EDITORIAL: Futility of dictatorship
There is an old saying that if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword. Many of us will have concluded that this aphorism was amply demonstrated this past week, as the fate of the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi unfolded on our electronic screens.
The grim outcome shows ironically the power of democratic action and the futility of rule by dictatorship.
Dictatorships are always founded on the shaky ground of rule by the power of the gun and the evil of deadly force. Contrastingly, just as true, democracy, in which the people freely choose their leaders, produces leaders who can even be more powerful than the most awesome dictators.
The ballot is many times more powerful than the sword, and eventually the power of the people peacefully exercised will always win the day. That is a lesson for all young democracies emerging from the iron hand of colonialism, and whose traditions of freedom, though deeply ingrained in their psyche, are not always supported by long years of experience and practice.
The major problem of dictatorship is that dissent or contrary opinion is not tolerated, and so freedom of expression either by the individual or the Press is brutally suppressed.
Along with the suppression of this most vital aspect of democratic institutions, other rights are also abrogated; so that in due season the law of the land is the word of the dictator and all the attributes of a democratic society lie broken and crushed under the boot of he who rules by caprice.
The contribution of Dr Martin Luther King, which the United States honoured last weekend with a statue, shows how without violence and by peaceful techniques like free speech, a society not fulfilling the highest ideals of democracy can be brought face to face with its failings and made to change for the better.
Such a safety valve is not available in a dictatorship.
Forty-two years of brutal and iron-fisted rule could not long survive the Arab Spring, and the Libyan people got most of the world’s empathy for reasserting their right to freedom. One can only hope now that the new rulers will speedily recognize the need for mechanisms to allow the people to exercise their democratic rights so that power no longer resides in the bullet – only in the ballot.
Most important of all, the right to freedom of expression must be encouraged and deeply respected.
We make this point because the first casualty in establishing a dictatorship is the Press, and freedom of the Press is but one fine example of the freedom of speech.
Just last week ,the Lord Chief Justice of England told a human rights conference that he was “unenthusiastic” about the idea of either the government or judiciary being given the responsibility for regulation, and stressed that an independent Press was a fundamental constitutional principle. We support the learned judge.
We declare an interest at this juncture, but the Lord Chief Justice’s point is worth making since those who support genuine democracies must of necessity support the right of the people and their newspapers to freely express themselves and to communicate ideas.
This key democratic ingredient is necessarily absent in dictatorships. And so while we welcome a new political era for the Libyan people, each of us must continue, like Dr Martin Luther King did, to peacefully promote the value of democratic ideals and human rights in our own backyards. The wise ought to learn from the mistakes of others.