It's easy for us in secure democracy's to take them for granted. Not so for many other people across the world. From Burma to Zimbabwe. Each country is in a struggle against oppressive regimes.
Burma has been under military rule for the last couple of decades. It appeared that some progress towards democracy was being made with the 8888 Uprising of 1988 and the following election victory by Aung San Suu Kyi in 1990. However the Military refused to hand over power and made the election null and void. She has been hounded by the Military regime ever since, at this moment in time she is under house arrest. The Military Junta have resisted international pressure to release her from house arrest. I think Aung San Suu Kyi summed up her own future predicament quite well in regards to the ruling Military government in Burma:
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”
Until the people of Burma over come the fear that the Military Junta have on them, then they will keep the Military Junta in power. But even if Aung San Suu Kyi dies at the hands of the Military Junta, her legacy will i believe one day drive somebody to strike back and bring about the downfall of that regime (which has been known to use food as a weapon against rebels and those suspected of helping rebels i.e. The Military places land mines in the fields, so that the villagers cannot harvest the crops and therefore have to flee or otherwise starve to death). International pressure has been mounting, but I'm afraid words are not enough. If we value our own democracy's at all, we should help others achieve the dream of democracy.
Zimbabwe is another trouble spot. The Movement for Democratic Change has been fighting the rule of Robert Mugabe for the last few years. Zimbabwe was once described as the breadbasket of Africa. Not any more. Due to the land seizures of white owned farms, Zimbabwe's economy has gone into free fall, current inflation stands at 1,700%. Around 80% of Zimbabwe's population is now in poverty. Robert Mugabe of course blames all of this on Western governments. He has a particular hatred for the British government (being the former colonial power).
Mr Tsvangirai is the leader of the opposition of the DMC (which has split into two factions), he was recently beaten up quite badly by Mugabe's regime after the opposition tried to stage a peaceful prayer meeting. However Mugabe's regime declared it an illegal protest and those taking part were arrested. African nations have so far been reluctant to put pressure on Mugabe, notably South Africa who have the most influence over Zimbabwe as it supply's a majority of resources to Zimbabwe. Things seem to be changing, though only because it seems Mugabe has moved the next round of elections to 2010 which clashes with the World Cup in South Africa.
I'm hopeful that the situation in Zimbabwe will be resolved in the next few years. A tipping point will come for Mugabe's regime and it will topple. Chaos will most likely follow, but hopefully a strong democracy will emerge from that chaos. Now the point i am trying to make is a very simple one. It is time that we in the West stopped taking democracy for granted and to rid ourselves of the notion that we cannot do anything to change things. We can do a lot and it is quite simple. We use what we take for granted the most. The right to vote.
If a Government does something you don't like, you can punish it by voting on the issues as you see them. But if we sit back and think “My vote won't change anything”, then it is a self fulfilling prophecy. Vote even if the government in power does not lose power, you will add dissenting voices to the political processes that your country has in place.
I think it's crucial we do this. Why ? Because we are facing dangers that lead down a dark and dangerous path. Radical Islam is but one of the threats we face, but that threat seems to be a distant one. 5 years on 9/11 seems to have lost it's impact upon people. Yes we remember the day, but we have been taken on a ride by our political masters. And i believe firmly that the Bush doctrine and War on Terror is fundamentally flawed. We are not in a traditional war in the sense of large armies meeting on the battlefield. We are if you like in a guerrilla war. One that is being fought by radical extremists who have no morals and have no fear of death. We can fight that more effectively by standing up for what we treasure the most. Freedom and the ability to vote.
We should not trade in freedom for security, no matter the threat we face. It is our Freedom that defines us. If we let the terrorists define who we are, then they win. So it's time we started to treat our democracy's with the respect they deserve and to be aware that the freedom that democracy can bring can be taken away in a moment. The fight for democracy goes on. And it is a cause worth fighting for.