Is western democracy good for the world?

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bbc, Saturday, 1 November, 2003

The US has worked hard to export its brand of democracy to Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America - with mixed results.

Many of the supporters of the war in Iraq saw its purpose as regime change and political transformation toward democracy throughout Iraq and the Middle East.

But is western-style democracy good for the world or is it just another example of cultural imperialism?

BBC News Online, BBC World Service Radio and American National Public Radio stations will bring together opinions from around the world in a global interactive phone-in from London on Saturday, 8 November.

What does democracy mean to you where you live? Is flawed democracy better than none at all? Has the west created the ideal model, the liberal democracy? Or is the democratic process unworkable as a universal model?

Guests from around the globe will also be joining the debate and will be on hand to answer listeners' questions.

You can watch the programme LIVE by coming back to this webpage at 1800GMT on Saturday, 8 November. Alternatively, tune in to BBC World Service radio, or your local NPR station in the USA.

Use the form to give your comment or ask a question. Please include a telephone number if you would like to take part in the live programme. This will not appear on the site.

The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:

Why restrict us to the US brand of democracy? The Americans have one style, the British another and the Swiss a third (and there are other minor variations on these).

US democracy stops at the ballot box and governments appoint outsiders to fill key roles, often with political bias. British democracy also stops at the ballot box but doesn't rely so much on unelected officials. Swiss democracy is continuous with frequent referendums for the citizens to tell the government their wishes and the government being obliged to carry them out. Personally, I believe that the Swiss style of democracy has far more to offer other countries than the US brand because the population is in control of its own destiny and not under the whim of unelected officials.
John McLean, Switzerland

Western "Democracy" isn't actually democracy at all, it is just an illusion of democracy
Simon Moore, EU 

Western "Democracy" isn't actually democracy at all, it is just an illusion of democracy, based on this ludicrous idea of "free election" that gives people the impression that they are living in a "free society".

Whoever gets into power in western countries is essentially the same as the last person who got into power. In that respect it is no different from a totalitarian system where the same leader always gets elected. We may elect different leaders but they all act in the same way once elected.

It makes no difference whether you live in the west or the east. Any system where one person is in charge of a country basically revolves around power, and nobody is going to want to do that job unless they crave power.
Simon Moore, EU

Democracy relies upon a set of cultural beliefs, justice and equity and so on. If these aren't in place then democracy achieves nothing.
Steve, UK

Whatever its flaws, democracy has proved to be the best model for avoiding wars and protecting liberties. Let's be thankful for what we've got and work to improve it, not destroy it.
Mark, England.

As long as states of the world wish to be (or to remain) part of the United Nations, there's little room for discussion. UN Charter rules, and other international treaties ratified by so many non-democratic countries of the world, make it clear that respect for Human Rights and Democracy is a condition sine qua non. There is a contradiction in the fact that China is a permanent UN SC member and at the same time opposes democracy and human rights because they would be a "western ideology". It's not an issue of cultural homologation, but coherence with freely accepted international binding obligations should be required.
Enrico Muratore, Italy

If democracy is NOT good, then I doubt whether most of the participants in this discussion group would have been able to air their opinion fairly and squarely! br />Vnay Citnis, Poona, India

Judging by how western-style democracies have prospered, the answer is yes. Sure, you'll get comments from socialist, anarchists, but do they really know what it is like to live under a dictatorship? In fact, the very reason they can voice their opinions is due to democracy.
Matt, S

Western democracy and quality of life are a package deal
Steven Forrester, UK 

Where western democracy succeeds, it delivers social stability, respect for human rights and freedoms for everyone and, as a result, increased prosperity. If certain cultures don't want that, then that is there choice - but they need to realise that they cannot expect to enjoy the same quality of life as westerners without taking on board at least some of the values and structures of the west. Western democracy and quality of life are a package deal.
Steven Forrester, UK

Western style democracy is good. Bahrain now has a democratically elected parliament. The people now feel that they have a say in the running of the country, even though there are some Islamic extremists in parliament, they are a minority. Also, there has never been a war between two democracies, so it must be good for world peace.
John Hindley, Bahrain/UK

