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Tag Archives: Democracy

Infographic: The State of Global Democracy in 2022

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Visual Capitalist

Infographic: How Many People Live in a Political Democracy Today?

See large image . . . . . .

Forms of Political Democracies and Autocracies

Liberal democracies: Judicial and legislative branches have oversight of the chief executive, rule of law, and individual liberties.
Electoral democracies: Hold multiparty de-facto elections that are free and fair, have an elected executive, and institutional democratic freedoms such as voting rights, clean elections, and freedom of expression.

Electoral autocracies: Hold de-facto elections; democratic standards are lacking and irregular.

Closed autocracies: No elections are held for the chief executive or no meaningful competition is present.

Source : Visual Capitalist

Ukraine Invasion Spotlights the Delicate State of Democracy

Ted Anthony wrote . . . . . . . . .

The secretary-general of the United Nations opened the most recent annual meeting of Earth’s leaders with a bleak assessment of the planet’s state of affairs. Humanity, he said, faced “a moment of truth.”

“Peace. Human rights. Dignity for all. Equality. Justice. Solidarity. Like never before, core values are in the crosshairs,” Antonio Guterres said. “A sense of impunity is taking hold.”

Guterres’ message to the U.N. General Assembly takes on even more relevance with the Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine. Those things he outlined? They are bedrock principles of democracy — a once-on-the-upswing method of human governance that in recent years has been taking body blows across the world.

Vladimir Putin’s invasion advances the anti-democratic trend – one that has seen strongmen, some elected, prod their nations toward dictatorship and ignore once-solid democratic norms. In doing so, they are collectively pounding at the door of democracy’s always-delicate house.

The invasion is “surely a watershed moment for the future of global democracy,” says Stephen E. Hanson, a professor of government at William & Mary in Virginia and author of “Post-Imperial Democracies,” which in part examines Russia after the Soviet Union dissolved.

In recent years, the ascent of a group of what some consider dictators within democracies — Putin, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Narendra Modi of India, Viktor Orbán of Hungary — has gradually chipped away at the outer boundaries of democratic systems while still talking the talk of democratic principles. Appearing democratic, it seems, is the new democracy.

In the United States, Donald Trump has produced similar concerns, stoked by his ongoing claims of a stolen election. That has helped inspire efforts to change state laws to limit access to polls, and to stock election administration roles with allies, stoking fears that a free and fair vote may be overturned in a nation that was, until recently, a beacon for the world’s democracies.

The rub: Each of these leaders has been chosen by their people — or, at least, by democratic-style systems. “Globally, populists that undermine democratic norms have gained more traction in elections over the past 20 years,” says Douglas Page, a political scientist at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.

This gradual rebranding of democracy for the 21st century has been exacerbated by leaders of more traditionally authoritarian governments who call their systems democratic, too. Even China’s Xi Jinping, never a democrat, has maneuvered his nation’s hybrid of communist tenets and market economy into a personality-driven rule that is presented as a form of democracy.

So when Putin orders the invasion of Ukraine in a manner that tacitly invokes democratic principles even as he circumvents them, he offers up a face of democracy as viewed through a glass, darkly. Experts say this is designed to give him cover as a democratic leader at home while allowing him to do pretty much what he wants elsewhere.

“The space he holds on the democratic scale, he is not a full-blown authoritarian leader. He doesn’t have the same means available to oppress his people. He still has democratic elements, even though they’re vanishing,” says Stefanie Kasparek, an assistant professor of government at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania who studies international political institutions.

Not that Putin has worried excessively about appearing democratic. At home, he has spent years harshly stamping out both public dissent and political opposition, targeting rivals and jailing opposition party leader Alexei Navalny, whom the Kremlin declared a terrorist last month. Nevertheless, says Kasparek, “There are democratic elements that he can’t fully ignore.”

That was illustrated Tuesday when Russia’s upper legislative house, the Federation Council, voted unanimously to allow Putin to use military force outside the country. Yet the ask — largely pro forma, given Putin’s level of authority — gave him cover to say that his actions were endorsed by democratic systems within his own nation.

