Democracy — The World Tour

What do world leaders and ordinary folks have to say about Democracy?

May 17, 2001

What do world leaders and ordinary folks have to say about Democracy?

“It’s easy to talk of perfect democracy when your nation’s per-capita income is $20,000. Try doing it on $300.” Thus spoke India’s chief election officer back in 1999. As the world charts its course in the current of globalization, what doesn’t get enough attention is democracy. In many nations, democratic institutions are still in a beleaguered state — or even non-existent. Our Read My Lips takes a look at what people around the world think of “rule by the people.”

Did the end of the Cold War settle the question of what type of political system is superior?

“When the Cold War ended with the defeat of communism, it was not democracy that won. It was capitalism with a big capital C.”
(Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, January 2000)

When a market system is introduced in a formerly planned economy, does that hurt chances for democracy?

“Under the Communists, at least we got paid. I would vote for them. I’m sick of democrats already!”
(Russian citizen, September 1998)

How important is prosperity to democracy?

“It’s easy to talk of perfect democracy when your nation’s per-capita income is $20,000. Try doing it on $300.”
(India’s chief election officer, Manohar Singh Gill, August 1999)

And what are the downsides of prosperity?

“The rich should be able to buy cars and vacation houses. But they should not be able to buy our democracy.”
(Former Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bill Bradley, February 2000)

Is democracy in Russia here to stay?

“History proves that all dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government are transient. Only democratic systems are not transient. Whatever the shortcomings, mankind has not devised anything superior.”
(Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, January 2000)

Are there any downsides to democracy?

“While democracy in the long run is the most stable form of government, in the short run, it is among the most fragile.”
(Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, June 2000)

What about the state of democracy in China?

“Disasters are no problem. They’re not like democracy. They’re not as dangerous.”
(Chinese official, June 1998)

Are democratic and human rights in mainland China truly incompatible?

“The theory of relativity worked out by Mr. Einstein, which is in the domain of natural science, I believe can also be applied to the political field. Both democracy and human rights are relative concepts — and not absolute and general.”
(Jiang Zemin, China’s President, October 1997)

And how about in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong?

“I don’t know what democracy is. I just know how to sell fish.”
(Hong Kong fish vendor, April 1999)

How can the Internet help advance democracy in China?

“In 1989, I was in Tiananmen Square. We failed then. The Internet won’t fail.”
(Chinese dissident, February 2000)

Finally, is democracy designed to generate prosperity?

“Democracy gives those who rule it a good income, but it spends huge amounts to satisfy the needs of the common people and to rise its incomes.’
(Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835)