Is Majority Power an Illusion?


In a democratic society, majority power is embodied in the basic rule that the majority vote wins. The voting result means that the people have spoken, so to speak. This rule is just a convenience to make democracy works because there is no other rule simpler than that. We seldom ask the complicated questions like: How many registered voters have voted? How many are qualified to vote? How were the voters persuaded to vote the way they did? Are there any obscure rules as to how the votes are counted and distributed?

Since no system is perfect, the majority vote in a democracy does not guarantee that the common interest of the majority will be respected after an election. The problem is that so many special interest groups are constantly corrupting the system, especially when the rich and powerful in the minority are welcomed to vote with their money and clout behind closed doors.

What is the use of democracy if corruption is unavoidable? Provided that corruption does not get out of hand, an imperfect democracy is better than none at all. At least the special interests have to try harder to woo the majority. Despite its shortcomings, democracy has been gradually replacing the oppressive absolute monarchy, dictatorship, or authoritarian regime in many countries around the world.

On the surface, the majority appears gaining the upper hand due to its size. This is seldom true. When a group gets bigger, it begins to lose focus on its common goals due to so many personal interests represented among its members. At one extreme, the group becomes an unruly crowd. It will follow the first person who throws a stone or burns a car in the street. At the other extreme, the majority becomes apathetic, disorganized and directionless. The term silent majority implies that this disinterested or confused group may be swayed or mobilized by whatever method available, including advertising, propaganda, inspiration, demagoguery, misinformation, or even outright deception. This shows that while a person can think with reason, a large group cannot and behaves in a haphazard way.

In some cases, the successful mobilization of the majority has resulted in monumental changes in society as illustrated by the following:

*The Arab Spring of 2011 where social media is used for mobilization.

*Mahatma Gandhi led his people to terminate British colonial rule in India.

*Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Civil Rights movement in the US.

*Nelson Mandela led the black majority to defeat Apartheid in South Africa.

*Mao and the Chinese Communist Party mobilized the peasants to bring about a communist revolution.

In all of the above cases, the power of the majority is realized through a combination of leadership, organization, a clear common purpose, and an awareness of the crisis facing the majority. If any one of these requirements is missing, the majority will remain silent, confused, and directionless waiting to be exploited by the minority for a long time to come.

(February 2012)

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