“Democracy led to Putin being in power in the first place and has served him considerably as a tool to keep power,” Crystal Brown, a political and social scientist at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts who studies the effect of institutions on global political systems, said in an email.

Why is the appearance of democracy — or, at least, the surface reliance on it even when a leader’s actions seem undemocratic — so important? It’s a complex question.

In Putin’s case, while his through-line may be a glorious re-aggregation of the Soviet Union, he is playing to a domestic audience that includes many who turned their back on that same communist-era collection of republics — and in some cases did so using democracy as a North Star. To them, the principle is important.

So Putin deploys raw power externally, in everything from his approach in Crimea to the online attacks on U.S. elections — and thus is able to flout the West, which holds itself up as democracy’s standard-bearer. Internally, he is constrained by the support he needs from those inside Russia wary of dictatorial authority being used against them.

This two-pronged approach to democracy — making a show of upholding the very tenets one is violating — is hardly limited to Putin. It has played out in other nations, with sometimes chaotic outcomes.

In the United States, for example, Trump’s baseless allegations of fraud in the 2020 election won by Joe Biden — an attempt to wipe away a democratic process — helped fuel the rage that produced the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters trying to overturn the outcome. Through it, Trump insisted he was the champion of democracy, not the one getting in its way.

“Everywhere these men make the same basic argument: The `neoliberal’ order merely pretends to be democratic, when in fact it is run by representatives of the `deep state’ who conspire to steal from ordinary people and undermine social order through the destruction of traditional moral values,” Hanson says.

“They portray themselves as the unique saviors of the traditional nation, and demand unconditional personal loyalty from all who serve them,” he said in an email. “That such a recipe for the destruction of democratic institutions has proven to be so potent around the world is one of the most remarkable developments of the early 21st century.”

What, then, might the unfolding of the Ukraine saga mean for democracy writ large? Biden insists the outcome is certain: “In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake: Freedom will prevail,” Biden said in an address Thursday.

He made it sound obvious. But given recent years’ events — including those leading up to his inauguration — reality is less definitive. Democracy doesn’t always prevail. And even when it does take hold, its permanence isn’t guaranteed — a lesson that, just like during the Cold War, goes far beyond what’s happening in eastern Europe right now.

“The world does not want to enter into a large-scale conflict. That gives a lot of leeway for leaders to push those boundaries of democratic appearance without actually being democratic,” Kasparek says. “It’s effectively a game of chicken.”

In that metaphor, democracy itself is the car. But the problem with a game of chicken quickly becomes obvious: Eventually, inevitably, you crash.

Source : AP

Dystopia Disguised as Democracy: All the Ways in Which Freedom Is an Illusion

John W. Whitehead & Nisha Whitehead wrote . . . . . . . . .

“The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.”—Frank Zappa

We are no longer free.

We are living in a world carefully crafted to resemble a representative democracy, but it’s an illusion.

We think we have the freedom to elect our leaders, but we’re only allowed to participate in the reassurance ritual of voting. There can be no true electoral choice or real representation when we’re limited in our options to one of two candidates culled from two parties that both march in lockstep with the Deep State and answer to an oligarchic elite.

We think we have freedom of speech, but we’re only as free to speak as the government and its corporate partners allow.

We think we have the right to freely exercise our religious beliefs, but those rights are quickly overruled if and when they conflict with the government’s priorities, whether it’s COVID-19 mandates or societal values about gender equality, sex and marriage.

We think we have the freedom to go where we want and move about freely, but at every turn, we’re hemmed in by laws, fines and penalties that regulate and restrict our autonomy, and surveillance cameras that monitor our movements. Punitive programs strip citizens of their passports and right to travel over unpaid taxes.

We think we have property interests in our homes and our bodies, but there can be no such freedom when the government can seize your property, raid your home, and dictate what you do with your bodies.

We think we have the freedom to defend ourselves against outside threats, but there is no right to self-defense against militarized police who are authorized to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, and granted immunity from accountability with the general blessing of the courts. Certainly, there can be no right to gun ownership in the face of red flag gun laws which allow the police to remove guns from people merely suspected of being threats.

