Public Governance in Asia and the Limits of Electoral Democracy
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Public Governance in Asia and the Limits of Electoral Democracy

Edited by Brian Bridges and Lok Sang Ho

This book documents the search for a workable model of democracy in Asia. It begins with two conceptual chapters that explore the role of electoral democracy as a governance mechanism in the light of other governance mechanisms, then reviews the various forms of Asian democracy, including those that many may consider to be in name rather than in substance, that have been practiced to date, and indicates where these models may have failed or succeeded. Underpinned by extensive case studies, valuable insights into governance and democracy in Asia – arguably one of the most fascinating and dynamic regions in the world – are provided.
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Chapter 2: Public Governance and the Ideal of Government for the People

Lok Sang Ho


Lok Sang Ho . . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, 19 November 1863 1. INTRODUCTION: DEMOCRATIC ENDS AND DEMOCRATIC MEANS Abraham Lincoln aspires for a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” “For the people” refers to the fact that governments in the final analysis should serve the people. “By the people” says that the authority of the government is derived from the people through an open and fair election process, and that this provides a means to ensure that the government will indeed serve the people. “Of the people” portrays a government so responsive to people’s needs that people have a strong sense of identity with the government. Any dictator could say that his policies are “for the people,” but this would not be meaningful unless he is genuinely responsive to the needs of the people and implements policies that indeed serve the interests of the people. If those in power humbly follow the demands of the people in exercising such power, they are responsive to people’s true needs and are therefore in that sense “democratic.” Thus “benevolent dictator” is a contradiction in terms.1 On the other hand, those who exercise their power against the interest and wishes of the people are truly dictators, even if they...

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