Democracy is more than voting and elections

Published on Pambazuka News, by Horace Campbell, December 8, 2011.

From Egypt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the people are finding out that the entire process of voting and elections is stacked against change, writes Horace Campbell. We need new forms of politics to transform our social system. 

In this time of seismic changes internationally, it is becoming clearer each day that new forms of politics are needed to give expression to the deep desire for transformation of this social system that places profits before humans. From Egypt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the people are finding out that the entire process of voting and elections is stacked against change. After rising up against the Mubarak regime in January and February, the electoral process in Egypt has handed a parliamentary majority to social elements who want to roll back the rights of women. In particular, the Salafists (one of the more conservative branches of the Islamic faith) have risen to second place after the November ‘elections’ in Egypt. Those who were able to use the mosque as a platform for political engagement during the era of repression have emerged with over 60 per cent of the Parliamentary seats, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.

The Salafists, whose members follow a strict form of Islam, benefit from support from the most conservative forces in Saudi Arabia.

The other recent lesson has been that of the DRC where the state structures of Mobutism are now occupied by a clique around Joseph Kabila. This society which is larger than the size of Western Europe lacks the infrastructure to organise real elections but the United Nations and all of the top members of the United Nations Security Council supported a farcical procedure where voting was supposed to have taken place. As I wrote this article, the press reports were that Kabila was ahead of Mr Etienne Tshisekedi, the principal contender out of a field of more than nine presidential candidates … //


The Guyanese struggles for democracy and democratisation are part of a wider struggle in the Caribbean. While tensions simmer in Guyana, the ruling Jamaica Labour Party in Jamaica has announced that elections will be held in that island society on 29 December. The ruling party is the party that had been associated with the alleged drug baron, Dudus Cooke, who was extradited to New York after fierce gun battles in one of the top Garrison communities in West Kingston last year. Bruce Golding, the Prime Minister who was accused of sheltering Cooke, has stepped down for a younger leader, Andrew Holiness. This new leader and his supporters are doing everything possible to avoid the real discussion of Issues in the Jamaican elections.

But even more challenging for the democratisation of the Jamaican society is the choke hold of the IMF over the society. Jamaica has one of the worst debt burdens in the world, with a gross public debt of 123 per cent of GDP. None of the two mainstream Jamaican Parties, the People’s National Party or the ruling JLP dares to make repudiation of the debt a central issue for the forthcoming elections of 29 December. Mark Weisbrot, from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. has written on the ways in which this debt burden has impoverished the people and stifled the possibilities for breaking out of external domination.

Weisbrot and many others have brought to international attention the reality that the interest burden of the debt for Jamaica has averaged 13 per cent of GDP over the last five years.

He wrote that:

‘This is twice the burden of Greece (6.7 percent of GDP), which is in turn the highest in the eurozone. (It is worth keeping in mind that the burden of the debt can vary widely depending on interest rates, and on how much is borrowed from the country’s central bank — Japan has a gross public debt of 220 percent of GDP but pays only about 2 percent of GDP in annual net interest, so it doesn’t have a public debt problem.)

‘Not surprisingly, a country that is paying so much interest on its debt does not have much room in its budget for other things. For the 2009/2010 fiscal year, Jamaica’s interest payments on the public debt were 45 percent of its government spending.’

The political parties discourage real debate on this issue. One small group that sought to make the cases of Dudus Cooke and the IMF debt burden the central issue called for the start of the Occupy movement in Jamaica but this call was rubbished by the media and the talking heads who use talk radio to divert the oppressed in Jamaica and the Caribbean from the issues of democratic control by the working people.

Both Jamaica and Guyana, as in most oppressed countries, push on with the sheer perseverance of the people. Remittances from abroad by the sons and daughters overseas ensure that the basic requirements of life continue. While those outside assist those inside to keep body and soul together. The governments are under the heel of the IMF the police for the international bankers who represent the one per cent of the world.


The experiences of Greece and Italy have demonstrated that as the chronic crisis of capitalism deepens, the international financial oligarchs want to take away the democratic rights of working peoples. Both societies are now being governed by unelected technocrats who are prepared to impose ‘austerity’ measures on the working peoples. Both the leaders of France and Germany are scheming for a reorganisation of political power within Europe that would take away the basic democratic rights of the peoples of the European Union. These leaders see the so-called markets as being more important than the wellbeing of the people and want to see ‘balanced budgets’ irrespective of the costs.

In all of the cases mentioned we can see that elections and parliaments are spaces that can only serve the people when the popular powers of the people are realised elsewhere. As C. L. R James mentioned in another revolutionary era:

‘Revolutions are not carried out in Parliaments, they are only registered there.’

The mass mobilisation for social justice that has been spreading across the world has the seeds of prolonged popular struggles for democratisation and democratic change. Progressive forces must work hard to ensure that these struggles are not derailed by those who will mobilise racial and religious divisions to weaken the 99 per cent. (full long text).

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