Democracy… One man, one more broken promise
“The signs of the hypocrite are three: when he speaks he lies, when he promises he breaks his promise and when he is entrusted he betrays the trust.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Nick Clegg, deputy Prime Minister of the U.K. and leader of the Liberal Democrat Party announced in a party political broadcast that he was “sorry” for making a pledge to reduce university tuition fees and reneging on that when in office. The excuses he put forward revolved around the assertion that he should not have made a promise he could not keep. He knew the only way they could be in power was in coalition with the Labour or Conservative Party and that considering the economic environment, they could not have kept such a pledge if in power. He went on to say that if the Liberal Democrats were in power alone, he would have kept the promise. Because he made a promise that he couldn’t keep, he felt he should say “sorry.”
So it was easier to say sorry to the hundreds of thousands of students, their families and millions of Liberal Democrat voters by abandoning his promise and increasing tuition fees than to say sorry to David Cameron, his coalition partner. He was not obliged to break his promise prior to the coalition agreement, even if he had a change of heart. He could of course have stuck to the promise he made to voters and remedied his “error” at the next election. How quickly the voters were forgotten! They would barely have finished counting the votes before he was negotiating away his mistaken “promise.” Perhaps, as the next general election looms ever closer, Nick feels the need to think about the voters again.
The story received media interest because Clegg claimed his party would end the politics of “broken promises”, making him an easy target. However, in truth he is not the first politician to break a pre-election promise to the electorate. In fact there are no Western Political Parties that have attained power and can claim to have stuck flawlessly to their manifesto? This is not a trend unique to British politics, but one that is replicated across western democracies. Remember George Bush Snr’s “No more taxes!”, or Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo Bay?
The democratic model, whilst claiming to place power in the hands of the people, in fact only succeeds in taking away any meaningful form of power and leaves the poor voter with nothing more than a symbolic box-ticking exercise every few years. The political landscape is dominated by parties, who’s policies are defined by smaller groups of politicians, and enforced through the whip system. These politicians are then courted by interest groups, corporations, media moguls and anyone with the money to buy influence. Everyone has one vote, but some voters carry more weight than others. Thoughts of the people who voted them into power become distant memories, long before the dust has settled on election day.
In a democracy, the real policy decisions are made in this context, under the influence of the powerful and wealthy, all of whom have interests which politicians can help further through their policy decisions. The relationship is symbiotic with the politicians believing their interests, the interests of their party and in some cases even the interests of the country are served by looking after the interests of those with influence. Consideration of the voters is often limited to a headline management exercise and left to back benchers. Front bench politicians do not appear to really care about the electorate except at election time but must normally be seen to be doing the right thing. Anything promised or pledged in a manifesto can be abandoned if it doesn’t seem practical when in power, or if it would conflict too greatly with the interests of influential people the party relies upon in some way, hence eroding the power of the voter to almost nothing.
Two dominant parties with a manifesto they are frequently too willing to break, a back bench that will always tow the party line and an eye to serving the interests of the few in the mistaken belief that it will benefit the many… no wonder the Chief Whip sees us all as “plebs”!
Islamic politics cannot be like that. Lying, breaking promises and peoples trust are signs of hypocrisy (nifaq), the lowest of all actions. Accountability via the courts and the Houses of representatives of the people is paramount and not time limited. The Islamic system empowers the masses to account their leader for what they do and not the rich few.
Becoming the leader of an Islamic system effectively entails the concluding of a contract between the people and that person which is called the “Bayah” (pledge of alleigance). In this pledge, the people agree to obey the governance of this leadership, providing that he abides by an Islamic methodology in his ruling. If he reneges on this, the people have no obligation to abide by his rules and have the right to remove him through the courts or the Majlis al Ummah (House of representatives). This right is for all citizens of the state. In this way there is no ambiguity regarding the origin of authority in the state (the people), the ruling system and the rights of the people to account or remove their leaders when things go wrong.