Democracy with freedoms of expression and an independent judiciary is the most scientific, reasonable and balanced option currently available. Scientific because it relies on feedback from the people, reasonable because it understands that people are essentially human, and if they err, it might be time for a better replacement. And balanced because the views of all who care to vote are reflected. Any country that cares enough about the above qualities can make democracy work. There is nothing inherently western about it.
Siddhartha Shivshankar, India (USA)

Are we talking about the presidential democracy of USA or about a parliamentary democracy? I think we really need to clarify the differences! I also believe it is easier for people from authoritarian countries to transition to a USA style presidential democracy than to a parliamentary democracy.
A. Chan, Hong Kong

Absolutely. Democracy takes different forms which differs from one culture to another, therefore we cannot take that western concept and just stick it into other countries saying that's democracy...you must respect other's traditions even if they don't go with what you call democracy.
Ahmed Lashine, Egypt

The western style of democracy has given value addition to human liberty and thereby fostered a sense of growth and progress. The spirit of accommodation from people of varied faiths and beliefs is the core success of all democracies in the world and found to be true with our establishments in India.
Pradeep Prabhakar, India

While the principles of democracy - free speech, free religious choice, free enterprise, equal rights, voting, and so forth - are good, I don't think the current Western style democracies based on capitalism are applicable around the world. It gives big business too much power and coerces governments to adapt laws that favour them even more. Furthermore, the selective process of who can run for office is too often related to personal wealth. People who have leadership capabilities should stand for office by a selective, objective process, not by who you know or how rich you are. So, until we can elect from a group of people who are leaders, regardless of their material assets, democracy still has a long way to go.
Victor D., Thailand

Democracy means that we have a say in the final decision, that the government must act on the desires of the majority, unless they oppress the rights of the minority.
Michael Sweeney, USA

What a lack of humility!
Why could we give lesson to people we even don't known the cultural way of life? Western democracy is a good thing for my country. But I will never try to dictate it to another country, it would be colonialism.
Nicolas G, FRANCE

Yes, it is and the proof is the mass immigration to all the western democracies. Some people will argue that the mass immigration is economic, but they don't realize that the two are linked. It can work anywhere in the world, but it is not easy.
Mike Daly, USA

The western-style democracy is not some sort of veiled imperialism Cynthia, NY, USA 

Philosophically true democracy only works in sparsely populated locations. The western-style democracy is not some sort of veiled imperialism, but rather it is an attempt at creating some stable form of government with relation to economic and technological innovations.
Cynthia, NY, USA

It's not really imperialism, because we're not imposing our will on anyone. If countries in which we install democracy then elect governments that don't agree with us, then fine. At least now the people can DECIDE whether or not they want an anti-western government rather than having it impose on them.
David Russell, UK

There is no such thing as an ideal democracy. How can something be ideal when the idea is "one man, one vote" without taking into consideration the man himself who is casting the vote. I live in Pakistan where people vote on the basis of tribe, caste, family and many other factors but the main point regarding the leader's qualities is not on that list. What if people of a country want a King will that choice be called a democracy?
Yousaf Malik, Pakistan

It means freedom
Luke, UK 

A western-style democracy is perhaps the best thing for all countries. It means freedom - which means that we are free to vote and to have our freedom to do what we want.
Luke, UK

West democracy goes hand-in-hand with western culture and values, you cannot easily transfer these mores and codes of behaviour to cultures they are foreign to.
Peter, UK

If western style democracy means US policy then I'd say no that it is not a good idea to be spreading such a democracy around the world. US policy has isolated only one extremist group - its own. Each states' democracy should be left to the will of its people, and not to the administration in London or Washington.
Alexis Windermme, London, UK

Of course democracy is good for the world. It's not an issue of culture, its a system of government. You can have an Islamic democracy, a Hindu democracy, a Christian democracy, or separation of church and state. The point is to have leaders who are held accountable to ALL of a nation's citizens - it doesn't matter how, and it doesn't involve culture. This is essential for a peaceful world.
Steve Anthony, USA


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