Democracy under Eclipse in many countries


Earlier this year the elections in Egypt, Russia, Colombia, Venezuela and several others have not been able to rise above censure. The recent elections in Pakistan and Zimbabwe have come under serious criticism and their credibility has been questioned. According to experts, True democracies around the world seem to be on the decline. Electoral democracies are increasingly becoming fraught with all kinds of unfair means. They say Denial of basic human rights by ruling coteries have given rise to questions about their legitimacy in power. That has triggered violence against ruling cliques in many countries. But the ruling class usually can continue in power if it enjoys the backing of the armed agencies of the state.

In 2016, Donald Trump’s emergence as a strong leader had raised eyebrows of many as he had succeeded in winning the election not only by getting a nomination from the Republican Party but also defeating a much-hyped Democratic candidate like Hillary Clinton. Almost the entire media in the US and the world were violently against President Trump and there had been a series of controversies centering on his personal life. But, despite all of such odds, and Hillary getting around three million more popular votes than Trump, the Electoral College gave 304 votes to Trump against 227 they gave to Hillary. Some critics and anti-Trump bloc are now branding the Electoral College system as wrong while the Economist in its Democracy Index (2017) described the American political system as “flawed democracy”.

This anomaly in the electoral system of America is intriguing. The Economist in its Democracy Index (2017) described the American political system as a “flawed democracy”.

India, the largest democracy in the world also has serious disputes centering its electoral system. According to experts, the influence of money plays the decisive factor in the minds of the majority of the 820 million voters, who are both illiterate and poor. According to the Association of Democratic Reform, the sources of money spent in the election remain mostly undeclared or unknown. Corporate houses play the role of major donors during each of the elections, especially the Lok Sobha – general assembly election. Moreover, thirty percent of the candidates in the Lok Sobha polls have pending criminal charges. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given into majoritarian assertiveness disregarding the basic rights of the minority communities, particularly Christians, Sikhs, and Muslims.

The continuation of power by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice Party in Turkey has actually turned the government into an Islamist dictatorship. Turkey may now not be seen by many as democracy as basic principles of democracy are being regularly violated in that country. In addition to his habit of lodging criminals charges against thousands of government employees and members of the armed forces, Erdogan also is continuing brutal intimidation on the media. Until now, hundreds of journalists are languishing in prison in Turkey facing ridiculous and trumped-up charges. In fact, Islamist dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan is unwilling in giving any space of the media is doing their regular job by exposing wrongdoings of the government. This is not only Erdogan, but almost all of the Islamist and Muslim nations in the world are particularly vulnerable to the freedom of expression and human rights. Few of the rulers even do not hesitate in quickly branding any critic and blasphemous [for the reason of criticizing Sharia rule]. In Europe, Turkey now is the worst democracy, which actually is moving fast in ultimately emerging as the brutal dictatorship like Iran or some of the Arab nations.

The recent election in Pakistan, where a playboy politician like Imran Khan became the Prime Minister has drawn serious criticism at home and abroad. Pakistani military played the vital role behind the surprising ‘victory’ of Khan, who is known as a firebrand defender of radical Islam and Sharia rule though his personal life is always questioned. Pakistani military factor exerted its influence of the judiciary in disqualifying prominent political leaders from the electoral race to pave a smooth path of their newest darling – Imran Khan. This has exposed the desire of the Pakistani military establishment that they too want the dictatorship and even cruel Islamist rule in that corruption-plagued rogue state. Though there are doubts about the length of the Khan era, in my opinion, Pakistan actually is heading towards another military dictatorship – sooner or later and I personally do not see any prospect for Imran Khan remaining in power for more than a year. That means, in 2019, Pakistan will once again face another political vacuum. Election observers from abroad, who went to monitor the Pakistani election, had already expressed dissatisfaction and dismay seeing several wrong practices during casting of the votes. It is almost clear to everyone that the Pakistani military establishment wasted someone naïve as well as controversial as the Prime Minister of the country so that they could blackmail him and continue the military influence in every walks of life in that country.

Following the fall of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, the Presidential election held in late July 2018 also had come under international criticism for acts of violence leading to several deaths. In Zimbabwe, in reality, it is a one-party rule and ZANU-PF party and its candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa got an expected and easy ‘victory’ against Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democracy party. It is rather a daydream to think, Zimbabwe has got its democracy on track following the departure of Robert Mugabe. Instead, the country is under an authoritarian rule under the garb of so-called democracy and there is no sign of the emergence of a real political alternative until JANU-PF party loses its decade-old command of all of the constitutional establishments.

