Invitees to President Biden's Democracy Summit do not inspire much confidence
While President Biden is hosting the first of the two Democracy Summits this week in his quest for a renewal, an admission that democracies are gasping, some of his guests do not inspire much hope
Democracy had enjoyed a charm offensive of sorts for the past several decades in the world. But the extended honeymoon seems to be getting over. The emergence of authoritarian populism and strongmen as leaders pose an annoying question in our times: “whether democracy is retiring into a hibernation mode across the world?”
The Global State of Democracy 2021 Report by the International Institute for Democracy and Election Assistance triggers precisely such an apprehension. The report titled Building Resilience in a Pandemic Era has been released recently.
“When the new millennium dawned, the 21st century was hailed as the century of democracy. The future looked bright, as many erstwhile authoritarian and hybrid regimes, such as Armenia, the Gambia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Tunisia, became democracies. The will of people as the only legitimate form of authority seemed to be a popular and rapidly spreading ideal. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated a trend of increasing authoritarianism, across the globe with many countries sliding back down the democratic scale’’- says Dr S.Y. Qureshi in the forward to the report.
The year 2021 witnessed the downfall of government by discussion, -as J.S. Mill called democracy-in Myanmar, Afghanistan and Sudan. Sudan had emancipated itself form the Islamist military regime through the people’s revolution led by the professionals of the country. The military regained power through a ruthless coup. Even though the pro-democracy Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is restored into power, the future of democracy in Sudan seems bleak. The army has tightened its grip on Sudan’s political transition and the military chief Abdel-Fattah al Burhan is still the de facto ruler.
Even the U.S.A, the global champion of liberal democracy, fell victim to authoritarian tendencies in the Donald Trump era and was knocked down a significant number of steps on the democratic scale. The phenomenon of silent death of democracy is conspicuous in the major democracies like India and Brazil. The Global State of Democracy Report 2021 clearly demonstrates that more countries are succumbing to democratic erosion- decline in the quality of democracy.
Democratic Backsliding-severe and deliberate type of democratic erosion has touched its pinnacle in leading democracies like India, Brazil and the U.S.A in the last decade. The aggregate number of people living under undemocratic systems-those living under democratically backsliding nations and outright authoritarian regimes-make up more than two-thirds of the world population.
Authoritarian regimes are growing in number and have become more openly authoritarian. Illiberal democracy has become a vogue with the rise of Erdogan of Turkey and Viktor Orban of Hungary. Saudi Crown Prince MBS epitomise the total authoritarian autocracy and negation of democratic values. The pandemic provided repressive tools of silencing the dissent to the governments in Belarus, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Who will rescue democracy?
Democracy is definitely in peril. Then, a question arises; who will rescue democracy from its imploding-bigmouthed world leaders or the ‘little man’ who needs democracy for his survival?
On December 9-10, 2021, President Biden of the USA, the leader of the mightiest democracy in the world, is hosting the first of two Summits for Democracy, which will bring together leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector to set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action according to the U.S. Department of State notification.
The invitees of the summit include liberal democracies, weaker democracies, and several states with authoritarian characteristics (such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan). Eight invitees fall exceptionally low on these democracy rankings, raising troubling questions about their invitations: Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Serbia, and Zambia.
Four additional invitees prompt serious backsliding concerns due to heightened levels of autocratization or big declines in freedom of expression over the past ten years: Brazil, India, the Philippines, and Poland.
The Biden initiative is a welcome step indeed and his intention seems genuine. But the presence of countries with dubious democratic credentials eclipses the glory of the Democracy Summit.
The tree of democracy flourishes in the plains where the common people dwell; not in the snowy and lofty summits.
“At the bottom of all tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into a little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point"- Sir Winston Churchill beautifully narrated the role of the little common man in democracy. The entire gamut of democracy revolves around the little common man. Hence, in an intimate analysis, the little common man’s eternal vigilance is the price of democracy. And he himself is the guardian angel of democracy and democracy is his life-breath.
(The writer is an independent commentator. Views are personal)