Why is lib­eral democ­racy un­der stress even in coun­tries like US

It is un­der threat from a wave of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in many coun­tries, in­clud­ing its tra­di­tional cham­pion – the US

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Ra­jen Harshé

Democ­racy, in its broad sense, tol­er­ates dis­sent, al­lows freedom of ex­pres­sion and hence di­ver­sity of views by pro­tect­ing mi­nor­ity views and hu­man rights. The func­tion­ing of any democ­racy is char­ac­terised by checks and bal­ances be­tween leg­isla­tive, ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­cial organs of the state on the ba­sis of rule of law. in con­trast, au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes en­force strict obe­di­ence to au­thor­ity at the cost of per­sonal freedom and per­mit an in­di­vid­ual, a group of in­di­vid­u­als or a sin­gle party to be­come all too pow­er­ful. The politics of the cold War (1945-90) at one level re­flected ten­sions be­tween lib­eral democ­ra­cies of the west­ern world and oneparty com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ships of the eastern world. How­ever, the Vel­vet rev­o­lu­tion of novem­ber 1989, which sig­ni­fied peace­ful trans­fer of power from a com­mu­nist to a demo­cratic regime in cze­choslo­vakia, set the pace for change. Sub­se­quently, the fall of Stal­in­ist regimes in East Euro­pean coun­tries such as Hun­gary and ro­ma­nia in de­cem­ber 1989 and the demise of the Soviet Union in de­cem­ber 1991 had al­most her­alded, al­beit mo­men­tar­ily, the vic­tory of democ­racy over any form of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. Ev­i­dently, from 1989 to 2004 the coun­tries that held free elec­tions had jumped from 69 to 119. While some of these elec­tions, es­pe­cially those in sev­eral african states, were rigged, the very act of elec­tions ob­vi­ously un­der­lined vi­brancy and nor­ma­tive vi­a­bil­ity of democ­racy as a form of gov­ern­ment across the world. in­ter­twined re­la­tion­ship be­tween lead­ing lib­eral demo­cratic regimes of the west led by the USA and cap­i­tal­ism had started ac­cel­er­at­ing pace of glob­al­i­sa­tion while ush­er­ing a new post-cold War world or­der.

dur­ing the past decade, how­ever, pop­ulist au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­den­cies have been mak­ing in­roads even in the es­tab­lished democ­ra­cies of the west­ern world. The ero­sion of demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and val­ues has been cu­mu­la­tively shaped by a com­bi­na­tion of com­plex politico-eco­nomic fac­tors such as the fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008, flow of refugees from de­vel­op­ing coun­tries to­wards ad­vanced coun­tries lead­ing to de­mo­graphic changes, the dis­rup­tive na­ture of new tech­nolo­gies and grow­ing unemployment and the re­sul­tant xeno­pho­bia. Sim­i­larly, the ca­pac­ity of ter­ror­ist out­fits to add to in­se­cu­ri­ties in civil so­ci­ety and the emer­gence of rad­i­calised is­lam cou­pled with the con­se­quent is­lam­o­pho­bia in dif­fer­ent coun­tries of the world have only added to an il­lib­eral at­mos­phere. The na­ture of the tus­sle be­tween democ­racy and au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in con­tem­po­rary times can be por­trayed more vividly by analysing a few sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ments in some of the ma­jor coun­tries, in­clud­ing the US and its west­ern al­lies, rus­sia, china, Turkey and in­dia. Strangely, post-truth politics, where truth has al­most lost its sig­nif­i­cance, is con­di­tion­ing the func­tion­ing of democ­ra­cies as well as regimes with au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­den­cies.