We think we have the right to an assumption of innocence until we are proven guilty, but that burden of proof has been turned on its head by a surveillance state that renders us all suspects and overcriminalization which renders us all lawbreakers. Police-run facial recognition software that mistakenly labels law-abiding citizens as criminals. A social credit system (similar to China’s) that rewards behavior deemed “acceptable” and punishes behavior the government and its corporate allies find offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

We think we have the right to due process, but that assurance of justice has been stripped of its power by a judicial system hardwired to act as judge, jury and jailer, leaving us with little recourse for appeal. A perfect example of this rush to judgment can be found in the proliferation of profit-driven speed and red light cameras that do little for safety while padding the pockets of government agencies.

We have been saddled with a government that pays lip service to the nation’s freedom principles while working overtime to shred the Constitution.

By gradually whittling away at our freedoms—free speech, assembly, due process, privacy, etc.—the government has, in effect, liberated itself from its contractual agreement to respect the constitutional rights of the citizenry while resetting the calendar back to a time when we had no Bill of Rights to protect us from the long arm of the government.

Aided and abetted by the legislatures, the courts and Corporate America, the government has been busily rewriting the contract (a.k.a. the Constitution) that establishes the citizenry as the masters and agents of the government as the servants.

We are now only as good as we are useful, and our usefulness is calculated on an economic scale by how much we are worth—in terms of profit and resale value—to our “owners.”

Under the new terms of this revised, one-sided agreement, the government and its many operatives have all the privileges and rights and “we the people” have none.

Only in our case, sold on the idea that safety, security and material comforts are preferable to freedom, we’ve allowed the government to pave over the Constitution in order to erect a concentration camp.

The problem with these devil’s bargains, however, is that there is always a catch, always a price to pay for whatever it is we valued so highly as to barter away our most precious possessions.

We’ve bartered away our right to self-governance, self-defense, privacy, autonomy and that most important right of all: the right to tell the government to “leave me the hell alone.” In exchange for the promise of safe streets, safe schools, blight-free neighborhoods, lower taxes, lower crime rates, and readily accessible technology, health care, water, food and power, we’ve opened the door to militarized police, government surveillance, asset forfeiture, school zero tolerance policies, license plate readers, red light cameras, SWAT team raids, health care mandates, overcriminalization and government corruption.

In the end, such bargains always turn sour.

We asked our lawmakers to be tough on crime, and we’ve been saddled with an abundance of laws that criminalize almost every aspect of our lives. So far, we’re up to 4500 criminal laws and 300,000 criminal regulations that result in average Americans unknowingly engaging in criminal acts at least three times a day. For instance, the family of an 11-year-old girl was issued a $535 fine for violating the Federal Migratory Bird Act after the young girl rescued a baby woodpecker from predatory cats.

We wanted criminals taken off the streets, and we didn’t want to have to pay for their incarceration. What we’ve gotten is a nation that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 2.3 million people locked up, many of them doing time for relatively minor, nonviolent crimes, and a private prison industry fueling the drive for more inmates, who are forced to provide corporations with cheap labor.

We wanted law enforcement agencies to have the necessary resources to fight the nation’s wars on terror, crime and drugs. What we got instead were militarized police decked out with M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers, battle tanks and hollow point bullets—gear designed for the battlefield, more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year (many for routine police tasks, resulting in losses of life and property), and profit-driven schemes that add to the government’s largesse such as asset forfeiture, where police seize property from “suspected criminals.”

We fell for the government’s promise of safer roads, only to find ourselves caught in a tangle of profit-driven red-light cameras, which ticket unsuspecting drivers in the so-called name of road safety while ostensibly fattening the coffers of local and state governments. Despite widespread public opposition, corruption and systemic malfunctions, these cameras are particularly popular with municipalities, which look to them as an easy means of extra cash. Building on the profit-incentive schemes, the cameras’ manufacturers are also pushing speed cameras and school bus cameras, both of which result in hefty fines for violators who speed or try to go around school buses.

