27 October 2007

Creating, restoring democracy

Recent authoritarian developments in the Kyrgyz Republic and the United States have highlighted the fragility of political democracy and should serve as a wake-up call for the only people capable of its realization.

After a constitutional referendum riddled with irregularities, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev last week dissolved parliament and scheduled new elections for 16 December, when he expects his newly formed True Path Political Party to triumph and further consolidate his power in this mountainous former Soviet Republic. The referendum last Sunday was not widely publicized and in some areas election observers reported that local officials brought in basket loads of completed ballots for counting. Officials claim that 80 percent of registered voters turned out and approved the measure increasing the power of the presidency by a margin of 75 percent. Both figures are widely viewed with suspicion.

Bakiev appears to envision a Kyrgyz political future modeled on that of the authoritarian presidential strongmen that dominate the region. That includes Islam Kamirov in Uzbekistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in Turkmenistan, and, in Kazakhstan, Nusurltan Nazarbyev. In each of these countries, the parliament is wholly subordinate to the presidency.

There is a similar consolidation of executive power in the United States that is legitimated by the “unified executive theory” championed by the Bush administration, amongst others. “This perverse antidemocratic construct begs us to believe that the president has inherent executive powers that cannot be reviewed, questioned or altered by the other branches (of government),” Jim Hightower reportedly recently.

At the American University of Central Asia, where I teach, most students are ill-informed, cynical and detached from their national politics, making them like most Americans. Their frustrations with the failed promises of the “free market” and political democracy have led many to advocate for authoritarian rule in the belief that only tyranny can achieve results. In the United States, there is less advocacy and but insufficient opposition to encroaching tyranny.

With a few notable exceptions, the U.S. Congress is allowing the Constitution to be sacked and the balance of power abandoned. The outrage and determination to restore constitutional equilibrium that materialized in response to the imperious abuses of the Nixon presidency simply does not exist in Congress today. Congress has failed its constitutional obligations every bit as much as the presidency has exploited its powers. The restoration of U.S. constitutional will require much more than a change in the presidency and its replacement by anyone who failed to meet to fulfill his or her oath of office to preserve Constitutional democracy.

Ordinary Americans are the only people possible of restoring U.S. democracy. Yet, sadly, most of us don’t appear to understand the responsibilities of citizenship--or perhaps, worse yet, can’t be bothered. Meanwhile, Bush administration threatens another war in Iran while the nation’s future smothers under the weight of trillion-dollar debts from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, and little hope for an end to the carnage.

If Americans want to model democracy, demonstrate the rule of law and, in doing so, prevent our nation’s descent into legalized tyranny, then we must crank up the pressure for the U.S. House to impeach the President and Vice President on grounds that include treason. National authorities should work with the international community to fully investigate the prosecution of this administration for war crimes.

My generation often listened with incomprehension at the stories of “good Germans” who did nothing during the rise of the Third Reich when their neighbors disappeared while ashes from the local crematoriums descended upon them. Historians of the future, I fear, will view Americans of the early 21st century with an equal measure of disbelief.

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