• Stambh Organization

GROWING ANTI-DEMOCRATIC TENDENCIES AROUND THE WORLD

Abstract



A democratic form of government has emerged to become the most sought after

by many countries. There are, however, differences among the countries in

practicing a particular type of democracy. Liberty, equality, elections,

participation in decision-making, and the welfare state are some of the basic

features of a democracy that could be observed almost everywhere.

Contemporary democracies have been facing an assault on the system with

rising anti-democratic tendencies ranging from neo-fascism to authoritarian

populism. Economic distresses constantly repeat themselves, perpetuating such

tendencies furthermore. This paper presents the viewers with the growing trends

of anti-democratic propensities, those which were originally despised as going

against the natural rights of the people. It is observed that restrictions imposed

by State authorities from time to time exhibit their reluctance to be

answerable/accountable to the people who elected them primarily. A broad view

of the impact of various aspects such as misogyny, conservatism, economic

globalization, ethnocentrism by the majority, loss of respect for rule of law,

communication revolutions, emphasis on hierarchy, etc. on political legitimacy

is also discussed. The article ends with suggestions and recommendations for

the leaders to expand their horizons and uphold the true spirit of democracy.

Keywords: Anti-democracy, accountable, political leaders, principles, liberal

Introduction

Modern democracy is representative, participative, liberal, and deliberative. In

simple words, democracy is a type of organization that facilitates a relationship

between the rulers and the ruled. It is a combination of different institutions

having diverse practices producing different results. A wide definition could be

considered to understand democracy, viz., “modern political democracy is a


system of governance in which the rulers are held accountable for their actions

in the public realm by citizens, acting indirectly through the competition and

cooperation of their elected representatives.” Democracy gained its momentum

after the end of World War II and more so, after the disintegration of the

U.S.S.R. Instability and delayed decision-making does prevail in all forms of

government institutions. But that does not necessarily make democracy a weak

or a less favorable form of government. Numerous activities in the

contemporary world are being aimed at attacking the basic principles, and

thereby altering the perceptions of democracy.

Even during the grave public crisis caused by the pandemic, the backsliding of

democracies has been swift and profound. The Democratic States have been

following the suit of authoritarian governments like China and Jordan in

implementing strict lockdowns coupled with rigorous surveillance with the tag

of containing the spread of the virus; canceling elections in countries like

Bolivia; expanding State powers by simultaneously repressing freedom of

speech and other forms of democratic dissent in Hungary, Philippines, the U.K.,

and some African countries. The structure of the paper begins with

understanding the changing democratic tendencies proceeding with the different

factors impacting the ideals of democracy and ending with suggestions to shift

to pro-democracy.

Why the Change?

The success of any form of democracy depends on the people’s ability to be

heard by their leaders and the leaders taking measures to build confidence

among their populations. In the contemporary world, there has been a

continuous breakdown of freedom of speech, free and fair elections,

independence of the judiciary, rule of law, and civil liberties. This institution

undergoes constant change. But contemporary changes are perceived to be

negative and the reasons could be confined mostly to - market revolution, civil

rights revolution, and the digital revolution. John Shattuck has discussed each of


these aspects in detail wherein he observed the market revolution to be

primarily associated with globalization. Though globalization has been

constructive from one viewpoint, it has a hidden dark side such as the

following: job loss, income loss, ethnic conflict, genocide, mass migration, and

growth of populist-nationalist forces all over the world. Civil rights movements

are two-fold. By a first, ethnic, cultural, and other minorities who fear being left

out from the mainstream society or facing exclusion from social benefits began

largescale movements demanding the States to abide by the true spirit of

democracy; and by a second, a counterrevolution by previously dominant

groups who demonstrate anti-democratic tendencies to suppress these

movements and reiterate their supremacy. Digital revolution is often considered

a fundamental vehicle for freedom of expression but unfortunately, it is the

opposite; it is a potential vehicle for totalitarianism. It is found to wear away

equality, privacy, transparency, and freedom of the press. Technology is

compared to a black box that allows people to interact and stay informed, yet it

hides and prevents substantial democratic workings within a country by

allowing private participants to manage and control activities on the internet.