We’re being subjected to the oldest con game in the books, the magician’s sleight of hand that keeps you focused on the shell game in front of you while your wallet is being picked clean by ruffians in your midst.

This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

With every new law enacted by federal and state legislatures, every new ruling handed down by government courts, and every new military weapon, invasive tactic and egregious protocol employed by government agents, “we the people” are being reminded that we possess no rights except for that which the government grants on an as-needed basis.

Indeed, there are chilling parallels between the authoritarian prison that is life in the American police state and The Prisoner, a dystopian television series that first broadcast in Great Britain more than 50 years ago.

The series centers around a British secret agent (played by Patrick McGoohan) who finds himself imprisoned, monitored by militarized drones, and interrogated in a mysterious, self-contained, cosmopolitan, seemingly idyllic retirement community known only as The Village. While luxurious and resort-like, the Village is a virtual prison disguised as a seaside paradise: its inhabitants have no true freedom, they cannot leave the Village, they are under constant surveillance, their movements are tracked by surveillance drones, and they are stripped of their individuality and identified only by numbers.

Much like the American Police State, The Prisoner’s Village gives the illusion of freedom while functioning all the while like a prison: controlled, watchful, inflexible, punitive, deadly and inescapable.

Described as “an allegory of the individual, aiming to find peace and freedom in a dystopia masquerading as a utopia,” The Prisoner is a chilling lesson about how difficult it is to gain one’s freedom in a society in which prison walls are disguised within the trappings of technological and scientific progress, national security and so-called democracy.

Perhaps the best visual debate ever on individuality and freedom, The Prisoner confronted societal themes that are still relevant today: the rise of a police state, the freedom of the individual, round-the-clock surveillance, the corruption of government, totalitarianism, weaponization, group think, mass marketing, and the tendency of mankind to meekly accept his lot in life as a prisoner in a prison of his own making.

The Prisoner is an operations manual for how you condition a populace to life as prisoners in a police state: by brainwashing them into believing they are free so that they will march in lockstep with the state and be incapable of recognizing the prison walls that surround them.

We can no longer maintain the illusion of freedom.

Source : The Rutherford Institute

Charts: The Best and Worst Countries For Democracy

Source : Statista

G7 Condemns ‘Erosion’ of Democracy in Hong Kong Election

World powers have condemned a tightly-vetted legislature vote in Hong Kong, saying rules imposed by Beijing that reduced directly elected seats and controlled who could stand, has eroded democracy in the Chinese territory.

China has overseen a sweeping crackdown in the former British colony in response to huge and often violent democracy protests that took place two years ago.

It imposed a national security law, which introduced political rules that vet the loyalty of anyone standing for office, and criminalises much dissent.

The first public vote under this new order was held on Sunday for the city’s legislature, with a historic low turnout. The number of those directly elected was drastically reduced from 45 to 20 members — out of 90 Legislative Council seats.

Figures showed just 30 percent of the electorate cast ballots, the lowest rate since the city’s 1997 handover to China and the British colonial era.

Turnout at the last legislature polls in 2016 was 58 percent, while the 2019 district council elections — when pro-democracy figures won a landslide — saw a record 71 percent.

The foreign ministers of the G7 group of most developed nations expressed “grave concern over the erosion of democratic elements” in Hong Kong’s electoral system after the election.

They said the new vetting process to “severely restrict the choice of candidates on the ballot paper undermined Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy” under the principle of One Country, Two Systems agreed for the handover of the territory from the UK to China in 1997.

The foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and US called on China “to restore confidence in Hong Kong’s political institutions and end the unwarranted oppression of those who promote democratic values and the defence of rights and freedoms”.

‘Dismantling One Country, Two Systems’

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement that the election was “yet another step in the dismantling of the One Country, Two Systems principle”. He called for a “high degree of autonomy as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles and the rule of law” in Hong Kong.

In an earlier statement, Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand rebuked the new system in even stronger language, saying “these changes eliminated any meaningful political opposition”.

“We also remain gravely concerned at the wider chilling effect of the national security law and the growing restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, which are being felt across civil society,” the five Western allies added.

