I can’t say I’m enjoying being involved in Australian politics much at the moment, but whenever I’m at risk of getting too maudlin about it, there’s always plenty of reminders that politics is a hell of a lot tougher and more difficult in many other parts of the world.
One example came with the recent sitting of the new Afghanistan Parliament. One newly elected member of that Parliament is Malalia Joya, a woman in her 20s. She achieved media coverage in 2003 when she criticised the ongoing role of former warlords, calling them criminals. That got her some death threats at the time, and now she is sharing a new Parliament with some of the same people who were behind those death threats. However, that doesn’t appeared to have quietened her, if this report on the ABC’s website is anything to go by:
One of Afghanistan’s new MPs blasted the warlords among parliamentarians sworn today, calling them “blood sucking bats” and demanding the United States apologise for supporting them in the past. Malalai Joya, aged about 27, called on like-minded members of the first Parliament after three decades of war and extremist Taliban rule to join her stance against the warlords and drugs barons she said were in the new assembly. “I see the future of this Parliament as very dark because of the presence of warlords, drug lords and those whose hands are stained with the blood of the people,” she told reporters. “The men and women of my country are like broken-winged pigeons caught in the claws of blood-sucking bats after being released from the Taliban cages,” Joya said after the swearing-in ceremony attended by US Vice President Dick Cheney.
“Most of these bats are in the Parliament now,” she said. “If I stand up, if you stand up, everyone will stand up. If I knelt, if you knelt, who would stand up? Who then should fight the enemy, the cowardly enemy?” she asked, quoting from a popular Persian poem.
This item from The Times website gives a bit more detail on Afghanistan’s situation. It is their first elected Parliament since 1973, and whilst it would obviously be preferable not to have any so-called warlords involved in the new Parliament, it is easy to see how it might create even more difficulty to try to exclude all such people – especially if you tried to define precisely what a ‘warlord’ is in a country that’s been racked by various forms of civil unrest for over 3 decades.
Unlike Afghanistan, and a large majority of other countries in the world, Australia has had the amazing good fortune to have had a continuous parliamentary democracy for over a century – one of (I think) only 6 countries in the world to do so. The fact that democracy is clearly so fragile and we have been so lucky in our country in some ways makes me even more irritated when I see the blithe and calculated manner in which these parliamentary processes and protections are being trashed at the moment. It’s not as if we don’t have the experience to know any better, or enough other examples of how easily things can decline once basic standards are eroded. Parliamentary experiences here and elsewhere also serve as a reminder that there is a lot more to a functional and effective democracy than just having elections every now and then.
It is worth noting that Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, is quoted as saying the new, democratically-elected Parliament is a “step toward democracy” – a pretty clear example that there’s a lot more to a genuine democracy than just having an election.
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