Citizens need not worry about potential mess even in cases when someone very important steps down. Have we ever counted how may days we haven’t seen President Dalia Grybauskaitė in public? How many of us got restless when German Chancellor Angela Merkel sprained her leg and had to postpone several of her meetings and later appeared in public with crutches?
It is very different in countries where everything is steered by one person. If this leader lets go of the wheel only for a moment, you can never know if the entire thing won’t drive into a ditch. When the Russian or North Korean leader disappears, the entire world holds their breath. When President Barack Obama is gone, no one is concerned, because the governance machine keeps on working. He later turns up on TV and talks about his vacation and how he played golf. Tax payers have the right to know when their elected representatives are working or when they take sick leave or vacation.
When someone says that dictatorship is a more efficient form of government because there is no need to strive for compromise that pleases everyone and decisions are made quickly, based as they are on the will of one person, another, more important, characteristic of a government is often overlooked, namely immunity to shocks. A dictatorship can be derailed by a simple palace coup, or a small virus, or by planting a bad piece of advice or even by a glass of poison. In terms of resilience, a democratic government has more advantages and the state governed under democratic principles is less vulnerable to shocks.
This is one of the reasons why European monarchies eventually gave way to elected authorities and party democracy. In the days of monarchy, there were always worries about producing an heir, anxieties about potential assassination attempts, a constant possibility that the heir to the throne might not be up to the task, since there have often been cases of imbecility in royal families and towards the end of the age of monarchy mentally challenged princes and princesses exceeded statistical probability in the general population due to inbreeding.
Nowadays, Western presidents do not employ food tasters not because they are saving expense, but because national enemies know that the position of the state is not dependent on one person, but rather on the entire structure of elected authority. When one member of parliament resigns under any circumstances, he or she is automatically replaced by someone next in line.
Why is our civilization governed by the principle of party democracy? It wasn’t imposed by anybody. It was chosen as the most suitable. In a less complex society, everybody might have a voice in issues of common concern and majority will decide. However, not everybody has the time to delve deeply into multiple challenges that demand informed decisions. They need to bring up kids, go to work and attend to their affairs. There are no Jacks of all trades. One is making medicine, someone else is building houses and others yet are researching bees.
Upon a common decision of the society, expressed through voting, a separate group of people voluntarily leave their private occupations and undertake making laws that govern everyone’s lives. Drawbacks of universal suffrage is a separate issue that I do not wish to go into here.
The most effective way to persuade voters about the usefulness of your ideas is to announce them on behalf of a group of the like-minded. This is how parties come to be. There is a politician in Lithuania whose face always gives one suspicion that he has eaten something he shouldn’t have and who seems to be convinced that referenda are the best way to govern.
And let’s stop pointing at Switzerland. First, you have to grow up to the level of Swiss civic spirit. Currently, Rolandas Paksas’ constant proposals to call referenda look like a first grader’s ambition to sit university-level exams. On the other hand, the great number of referenda notwithstanding, incomparably more decision in Switzerland are made by an elected authority which has the mandate of the population to make those decisions for them.
Parties are the backbone of democracy. The ideas they put forward must cover the entire scale of human expectations from left to right, while there are always loud-mouth but vacuous salvation mongers who lend comic relief to political life and measured promises. Although they make for entertaining show, circus is not what gets things done. The raison d’etre of political saviours lies in creating an illusion and, afterwards, disappointing those who believed in it.
It is equally illusory to believe that one person in a party can change everything. A party is a company of politically conscious people and the chairperson only reflects their common moods. And if he or she doesn’t do it, then splits may emerge. The duty of the chairperson is not only to be the engine but also the glue of the group. Generating ideas is only part of the job. Uniting people is a quality of a leader that cannot be inherited, it must be earned.