Potential factors impacting democracy

Populism

Populism is the exercise of majoritarian power. This group of people propagates

the idea that liberalism causes weakness in the system causing harm to the

people. Examples range from the 2016 elections held in the U.S.A to the

outright victory of the Czech Republic’s ANO party. The rise in inequalities

around the world due to continuous economic distress has facilitated the rise of

populist leaders endangering liberal governance in its entirety. Bermeo has

observed that the illiberal forces around the world include promissory coups,

election fraud, and executive aggrandizement. Accordingly, promissory coups

are identified as the act of temporary coup-makers in pressuring the government

to improve the democratic order to promote their interests. Such a coup in


Thailand has resulted in a dictatorship while in Lesotho it has substantially

increased civil and political rights. Hence, it is highly variable usually affecting

people’s rights. Executive aggrandizements refer to the executive that has an

unerring majority using legal power to institutionalize only the popular notions.

For example, the President of Turkey who was formerly a premier enacted

several laws that undercut the accountability of political institutions, averted

freedom of media and judiciary. Such arbitrary powers could also be seen in Sri

Lanka, Mozambique, and Ukraine. This force is often engaged in strategically

manipulating elections through hampering media access and voter registration,

changing rules in favor of the ruling party, damaging the image of opponents,

and using law as a measure to escape scrutiny, if any exists.

Misogynist

Most of the political leaders of democracies of the world have been supporting

populist socio-economic measures sustained by prevalent misogynist attitudes,

apart from promoting the masculinist strongman ideals. In India, these can be

seen in delegitimizing women protesting for a cause; in Brazil, suppression of

feminist and LGBTQ+ movements; and other similar action hampering the

development of women. Misogynistic leaders propagate their ideas through

speeches that devalue or objectify women not only because of their gender but

also race, age, ethnicity, and other differences in order to gain popularity and

support. Equal opportunity and equal participation in the socio-political

structure are mostly rejected based on the physiological differences and the

stigma attached to femininity. Political strategy progresses from silencing the

critics and using contradictory policies that appear to favor feminists to

allowing gendered biopolitics. These attributes raise an important question: If

every individual is not allowed to participate in the decision-making process is

it truly a democracy?

Polarization


This is the spread of the ‘Us vs. Them’ attitude among the larger population.

This is furthered by encouraging what is known as ‘hate speech’ by the political

leaders themselves. Countries that allow the incessant spread of disinformation

and witness an increase in populism have been viewed to propagate polarization

as the accepted norm. This aspect has led to the democratization trend

transferring the previously democratic States into autocracies, (e.g., Thailand,

Hungary, etc.). Cancellation of elections or a wide sweep in the conduct of

democratic elections has been hard hit due to these tendencies which ensure that

incumbents stay in power, perpetually. Rule of law and media pluralism has no

significance in these ‘so-called’ democracies. What is scarier is the potential

impact that such countries have over the prevailing liberal democracies as well.

These tendencies are proof of democracy being in danger.

Conclusion

Liberal democracy is about civic engagement, self-correction, and solidarity. It

has been popular for a long-time but its relevance in today’s world is widely

tested. Populist leaders are consumed by power. It is perceived that further

deterioration will happen in no time. Public discourse occurs when there is a

threat to the way of life of a group of people, whether majority or otherwise.

This results in conflict and eventually, instability. Democracy is about

compromise, cooperation, and accommodation of ideals of different groups of

people by displaying empathy and commitment towards the population, which

is done by the States could regain a more peaceful world respecting equality.

New and improved methods of conflict resolution in line with democratic

principles need to be evolved. People cannot be blinded for long. The true side

of illiberal democratic notions i.e., desire for power among the cult of

authoritarians will surface sooner or later that would instigate people to demand

changes in the governance structure; and when that happens violently, it might

not be a good color on the leaders. Indifference to all and any imposition by

majoritarian governments is no longer an option. Democracy begins at home. It


needs to be inculcated and fed into every individual. All public and private

institutions should be mandated to promote democratic standards of co-

existence. These policies would ensure the active participation of adults in the

democratic processes locally as well as regionally. Democratic backsliding

could only be prevented by the strong civic engagement that could probably

repair the faults.


- Sasmitha Kumaravadivel, Research Intern, Stambh Organization India

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