Bhutan joined the world in celebrating International Democracy Day over the weekend. In Thimphu, a panel discussion was held to promote a better understanding of democracy, and to talk about why it is especially important for citizens to enjoy their rights but also to fulfill their responsibilities in a young democratic country.
There’s no doubt that such discussions are important. They will go a long way in educating our people; in building strong foundations for our democracy; and in making sure that, through democracy, the promises of peace, liberty and prosperity are fulfilled. So we must have more of these discussions.
But whenever we talk about democracy, one important aspect of it does not get much attention: political parties, and, in particular, the fact that they may not themselves be run democratically. This is strange. Political parties exist for and because of democracy. Yet, the parties themselves often lack a culture of democracy. Political parties contest elections and, through the democratic process, acquire political power to influence public policy. Yet, powers within parties are often distributed and exercised without regard to even the most basic of democratic principles.
Our democracy is young. So we must nurture it. We must strengthen every one of its instruments, from majority rule and minority rights to the separation of powers, checks and balances, and the rule of law. And yes, we must understand our rights and responsibilities.
But we must also demand that political parties themselves are democratic. We must insist that they too respect and abide by democratic principles when, for example, they select their leaders and candidates, or when they determine their policies, or, for that matter, when they run all their other affairs.
For the long-term success of democracy it is crucial that political parties themselves practice democracy. After all, if political parties are themselves not democratic, how can we expect them to strengthen and spread the ideals of democracy? How can we expect them to deliver the promises of democracy?