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Countries veering towards authoritarianism on rise: report

Context:

According to the Global State of Democracy Report, 2021 released by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International-IDEA) – the number of countries moving towards authoritarianism in 2020 was higher than that of countries going in the other direction, towards democracy.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Governance)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is Democracy?
  2. Understanding Constitutional Democracy
  3. Opposite of Democracy – Autocracy
  4. Highlights of the Global State of Democracy Report, 2021
  5. Why is Democracy better than other regimes?

What is Democracy?

  • Democracy is a form of government in which the people have the authority to choose their governing legislation.
  • The word democratic refers not only to political democracy but also to social and economic democracy.
  • The two current types of democracy are:
    • Direct democracy: The people directly deliberate and decide on legislation.
    • Indirect / Representative democracy: The people elect representatives to deliberate and decide on legislation (such as in parliamentary or presidential democracy.)
  • The people of India elect their governments by a system of universal adult franchise, popularly known as “one person one vote”.

Understanding Constitutional Democracy

  • The basic difference between a democracy and a constitutional democracy is that while democracy can only guarantee that the power is vested with the people (the majority, in fact), the constitution preserves the rights of the minority and prevents them from unwelcome contingencies of the majority will.
  • The constitution also acts as a bridge between the people and the state, a bridge that was curated with a vision to put a check on state power. It also protects the pluralistic fabric of the society from the succumbing to the waves of temperamental shift in public mood.
  • The constitutional morality balances popular morality and acts as a threshold against an upsurge in mob rule.

Opposite of Democracy – Autocracy

  • Autocracy is a system of government in which supreme power over a state is concentrated in the hands of one person (commonly referred to as a dictator), whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of coup d’état or other forms of rebellion).
  • Both totalitarian and military dictatorship are often identified with, but need not be, an autocracy.
  • Totalitarianism is a system where the state strives to control every aspect of life and civil society. It can be headed by a supreme leader, making it autocratic, but it can also have a collective leadership such as a commune, military junta, or a single political party as in the case of a one-party state.

Highlights of the Global State of Democracy Report, 2021

  • According to the report – while 20 countries moved in the direction of authoritarianism, seven countries moved towards democracy.
  • The pandemic has prolonged this existing negative trend into a five-year stretch, the longest such period since the start of the third wave of democratisation in the 1970s.
  • Democratically elected Governments, including established democracies, are increasingly adopting authoritarian tactics. This democratic backsliding has often enjoyed significant popular support.
  • The report highlighted the case of Brazil and India as “some of the most worrying examples of backsliding. However, India remained in the category of a mid-level performing democracy as it has since 2000, the report showed.
  • The United States and three members of the European Union (EU) [Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, which holds the chair of the EU in 2021] have also seen concerning democratic declines.
  • In non-democratic regimes, the trend was deepening according to the report.
  • The report cited the example of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations about electoral integrity as part of the increasing trend of questioning elections in established democracies.

Why is Democracy better than other regimes?

Evidence

  • Except China – Authoritarian states have not performed better than democracies. E.g., Africa and West Asia, where authoritarian governments have dominated, remain world economic laggards.
  • In Taiwan and South Korea, their transitions to democracy saw their economies moving up to the next level and become much more inclusive.
  • Similarly, the Latin American military dictatorships of the 1960s and 1970s had a terrible economic and social record and with the return of democracy and the “pink wave” of Left populist parties that prosperity and social progress were ushered in.

Evidence from Inclusive states in India

  • Kerala and Tamil Nadu have done more to improve the lives of all their citizens across castes and classes than any other State in India and both states have also had the longest and most sustained popular democratic movements and intense party competition in the country.
  • In contrast, in Gujarat, where a single-party rule has been in place for nearly a quarter century, growth has been solid. But it is accompanied by increased social exclusion and stagnation in educational achievement and poverty reduction.

Myths around authoritarian model of decision-making

  • The assumption that the authoritarianism model of decision-making can rise above the challenges in a democratic setup is false.
  • Democracies are in fact more likely to meet the necessary conditions for successful decision-making as elected representatives are answerable to a broad electorate if they want to win elections.
  • Democracy allows for forms of negotiation and compromise that can bridge across interests and even balance otherwise conflicting imperatives for growth, justice, sustainability, and social inclusion.
  • Democracy’s conflicts and noise may make things more difficult, but having to respond to a wide range of interests and identities not only protects against disastrous decisions, but also allows for forms of negotiation and compromise that can bridge interests and even balance otherwise conflicting imperatives for growth, justice, sustainability, and social inclusion.

Equality and Freedom

  • Democracy promotes equality by endowing all citizens with the same civic, political and social rights even as it protects and nurtures individuality and difference.
  • Whereas in China (authoritarian state) the cost of development is huge – e.g., Cultural Revolution has made enemies out of neighbors and the One child policy has devastated families and erased a generation. Ongoing violent, systematic repression of the Uyghur Muslim and Tibetan minorities is also a case in point against Authoritarian decision making.
  • Conversely, India’s democracy has opened social and political spaces for subordinate groups and has built a sense of shared identity and belonging in the world’s largest and most diverse society. Individual liberties, community identities, religion and thought freedoms, all of which confer recognition on human beings, have all been protected in India.

-Source: The Hindu

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