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High levels of inequality and the inability by governments to provide essential services to the public carry immense potential for undermining the legitimacy of state institutions.
That is according to the findings of a research conducted by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) as published in its 2018 Report, which is also validated by another carried out by World Bank a few years earlier.
“Citizens assess the quality of democracy based on the state’s ability to deliver public goods and to foster development and prosperity,” argue researchers.
Services include clean water and sanitation, health care, education, welfare safety nets and job generation, security and access to justice as well, all of which represent visible and tangible connections between the state and the population.
Failure to honor the expectations of the public in respect of these services undermines both the legitimacy of state institutions and support for democratic governance the report says.
It has been observed by International IDEA that inequality and the many forms of exclusion skews social provision to those who benefit from the services provided.
“It creates an enormous distance between different groups, despite their (often close) proximity in shared geographic spaces, which undermines the prospects of interactive and common experiences,” the research says.
This translates into fragmented systems of social provision and justice that only deliver good quality services to those who are able to pay for them. A further observation was made to the effect that the elites, often opt out of public services to build their own schools and hospitals, and live in walled neighborhoods, while the poor and the marginalized often lack access to basic services, social protection and justice.
It is to be presumed that indeed there are compelling reasons to assume that democracy by its very nature should reduce inequality. After all it is intended to be a political system that provides popular control over decision making based on political equality.
The report makes a stern warming to those who arrogate to themselves all the benefits of the services and economic production that are worth sharing equitably among the national populations that there are consequences to adopting divisive approaches.
In addition, it is argued that contrary to popular perception it has in fact been found that even in the presence of robust democratic institutions, once inequalities reach a point where the elites get the most benefit of everything, differentiated access to opportunities, services and power, then they begin to resort to ways trying to entrench their power including through capture of state institutions, corruption and the unchecked infusion of money in politics.
Through this, some wealthy people have been able to leverage their resources to bend laws to their bidding, enfeeble courts, violate rights and buy off politicians and political parties as well as intimidating the media if they cannot enlist it before they can now run rough shod over constitutions.
“On average, a majority of voters should be in favor of redistribution from the rich, as the rich are likely to be in the minority. In principle, democracy’s redistributive nature constitutes its main threat to the elites,” part of the report states.
But the reality, according to report, is much more complex in that formal political equality before the law as parroted on a daily basis, in itself does not lead to equality in other realms, and democracy does not automatically reduce inequality.
By way of list of recommendations, nations are cautioned to take the necessary steps to prevent a violent backlash.
“Identify and address the technical and especially the political constraints on effective policy implementation by reforming laws and other formal institutions necessary to deal with inequalities and seeking to influence the incentives, behaviors, practices, and values of strategic actors and stakeholders,” recommends International IDEA.
Unless particular attention is given to whether the formal and informal spheres interact in a manner that complements each other or are pulling in different ends, then countries and the world are sitting on a time bomb.