as Secretary to the Minister of Defense and a year later became Director of General Planning; by 1990 he was promoted to the post of Director for Politics and Strategy. Dr. Wahyono then transferred to the Armed Forces Headquarters as Commandant General of the Armed Forces Academies of the Army, Navy , Air Force, and Policy, a post he held from 1993 until 1994. He retired from the Navy as a Rear Admiral in 1994, and was appointed Deputy Secretary-General of Research and Studies of the Indonesian National Security Council, where he served unti11998. In addition to his military career, Dr. Wahyono also had a career in banking during the early 1990's as a Board Member of Yudha Bhakti Bank and Chairman of Bahari Bank. His career in general education includes his service as Chairman of the Executive Board of three Veteran's Universities at Jakarta, Yogyakarta, and Surabaya, positions which he has held since 1996. Since 1985 Dr. Wahyono has been a Lecturer in National Security for the Master's Program in National Defense Studies at the Indonesia University, and at Gajah Mada University since 1990. At present, he is Chairman of the Center for Leadership Excellence.

Among the official awards Dr. Wahyono has received from the Government of Indonesia are the Bintang Jalasena Pratama which was awarded to him in 1992, the

Bintang Yudha Dharma Nararya in 1994, and the Bintang Jasa Utama, which he received in 1998. Dr. Wahyono has authored several books, including Some Thoughts on Power and Defense at Sea, published in 1979. He also wrote The Archipelagi State Outlook and The United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, both were published in the early 1980's. His book Leadership in the History of the Indonesian People was published in 1992.

He is a member of the World Future Society, and has been a member of the World Planetary Society since 1994, and the New York Academy of Sciences since 1998. Dr. Wahyono has no political affiliation, rather, he has developed a global orientation with a healthy national spirit. His religious background is Islam, and he enjoys reading books on Sufism. He has been married to Sri Ganggaswati Sarpan since 1966, and the couple has two sons, Wirawendra and Wiracandra. Both of their sons are married, and each has given Dr. Wahyono and his wife a granddaughter.

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