The unfortunate fact is – most of the African nations are under the dictatorship and even cruel authoritarian rules. It is very common in that country for any politician in power to get indulged into limitless corruption. Greed has been leading African democracies into nefarious dictatorship and there is really no hope of a change of this situation in the distant future. Taking advantage of this situation, many people, including members of the media are continuing loot in those countries. There is no real accountability in many of the African nations as well.

In Egypt, General Ambel Fatah Al Sisi won the election this March against his opponent. Sisi came to power after the Muslim Brotherhood government led by Mohammed Morsi was ousted to popular uprise. In my personal opinion, should General Sisi not been able to continue in power, Egypt would have gone rogue like Turkey or Iran under the Islamist rule of Morsi. Unless there is minimum hope of not returning of poisonous parties like the Muslim Brotherhood into power, Egypt should remain under controlled democracy for time being.

In Thailand, removal of elected dictator Yingluck Shinawatra and replacing her with the Constitutional Court by General Prayut Chan-o-Cha was a blessing to the Thai people. Otherwise, a corrupt and power greedy Yingluck Shinawatra would have transformed the Thai democracy into a Shinawatra conglomerate.

I personally do not agree with those who say Russia is not any democracy. Nor do I say – Russia is a democracy. But in my views, Vladimir Putin is a better choice than the so-called democratic autocracies such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. The Economist Intelligence Unit describes Russia as an “authoritarian” nation or others branding the country’s ruling system as “hybrid regime” or “fake democracy”.

In South America, once again, many of the nations are under the dictatorship. We can cite here the example of Venezuela, an oil-rich nation went rogue due to a prolonged rule by Hugo Chavez from 1999 to 2013. As it is said, absolute power corrupts absolutely, so the South American nations are just facing this reality. We have witnessed the re-election of Nicolas Maduro during the Presidential election in May this year, which again was terribly flawed. In those nations, left-leaning leaders are grabbing power by ousting the truly democratic government.

Maduro was not able to stem the tide of economic decline and with a runaway inflation, Venezuela now faces total economic meltdown. Too much politics (which is a regular habit of the left) are mostly responsible for the South American rulers turning autocracies.

Freedom House identifies four minimum criteria that are required for a state to be considered an electoral democracy: i) a competitive, multiparty political system; ii) universal adult suffrage for all citizens; iii) regularly contested elections conducted with—ballot secrecy, ballot security, absence of voter fraud, yield results that reflect popular public will; iv) access of political parties to the electorate through free media and through open political campaigning. However, it is difficult to find all four working in most countries. In liberal democracies, all the basic human rights are ensured including free and fair elections.

One of the major threats to democracy is the corruption of the ruling coterie. It undermines state institutions creating widespread anger among the masses. The recent Malaysian election is a case in point—which evicted powerful Najib Razak and brought back Mahathir Mohammed to power. Fear of incarceration leads corrupt leaders to become authoritarian—encourage vote rigging and election violence by its cadres to stay in power.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the average global score of Democracy Index fell to 5.48 in 2017 from 5.52 in 2016. Democracy declined in 89 countries, while it stagnated in 57 countries in 2017 as compared to 2016. Today more than 2.6 billion people of the world live under autocratic rule. Indeed Samuel P Huntington’s the third wave of democratization (1974-1990) is now in recession.

If we believe, democracy is Abraham Lincoln’s for, by and of the people, then like many other countries, Bangladesh, unfortunately, is also not a democracy at all. List of democratic societies turning authoritarian is long. As we know, democracy means a system in which the majority opinion matters – but do we really see this in any of the nations in the world? Many of the ruling parties including the current Bangladesh Awami League in Bangladesh had long buried the hope of any free and fair election as the key tools of bringing about changed in government peacefully. Instead, there are alarming signs from the ruling elites as well as election commission of abetting with each other in letting the ruling party continue indefinitely. So the only option remains in the violence of military intervention. Where the scope of changing the government through election turn blurred – the possibility of violence and military intervention becomes prominent. As Bangladesh is expected to hold a general election in less than four months from now, it really is a wild dream for anyone to think – this election will be held in free and fair manner. On the other hand, there are just two options left with the Bangladeshis – either to remain silent and let the current semi-Islamist government continue for a third consecutive term, or turn vocal and let an Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) win the next general election. Under all surveys, there are clear signals for BNP getting more 250 seats out of 300 in the parliament, the ruling Bangladesh Awami League too being fully aware of this fact is trying to apply various tactics in winning a third consecutive term by hook or crook. The latest decision by the Bangladeshi election commission of using Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) is a sign of a possible preparation of vote rigging. Western nations may remain silent on the upcoming general election in Bangladesh even if the election is flawed – simply because of one reason – it is better letting a secularist or semi-Islamist government continue in power than a hard-line Islamist and antisemitic force like BNP.

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Democracy under Eclipse in many countries

By: Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury Read time: 32 min