Democracy

The State of Democracy In The World Today

It is a reminder that we must continue to open our eyes to the necessity of democracy in our world, and that we must not overlook its importance in our world.

BY: FARRAH BARBER

Democracy: demos, kratia, the power of the people. Democracy has always been the prevailing ideology, the exceptionalist political phenomena that western powers have spread across the world. But as of late, an international plague seems to be spreading. One of radical right wing sentiment, of European populism, of isolationism. Fed by a tumultuous political climate and a plethora of global crises encouraging a self-interested sentiment, a total of 71 countries analysed in a report by Freedom House saw a net decline in political rights and civil liberties. It’s important also to consider the parameters by which Freedom House measures the level of freedom in a state, ‘particularly the right to choose leaders in free and fair elections, freedom of the press and the rule of law’.

It’s libellous to grant the decline in global democracy a link to Mr Trump and his recent ‘activities’, while the concept of growing populism in Europe is not a root cause of the general decline in democracy. Rather, both are a result of a progressive swelling of global frustrations. The report revealed that the global slide began 12 years ago, and since then over 113 countries have been victim to a net decline in democratic practices. Democracy is only now facing overt threats, but the underlying threats to global freedoms have been in existence far longer than many are aware of. The election of Mr Trump and the rise of alt-right movements across the world are merely born from the unconscious deterioration of people’s exposure to the basic tenets of democracy- they are not the cause.

Africa

Whilst some African states saw progressive improvements in the state of democracy, this was undoubtedly not the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan or Burundi.  Incumbent powers continued with their perpetual use of violence, and the displacement of refugees was perpetuated by official forces.

Uganda hit a road block in its attempt to become increasingly free, for 73-year old leader Yoweri Museveni began his pursuit of revoking the presidential limit legislation, permitting him to run again to be the Ugandan leader in 2021. Despite this, Uganda saw a net increase in its freedom status thanks to the persistent media in the publicising of their views and beliefs. Gambia was granted the same status, following the inauguration of Adama Barrow after a fiercely competitive electoral race, the reinstallation of exiled political prisoners and journalists, and activism no longer punished as forcefully.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Zimbabwe following the violent coup that saw Mugabe ousted and replaced by a key figure in his oppressive regime.

Asia

Myanmar has been the talk of the international community in 2017, with the savage ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority and the forced movement of 1.2 million, who are in need today.

China and Russia have continually capitalised on international shocks, turning them in to opportunities to increase state repression and disseminate aspersive influence over other countries. China’s slogan of ‘blazing a new trail’ aims to envelop incredibly tight state management and intolerance for anything that does not serve the state’s interests. States such as India and Indonesia have also seen a rise in activities that threaten the very nature of democracy from Hindu extremist activities in India to the persecution of minorities and institution of Sharia law in parts of Indonesia.

In the Southeast Asian Peninsula, North Korea continues to present an incredibly volatile threat to international politics and world peace. After an overtly antagonistic expansion of their nuclear arsenal, to ‘fortify an exceptionally oppressive and criminal regime’.

Middle East

It’s no secret that the Middle East has been plagued by authoritarian rule for some time. The oppressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with the reverberations of the Egyptian crisis of 2011, saw a perpetuation of the ongoing Libyan and Yemeni crisis in 2017. In a most concerning report, modern-day slave markets in Libya have been added to the list of indecencies committed against the victims of the crisis, caused by the political paralysis of the East and West.

The Qatari blockade was the most notable Middle Eastern crisis of 2017, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain severing ties with the country amid Qatari ties to Muslim extremist groups. Qatar openly disclosed its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, and whilst denying any links to the so-called Islamic state or Al Qaeda, it is difficult to ascertain the truth amidst the enormity of the sanctions forced by neighbouring states.

Never, in recent history, has a state publically demanded the relocation of citizens in the way Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrian have of Qatari citizens. The crisis continued to swell, with no Qatari flights allowed over any of the aforementioned states, no ships bearing Qatari flags could dock, and the only land border between Saudi Arabia and Qatar was closed. The only diplomatic promise left was that Kuwait and Oman did not sever all ties with Qatar, where Kuwait offered itself as a temporary mediator.

This diplomatic explosion was also fuelled by Qatari relations with Iran- which fed discontent on the part of the Qatari’s. Iran, having possessed an undeniable role in the conflicts in the Middle East, has been said to facilitate militia webs that spanned from ‘Lebanon to Afghanistan’.

