IS DEMOCRACY DEAD BEYOND RECALL?
Has the definition of democracy changed for all of us?
. The words of Abraham Lincoln
Have we taken the words of Abraham Lincoln: “of the people, by the people and for the people” and changed it to “Turn off the people”, “Buy-off the people” and “Fire at the people”?
Think about it.
. Overview of Global Trends
We will use certain terms.
‘Backsliders’ means democracies which are becoming less and less democratic.
‘Striders’ means the countries where democracy is really improving.
70% of the world’s population lives in countries that are either non-democratic or democratically backsliding.
Only 9% of the world’s population live in high-performing democracies.
More countries are moving into an authoritarian state rather than in a democratic direction.
Since 2016, the number of countries moving towards authoritarianism are three times more than those moving towards democracy.
. Challenges Faced by Democracy
In 2021, when the US Military left Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly took over. They ousted an elected leadership.
Now the Taliban’s newly announced government is ‘all male’ – (which is a recipe for disaster!)
It includes many individuals accused of terrorist activities over the last 2 decades.
Mali, in West Africa, held challenged elections in 2021. Because of Jihadist insurgencies, parts of Mali were barred from voting.
The main opposition leader, Soumaila Cisse, was kidnapped a few days before election day.
Between 2020 and 2021, two coups weakened any prospect of democratisation or free elections.
. Democratic Backsliders
By 2020, Brazil was the democracy with the largest number of declining democratic attributes.
Corruption scandals and protests have plagued the pandemic management.
President Jair Bolsonaro consistently downplays the pandemic. He sent mixed messages. He constantly attacked the media.
Openly defying democratic institutions, he accuses the magistrates of the Superior Electoral Court of ‘preparing to conduct fraudulent activities’ over the 2022 elections.
Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court is investigating Bolsonaro for spreading ‘false news’ about the electoral system.
In response, the President has openly declared that he will disobey Supreme Federal Court’s rulings.
. Democratic Striders
Democratic Striders are those who uphold democratic values.
A good example is Zambia. It held free and fair elections in 2021.
Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema defeated incumbent President Edgar Lungu by a wide margin.
This opened up Zambia for democratic regime change. There was a peaceful transfer of power for the third time in Zambian history.
Malaysia has had its fair share of both as a being a backslider and has been accused or has been praised as a strider.
A few examples of Malaysia democratically backsliding are: –
- the Government fiddling with election processes for a very long time;
- messing with the electoral boundary to ensure that the incumbent party wins even with lower votes;
- using back door governments, when elected MPs betrayed a majority of the electorate;
- scheduling only a one-day sitting of Parliament on 18 May 2021 without debate; and
- the government’s attempt to impose Emergency Rule on the pretext of the covid-19 pandemic when it did not have a majority.
That was a clear admission that the government had no majority.
Examples of Malaysia Striding:
- after 6 decades in power, Barisan Nasional failed in the 2018 ‘Malaysian tsunami’;
- the emergence of a new political party, ‘MUDA’, the ‘Malaysian Democratic Alliance’ which introduced youth activism in electoral politics;
- the lowering of the minimum age for voting to 18 years;
- BERSIH, or ‘Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections’ began electoral reforms as its agenda. 15 years later, it has given more Malaysians greater courage to speak up against political wrongdoings; and
- the conviction of ex-Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib being upheld in the Court of Appeal is seen as a welcome change.
Will Najib’s Conviction be Reversed?
The troubling question, however, is whether the former Prime Minister’s conviction will be reversed or he will be forgiven for political reasons; and second, will that conviction drive Malaysian politicians to be more honest?
We must wait and see.
. Opportunities For Renewal
At the global level let us look at the opportunities for renewal in certain countries which are considered striders.
In Sweden, democracy is a key feature of the education system. Their curriculum includes lessons on the theory and practice of democracy.
Representatives of political parties visit schools. This helps students to learn about their political system, and the differences between the political parties.
Belarus, Cuba, Eswatini, Hong Kong, Myanmar and Thailand
During the pandemic, civil disobedience and protests have grown in many countries. Example, in Belarus, Cuba, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), Hong Kong, Myanmar and Thailand.
82% of countries (135) experienced protests during the pandemic
Milk Tea Alliance
The Asian ‘Milk Tea Alliance’, is an online multinational solidarity movement for democracy.
The movement shared ‘protest tactics’ among democracy activists across different countries: example, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand.
It is a powerful example of the strength of democratic aspirations among people – particularly youth – all across Asia.
. Is There Hope for Democracy?
Is there any hope left for democracy in the world?
Dr S. Y. Quraishi
Dr S. Y. Quraishi is the former Chief Election Commissioner of India. He knows all about election cheating. He is quite sure that democracy’s resilience, will ultimately triumph.
Again, the gentleman by the name of Kevin Casas-Zamora, the Secretary-General of International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance ‘IDEA’, explains why defending democracy matters.
It is about protecting the dignity of human beings. Democracy does better than any other political arrangement.
. Are There Real-Life Examples?
Are these mere platitudes, or are there real-life examples? Let us look at three.
In Afghanistan, a group of women refused to be cowed by fanatics.
In Myanmar, brave young prodemocracy activists to this day stand up for democracy.
In Cuba, fearless dissidents speak out loud what the rest of Cuban society only whispers.
Each of these acts of defiance is a triumph of the human spirit.
. Democracy’s Survival requires Your Personal Commitment
Democracy’s survival and its health requires your personal commitment.
If you want to have something, you need to go and get it yourself personally, peacefully and within the law.
. Do You have the Moral Courage to Demand for Democracy?
Will you act to uphold democracy? Will you have the moral courage to demand that your leaders become striders instead of backsliders that they are.
Will you do it?
Or do you expect your neighbour to, while you sit at the side and become an arm chair critique while so called leaders trade away your freedom and your rights and that of your grandchildren for their personal benefit?
That is the transformative question, isn’t it?