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Poverty and Democracy: Is Democracy Good for Ethnic Minorities?

The Tonle Sap (5 December 2009: photographed by THE POVERTIST / Ippei Tsuruga)
The Tonle Sap (5 December 2009: photographed by THE POVERTIST / Ippei Tsuruga)

Is democracy pro-poor? This is a very interesting question. For understanding this tricky riddle, it is needed to capture both the nature and the rhetoric of democracy.

As known, the nature of democracy is that the majority control the whole including the minority. On the other side, the rhetoric is that even the major group have to respect the minority’s rights or themselves.

In reality, which part of democracy wins? Surely, it should be the former. In many political situations, this theory has been proved. The majority might discuss the rights of minority but finally they gain initiatives to say, “No” to the minor opinions or benefits.

Despite this imperfect system of democracy to protect the minority, democracy has been recognised as a necessary step for developing countries by many development agencies. In fact, one see the World Bank or UN agencies etc. all have governance department in their organisations.
Surely, it might be useful to increase efficiency of their implemented projects if target countries have more stable politics, since their aids would more smoothly go to the poor or needy people rather than taken by a net of corruption.

But can democracy equally benefit all? The answer may be “Not”. Again, the nature of democracy may not allow to do so.

Just think about ethnic minorities in developing countries. They are likely disadvantaged in land ownership. Telling stories about minorities in Malaysia and Peru, a Japanese blog addresses that many ethnic minorities are sufferred from deprivation of their lands including natural mining, residential areas, oilfields and so on; and such deprivation is frequently done legally by the government elected by the majority.

Can democracy help such minority? Can democracy equally eliminate poverty for all?

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