Democracy in retreat
Thirty years ago, the world witnessed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. It started in 1989 with the historic fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the collapse of the communist state of East Germany. It was followed by the dramatic dissolution of the communist superpower, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Then came the domino downfall of the rest of the communist governments of the Eastern Bloc of European countries.
Are we now witnessing next the emerging collapse of democratic governments all over the world?
This question props up because the United States and the United Kingdom — two countries that pride themselves as bastions of the democratic world — are now ruled by leaders who are defying the conventions of democracy, namely US President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Similar leaders have either emerged or have grown stronger elsewhere in the world. There’s Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and our very own President Rodrigo Duterte.
In 23 out of the 28 European member countries, political parties that espouse antidemocratic ideals have won seats in their legislatures. In Asia, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes continue with their grip on power. In Latin America, analysts observe a resurgence of political rhetoric harking back to the years of fascism and dictatorship in the continent.
These leaders and political parties that have emerged advocating antidemocratic practices of leadership are invariably described as far-right, populist, autocratic, fascist, among others. They’re fomenting racial and religious strife. They’re destabilizing very important institutions of democracy, like the free press, an impartial judiciary, an independent legislature and thriving opposition parties. Their reigns are punctuated by increased complaints of human rights violations.
Democracy is in a global retreat. This is in stark contrast to what happened three decades ago, when the stride of countries emerging from communism was toward democracy.
Why did disillusionment with democracy grow in the past 30 years? There’s a myriad of reasons for sure, but from a pedestrian’s viewpoint, there may be common whys and wherefores.
One cannot imagine disenchantment springing from the political freedoms associated with democracy. The disappointment stems from the dysfunctional economic system associated with democracy.
In emerging economies, it’s an economic system that breeds generational poverty, because it provides economic advancement
only to those who are already materially endowed. Others describe it as the double scourge of corruption by an entrenched political class, and the monopoly of economic opportunities by an ensconced economic class.
The faith of the poor in democracy will continue to be reaffirmed only if their children are given a fresh shot at economic advancement through meaningful access to education, capital and health services.
In developed economies, the discontent stems from the fact that democratic governments lavish more attention on the wellbeing of fictional persons (corporations), compared to their nominal responsiveness to the welfare of real human beings.
The shift in political power in so-called democratic governments is a positive development in the sense that it signals the people’s thirst for new leaders, forcing old guards to reinvent themselves to become more responsive to the people. However, it is bad in the sense that, in their desperation, the people are choosing autocratic leaders who are undermining critically important institutions of democracy — a vigorous media, an independent judiciary, an autonomous legislature and thriving opposition parties.
Unless the economic dysfunction associated with democracy is fixed, we will witness the continuing march of world history from communism to democracy to authoritarianism.
Comments to [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.