Europe

 Europe has been a political hurricane in 2017. With the United Kingdom throwing Europe onto its back with the Brexit referendum of 2016, and the residual frustrations surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis coming into the forefront of political agendas, populist leaders seek to appeal to an anti-immigrant sentiment to gain political favour.

France, Germany Austria and the Netherlands all saw an electorate shift toward alt-right movements. Marine Le Pen ran a highly publicised campaign for a better France, with the publicity surrounding her father’s ties with Nazism deterring only some, whereas the Alternative for Germany party genuinely became an attractive alternative for some. In fact, the ‘notoriously xenophobic’ Party for Freedom in the Netherlands finished second in the parliamentary race- becoming the key opposition to the current VVD/PvdA Government.

Brexit presented arguably the largest threat to cohesion in Europe, generally fuelled by the constant pursuit of a ‘hard’ Brexit from UK leaders. Across the entirety of the European continent though, we are witnessing an uncovering of domestic problems fuelled by international diplomatic crises. It’s blatant that there has been a gradual rise in ‘social and economic disparities, partisan fragmentation and terrorist attacks’.

In a transparent sense, Turkey and Hungary are shifting to authoritarianism in a way unseen in Europe since World War II. There is a clear and inarguable uprooting of basic democratic values, at a time when dissidence is becoming increasingly punishable. In a very alarming manner also, Putin’s Russia has pursued barely covert ‘disinformation campaigns’ before global elections, has fed xenophobic rhetoric globally and aided Middle Eastern militia campaigns.

North America

What an interesting year 2017 has been for the North-Americans. Justin Trudeau maintained a position of political favour, the Canadian economy continued to grow and the social cohesion of the state generally improved. There have been hints toward an increase in alt-right Canadian micro-societies, but on the whole Canadian society is progressive and its politics a success.

This is painfully oxymoronic to Donald Trump’s America. Donald Trump marched into the White House with a vengeance, which is seemingly against anyone, or anything, that dissented from his isolationist philosophy of “America First”. Donald Trump, whilst making global news, has received much criticism from policy experts and business leaders. With his DACA repeal proposal, an almost hyperbolically inequitable tax reform, an ill-advised travel ban proposal, continued persistence that Mexico must “build the wall”, tariffs on cars produced by Toyota and Ford outside of the US, immature public back-and-forth with the leader of the most dangerous state in the world (North Korean leader, Kim-Jong Un), and an unbelievably poor social media filter- Donald Trump is an acquired taste. But of course, he has increased employment in the US, and what else could one ever possibly ask for.

South America

Venezuela presented an interesting case for democracy, with the humanitarian crisis fuelled by Nicolas Maduro’s blatant desire to stay in power and leading to the literal fleeing of his people to neighbouring states. Mexico, whilst facing a barrage of diplomatic trouble from Mr. Trump, has been victim to an enormity of domestic problems as well, with the beleaguered government opposing reforms that promised resolve to the continual rises in nationwide corruption and self-imploding justice system.

Honduras, arguably unsurprisingly, found itself in the middle of a promising future, and return to its corrupt and regressive regime. After initial vote counts had favoured the opposition leader, a swift recount revealed that Juan Orlando Hernandez was to remain incumbent. The repercussions led to an extensive round of protests, societal demands for a new election and curfews. This is much in contrast to Bolivia, whose extensively complex constitutional court eliminated the opportunity for Evo Morales from pursuing a further term in office. In a similarly promising manner, Ecuador saw its new leader Lenin Moreno ease press constraints, a prosperous future for civil society engagement and the reintroduction of Presidential term limits.

There are a range of social and political misdemeanours conducted by states across the globe that continue to erode the fabric of democracy as we know it. It is a reminder that we must continue to open our eyes to the necessity of democracy in our world, and that we must not overlook its importance in our world. No one nation can take a backseat in international politics if freedom is to be attained for everyone across the globe. It is essential to the amount of work it has taken to undo past transgressions on the freedom and equality of people all around the world. ‘In August 1968, when Soviet tanks entered Czechoslovakia to put down the Prague Spring, a small group of dissidents gathered in Red Square in Moscow and unfurled a banner that read, “For your freedom and ours.”.’ It now remains our duty to remain vigilant of the changes to democratic institutions, for the freedom of others as well as our own.

Farrah Barber is an International Relations and Russian student at the University of Saint Andrews. She is particularly interested in Political Risk and Intelligence, with a specialization in Russian foreign policy. 

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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