In today’s modern world, the debate on public involvement in politics and socio-economic decisions has been highly covered. Looking at the real life of the developed nations (Western World), people’s participation in the state decision making process and plans are very considered as the government recognizes that its decisions will effect on those communities living in its territorial coverage instead seeing them as simple passive recipients of the policy decisions. Obviously, the type of the government system of those countries opens the door of and provides access to the public to participate in the state decisions at each level.
The authentic practices of the public engagement in the government are not seen in the countries governing by the dictatorship and centralized political systems. Such countries, the system do not encourage the mass engagement in the politics and other community impacted decisions. Orders are issued from up to bottom whereby the ordinary citizens are required to comply with those commands with no option. The western backed concept of so called ‘’ Democracy “ is said to fully support the popular participation in government politics.
Let me shortly stop over the meaning of “Democracy” for further clarity of cross relations with my article’s notion of public participation. According to political scientist Larry Daimond, Democracy consists of four key elements:-
- A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections
- The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life
- Protection of the human rights of all citizens
- A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens”.
There are two important and well known forms of Democracy; Direct and Representative. The first one applies to where people vote on public initiatives directly while the second form “representative democracy” is a system of democracy in which people vote for representatives who then vote on policy initiatives on behalf of their voters.
Critically analyzing the above cited four components and the forms of democracy, you can easily comprehend that it is a supportive system to the theory of popular participation in the politics and other civic related issues as Democracy gives to an ultimate autonomy to the public though there are contradictions among the social scientists over the understanding and exercising manner of the democracy. This mostly results in value origins and cultures where the most disagreement arise over the issues such right to absolute freedoms (freedom of expression, religion and same-sex marriage).
Turning round to the article’s key topic, the public participation is said to be a political practice and sometimes considered as one of citizen’s rights. There are other words used interchangeably such stakeholder/civic engagement and popular participation. This practice often seeks the participation of those groups effected by or having an interest in the decisions made by the government. These groups can be individuals, private business, civil society, community movements and other entities.
Why need for participation?
Governments and other institutions promote public participation for a number of reasons which are briefly mentioned below;
- Governments need to regulate on certain programs and phenomenon to come up with solutions. These laws require some levels of public participation to gain trust and confidence from the people before it is formally considered a law.
- The Participative culture shows the degree of democracy exercise in a given country so the governments and other non government institutions adhere to this principal of democracy in action to communicate to its people and world partners with its participative system
- In cases of social conflicts, governments convince and allow people to solve their own problems alternatively of the full government involvement while instead the government facilitates this process of problem solving. This encourages and feel people free in resolving their own disputes and affairs with our state intervention if not necessary
- Consultation outcomes and decisions from the public participation is seen a collective decision involved by all important stakeholders. This will help the outcome easily be implemented at ground and community level.
The public participation attracts supportive advantage in many areas such economy, social and environment which occupies in a key position and priorities in today’s governments and other organizations. Working collectively to these areas by the government, private and civil third actors is believed to promote the sustainable development in the world in general and national levels.
People’s participation can be made in various ways which give them a voice to influence in the decisions. People can write to their representatives to advice or claim about matters. They can participate in media public agenda programs to view their ideas on the subject matter from which the government and organizations can easily take in to account for review. In certain ways, people come to rally against or supportive to an issue putting pressures on the office holders to take their measures in a favor of public interest.
To understand the stages of public participation, I cite ‘’the ladder of Citizen Participation by Sherry R. Arnstein, an American Social worker who developed this idea in 1969”.and letter times, other scientists have edited her article.
Sherry categorized the citizen participation in to three stages which are:-
- Non-participation:- this stage the citizens are manipulated and face therapy from the power holders. They are under full pressure that is based on “DO it what I am saying”. Much number of African and Asian citizens are said to be still at this stage while they receive from their governments a huge manipulations and humiliations resulting on their trail to say against the political officer holders.
- Tokenism: – this level, citizens are informed, consulted and placed by the governments but their voice is heard only with no other consideration for future actions. It looks a quite better then the first stage as now people are allowed to express their voice regards the trends of their country.
- Citizen Power:- the best level of citizen participation is said to be this stage of full citizen empowerment. People are partnered with the office holders to jointly discuss the outstanding issues. The government commits the powers are delegated to the citizens where they will have the control (YES or NOT).
When you deeply think and analyze the above three levels of citizen participation you can capture and compare the world countries in general, continental and regional levels at particularly looking at the angels of how citizens are active and empowered to influence decisions made on behalf of them.
The most remarkable and up-to-date example is the “Arab Spring” which have erupted and still ongoing in some part of Meddle East and North African countries. The spring started in the first at Tunisia form where it spread to Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya and other countries in Arab nations.
The Arab Spring started a form of non-violent demonstrations while some countries’ riots changed to civil wars and deadly. This has resulted that many dictatorship rulers have been removed from the offices such Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yamane. These revolutions are reported to be about demanding democratic governance alternatively to those long staying power holders with no more progress and development of their people.
This is one of the century’s living examples of how the power of citizens can transform and change the world while we see some other countries consider citizens knowing their influence on the decisions made.
The leaders should think and be series the significance of true civic engagement keeping mind that the office holders are only servants to the people and as they fail this duty, no excuse to remain in power.
By: Abdikadir Mohidin Ahmed (Dalha)
Author; Politics and socio-economic issues