In response, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Britain called the comments “irresponsible” and said that they distorted facts and maliciously discredited the election, which “gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs and violated the basic norms governing international relations”.

“The Chinese side expresses firm opposition and strong condemnation,” the spokesperson said in a statement on the embassy’s website.

Beijing has called on Hong Kongers to embrace the new rules that they say will restore stability and root out disruptive “anti-China” elements for good.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the new system and brushed off the low turnout.

“Hong Kong is now back on the right track,” she told reporters. “We cannot copy and paste the so-called democratic system or rules of the Western countries.”

Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, blamed the low turnout on the pandemic and “anti-China elements bent on destroying Hong Kong and the interference of external forces”.

In March, a 1,500-member committee stacked with Beijing loyalists will pick the city’s next leader.

With her public approval ratings at about 36 percent, Lam has declined to say whether she will seek another term.

Hong Kong has never been a full democracy under either colonial Britain or China.

But Beijing’s crackdown and political reforms mean Hong Kongers have less say in who runs their city than they used to.

Most of the city’s prominent democracy activists — including many former elected lawmakers — are either in jail, in exile, or disqualified from standing.

Nathan Law, a former lawmaker now living in Britain who is wanted by Hong Kong authorities, called the weekend’s vote a “fake election”.

“The boycott from Hong Kong people shows there’s no mandate to this legislature,” he wrote on Twitter.

Forty of the Legislative Council members were picked by the 1,500-strong Election Committee, which will also choose the city’s next leader.

The remaining 30 were chosen by larger pro-Beijing committees that represent special-interest and industry groups.

Only a dozen candidates who made it through the vetting process were identified as “centrist” or “non-establishment” by local media, but none won enough votes.

The result is a legislature now stacked with government loyalists similar to the Chinese mainland’s rubber stamp lawmaking bodies.

“The new Legislative Council, now under the complete control of patriots, will function effectively as the guardian of national security and unity,” Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of Beijing’s top Hong Kong think-tank, wrote in the state-run China Daily.

Analysts warned the new system could leave the city’s rulers even more out of touch with its residents.

“The tension between the authorities and the people will remain in place for a long time while the legislators won’t be mediators because they have to toe Beijing’s line,” Chung Kim-wah of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute told AFP news agency.

Source : Aljazeera

Read also at Bloomberg

Hong Kong Democrats Boycott Election Stage-Managed by Beijing . . . . .


陳景祥 wrote . . . . . . . . .









立法會選舉 5個議題值得留意


(1) 搞「清一色」否?



(2 )議員如何分類?



(3) 需否協調出選?














Source : Ming Pao

Chart: 10 Years After the Arab Spring: Gains for Democracy?

Source : Statista

Afghanistan and the Sham of Democracy Promotion

James Bovard wrote . . . . . . . . .

Americans finally recognize the military lies that pervaded the success claims of the 20-year war in Afghanistan. But democracy promotion was an even bigger sham. Afghanistan was Exhibit A for the triumphal crusade to spread freedom and democracy.

After the U.S. invasion in 2001, the U.S. government spent more than $600 million to support elections and democratic procedures in Afghanistan (part of the $143 billion the U.S. spent there for relief and reconstruction). Washington bragging points were always more important than Afghan preferences. “In 2002 and 2003, when Afghan tribal councils gathered to write a new constitution, the U.S. government gave [bribes] to delegates who supported Washington’s preferred stance on human rights and women’s rights,” the Washington Post reported in 2019. President George W. Bush boasted in 2004: “Afghanistan has now got a constitution which talks about freedom of religion and talks about women’s rights…Democracy is flourishing.” Though Bush’s reelection campaign speeches were larded with such lines, women in many parts of Afghanistan continued to be oppressed even worse than characters in American country music songs. One international aid worker commented that during the Taliban era “if a woman went to market and showed an inch of flesh she would have been flogged—now she’s raped.”

Hamid Karzai, the slick operator who the Bush administration installed to rule Afghanistan after 9/11, won a rigged 2004 presidential election. Karzai approved a law that entitled a husband to starve his wife if she refused his sexual demands.

