Opposition;Project citizenship

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
Gerald Haigh explores what it means to have a say in how society is run

Stand up for your rights

Democracy can easily be lost. When a person or a group reaches a position of power, they may want to change the rules so that no one can vote them out of office.

In Italy, Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister in 1922. Italy was a democratic country then.

By 1925 he had made sure that he was entirely in charge and that no one could challenge him. He eventually dragged his country into war, and his rule ended with his assassination by some of his own people.

THINK AND TALK

Democracy is a fragile plant. The people in charge of a country must always know that they can be voted out of office. This means that people must be ready to oppose the government, and to protest if they feel the government is wrong. The people of a country should always use their power to vote, and should hold the government responsible for its actions. If they don't it's too easy for the government to take away the rights of the people, perhaps using an excuse such as the need to keep the country peaceful.

This is what happens when democracy is lost * A leader is voted into power.

* He starts a secret police force separate from the normal police.

* The secret police watch out for people who are opposed to the leader.

* They quietly arrest them and put them in jail without trial.

* When it's time for an election, the secret police provoke violence on the streets.

* The leader says that because there's violence, the elections will have to be postponed.

* More and more opponents are arrested. Many are quietly murdered.

* Within a year or two only a few very courageous people are willing to oppose the leader. He is firmly in power.

* He takes control of TV, radio stations and newspapers so that they will not criticise him.

Practical dictatorship

* In class, try voting for someone to be the leader of the class for half an hour. The leader will be able to tell everyone what to do - "bring me a chair to sit on! Give me your ball! Sing to me while I have a nap!" The leader then says, "I am the leader, and everyone has to do what I say. So I am cancelling the next vote. No one else will ever be leader."

* Could you have stopped this happening? Can you put it right?

If someone protests too loudly, the leader can say, "I am the leader. I have the power to make you go outside the door where you will be lonely and cold and I won't have to listen to you."

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