Instruments of CHANGE [Archives:1998/26/Viewpoint]

June 29 1998

Let us first agree on some basic values or terms of reference:
1. Change is basic to life. Everything has to change. Without change, there is stagnation and decay.
2. It is the job of human beings to push for positive change. The possibility of change in the wrong direction exists and we have seen it in many places. We have to guard against that.
3. Slow and gradual change is better than abrupt jolts. In other words, evolution is the key word.
Over the years, the world has come up with many mechanisms or instruments for peaceful and harmonious change in the system of government. Today, most of the world accepts the democratic system as the best way there is to achieve peace, stability, progress and other noble human goals. This system incorporates many elements such as periodic elections, press freedom, political pluralism, popular participation in public life, respect for human rights, law and order, accountability and transparency of state actions and decisions, market economics, equal opportunities for all people regardless of sex, color, religious beliefs, etc., and generally a system based on fair play.
All those elements are supposed to work together to bring about peaceful and constructive change and are supposed to lead to improvements in people’s living standards.
Now, what happens if the system does not deliver? What if a country has the semblance of a democracy, but there is neither change nor improvement in the living standard of the people?
This is the game of many former dictators who have taken on the rituals of a democratic system without its substance or soul. If this silly game persists, I believe people worldwide will react in one of two ways.
1. Those people, who in the first place were never committed to democracy, will use such failure in the system to call for an alternative. Such calls will get louder as ‘democracy’ brings about more hardships on the people because of the excesses of bad officials. Those in power will fight back. They will brand such calls as lawless, subversive, secessionist or whatever, and will try to quash them. The end-result is more violence and disruption.
2. Then there are those people who are committed to democracy but are disturbed by the abuse and excess of those in power. They will try to use legal, peaceful and democratic means to call for corrective measures. These individuals will also come under fire from those in charge. They will be persecuted. Corrupt officials and their proteges whose illegal interests are jeopardized by the call for reforms will use various methods to discredit the pro-democracy gradualists. If the bad officials succeed is quashing the reformers, it’ll leave violence as the only means to bring about change.
Here in Yemen, we have questions. What has gone wrong with our democratic approach? Why has the system failed to bring about change?
Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher