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The Death of Democracy

Is Democracy in crises or is this moment just a blip in history?

It is easy to be pessimistic about the state of democracy in our world today. The alarming developments in the U.S and elsewhere may not be a blip in history – as it seems like authoritarianism may be becoming a more fashionable trend.

It once seemed like democracy was on a remarkable global run, as the number of democracies essentially held steady or expanded every year from 1975 until 2007 [1].

This is what Samuel P. Huntington dubbed the “third wave” of global democratization. Political scientists from Huntington to Fukuyama characterize electoral democracy as a system in which citizens, through universal suffrage, can choose and replace their leaders in free, fair and meaningful elections – and both political scientists remain optimistic that this is a global trend.

When measuring which states are democratic and which states are not – it is important to note that democracies are diverse and use different methods of representation that yield different laws and institutions.

Democracies feature key components – such as freedom of expression; opposition access to mass media and campaign finance; inclusiveness of suffrage; fairness and neutrality of electoral administration and the rule of law, to name a few.

The world has been in a mild but protracted democratic recession since about 2006. Beyond the lack of improvement or modest erosion of global levels of democracy and freedom, there have been several other causes for concern.

There are alarming rates of democratic erosion from 1974 and the end of 2014, 29% of all the democracies in the world down. The rate was even higher among non-Western democracies.

Since 2000, there have been 25 democracies that have decayed. This is not only from military coups. Many Democracies have made subtle and incremental degradations of democratic rights and procedures that finally push a democratic system over the threshold into competitive authoritarianism.

For instance, in Russia, there has been executive degradation and a violation of opposition rights that has been exhilarating since 2000. In Turkey, there has been executive degradation and a violation of opposition rights since 2014, and it was only made worse by the Coup in 2016. In Egypt circa 2013, the democratic experiment there was permanently disrupted by a Military Coup.

To make matter worse, there has also been a sizable decline of Freedom and the Rule of Law. A Freedom House study found that in each of the eight consecutive years from 2006 through 2013 more countries declined in freedom than improved. This has been complemented by an authoritarian resurgence that creates a toxic atmosphere for democratic survival.

In Russia, space for political opposition, principled dissent, and civil society activity outside the control of the ruling authorities has been shrinking, In China, human-rights defenders and civil society activists have faced increasing harassment and victimization.

The only thing we can do now to prevent further democratic decay is to rebuild. We need more resourceful International engagement that will yield more robust democratic institutions. If we don’t act now, democratic decay can soon turn into complete doom.

Sources [1] Diamond, Larry. "Facing up to the democratic recession." Journal of Democracy 26, no. 1 (2015): 141-155.


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