by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

Democracy doesn’t march forward. It lurches, stumbles, wanders off and, sometimes, drops to its knees.

Then it gets back up. And limps on, doggedly, toward a better future.

Given democracy’s countless challenges, the amazing thing is that human beings refuse to give it up. Democracy’s addictive.

The complex human ecosystems we call societies and cultures cope with democracy’s demands in different ways. We view it as our birthright, while for others it remains a longed-for prize. Fearful rulers subvert it. Others customize it. A few societies — most disappointingly, Russia’s — shrug it off.

And democracy’s progress is slower than we want it to be, with no end of frustrating setbacks. Yet, that progress is real and, ultimately, irreversible.

Headlines feature death watches for democracies in Pakistan and Venezuela or in states, such as Afghanistan, where the ballot is new and confusing. But democracy’s successes should leave us breathless.

India, the world’s largest democracy, just wrapped up its vast election process. Multiple rounds were spread over a month. Defying rural guerrillas and urban bosses, three-quarters of a billion Indians voted.

The results affirmed democracy’s innate decency. Rejecting Hindu extremists — the moral equivalent of Islamist fanatics — Indians overwhelmingly backed secular candidates, giving the venerable Congress Party the largest bloc of parliamentary seats in New Delhi and affirming the US-friendly policies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Hindu hardliners played the security card, the Muslim-threat card, the back-to-our-roots card, the protect-your-caste card and the outright-hate card. Indian voters rejected them.

India’s hardly the transcendental paradise that itinerant flower children imagined in the ’60s. It remains a country of bitter contrasts, appalling poverty and fierce discrimination.

But it’s getting better every year. Progress takes time when you’re clawing your way out of unspeakable misery. And the remarkable advances made in the last two decades wouldn’t have happened without democracy as a forcing mechanism.

Unlike China, with its ethnic and linguistic unity, India’s a country of voluntary associations (not unlike the United States). Change couldn’t be mandated from above. It had to be chosen.

India’s story is especially inspiring when compared to its stricken neighbor, Pakistan. Both states were carved from British India in 1947. Over the last 62 years, the military never seized power in India, and its democracy was only briefly annoyed by then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s state of emergency.

India’s democracy works.

Next door, Pakistan never congealed. Attempts at democracy, always half-hearted, were ravaged by incomparable corruption, blocked by feudal lords and interrupted by four long military takeovers.

Why does democracy work in India, but not in Pakistan? The question makes us jumpy, since it leads us back to the Islamic culture of the greater Middle East. Why has democracy failed so consistently in this vast, quarrelsome region?

It’s easy to blame Islam alone. Yet, democracy thrives in Muslim countries on the religion’s frontiers, from Indonesia to Senegal, and among India’s Muslim minority. But something has gone devastatingly wrong in the old Islamic heartlands.

That’s why the experiment in popular government in Iraq is vital. Arabs, especially, desperately need a success story, one state where the vote of the average citizen really counts.

Even in this endlessly frustrating region, democracy’s vines have worked their roots surprisingly deep. Iran’s ruling theocracy doesn’t dare forbid elections. The mullahs purge the party slates, but still worry about the results. Iran’s a democracy in a cage — snarling at the bars and ready to bite.

And Kuwait just held a stunning election in which female candidates met with more success than Muslim hardliners.

Democracy can unleash demons, as it has in Venezuela and Bolivia. It can paralyze a people’s potential, as it does in Argentina. It can spawn pogroms, as in Nigeria and Kenya. It can threaten fragile progress, as the recent electoral victory of Jacob “Bring Me My Machine Gun” Zuma does in South Africa.

Yet, men and women just won’t give up the vote, once they’ve had it. President Robert Mugabe’s atrocities in Zimbabwe couldn’t extinguish the dream of real democracy. Chile, Peru and Brazil built robust democracies after grave setbacks. Most recently, Panama voted for moderation and the rule of law. From Havana to Beijing, autocrats know their regimes live on borrowed time.

We’ll be discouraged. Some elections will only reinforce ethnic fault lines, while others will return men we find despicable (and not just overseas). Democracy is hard.

It remains humanity’s future. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters is Fox News’ strategic analyst. His latest book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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