During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama labeled the conflict in Afghanistan the “right war.” By the time Obama took office, the Taliban were vigorously reviving and Afghans were shunning the corrupt puppet regime the U.S. installed in 2002.

President Obama justified his 2009 troop surge in Afghanistan to bolster its democracy. When Obama spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in August 2009, he boasted that “our troops are helping to secure polling places for this week’s election so that Afghans can choose the future that they want.” In reality, Obama effectively sent American soldiers to serve as bodyguards for Karzai’s minions to steal the election. At first glance, Karzai won a narrow victory. But two weeks after the election, the New York Times reported that Karzai’s operatives set up as many as 800 fictitious polling sites “where no one voted but where hundreds of thousands of ballots were still recorded toward the president’s re-election.” In some Afghan provinces, pro-Karzai ballots outnumbered actual voters by tenfold. Peter Galbraith, a senior United Nations official in Afghanistan, was fired after he estimated that a third of Karzai’s votes were bogus. Galbraith wrote, “No amount of spin can obscure the fact that we spent upwards of $200 million on an election that has been a total fiasco” which “handed the Taliban its greatest strategic victory.”

Despite the shenanigans, the Obama administration praised Karzai as if he had won fair and square. The Obama administration told Congress that the decision to send far more U.S. troops to Afghanistan depended on the Afghan government’s “ability to hold credible elections,” among other tests. After the 2009 Afghan election turned into a sham, Obama decided it was “close enough for government work” to democracy. Thanks to Obama’s surge, 1,400 American soldiers died in part to propagate the mirage of Afghan democracy.

Afghan officials conspired for more than 15 years to both multiply and ignore election fraud. As early as 2009, U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that the result was that the Afghan government’s legitimacy “is, at best, in question right now and, at worst, doesn’t exist.” An analysis by the U.S. Agency for International Development of the 2014 Afghan election noted that “several prominent election officials associated with fraud during past elections were promoted or given ministerial appointments.”

Behind closed door, D.C. poohbahs admitted their Afghan charade. At a confidential 2015 National Security Council meeting, President Obama admitted that the U.S. would never “transform Afghanistan into a semblance of a democracy able to defend itself,” the New York Times reported. But that didn’t deter Obama from publicly bragging the following year that U.S. troops and diplomats had helped Afghanistan “establish a democratic government.”

To buttress the new democracy, the U.S. government spent a billion dollars to promote the “rule of law” and justice reform in Afghanistan. But such programs were as wasteful as the rest of the U.S. dollar deluge on that nation. As the Christian Science Monitor noted in mid-2010, the Obama administration’s Agency for International Development “created an atmosphere of frantic urgency about the ‘burn rate’—a measure of how quickly money is spent. Emphasis gets put on spending fast to make room for the next batch from Congress.”

One American contractor received $35 million to promote the rule of law in Afghanistan in part by distributing kites and comic books to kids. The New York Times reported that the contractor “arranged an event to hand out kites and comic books to children. The kites were festooned with slogans about gender equality and rule of law that most of the attendees could not read. Police officers guarding the event stole many of the kites, beating some of the children, while fathers snatched kites from their girls to give to the boys.” A 2015 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report found that the Afghan “rule of law” spending had been a dismal failure.

Afghan democracy was a bigger fraud than almost anyone wanted in D.C. would admit. One of the best demolitions can be found in a February 2021 report, “Elections: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan,” produced by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). After more than 15 years of pro-democracy “assistance,” Afghanistan’s 2019 presidential election was “the most corrupt the country had ever held,” according to expert consulted by SIGAR.

U.S. tax dollars poured into the coffers of Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) to safeguard voting. Alas—that agency was a prime source of the most brazen vote stealing. ECC bosses were careful not to hire almost anyone with electoral experience since such folks might raise troubling questions. A former top ECC official told SIGAR that “one criterion for chief electoral officer applicants in 2018 was how well the candidates were dressed. He said this category was used as a pretext to reduce the scores of less pliable candidates.” It is unknown whether this villainy character test was inspired by Washington’s K Street lobbyists.