iron­i­cally, with the ad­vent of don­ald Trump to the pres­i­den­tial of­fice in 2016, the US it­self has ceased up­hold­ing the flag of democ­racy and lib­er­al­ism, within and out­side, as stoutly as be­fore. Trump’s idio­syn­cratic method of func­tion­ing and speeches in­volv­ing at­tacks on im­mi­grants, man­u­fac­tur­ers that sup­port free trade, tren­chant critic of ri­vals among the democrats has had an im­pact on do­mes­tic politics in the US. Sim­i­larly, in his ex­ter­nal pol­icy he has shown scant re­gard for the de­ci­sions of the pre­vi­ous obama regime (2009-16). Trump has not merely challenged the Usa’s com­mit­ment to north at­lantic Treaty or­gan­i­sa­tion (nato), the north amer­i­can Free Trade agree­ment (nafta) and the World Trade or­gan­i­sa­tion (WTO) but also pulled

the US out from the nu­clear agree­ment with iran, prospects of the Trans-pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TTP) and the cli­mate change agree­ment of Paris. in a word, the US is no longer as deeply en­gaged in main­tain­ing the lib­eral or­der, built on dy­namic in­ter­de­pen­dence and co­op­er­a­tion in the world.

Karen Sten­ner and Jonathan Haidt, in their re­cent study of 29 west­ern lib­eral democ­ra­cies, have ob­served that one-third whites in these coun­tries have al­most lost the in­cli­na­tion to be lib­eral. Hence, if 30 to 40 per­cent amer­i­cans pre­fer au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and the elec­toral col­lege of the US chooses Trump with 46 per­cent of the votes, things are chang­ing. like in the US, in aus­tria, nor­bert Hofer, a far right can­di­date from Freedom Party, nar­rowly lost the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion of 2016. marine le Pen of the na­tional Front, a far right party, in France went as far as get­ting 34 per­cent of the votes in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2016. in ger­many, af­ter the 2017 elec­tions al­ter­na­tive for ger­many (afd), a far right au­thor­i­tar­ian and neo-nazi xeno­pho­bic party, emerged as the third largest party and en­tered the Bun­destag (par­lia­ment) for the first time af­ter six decades. Strangely, Bri­tain through its de­ci­sion of Brexit, partly shaped by an anti-im­mi­grant move­ment, has left the Euro­pean Union (EU) and contributed to­wards the weak­en­ing of the lib­eral and demo­cratic ethos of the con­tem­po­rary world.

The grow­ing in­se­cu­ri­ties in tra­di­tional west­ern democ­ra­cies, caused by de­mo­graphic changes cou­pled with ris­ing unemployment due to new tech­nolo­gies, have in­flu­enced voter pref­er­ences. For in­stance, in the US, from 1970 to 2015, the His­panic pop­u­la­tion grew from five to 18 per­cent. Sim­i­larly, the for­eign-born peo­ple in Swe­den, ger­many and Switzer­land by now are 19, 23 and 25 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, re­spec­tively. Un­der the con­di­tions of ex­treme scarcity, when im­mi­grants take away jobs, xeno­pho­bia be­comes a strat­egy of au­thor­i­tar­ian pop­ulist lead­ers to at­tract voters. more­over, ex­treme in­equal­i­ties are in no way com­pat­i­ble with democ­racy and peo­ple are restive when­ever there are ex­treme in­equal­i­ties. For in­stance, the top ten per­cent of the US’S pop­u­la­tion gar­ners half of the na­tional in­come. in ad­di­tion, com­puter and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence re­lated tech­nolo­gies have brought a new skilled force in the mar­ket and ren­dered a large num­ber of erst­while work forces ir­rel­e­vant. re­place­ment of hu­mans by au­to­ma­tion or out­sourc­ing of jobs by firms by hir­ing in­di­vid­u­als at cheaper costs in coun­tries like in­dia had made anti-glob­al­i­sa­tion forces ac­tive in the US.

Be­sides, the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks have made the USA weary of rad­i­calised is­lam. in fact, the phe­nom­e­non of in­tol­er­ance re­gard­ing race and re­li­gion in the at­lantic world has steadily grown over the past decade. For in­stance, pub­li­ca­tion of car­toons of Prophet mo­ham­mad on Septem­ber 30, 2005, in Jyl­lands-posten, a dan­ish news­pa­per, was in­tended to dis­cuss the role of is­lam crit­i­cally in a demo­cratic coun­try. How­ever, it led to demon­stra­tions and ri­ots in den­mark, in mus­lim coun­tries as well as in in­dia. owing to the ag­gres­sive­ness of rad­i­calised is­lam, the en­tire west­ern world in dif­fer­ent de­grees has been gripped by forms of is­lam­o­pho­bia. The as­ser­tion of is­lamic iden­tity by mus­lim cit­i­zens with­out adapt­ing to west­ern modes of life has made the white/ chris­tians and is­lamic group­ings of arab- african ori­gins mu­tu­ally hos­tile.

