Democracy. Ah, good old democracy. It’s been the hot new ideological toy that almost every country wants for their birthday for the last few years, if not centuries. But what is it? What makes a democracy a democracy? I always thought I knew what it meant. But then I was reminded that democracy is in the eye of the beholder. You see, Gen Moeen U Ahmed said that Bangladesh needs its own brand of democracy. So what type do they want? And when is a democracy a democracy? I don’t know – it’s all a bit confusing.

My problem really started in South Africa where I was born. The government of the day (or regime of the day would be closer to the truth) told us we lived in a democracy. Can’t you see? People are allowed to vote for who they want in their government. But that was the snag – “their government”. People had to be classified according to their race and only those of similar race could vote for “their government”. Democracy was too good to share with everyone. But we got to know that this type of democracy wasn’t really all they claimed it to be. It wasn’t what it said on the box. And we threw our toys and got ourselves a new one. We called our new version the one-person-one-vote democracy. Where every persons vote counted as one no matter what the color of your skin, sexual preferences, type of dog you liked etc – and the person and party who got the most votes won! It was revolutionary. I mean really. It was the toy that fitted all our needs and we all wanted to play – a bit like the Wii compared to a game of cards (or a house of cards I guess).

I got a pretty good handle at democracy back then. I liked it. And then the US had their election in 2000. And the guy with the least votes won. What the hell? What version is that? Version 1.1? It felt a bit like someone trying to sell me GI Joe that was so 80’s. Just a shame the guy who ‘won’ was not a real GI. Just a doll dressed up. But they talk tough – just pull the corporate string at the back and listen to him sing. Anyway, I digress. Democracy was obviously not about who won the popular vote. It was about the “will of the people”. And some people just counted for a little bit more than others.

Oh yes, that was another snag in the democracy package you should read. Some votes count for more. Why? Because those living in “go-knows-where-or-why-ville” feels that it would be wrong if those city slickers meant as much to the country as them. Nope. Those out in the sticks wanted a little more for themselves. No plain old Barbie for them. No, they wanted Fairytopia Barbie. With wings and all. So some votes still count more than others. But I knew that at least I had one thing that made sense – people who vote in a democracy are citizens from that country voting for who they want. Right?

And then I went to the UK for a few years. But I remained Proudly South African. And election time came and they started asking me who I was going to vote for! What the…? Yes, I could vote in the UK even though I was not a UK citizen – only a legal resident. They argued that I pay taxes and should therefore have a right to vote. I wasn’t going to argue and went to vote. But I that was odd though. Because I was a South African voting in the UK, but I couldn’t vote in the South African election. Because you have to be in the country to vote in South Africa (makes sense with our limited budget you see). Now I got it though. A democracy is where X marks the spot*. (This spot can mean different things though depending on where you live. Please read the small print). Democracy with strings attached, but at least I knew you put a X next to the person you like to vote for

And then the bloody Swiss allowed me to visit them without a visa. I couldn’t vote – I was really only on a short trip there. But what did I find? People voting by putting up their hand! Yes, just standing around on the village square and voting by hand. And I thought the Swiss were so far ahead of us with their clocks and cheeses. So no X needed.

Moved to the USA and they gave me another more detailed version. First you have primaries – not linked to primates, but they act almost like a bunch of primates with the throwing of poo and constant scratching. Okay, I lie about the scratching. I don’t get it. Primaries and caucuses. But I guess it works out somehow. Still odd though. You can win the popular vote and then still lose the primate race. Don’t get it, but I have sensory overload when trying to get my head around it. It’s a bit like a box of monkeys – too many of them, but you know they all link somehow. Oh, and I couldn’t vote in the US even though I live there and pay taxes. Not complaining. But it makes keeping track of who I support a bit more difficult.

Every place have their own system. In Nigeria you need to win most of the states and not only the popular vote – just too make sure a person from one group or religion does not make promises to one group only. In Cuba they have the Ford version of democracy – you can vote for anyone you like as long as it is for the only guy nominated by Fidel. And in Zimbabwe you can vote for anyone as long as his name is Bob and his surname is Mugabe.

So, General Moeen, be careful when you pick your democracy. Read the back of the pack carefully to make sure which version you have. Your operating system might not support this game – and you will need an upgrade to Democracy 2.0. Democracy is like a Transformer toy. It can be anything you want it to be. It’s still much better than not having a toy at all.

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