Afghan elections were institutionalized racketeering because the rules were always in flux. SIGAR noted, “Only one of the country’s election laws has ever been passed by parliament; the rest were presidential decrees that were never referred to the parliament for consideration.” The SIGAR report quoted election experts: “The likelihood of a credible election is inversely proportional to the degree to which the ruling regime directly controls the election management body.” Afghan voting records were a total mess, making it easy for politicians to fabricate claims about the “will of the people.” SIGAR concluded, “Afghanistan’s national voter registry and the voter registration process are exceptionally vulnerable to manipulation and mismanagement.”

It is tricky to build a viable democracy when elected officials receive a license to steal. After noting the hefty bribes that politicians pay to election officials, SIGAR explained: “One reason candidates may be willing to pay such high prices for seats in parliament is to protect ill-gotten fortunes…By becoming members of parliament, they can gain access to new sources of illicit revenue and immunity from prosecution.” That parliament was the last place on earth to seek support for honest elections.

Afghan experiences also offer lessons for Americans confounded by disputes regarding the 2020 U.S. election, including the controversies surrounding computer voting. As one election expert told SIGAR, “There is no difference between stuffing 100 ballots and pressing a button on an electronic voting machine 100 times.” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani decreed that the 2019 election must rely on electronic voting. But SIGAR noted that electronic voting “did not reduce fraud overall; it just displaced it to other parts of the electoral cycle.” Confidence in Afghan electronic voting was not assisted by the secrecy surrounding the software and equipment. After the 2019 presidential election, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission declared that it could not “share information” about how votes were being reconciled because “the contractor, Dermalog, controlled that process.” SIGAR quoted experts who warned that “because governments often control electoral commissions and the procurement of election technology, they are well placed to use it to commit fraud.” SIGAR ruefully noted, “The true purpose of adopting election technologies may not be to actually reduce fraud, but to create the illusion of doing so.”

Afghan debacles are a reminder that there is no “guardian angel of democracy.” Politicians permitting citizens to vote does not assure that election results will receive even a whiff of legitimacy. Once fraud or suspicions of fraud reach a certain level, any election winners will be suspected scoundrels. A U.S. Army colonel who deployed several times to Afghanistan told SIGAR that as early as 2006, the Afghan government had “self-organized into a kleptocracy.” Officials who were stealing everything else never hesitated to steal votes.

Biden, like Obama and George W. Bush, is seeking to make “democracy promotion” a redeeming theme for his presidency. But no Washington pundit, politician, or “expert” who vouched for Afghan democracy should ever be trusted again. The U.S. government will continue meddling in foreign elections as long as American politicians think they can gain influence—or perhaps contracts for their friends or family members. There is no reason to expect Biden’s “democracy promotion” to be any cleaner than his Ukraine policy during the Obama administration.

The collapse of the Afghan government settled any doubts about whether intellectuals are some of Washington’s biggest con artists. They profited mightily by pirouetting as experts with lavish government contracts that produced nothing except windfall profits for overpriced D.C. restaurants. Any think tank or research institute or Beltway Bandit that was honest about Afghanistan being a quagmire for democracy would have been banned from future contracting.

Americans also need to take lessons from the endless lies that Washington told about Afghan democracy. Are U.S. government officials more honest when they talk about American democracy than when they praise sham democracies abroad? Unfortunately, no one is talking of the peril of the “Afghanization” of American democracy.

Source : James Bovard

The Antidemocratic Turn

See large image . . . . . .

Zselyke Csaky wrote . . . . . . . . .

Incumbent leaders and ruling parties are corrupting governance and spreading antidemocratic practices across the region that stretches from Central Europe to Central Asia. These actions are opportunistic, but are often cloaked in an ideological agenda. And as they become increasingly common, they are fueling a deterioration in conditions that will have global implications for the cause of human freedom.

Democracy has never been the only game in town, but for more than two decades after the transitions that ended the Cold War, leaders and politicians continued to pay lip service to the democratic model. Over the past decade, however, amid the erosion of the liberal democratic order and the rise of authoritarian powers, the idea of democracy as an aspirational end point has started to lose currency in many capitals. Existing institutions’ failure to address pressing societal concerns, increasing polarization, and growing inequality have fueled uncertainty and anger, and major democracies’ mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided additional fodder to those interested in exploiting disillusionment with the traditional champions of democratic governance.