in west asia, po­lit­i­cal is­lam is al­ready a pow­er­ful force. iron­i­cally, among the Euro-asian pow­ers, Turkey un­der Er­do­gan has been dis­man­tling ataturk’s sec­u­lar model by giv­ing ac­cent on po­lit­i­cal is­lam. af­ter get­ting re-elected in June 2018 for the term of five years, Er­do­gan has taken a fresh ini­tia­tive to sen­si­tise peo­ple about the role of is­lam as a ba­sis of po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy, leg­is­la­tion, so­cial or­gan­i­sa­tion and state iden­tity to build a ‘new Turkey’. Even if Turkey, in the­ory, is a con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy, Er­do­gan has dis­played strong au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­den­cies by im­pris­on­ing thou­sands of his op­po­nents af­ter a failed coup in 2016.

Just at the time when demo­cratic val­ues are be­ing eroded in their tra­di­tional bas­tions, the au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes are get­ting en­trenched in coun­tries like rus­sia and china. Putin has been able to sad­dle him­self in power af­ter he was sworn in for the fourth time in may 2018. How­ever in­com­pe­tent and cor­rupt his regime could be, he draws solid sup­port from ru­ral pop­u­la­tions of rus­sia that pre­fer a strong man and even mourn the demise of the Soviet Union. His style of func­tion­ing is char­ac­terised by empty dec­la­ra­tions, ut­ter­ing half-truths, gag­ging of the me­dia, cen­tral­i­sa­tion of power, crass divi­sion of world into ‘us’ ver­sus ‘them’, dem­a­goguery and con­stant boasts about the mas­sive sup­port that he en­joys. Putin’s ag­gres­sive for­eign pol­icy stances, such as an­nex­a­tion of crimea (2014) and re­cur­rent in­va­sion of Ukraine (2014-till pre­sent), in­tran­si­gent pos­ture vis-à-vis Baltic and nordic neigh­bours and at­tempt to ex­tend rus­sian in­flu­ence in Syria and iran have made rus­sia a power to be reck­oned with in world politics. rus­sia’s med­dling in the US’S pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, as­saults on west­ern democ­ra­cies through its me­dia as well as ef­forts to un­der­mine vul­ner­a­ble democ­ra­cies in cen­tral Europe and latin amer­ica, along with china, ex­em­plify the na­ture of rus­sia’s ‘soft’ power. au­thor­i­tar­ian pop­ulism in the erst­while eastern world has ag­gra­vated xeno­pho­bia that is man­i­fested in slo­gans like ‘rus­sia for rus­sians’, ‘Poland for Poles’ and ‘Hun­gary for Hun­gar­i­ans’.

Un­like rus­sia, china has al­ways been a one-party dic­ta­tor­ship since 1949. its para­mount leader, deng Xiaop­ing (1978-97), had tried to reg­u­late it by man­dat­ing re­tire­ment at the age of 70. Thus, dif­fer­ent of­fice-bear­ers were picked within the age groups be­tween 50 and 60 and be­tween 60 and 70 ac­cord­ing to their ca­pac­i­ties and re­quire­ments of the state even if crony­ism and cor­rup­tion per­sisted in china. By now, Xi Jin­ping, the gen­eral sec­re­tary of the com­mu­nist Party of china (cpc), has be­come the most

Just at a time when demo­cratic val­ues are be­ing eroded in their tra­di­tional bas­tions, au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes are get­ting en­trenched in coun­tries like Rus­sia and China. Putin has been able to sad­dle him­self in power af­ter he was sworn in for the fourth time in May 2018.

