As posted by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at Che Det on December 29, 2016
1. Most newly independent countries chose democracy as their political system. They believe fondly that they would get good Governments as the people would choose the leaders to rule their countries. The people must surely choose good leaders.
2. However many now rue the day they chose democracy. Studies have shown that the system is very open to abuse and the wrong people may be elected who will not only abuse the power conferred on them, but who are able to stay in power for decades. Effectively these leaders would become dictators.
3. What usually happens is that once these elected leaders gain control of the machinery of Government, they would be able to manipulate elections so that they or their party would not be defeated.
4. Changing the boundaries of constituencies is one way. Control over the counting of votes offers many ways of cheating. Voting slips can always be shuffled, added or lost. The identity of the voters may be changed so voting twice or three times at different voting stations can be engineered.
5. Voters may be moved from strongholds to weak constituencies. The marking with so-called indelible black ink can be washed out.
6. Then of course the voters can be corrupted with money or gifts.
7. The opportunities for the Government Party to cheat is far greater as it controls the whole voting machinery. The staff would usually be recruited from serving Government staff. They may be bribed or threatened with some kind of punishment.
8. It is noteworthy that when the counting is repeated, the results are never the same. If may be human error or it may be deliberate. The Government party has the possibility of changing the results despite there being observers from the opposition.
9. Sometimes foreign observers are invited to oversee the election process. They may find something wrong. But unless the cheating is blatant, their reports are not likely to be respected.
10. Some countries have adopted electronic voting. Perhaps they are less open to fraud and manipulation. But they are not fool proof.
11. We are seeing in many new countries the incumbent rejecting the results if he loses. There may be riots and violence when this happens. This would give excuses for the Government to call in the military or the military would actually take over and form the Government. Once this happens the people can kiss good bye to democracy.
12. Political parties by themselves cannot seize power. But if the military or the police are prepared to back the dictator, then the seizure of power by a political leader would be successful.
13. In one country a dictator lost because the armed forces and the police which were backing him switched sides. The dictator was overthrown. But where only the military leaders did this, the police may find much to be gained by backing the dictator. The switch is unlikely, to happen. There can be prolonged violence.
14. Obviously a democracy is not a guarantee for good governance. It works in most of the western countries because of the culture of their people. They are much more mature and experienced. They know the price they and the whole country would have to pay if they choose the wrong person to lead. But as we all know even the seasoned democrats can make mistakes.
15. The culture of corruption is not as rampant in these countries. The separation of power between the legislative, the executive and the judiciary is respected and observed. The wrongdoers in any of the institutions cannot hope to get away with their misdeeds.
16. But in the young democracies, disregard for the essential elements of democracy is the norm rather than the exception. It is not unusual for the chief executive of the Government to control all three institutions through corruption or other means.
17. Democracy is a great system but it is not perfect. If the people do not assert their right it does not take much for a democracy to become a kleptocracy; a Government by crooks.