Civil Society And Democracy
Civil society and democracy are two concepts that are so closely linked. Generally, both of which became a phenomenon around the world during eighties with the development of democracy and the Soviet Union breakup.
Economic underdevelopment, human rights violations, protest against one-party system, rejecting military regime and dictatorship are among the factors creating civil society movements all over the globe. The impact of civil society is immense. It weakens the unity or strengthen a regime. The movement can nourish democracy or may also nourish anarchy.
Throughout the world history, various incidences have proven that strong civil society and their opposition to the government caused the collapse of many regimes. Be that as it may civil society has certain role and strength, most imperative is a check and balance mechanism in democracy.
What is Civil Society
There is no perfect definition of “civil society”. However, civil society can be identified as social entity that plays important role in civilization. Civil society is an entity which has the aim to change the bad to the good or to make the good to be better. It is a bond of understanding between individuals within non-governmental organization, working together to form solidarity for the sake of humanity. It is an organization characterized by voluntary, autonomous, supportive and make their own expenses.
What is democracy
Democracy is generally understood as a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members, usually through representatives chosen by election system. In a similar vein, democracy can also be regarded as a government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by agents appointed under the system of free elections.
This definition is simple and somewhat simplistic. Democracy has many aspects and in different circumstances, there may be different kind of democracy. Democracy itself is a concept that varies according to time and circumstances. From another viewpoint, there are scholars who argue that democracy is a system that acknowledges the view of the people in order to ensure transparency of governmental actions. Democracy is of course very different despotism. Democracy is backed by the principles that people are to be given a space to in making of public policy and people are guaranteed of their different kinds of freedom.
Thus, the yardstick for the existence and performance of democracy includes free and fair general elections, the guarantee of civil liberties; including freedom of assembly, the election by a majority, judicial independence, and allowing the formation of civil society.
The existence of civil society is regarded as a benchmark for democracy in a country. Therefore, the existence of civil society is not to be viewed cynically. It is one of the anchor principles in a democracy and played a key role in the democratization process in a country.
Democratization is a process to achieve democracy and civil society is an agent in democratisation. Thus, the civil society is not to be associated with political party or political interests. Civil society is to meet the space between government and society. Civil society is in a position between the masses and the government. Therefore, it is becoming agents of democratization.
Relationship between Civil Society and Democratization
Obviously in history that civil society plays an important role in democratization. Some civil society in the democratization process organise peaceful demonstrations, distributing campaign leaflets and holding public meetings. The activities are to be capture the government and to pressure the government to pay attention to certain issues.
In our country, the process of democratization can be seen through the efforts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in advocating human rights. NGOs act as pressure groups in order to request for government’s transparency in the actions and expenses. In addition, the civil society has shown their concern in matters concerning the implementation of law by most enforcement bodies. Civil society in Malaysia has established concern over corruption and created anti-corruption movement to pressure the government to cleanse corruption. Similarly, pressure groups, civil society serves as a “watchdog” and a counterweight to the power of government. This has led to a whole democratization process in Malaysia.
In any case, it is important to note that the existence of civil society is indeed important for the interests of democracy in our country and for the purpose of stability and security of the country. Civil society should also be a mechanism to keep democratization or enrichment of democracy does not deviate from the goals of democracy. In doing the expected role, the civil society should respect pluralism and diversity in society. The civil society should not equate all levels and community groups. The civil society is to encourage democratic elements that can positively affect the integrity of politic and administration and not, to solely request transparency. It is expected that the civil society to complement or to cooperate with the government on all matters or ideas that can benefit the country. The civil society should not merely working to champion the want of the society without limits of servitude.
We need civil society in fostering our practice of democracy. The civil society thus, must respect the values that have been received by the law and the society. The civil society must respect the norms of our society though can be conscious for universality. Civil society must realise that our democratic system has our own values which is founded upon religion, manners, customs and culture.
In summary, we cannot ignore the existence of democracy and civil society in fostering democracy. However, what is important is for us to put a ‘benchmark’ or a form of monitoring to the terms and forms of expression that we want to build our civilization. Surely, civil society and democracy are both very important, but we should define civil society and democracy according to our country’s philosophy and inspiration. We need a civil society. But we need a civil society that respect the values and the accepted norms of a society. This is because the system of life in our democratic system has its own values; for example, the religion, manners, customs and culture.