International Day of Democracy
Is democracy in decline worldwide?
The world is drastically changing. As the Covid-19 has been wreaking incessant havoc, the world economy has been battered by the pounding of repeated lockdowns induced stagnation. There seem to another palpable change in the political realm invariably manifested in across countries of the world from developed United States to underdeveloped South Sudan. The change the world is witnessing is a steep recession of democracy and manifestation of accentuated authoritarian tendencies among the political elite.
Democracy has been touted as the most accepted political system as it enables the citizen representation in the political process. However, the flourish of democratic form of government in the last century has put an end to autocratic status-quo as democracy has been the yardstick of government performance everywhere in the world.
However, despite all hullabaloo around democratic governance, the democratic system has some loopholes. Firstly, while democracy purport to reflect people's will in the government procedures, it however fail to adequately account all of the diverse opinions of the people as in democracy majority is sole the determining factor for any policy decisions leading many detractors of democracy to liken democracy to "majoritianism". Secondly, democracy and concomitant economic liberalism provides the equality among the people while overlooking equity hence democratic society exhibits a higher degree of inequality. Therefore, although democracy ensures equality it fails to give every citizens a just treatment based on their condition which makes the democratic societies inherently unequal. Thirdly, democracy fails to ensure efficiency as the process of democratic decision-making forgoes efficiency in favour of the majority opinion.
Although there are a slew of inherent contradiction and loopholes in the democratic form of governance, it however proved to be more feasible government process as it shed all of the utopian ideals of the other alternative governance models and undertake a realistic formulation of politics. Hence, democracy has been touted by western countries who was swayed by the liberal economic principles and democracy seem to accord well to economic liberalism.
The most prominent champion of democracy is United States of America. The democratic principles had been enshrined in the US constitution which was framed at a watershed moment. Buoyed by French revolution, the liberal spirit which can be encapsulated in "liberty, equality and fraternity" had taken deep root in western psyche.
The principle of separation of power prevent the accumulation of power by any organ therefore guard against the authoritarian idiosyncrasies of the executive. The separation of power make the executive body of the government accountable to the judiciary hence the executive body cannot overstep its remit and find itself fettered by the judiciary. This separation of power can be attributed as the most effective democratic provision which has shielded the republic from gratuitous predilection of the executive to curtail individual freedom.
However, although the model of democracy ensures a government anchored in meticulous procedures and safeguards so as to avert the authoritarians, the 21st century unlike the preceding century has witnessed increasing reversal in the democracy process. The democracy in 21st century has been marked by a clamour for democracy among the world population, however the dream for democracy has proven distant and elusive.
The democratizing mission steered by United States of America, which had been termed as nation-building, had concentrated all its economic and military efforts so as to establish democracy around the world. However, the yearn of establishing democracy in Iraq or Afghanistan had proved futile and in the process of erecting democratic regime the arbitrary democratizing process has yielded in a complete devastation of these countries which is perhaps poignantly accentuated by the woeful state of economy and government in both Iraq and Iran.
Beside, the Arab Spring has also witnessed a population uprising in demand of democracy which has been weakly foundered and in lieu of democracy these countries are grappling with instability and economic deprivation. Therefore, the western democratizing mission failed to account for the local realities. Due to this top-down approach of democratizing mission, the western experience with the democracy promotion has been a dismal one.
Notwithstanding USA's promotion of itself of sole champion of the democratic world, the country had forged its most enduring ties with the autocratic regimes with the autocrats of Saudia Arabia. Besides, United States unabashedly propped up innumerable of autocratic and repressive regimes at the height of Cold War in the pursuit of protecting United States interest. Therefore, the contradictory desires of the United States with regards to democracy raises one pertinent question, is democracy only a convenient weapon of the US to gain geopolitical leverage? While United States condescendingly promoted democracy worldwide in missionary zeal, what it will do to recoup its own democracy is remains to be seen.
Besides, Covid-19 seems to be a windfall for the worldwide autocrats as the imposition of Covid-19 related restrictions had helped the budding autocrats to reinforce their grip on the power and suppress people. Some governments utilized the pandemic as a pretext to crack down on dissent and curtail freedoms. This has been mirrored by a considerable rise in state repression in response to the pandemic. During the crisis, 61 per cent of countries implemented policies that contravene human rights. Approximately, 90 per cent of fragile countries, where democratic governance is susceptible and institutions often feeble, saw violations of democratic standards during 2020.
Worldwide, we are witnessing a radical resurgence of autocracy and consolidation of power by the authoritarian regimes. In China, the authoritarian president has fixed his persona in the republic as he has constitutionally legalized life-time presidentship and fashioned a cult for himself reminiscent of Mao's Cultural Revolution. Putin in Russia also followed suit by obviating all the obstacles and entrenched him as the president until death and poisoned his opposition leader Alexei Navalny without facing any retribution as there is none in Russia who can impugn Putin's grip on power in Russia.
At the heart of Europe, Viktor Orban in Hungary has established his rule of "Illiberal democracy" suppressing all the dissent and become a pariah of Europe. Farther adrift in Latin America, the injudicious president of Brazil has precipated public health crisis in the Brazil.
Moreover, democracy is in deep crisis worldwide. The supreme custodian of democracy, United States, is exhibiting increasing cracks in its democratic system. The crisis is loud across the world as more and more people around the world are going under autocratic regimes. The prevailing situation of democratic decline is ominous for the post-Covid-19 world, as autocratic regimes do not have same commitment to people and accountability. Therefore, the system is threatening peace and stability.
The writer is a student,
Department of International
Relations, University of Dhaka