In 1990 with the demise of the Soviet Union, an astute scholar like Francis Fukuyama inferred that liberal democracy had triumphed over the socialist model of governance. Capitalism had trumped socialism in a battle of ideologies that saw the world being divided into two major camps. With the decline of the Soviet Union, we saw the rise of the United States as the leading global power and the rise of its interventionist and unilateral form of politics. The United States saw itself as the guardian or pariah of fundamental democratic institutions across the world and plunged itself into safeguarding the world from tyranny.
The spread of democratic institutionalism became the larger goal of the United States and its partners. But today that important pivot of America’s ‘Agenda for Peace’ lies threatened with democratic institutions facing imminent threats and challenges. Through the contours of this blog I will discuss the inherent and imminent threats to democratic institutions in the 21st century. Democracy is threatened across the world. The world is under the grip of growing rightwing extremism form every quarter- be it the rise of Ms. Theresa May in the UK, Mr. Donald Trump in the United States or Mr. Narendra Modi in India. The world is looking rightwards and democratic institutions are facing their toughest battles. The worst is not over yet with the likes of Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro clearing the way to become President of the major South American nation.
So, what is the common thread that binds most of them? Well, the answer is much too clear. They were all leaders at the margins who became mainstream with the passage of time. Secondly, they touched the chords of the public at a time when the going was tough for most people. Thirdly, they remain in power because the opposition is weak and there is no popular leader to contest them. Fourthly, they are all powerful individuals who are great policy strategists who know the art of winning elections. These points are worth considering especially at a time when the annual Democracy Index has suggested that only 4.9% of the world’s population lives in proper democracies as opposed to 8.9% in 2015. The United States itself has been demoted by the Economist from the status of a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy”. With curbs on freedom of speech and expression, the United States has grown inwards. This is an alarming trend especially because democratic institutions are facing trying challenges in western and non western countries simultaneously. The most undemocratic countries include Chad, Congo, North Korea and Syria while the list of fully functional democracies is a small one with the Nordic Republics like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and others making the cut. But the situation continues to be alarming because the major chunk of the world is living under undemocratic regimes.
Professor Staffan I. Lindberg argues that though democracy may mean different things to different people, it is ideally viewed as “an intrinsic good” which gives humans the right to self government and the right to live under conditions of one’s choosing. Now, Modi’s India in 2017 does not do well within this democratic framework. But alarmingly, public satisfaction with the regime has seen a swift rise. The Parliament especially the Lower House continues to be held strongly by the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and its allies. India looks upbeat as it looks at higher economic growth rates but at massive costs.
Therefore, democracy is struggling to survive across the world and it continues to be seen how nations tide over the crisis. France has led the way like always and rejected Ms. Marine LePen in favour of President Emmanuel Macron. It is to be seen when the world follows the French.
This piece is written by Anuttama Banerji . Anuttama is Associate Researcher at Govern.