Super Mario and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe
In a popular children’s computer game, the Mario Brothers are heroes who save the day. In recent newspaper headlines, the new Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti and the new head of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi are now been referred to as ‘Super Mario’ in the hope that like the fictional Super Mario, they can save Italy and the eurozone from its current financial crisis. However, some are also casting Mario Monti and other unelected technocrats as villains usurping the democratic power of the people by displacing the politicians they elected.
In Italy, Mario Monti, the country’s unelected new prime minister and a former adviser to Goldman Sachs, is head of a cabinet of similarly unelected technocrats. Monti has been imposed in place of the corrupt and seedy Silvio Berlusconi to satisfy the “markets” and is promising measures that will generate a positive reaction from the “markets” i.e. austerity. In Greece, a technocrat, the former head of Greece’s Central Bank, Lucas Papademos, has been brought in too, at the behest of the markets. This has led some to worry about the bypassing of democratically elected politicians and what that does to democracy.
Though the UK doesn’t have a government of technocrats, this has not stopped UK commentators from warning about the dangers such arrangements pose to democracy itself. Peter Beaumont wrote in the Observer [It’s not just our leaders who are in a crisis. Democracy itself is failing] that “The dispiriting reality is that the west, even as it has preached the virtues of western democracy to other countries, has been moved inexorably towards an ever more procedural and debased version of democracy. Concerned more with mechanics of electoral choices offered from a narrow menu of options, with most of its drama concocted by the media, democracy under the aegis of the markets has become, as both political theorists and those protesting on the streets have attested, ever more distant from notions such as social justice and equality, with less participation, not more.”
A consequence of the crisis in democracy in Europe is the ever lower turnout at most elections across Europe. Spain’s recent elections saw the rise of the indignados (the “outraged”) who question the very legitimacy of electoral politics, seeing a hollowing out of representative democracy made worse by the eurozone crisis. In their words, “the polls are in the safe custody of the European Central Bank”.
So there is concern in Europe about what the financial crisis has done to established democracies. A farsighted warning was delivered to the Council of Europe by the rapporteur for its political affairs committee in 2009 which warned of the dangers democracy was facing through “highly centralised executive decision-making and global negotiation mechanisms with little parliamentary control, insufficient transparency and without opportunities for citizens’ participation”. The report also warned of a growing lack of interest “in the current institutionalised procedures of democracy and a crisis in representation”, saying election turnouts were “in free fall” in most European countries.
Why are European politicians struggling to keep the populations politically involved? The simple reason is that most political parties are now seen to be in thrall to the “markets” and economic elite that must not be upset at all costs. So democracy is actually being eroded by the capitalists who maintain that legislators must make or maintain laws and policies that favour big business, a proposition that is increasingly questioned as people see the bailout of banks and the growing divide between rich and poor whle they are told to swallow more austerity.
Some like Peter Beaumont also blame the people saying “We abrogated our engagement in the democratic process to politicians who abrogated influence to an unaccountable system as part of a pact that saw us happy as long as we were relatively comfortable. With that arrangement breaking down, we discover we have given up more than we bargained for.”
So how can societies guarantee that governments are not in thrall to big business interests at the expense of the masses? How do you ensure that big business does not influence legislation?
By clearly setting out issues such as taxation policy (on wealth not income), and defining a limited and small range of taxes, the Islamic Khilafah model removes the incentive and ability to invent new taxes that punish business of the people. This is just one example of how Islam has outlined the legislation and systems that should be applied in managing people’s affairs. As we see in the democratic system, those with money and influence will always seek to get laws made that favours them. In the Khilafah state, the peoples elected representatives (majlis al-ummah) has an advisory role and accounts the ruler, but does not have a legislative role. The elected ruler (Khalifah) is appointed to implement the Islamic system, not to legislate laws, hence avoiding a fundamental flaw in the democratic model.
After years of not having a say on who should be the leader, it is understandable that many in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya are focussing on electing a new parliament. However, this has removed a focus from some more fundamental issues: where should legislation emanate from? What constitution should be applied? Where should its articles be derived from? What is the identity of the country (Islamic, secular, …)? What is the role of an elected parliament?
As people in Europe face falling living standards, job losses and an uncertain economic future, many may end up accepting governments of technocrats if they feel that is the only way to reverse the impending economic doom. When the technocrats are unable to address these problems, it is capitalism as a system that will increasingly be questioned. This is another reason why the Arab and Muslim lands need to chart a new Islamic path by applying the Islamic Khilafah system if we are to avoid the same problems.
Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain
1 Muharram 1433
27 November 2011