How good or bad are the politicians and businesses leaders globally? The answer to this awkward question emerging from the findings of a survey titled "Voice of the People", conducted on behalf of the World Economic Forum (WEF), is simultaneously depressing and positive. The findings of the survey have been released on the eve of the forum's five-day annual meeting from Wednesday next in Davos, Switzerland, which is expected to bring together 2200 leaders from business, politics and civil societies from around the world.
The findings of the said survey, held in 60 countries representing two billion people comprising about a third of the current world population, are that 61 per cent of those surveyed consider politicians as dishonest, down from 63 per cent in 2004, and 40 per cent hold similar opinion about businessmen, down from 43 per cent in the same year. As many as fifty-three per cent of those polled are of the view that politicians respond to pressure from people more powerful than they are while the same opinion is held by 41 per cent about business leaders. No less than forty-five per cent consider politicians as incompetent and 49 per cent as unethical compared with 23 per cent and 38 per cent respectively about business leaders. While releasing the findings, the WEF founder and Executive Chairman, Klaus Schwab, says that those who will attend the forum's meeting can hardly ignore the findings of such a comprehensive worldwide study. It's no less than an arrangement for whipping up the conscience of politicians and business and civil society leaders as they begin to discuss the critical economic issues facing the world.
In statistics, it is argued that transition from a higher to a lower point is also a progressive development. Here is a good example of such a progression. At least, people who regard the politicians and business leaders as dishonest are declining in number. They say, self-criticism is the beginning of perfection. Know thyself, the Sufis used to advise people seeking to perfect themselves. The WEF deserves the praise of all people in the ordinary walks of life, the so-called silent majority of the world, who helplessly suffer the adverse consequences of bad governance, improper politics and malpractices in business, perhaps for having no power to retaliate against, for arranging a mirror wherein politicians and business leaders can look at their public images. Their search for perfection may begin in Davos if they have the mind to ask themselves, "what are we more than they?" (My apology to Rabindranath Tagore for substituting singular number with plural for advantage). On reading the findings of the survey, you must convince yourself that both politicians and business leaders have begun to amend themselves, however slowly, if not by their own volition but being constrained by mounting criticism of the enlightened voters, who are increasingly being educated, as the UNESCO constitution says, through training at schools, training at homes, through bitter experiences such as children learning to dread the fire through burns, through blunders costly to the aspirants. One may remember here the pathetic circumstances that led the sixth century B.C. Chinese philosopher Confucius to conclude that a bad government is worse than a ferocious tiger. Bad politics by dishonest politicians may be worse than that because people will have none to shield them and advance their cause.
If dishonest politicians and business leaders co-exist in a society, with or without forming visible or invisible alliance for mutual advantage, powerless people, who constitute the helpless majority, are like deer exposed to hungry tigers in a cage. Yet politicians and businessmen are assets of any society. If you are not ready to regard them so, you have to consider them as essential evils. Can you deny that politicians create the glue to hold a society together by mobilising people towards a common purpose in a state, which Woodrow Wilson defined as "the community of people organised by law within a definite territory". Yes, dishonest politicians torment a society by simultaneously generating centripetal and centrifugal forces. An extreme example is Saddam Hossain of Iraq. Without him in power, Iraq is facing the danger of being torn apart into three mutually antagonistic pieces of land to perennially fight with one another.
While in power, Saddam coerced his own people in desperate efforts to keep himself in power citing national interest as his justification. Why mention only Saddam as an example of dishonest politicians? What about British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the US President George Bush? Claiming that they had the watertight proof to establish that Iraq under Saddam Hossain possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and without waiting for the UN inspectors to complete their investigation, the two unleashed the terror of the strong in the form of a war against the weak Iraq with disproportionately superior lethal weapons and overran it only to find that there was no WMD in that unfortunate country. Now both George Bush and Tony Blair have changed their position. They are now claiming that they attacked Iraq to free the country from the clutches of tyrant Saddam Hossain and help establish democracy. A claim that has prompted Indian writer Arundathi Roy to write that "democracy is the free world's whore, willing to dress up, dress down, willing to satisfy a whole range of taste, available to be used and abused at will. The era of manufacturing consent has given way to the era of manufacturing news". Aren't George Bush and Tony Blair tormenting their nations by having them caused to pay now in terms of blood in that blazing land called Iraq?
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called the industrialists as the creators of the national wealth. Together with those who sell the products in local and foreign markets, the industrialists fabricate and power the national engine of growth with politicians in the government acting as the facilitator with favourable policies. The efficiency of that engine of growth depends on the level of honesty and competence of the politicians and businessmen. One may thus reasonably assume that the level of development of a country reflects the level of honesty and competence of its politicians and businessmen.
Why are politicians and business leaders worldwide apparently changing for the better, as reflected by the WEF survey? The democratic wave set in globally with the end of the Cold War has mounted pressure upon political leaders to prove their competence in actualising their pledges to the people. Free Trade, enforced by the multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organisation, has begun to bring increasingly more pressure upon them to honestly prepare their nations to rise up to the cascading tide of global competition. Nations will fail to attain such capacity without the honesty of purpose, competence and foresight of their political, business and civil society leaders.
Power combined with authority minus ethics is a dangerous mix. Politicians are powerful because they can cause an event to occur, like organising hartals to force closure of institutions and halt activities, good or bad. If they lack ethics, while in opposition they may adopt unholy means and unnecessarily create issues to disguise their improper efforts to dislodge a legitimate government. While in government, they may suppress the legitimate grievances of the opposition and seek to destroy it in dubious ways. Can a democratic process be workable and deliver the goods under such situation? Besides defining democracy as the government of the people by the people for the people, Abraham Lincoln also said on one occasion that " democracy is not only a government of public opinion, it must have a moral purpose". Politicians everywhere, who are part of the democratic process and engaged in active politics, will have to display a moral purpose in their political life to make democracy vibrant, workable and a tool of public well being. A civil society with members having informed views can guard against the misdoings of politicians and businessmen to act as the stabilising factor of public opinion to make democracy work. But if its members are not politically neutral, then their activities may prove no less detrimental to the society than boils on a human organ afflicted with elephantiasis. They may only confound the public and cause crises to occur successively in a society. It may be one reason why the sponsors of the World Economic Forum have invited civil society leaders from around the world to their annual meeting at Davos. Let the meeting produce meaningful results to enthuse the silent majority globally.