Beijing Forum: Interrogating the substance of democracy

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Democracy is world’s most recognised political lexicon and its universal appeal as people focused has catapulted it to the center-stage of international political discourse. Despite its pre-eminence, its discourse and applications are even vulnerable to manipulations and even abuse. Despite that its appeals and values are universal, it is however, not “a one size that fits all.” This was actually the broad convention of the “second international forum on democracy: the shared human values,” held in Chinese capital city, Beijing on the 22nd and 23rd of March. The conference which drew scholars, political leaders, journalists, social movements, was hosted by the publicity department of the Communist Party of China, central committee, state council information office of the Peoples Republic of China and organized by the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), China media group and the China international Media group.

Conference delegates believed that it has become imperative to broadly interrogate democracy and put in context and that these effort has become urgent, given that the desperate appropriation and hijack of democracy by the United States and its western allies to promote its hegemonic and power politics. Democracy in the context of a tool of US foreign policy has become inflexible, sterile and mere camouflage to pursue vested and special interests of the US and western ruling elites. Despite, using democracy as a tool of political and ideological members conference delegation reasonably agree that no clique faction no matter how powerful, should be allow the comfort to monopolize the discourse on democracy to rationalize its political and ideological prejudice.

Democracy as people-centered political practice must not only have been driven by the people but must bring concrete improvements in their living condition. This the Crux of the “people whole-process democracy which integrates process- oriented democracy with result-oriented democracy, procedural democracy with substantive democracy, direct democracy with indirect democracy and the people’s democracy with the will of the state. From the perspective of the China state council, it is a model of socialist democracy that covers all aspects of the democratic process and all sector of society that democracy is a concrete phenomenon, that is constantly evolving and develops along the paths chosen by different people based on their exploration.” But international hegemonic power chiefly the United States ruling elites would have none of this, according to Mr. Fred Membe, president of the socialist of Zambia, who wondered how the imperialist West who instituted colonial domination, extinguished with renal force, every flicker of democracy in Africa could turn round claiming to show Africa the path way to democracy that would work in their best interest, just as extolled the Communist Party of China in leading the way to finding the democratic pathway that is suitable to China. Mr. George Galloway, veteran former member of the British Parliament and leader of the workers Party of Britain wondered at the west and mostly US finger pointing at China of the county’s democratic credentials.

According to him only 1.4 billion acting in free will and in atmosphere exercising their creative imaginations can achieve what the Chinese have accomplished in the short period of all human history. He accused the western elite of perpetrating a process of inertia and drudgery leaving the people on the tender hook of livelihood crises.

Former Japanese prime minister Mr. Yukio Hatoyama expressed concerns at the extremist remarks of western elites and feared that except, they turn down their rhetoric, collusion with non-western power, especially China might just be a matter of time. He cautioned that democracy is best practiced and its result most visible in the life of the people, when it takes into account the local peculiarities. Prof. Jeffery Sachs, professor of Colombia in the United States and the author of the “end of poverty,” praised China whose institutions and processes have enabled the country’s leadership to end poverty among its 1.4 billion people.

Across various panels of the two-day conference, consensus emerged that democracy would be best deepened in its many variants through experience-sharing and that every model of democracy stands to gain and improve through respects and engagement with others. Views are broadly expressed that US democracy has reached a tipping point and needs renovation through engaging with others especially those that combine high rate of popular participation with concrete deliverables in the livelihood of the people. The rise of racist bigotries, fascist groups, and the spiraling tendency of the US regimes easy resort to proxy wars, block contribution and power point to ruling elite on the loose, without any democratic constraint or supervision by the people.

China’s “peoples whole-process democracy” came under the gaze of participants who called people-centered, people-driven and people supervised form which combined rule-based process and tangible outcomes, enhances both broad participation and livelihood enhancement. This form of democracy is considered to respond to the question of many developing countries, whose democracies must not only enhance broad popular participation, but also enhance material improvement in the living condition of the people and also enhance their spiritual civilization. Most African delegates to the conference share a broad view that China through her intense cooperation with the continent enhances and promotes democracy in Africa. Through massive infrastructure construction spanning rail, road, air, power stations, ports China is delivering support to increased and productive economic activities leading to enhanced livelihood and raising the necessary material security and social consciousness for effective political participation and consequently building the formidable walls to secure democracy. Africa delegates to the conference vows to the “people whole-process democracy,” interrogate and interprets its features to emerging democracy in Africa and further express concerns that liberal democracy in Africa is held by a pin-thread with its exclusive emphasis on procedures and rules.

In the opening address of the conference, the key note speaker, Mr. Li Shulei, member of the political bureau and head of the publicity department of the Communist Party of China said that the leadership Party has secured achievements with the Chinese people through open and democratic consultations with all the social forces and have promoted consensus through cooperation and broad engagement. He told delegates that China stands ready to share its experiences with the world, and would work with the rest of the world to enhance democratic consultations and broad participation of all countries and people in the management of international affairs.

The two day Beijing forum called democracy the business of all people and not the exclusive preserve of any few people or countries, exhorting that democracy is better enhanced when it benefits from the experiences and insight of different peoples.

Despite that democracy, the most popular political concept of our time and epoch has featured more as routine slogan especially in the foreign policy tools of the US and western countries than a serious framework to depict political inclusion, generate popular participation and engage existential challenges. The subterranean attempt to fashion democratic paradigm as one size fits all, not only denies the trajectories of historical process with its specific local contexts at its core characteristics but would render democracy and its outcomes, sterile and impotent. The credibility of the democratic process and its trajectories depend to a large extent of how it solves practical problems. A substantive democratic process that is focused on problem solving must give the people, the sense of social and civic worth to be citizens and not just fashion them as electoral zombies periodically one faction or the other of the governing elites to inordinately pursue and fulfill their sense of entitlements.

Onunaiju, who participated in the Beijing forum, is the Director of the Center for China Studies, (CCS) Abuja