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Free — or not

The world seems to be going through a disturbing shift we don’t want. From one of free-market, rule-of-law democracy to one of authoritarian kleptocracy.

The success of Viktor Orbán of Hungary who won his fourth term as prime minister, and the unexpectedly rapid rise of Marine Le Pen to challenge the leadership in France are but the latest disturbing examples.

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President Vladimir Putin’s eradication of democratic freedoms in Russia, and his mindless, cruel invasion of Ukraine for dictatorial control are the most deadly among recent examples. I echo President Joe Biden, this man must go.

One of the biggest concerns for us—and the world—is, of course, China because of its massive size and growing power in the world. Its economic success on the world stage bolsters its claim for the, in its view, superiority of the autocratic system of governance.

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And if you look at America today, he has a point. Or would seem so given how the Republicans, nay Trump, have led to a worrying destruction of the democratic system in America with their attack on all the normal institutions of democracy. That only bolsters President Xi Jinping’s claim of his superior model, except that the American democratic institutions have withstood this attack, and the people’s freedoms remain in place—so far.

Nonetheless, the blocking by Republicans on all the legislation Biden needs for the country to progress, even when they are wise, desirable moves, added to the possibility of a Trump return to the presidency, and only emphasizes this destructive attack on democracy and that it must be stopped if American democracy is to survive.

As Trump, Putin, and Xi have shown, autocrats develop an aura around them, a personality cult that is irresistible to the many who are easily swayed into mindless acceptance.

China absorbing Taiwan into its fold, which Xi insists is his right to do, is a clear risk to democracy. The magnificent resistance of the Ukrainians perhaps, just perhaps, may convince him to defer it for now. But there’s no question he intends democratic Taiwan to fall under his tyrannical control at some time.

The examples of Xi and Putin are encouraging other would-be dictators to emulate their “success.” Although Putin may well be heading for a fall onto his own petard (couldn’t happen to a nicer guy). That will send a cautionary tale to others on how far they can go. But it won’t deter them from imposing draconian, often brutal, always corrupt control that brings a country’s people to their knees.

According to the Freedom in the World 2022 report of Freedom House, there are 56 countries that are classified as “not free” or those that have very low levels of political rights and civil liberties. A substantial 38 percent of the world’s population lives in these countries including China, Russia, Iran, and Egypt.

Meanwhile, some 56 nations where another 42 percent of the world’s population lives are considered only “partly free.” These include India, Malaysia, Mexico, Indonesia. Even the Philippines is on that list.

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That leaves some 83 nations, where a much smaller 20 percent of the global population lives, classified as “free.” The countries in this category include the United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan, and Australia. Twenty years ago that 83:112 was 89:103. The trend may not seem much, but it is in the wrong direction with no sign of reversal.

Of the 10 Southeast Asian countries, only one is a truly free, unfettered democracy: Timor Leste. Countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Brunei are considered not free.

One could argue: So what? Democracies are messy organizations where progress is sporadic, hampered by ever so many voices wanting their selfish voice in decision-making. An autocracy results in swift, decisive leadership where things just get done. Singapore is a shining example as is South Korea under Park Chung-hee. But they are a very rare breed.

China can claim Western-style success on the economic front, but not social. Its leader had to suppress the people first, taking away their individual rights. In return, they benefited from a much higher standard of living. Of course, we’ll never know if the same couldn’t have been achieved within the democratic space—with individual rights retained.

Universally, autocracies/dictatorships are far worse than democracies because the leader has to attain and retain his control through fear. That control needs loyalties, those loyalists must be rewarded. So corruption rises to uncontrollable levels, the economy falters, often collapses. A people are subjugated, poor, miserable. North Korea is an examplar.

As US President Joe Biden says, “retaining democracy is the defining challenge of our time.” But the opposite seems to be the world we are headed for. The “good old days” will be just that as democracy diminishes its sway. The Philippines may not be immune from the attraction if the wrong leader is chosen.

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TAGS: Authoritarianism, Like It Is, Peter Wallace, preserving democracy
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