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EDITORIAL – Democracy gone all adrift in Europe?

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EDITORIAL – Democracy gone all adrift in Europe?

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AS WE LOOK AROUND THE WORLD TODAY, it is difficult to pinpoint a leader who stands out from the crowd. Consequently, there seems to be a vacuum in the political and economic direction of the global community.
There is another danger unfolding.
The economic crisis seems to be impacting the working of electoral democracy as we understand it. The process of change now is by way of street protests bringing with it enormous challenges for many countries.
Europeans seem to be relying on so-called “technocrats” to steer at least two of the besieged eurozone economies into safer harbour. Italy and Greece, unlike Spain, are banking on unelected technocrats to bring down staggering levels of government debt and restore investor confidence in their battered economies.
Failure by either country could spell doom for the euro. More is at stake since a prolonged eurozone crisis would have an impact on the future of the European Union which has already been weakened by the sovereign debt crisis.
Having long championed the cause of democracy in the rest of the world, Europe, which takes pride in its historic role, is mimicking what many countries have learnt in recent years: when the going gets tough, dump the squabbling politicians and look for a “safe pair of hands” to get life back to normal.
This strategy works – sometimes – but there is something eerily unnatural about this current trend of countries bypassing elections and seeking salvation in the arms of unelected and ultimately unaccountable bureaucrats and technocrats.
In order to safeguard democracy, the better option may indeed be some form of executive government separate and distinct from the elected representatives, much like the United States.
Granted, nowadays the political language is more technocratic than humanistic, which suggests that politicians are “bureaucratized” and are somewhat more removed from the experience of average people than is desirable.
The contrast between countries in the Mediterranean is particularly stark. Even as Italy and Greece turn to technocrats for help, people in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt are still clamouring for democracy and the accountability of their politicians.
With few exceptions, most politicians tend to be ready to sell their souls in order to win votes. On the other hand, technocrats rarely set the public pulse racing.
Politicians may have made a mess of Italy and Greece but unlike technocrats they are ultimately accountable and therefore responsive to the public writ.
Technocrats and bankers may be acceptable, but only for short periods, with a limited mandate to tackle the crisis in question. They should not become a permanent feature of the political landscape as it would short-circuit the essence of democracy.
The long-term political and social price may be too costly to bear.