pow­er­ful leader, af­ter mao Ze­dong, as the 19th party congress brought about changes in china’s con­sti­tu­tion in 2017. as the sec­ond most pow­er­ful coun­try af­ter the US, china’s ‘soft power’ is spread­ing its in­flu­ence through a thou­sand con­fu­cius in­sti­tutes op­er­at­ing in dif­fer­ent uni­ver­si­ties across the world. mar­ket so­cial­ism un­der au­toc­racy with the chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics is slowly emerg­ing as yet an­other model of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. The au­thor­i­tar­ian rule in china is mil­i­tar­ily quite pow­er­ful as the chi­nese power is ex­pand­ing in the indo-pa­cific re­gion. china has also ven­tured to launch the am­bi­tious one Belt one road (obor) project to en­velop asian coun­tries within the web of its trade ties. in view of the as­cend­ing power of china, pres­i­dent ro­drigo duterte’s regime of Philip­pines, in­fa­mous for bru­tal­i­ties and vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights, has aligned with it.

like in other parts, democ­racy in in­dia is wit­ness­ing its own set of chal­lenges af­ter prime min­is­ter modi emerged as the most pow­er­ful leader in in­dia in 2014. His Bjp-led regime has avoided ‘fam­ily dom­i­na­tion’, tried to curb cor­rup­tion through dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion of econ­omy and con­tin­ued with eco­nomic re­forms. modi’s pres­ence in world politics has en­hanced in­dia’s stature. How­ever, the BJP lead­er­ship has tried to mo­bilise and unite the so­called dom­i­nant Hindu ma­jor­ity over emo­tive is­sues like build­ing of the ram tem­ple in ay­o­d­hya. in essence, cen­tral­i­sa­tion of pow­ers, scant re­gard to dif­fer­ent in­sti­tu­tions and their pro­cesses as well as pro­ce­dures and the over­whelm­ing pres­ence of one leader within the party and the gov­ern­ment char­ac­terise the modi regime. modi’s com­plex and controversial per­son­al­ity has won him ad­mir­ers, de­trac­tors as well as tren­chant crit­ics, es­pe­cially among the in­tel­li­gentsia. it has also united di­verse par­ties in­clud­ing the erst­while bit­ter ad­ver­saries such as Sa­ma­jwadi Party and Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party. Hence, the 2019 elec­tions in in­dia are go­ing to be a ref­er­en­dum on whether to re­tain or re­move the modi regime. as against modi’s talk of devel­op­ment, the op­po­si­tion is fo­cussing on grow­ing in­se­cu­ri­ties among mus­lims, dal­its and other mi­nori­ties that are vic­tims of mob lynch­ing and atroc­i­ties. Sadly, un­der the modi regime, the so­cial fab­ric in in­dia ap­pears even more cracked and acutely po­larised on re­li­gious and caste lines. Sim­i­larly by over­look­ing the agenda of devel­op­ment, po­lit­i­cal par­ties of all hues, in their own ways, are dis­play­ing pa­thetic ten­den­cies of ag­gra­vat­ing so­ci­etal di­vi­sions which can yield only short term elec­toral gains. in­deed, since the modi regime has ques­tioned and even dis­rupted sev­eral erst­while no­tions re­lated to sec­u­lar­ism, democ­racy and na­tion­al­ism of the an­cien régime, in­dia is pass­ing through a stage of deep po­lit­i­cal and in­tel­lec­tual churn­ing be­fore it ar­rives at a new equi­lib­rium.

To con­clude, con­ven­tional lib­eral democ­racy ap­pears to be un­der con­spic­u­ous stress even in the es­tab­lished democ­ra­cies like the US, west­ern coun­tries and in­dia while au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes in rus­sia and china are get­ting en­trenched to boost au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes in other parts of the world.

Harshé is pres­i­dent of GB Pant So­cial Sci­ence In­sti­tute, Al­la­habad, and for­mer vice-chan­cel­lor of the Cen­tral Univer­sity of Al­la­habad.

The ero­sion of demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and val­ues has been cu­mu­la­tively shaped by a com­bi­na­tion of com­plex politi­coeco­nomic fac­tors such as the fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008, the flow of refugees from de­vel­op­ing coun­tries to ad­vanced coun­tries, lead­ing to de­mo­graphic changes, the dis­rup­tive na­ture of new tech­nolo­gies and grow­ing unemployment and the re­sul­tant xeno­pho­bia.

Cour­tesy: krem­lin.ru

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