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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cameron on Democracy

David Cameron
David Cameron; Photo credit = Foreign Press Association in London on Flickr

Have you read British PM David Cameron's address to the United Nations General Assembly, delivered September 26, 2012? In the speech, Cameron reminds the global audience that he is "a Liberal Conservative, not a Neo-Conservative." He continued:
I respect the different histories and traditions that each country has. I welcome the steps taken in countries where reform is happening with the consent of the people.  I know that every country takes its own path. And that progress will sometimes be slow.
Thus, he offers a hopeful reading of developments following the so-called Arab Spring and calls for the United Nations and the Security Council to support the "building blocks of democracy," which he defines most simply as "fair economies and open societies." In another section of the speech, he elaborates that the building blocks also include "the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, with the majority prepared to defend the rights of the minority, the freedom of the media, a proper place for the army in society and the development of effective state institutions, political parties and wider civil society."

By making this claim, Cameron offers an implicit critique of the former George W. Bush era, when elections and democracy were often equated. Here's a snipped from a Bush speech in 2005, delivered as Iraqis were about to hold an election:
We are living through a watershed moment in the story of freedom. Most of the focus now is on this week's elections -- and rightly so. Iraqis will go to the polls to choose a government that will be the only constitutional democracy in the Arab world.
 In Cameron's words, however, "democracy is not – and never has been – just about simply holding an election. It is not one person, one vote, once." Think about the endurance of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, and the longstanding U.S. claims about how his election represents democracy for Afghanistan.

Despite making these arguments about elections, Cameron demonstrates progress after the Arab Spring primarily by pointing to election results:
First of all, there are those who say there has been too little progress, that the Arab Spring has produced few tangible improvements in people’s lives. This isn’t right. Look at Libya since the fall of Gaddafi. We have seen elections to create a new Congress...

As we saw so inspiringly in Benghazi last weekend, they are taking to the streets in their thousands, refusing to allow extremists to hijack their chance for democracy. The Arab Spring has also brought progress in Egypt where the democratically elected President has asserted civilian control over the military, in Yemen and Tunisia where elections have also brought new governments to power and in Morocco where there’s a new constitution – and a Prime Minister appointed on the basis of a popular vote for the first time. And even further afield, Somalia has also taken a vital step forward by electing a new President.
By the way, Bush's most famous speech about democratization, his Second Inaugural address, never mentioned the words "ballot," "election," "vote" or "voting."  Remember the theme of that speech? Cameron's fairly extensive discussion of religion focuses on the compatibility of Islam and democracy.

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