Government by the people

by Fernando Perfas

| Photo by Dave Letorey via Wikimedia Commons

In early adulthood, when I was old enough to vote, I never had the opportunity to exercise the right to vote. I spent those years under the Marcos regime in the Philippines and never voted until I immigrated to the U.S. in the 80s. I chose not to participate in elections at that time. Under a one-man rule, elections are a sham. They don’t convey the people’s will, and definitely not a government by the people.

The Greeks were fiercely freedom-loving people who devised a political system that required voting-age males who had completed military training to participate in state affairs, including choosing leaders through an election. They also got rid of undesirable politicians who posed a threat to the state or the community’s well-being in the same process. The consensus was an important element of their political decision-making.

The Norsemen commonly referred to as Vikings, also had a similar democratic assembly called Thing. This is the venue where men, and in some instances also women, participate in debates and discussions on matters of state government. Like the Greeks, they valued individual freedom and exercise it through direct representation by voicing their opinions publicly in their communal assembly. In ancient times, this political process occurred in smaller political bodies or city-states. Nowadays, a nation typically consists of a multitude of citizens who live in political regions, such as a province, cities, municipalities, or districts. As the body politic became more complex, direct representation was replaced by elected officials representing their constituents.

“For a democracy to work, it requires citizen participation. And for citizens to fully and genuinely participate, they must be free, engaged, and well-informed.”

Thus, the democratic traditions that most democracies practice today have their roots in those early cultures or civilizations. We have the Greeks and Norsemen to thank for what we often take for granted: free elections and democratic institutions. For a democracy to work, it requires citizen participation. And for citizens to fully and genuinely participate, they must be free, engaged, and well-informed.

In an open society, people rely on the free press to get accurate information. When a news outlet becomes partisan, its reporting tends towards a favored political stance. Given that it is quite difficult for mass media to be completely free of political bias, voters should access various news sources to get a more diverse perspective on important news and political issues. It poses a real challenge to get a balanced perspective when people are inclined to look for validation for their political beliefs. People tend to get their news from their preferred news outlets or media personalities who echo their beliefs. Their judgments become impaired, and they fail to catch lies or half-truths uttered by people they admire.

With cognitive bias difficult to overcome to see things for what they are, how can we trust people’s political judgment? To complicate matters, we have politicians who are equally flawed in their perception and judgment who build faulty narratives that their admiring followers embrace.

Voters go to the polls to vote and choose the people who will run the government, believing their choices are the best and correct ones for the country. Do we really deserve the leaders we elect?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR   Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at

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