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Point of order, honourable members, democracy needs a reboot

Ideas

Point of order, honourable members, democracy needs a reboot

The institutional rules and values on which it depends are being eroded by parliamentary thugs and disrespect

Columnist

Thinkers at home and abroad are lamenting the decline of SA’s democratic project. A stirring article by Raymond Suttner writes of “prevailing lawlessness” in which flourishes “a countervailing set of norms”. In withering criticism, CNN analyst Fareed Zakaria speaks about “a rising degree of illiberalism” in our country (and India), despite a promising start. In short, democratic norms have been upended.

As I watched the muscular engagement of the parliamentary bouncers and the EFF red berets for the umpteenth time, it struck me that what was really unravelling before our eyes was the tragic demise of a democratic institution. The fisticuffs are childish and thuggish. The real damage is the steady erosion of institutional rules, mores, values and procedures on which a new and fragile democracy depends. When parliament is rubbished as an institution, a pillar of democratic accountability crumbles. Our children might well grow up without an elevated sense of politics as duty or parliament as the representative voice of the people. We are in more trouble than we realise.

It is not only the EFF buffoons who are responsible. It is one president after the next who with a straight face tells us: “I did nothing wrong”, from the moral wreckage of Nkandla to the cringeworthy defence of Phala Phala. The symbolism of a fire pool and a couch, the common denominator a flagrant disrespect for the rules that order public conduct. The institution withers...

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