The rules which oversee the process for selecting those that govern, are governed by those that govern (in the United Kingdom at least, if not elsewhere). The manner, format and frequency of elections along with the make-up of the two Houses of Parliament (number of MPs, number of Peers etc) are all determined by Act of Parliament. The result is a situation in which those that govern are effectively empowered to perpetuate their own governance. The concept that those holding power should be able to (ultimately) determine how power is assigned is inherently flawed, because it is entirely dependent upon the benevolence of the body wielding power not to abuse that power.
The present democratic system in the United Kingdom is not (directly) aligned with the re-selection or re-election of any one single individual, so one could argue that the system is not open to total abuse by a single person. However, the elected representatives as a whole are empowered to maintain or modify the election processes, and in a system of majority government, the majority therefore is empowered to preserve its own majority. The manipulation of this power can lead to the introduction of bias into the electoral process, a scenario that can be clearly seen in the current climate; whereby the government of the day chooses to seek re-election at a time which is convenient to them, rather than to adhere to the regulated practice of calling for an election every 5 years.
This practice results (perhaps inevitably) in the creation, or perpetuation of a political system, the design of which is to meet the needs of the governing body or person rather than the goals of the people. The goal of the political class (if such exists) becomes to maintain a position of governance over the people, and not (as it should be in a democracy) to meet the needs of the citizens. Once the authority to govern has been granted, the road is then open for a political body or person to modify the political process to their own advantage; for example, recently the government of the United Kingdom set in motion the reduction of the number of MPs from 650 to 600 whilst resizing the constituencies – a move which is expected to increase the number of MPs for the governing party by up to 20.
Any political party or person which perpetuates or deepens a system of government which allows those holding power to determine how that power is attributed cannot be considered to be democratic. Democracy is the supremacy of the people in their own governance, and in order for citizens to be truly able to determine their own form of government, they have to be able to change it – and in any society where the system of government can only be changed by government this is not the case.
In addition to holding the power to control the electoral process, governments of the day also have to power to modify and (possibly) restrict the rights of individuals to express their opinions; a right which gains in importance when you consider that this is one of the ways that a citizen may (legally) challenge or contribute to the ‘democratic’ process. Such a restriction of the right to expression was introduced in the UK in 2005 when the government of the day modified the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) which meant that any future protests or manifestations in front of the Parliament buildings first had to be licensed by the government of the day. In this case, the legislation was a deliberate and specific attempt to remove a single protester demonstrating against the war in Iraq – and although the attempt failed because a court ruled that since the protest started prior to the legislation being passed it could continue, it remains a clear example of the (ab)use of power to prevent dissent – and thus to assist the maintenance of power.
If then, the people can neither change the system of government, nor protest against the system of government without the authorisation of government; how is that democracy?
The governance of a country and the governance of the governance process are not the same; or perhaps it should be said, they are currently the same, but they should not be the same. A truly democratic society would require that the governance of the system of government be entirely separate from government. The population would be provided with clear, free and equal access to the deliberations of such a body, and the government would be permitted no jurisdiction over any aspect of such a body’s operations. The right of a citizen to participate in the operations of this body would necessarily be enshrined in the rights of all individuals and would by definition remain a right which can under no circumstances be diminished or removed.
In addition to this, any truly democratic society must enshrine the rights of all individuals to total freedom of expression, because this right, is the right which guarantees that a voice cannot be silenced by another in an attempt to influence the democratic process. A political system can realistically only meet the needs of the people if it understands what those needs are, and the only way in which that can occur is if those needs can be expressed – fully and without limitation
Any government which wishes to consider itself to be democratic cannot tolerate the perpetuation of undemocratic processes; any government which does is not democratic.