Dim outlook for democracy

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Hiroki Sugita

IS democratisation, once seen as an irreversible wave progressing around the world, now receding? This question arises in our minds following the events of the last several months. Turkey was hit by a coup attempt, as a result of which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a state of emergency and purged many people in the army and civil service. In Thailand, a national referendum adopted the military-drafted constitution that allows junta-appointed senators to take part in choosing the prime minister.
The Middle East represents a prime example of the setbacks being experienced by democracy, with authoritarian rules being revived after a miserable end to the Arab Spring democratisation movement. In general many reasons come to mind for the explanation of the setback of democratisation movements. Military and political elites attempt to hang on to their power and the public at large resents the instability that can occur during the process of democratisation. In the decade of economic downturn that has occurred since the financial crisis of 2008, and then the global contraction caused by slowdown of the Chinese economy, many nations have considered economic recovery to be more important than introducing democratic systems. Often, such nations believe dictatorial regimes are far more efficient at achieving orderly growth.
Moreover, the recent negative views of liberal democracies in the Western world cannot be ignored. Their previously shining images have been tarnished by the failure to solve their social and economic problems. Liberal democracies cannot mitigate the gap between the rich and the poor, nor diffuse rising fear among traditional residents facing a gradual influx of immigrants.
Inward-looking politicians have turned their backs on international humanitarian crises to focus on their own countries’ problems. In many democratic countries, the right-wing political parties are gaining support by advancing nationalistic and xenophobic policies. In the United States, the long-standing beacon of human rights and democracy, the world watched gruesome footage of African-Americans shot dead by white policemen and white policemen targeted and killed by an African-American sniper.
Half a century has passed since the violent racial clashes of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. However, these and other shootings make it evident that the US has not solved its deep-rooted problems of racial hostilities or issues relating to gun control. The year 2015 was marked as the 10th consecutive year of a decline in global freedom in Freedom in the World 2016, a report issued by Freedom House, an organization surveying democracies and freedom worldwide.
The report argued that Europe’s inability to manage the surge of asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa — as well as years of economic slowdown — are being used as a pretext for populists to rail against the European Union and the liberal, universal values that the Western democracies represent. The British decision to leave the European Union and the US nomination of Donald Trump as the presidential candidate of the Republican Party are being viewed globally as signs of weakened Western democracies. Even in Japan, a success story for democracy in Asia, many people are frustrated with the political system. According to an opinion poll released by Genron NPO, a think tank in Tokyo, only 1 in 5 have an optimistic view of Japan’s future, with many considering that Japan’s democratic systems are not working to solve the lingering problems of a stagnating economy and a gigantic fiscal debt.
Liberal democracy remains appealing in some emerging and developing countries. It is true that liberal democracies protect human rights and find alternatives to going to war to resolve issues. They foster a healthy market economy and growth in the long run. Even given the strong economic growth of China and the political stability of Russia, the majority of people living in liberal democracies would not consider moving to Beijing or Moscow as permanent settlers. Nevertheless, the general global trend for democracies is not regarded as bright, especially by people in the advanced democratic countries. The core issue is how to revitalise governments to provide citizens with freedom, security and growth.
— Courtesy: The Japan Times