Sunday, 19 May 2024
WorldThree lessons to defend democracy

Three lessons to defend democracy

In 2023, the global political balance has tilted alarmingly toward authoritarianism, outnumbering democracies for the first time in more than two decades. The Democracy Report 2024from Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), highlights an alarming regression: democratic advances, meticulously cultivated over 35 years, have evaporated, leaving global democracy in a state similar to that of 1986. Only 29% of the The world’s population enjoys the benefits of living in democracies, while 43% reside in nations in transition towards forms of authoritarianism.

This democratic deterioration, evidenced in numerous studies, shows disturbingly similar patterns. The classic coups d’état, characterized by the abrupt capture of power, are a thing of the past. Today, democratic erosion occurs when democratically elected leaders undermine institutions from within, following a script that seems taken from a “small dictator’s manual.”

This manual details three main strategies for the surreptitious, but effective, dismantling of democracies. The first of them consists of obtaining control of the media, censoring critical voices and promoting platforms friendly to the regime to control the public narrative. This maneuver not only limits access to diverse and critical information, but also minimizes public scrutiny of the government.

The second focuses on weakening checks and balances, especially the Judiciary, to concentrate more power in the Executive. The manipulation of the appointment of judges, the reform of judicial structures and the establishment of bodies and procedures (internal or external) to control the behavior of judges are efforts aimed at undermining the separation of powers and judicial independence, pillars of any democracy.

Bolsonaro. Undermine institutions. Photo: @bolsonaro.tv

The third and final strategy seeks to polarize and misinform the population, undermining civil and academic organizations. Encouraging polarization serves to consolidate the government’s support base and neutralize the opposition, labeling it as an enemy of the state. The repression of dissident voices prepares the ground for authoritarian changes.

However, despite the effectiveness of these strategies, there are inspiring examples of resistance and democratic recovery, such as Brazil and Poland. In Brazil, following the defeat of Jair Bolsonaro in 2022, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has implemented measures to strengthen democratic institutions and combat disinformation. In Poland, the loss of the elections by the Law and Justice party (PiS) in 2023 has led to the emergence of a new government that immediately began the reversal of some reforms that weakened democracy. These cases offer (also three) hopeful lessons in the face of democratic setbacks and teach us that democracies can resist when their citizens and electoral institutions resist.

First, civil society mobilization and citizen action have been key to confronting democratic erosion in both countries. In Poland, massive protests against judicial reforms and in defense of civil rights, particularly women’s rights, have demonstrated the strength of civil society. In Brazil, mobilizations in defense of the Amazon and human rights also reflected an active commitment to democratic values.

Second, the resistance of democratic institutions to attempts at erosion and their role in promoting democratic recovery have been fundamental. In Poland, despite pressure, the Supreme Court and other judicial institutions have tried to resist reforms that compromise their independence. The European Union has played an important role, imposing sanctions, demanding respect for democratic principles and providing support to institutions under threat. In Brazil, the Federal Supreme Court and the Superior Electoral Court have played a crucial role in defending democracy, ensuring respect for the Constitution and the integrity of the electoral process.

Third, Brazil and Poland have shown that it is possible to recover from democratic erosion through citizen voting. The elections in Brazil in 2022, which resulted in the defeat of Bolsonaro, were possible thanks to a mobilized society aware of the importance of democracy and a robust and transparent electoral system, capable of processing and reflecting the popular will despite the political tensions and challenges.

In Poland, the defeat of PiS illustrates the importance of citizen mobilization and collaboration between opposition parties. Despite challenges to the rule of law and judicial independence, the Polish electoral system maintained the capacity to ensure a free and fair expression of the popular will, while opposition parties managed to overcome differences to generate a single and clear option in favor of democracy.

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Bukele. Weakening of checks and balances. Photo: @presidencia.gob.sv.

The cases of Brazil and Poland demonstrate how democratic erosion can arise from challenges to judicial independence, media control, political polarization and the weakening of institutions. However, they also show that recovery is possible thanks to the combination of democratic institutions capable of sustaining free and competitive elections, an active civil society and a united opposition.

As long as citizens maintain a commitment to democratic values ​​and electoral institutions remain resilient, democracy will prevail.

This opinion text is published in edition 0009 of the magazine Processcorresponding to March 2024, whose digital copy can be purchased at this link.

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