In this period of change and discontent, antidemocratic leaders in the region have started to redefine norms and renegotiate the boundaries of acceptable behavior. A contestation that began with Vladimir Putin’s “sovereign democracy” in the mid-2000s, and continued with Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy” a decade later, has expanded, and forms of governance that are decidedly not democratic are taking root. Antidemocratic politicians are also sharing practices and learning from one another, accelerating the turn toward alternatives.

Countries all over the region are turning away from democracy or find themselves trapped in cycle of setbacks and partial recoveries. In the 2021 edition of Nations in Transit, covering the events of 2020, a total of 18 countries suffered declines in their democracy scores; only 6 countries’ scores improved, while 5 countries experienced no net change. This marked the 17th consecutive year of overall decline in Nations in Transit, leaving the number of countries that are designated as democracies at its lowest point in the history of the report.

Antidemocratic norm-setting in Central Europe

Two countries, Poland and Hungary, stand out for their unparalleled democratic deterioration over the past decade. Hungary has undergone the biggest decline ever measured in Nations in Transit, plummeting through two categorical boundaries to become a Transitional/Hybrid Regime last year. Poland is still categorized as a Semiconsolidated Democracy, but its decline over the past five years has been steeper than that of Hungary.

The ruling parties in Budapest and Warsaw have long been emulating each other in cracking down on judicial autonomy, independent media, the civic sector, and vulnerable minority populations. Recently, however, they have moved from attacking the liberal principles that underpin democracy to setting new norms themselves and openly spreading antidemocratic practices.

The Downturn Deepens: The majority of the countries in the NIT region are worse off than they were five years ago
Hungary’s model of media capture, for example, has been openly embraced by likeminded governments in the region. In Serbia, President Aleksandar Vučić and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) have overseen the mainstreaming of smear campaigns and progovernment propaganda, which contributed to the SNS’s sweeping election victory and the formation of a nonrepresentative parliament in 2020. In Slovenia, Prime Minister Janez Janša—who had benefitted from Hungarian investment in the Slovenian media industry—has elevated verbal attacks on journalists to a new level. But this antidemocratic learning process is most visible in Poland, where last year the government used a state-owned energy giant to acquire four-fifths of the country’s regional media outlets and announced plans to impose an advertising tax, which would strip an already ailing private media sector of vital resources. Both of these steps were essentially torn from the playbook of Fidesz, Hungary’s ruling party.

Transfers of antidemocratic norms have also taken place on issues such as the rights of LGBT+ people and abortion. In these cases, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has led the way, deploying hateful rhetoric and mobilizing its base around the fight against what it calls “LGBT and gender ideology.” In the wake of PiS’s successes, including the 2020 reelection of President Andrzej Duda after a homophobic campaign, Hungary’s government similarly elevated attacks on the LGBT+ community to the top of its political agenda, ending the legal recognition of transgender people and amending the constitution to ban adoption by same-sex couples.

The goal of the ruling parties in Hungary and Poland is to legitimize their antidemocratic practices. This is why, after politically subjugating their respective court systems, Fidesz and PiS have started to promote their judicial “innovations” in newly founded law journals. And while their planned “rule of law institute” has yet to get off the ground, they have clearly staked out a position beyond the pale of Europe’s legal norms, challenging the European Union’s rule-of-law enforcement mechanism as “political” and arguing that there is no commonly agreed definition of the rule of law.

Deepening autocracy in Eurasia

The entrenchment and expansion of antidemocratic norms and ideas is not a new phenomenon for the broader region. Such practices and innovations have long been shared between Russia and its neighborhood. Over the past decade, there has been a proliferation of “foreign agents” laws to crack down on civil society, the use of legislation on extremism and counterterrorism to silence political opponents, and the creation of puppet organizations that legitimize authoritarian governments and affirm their sovereignty.

But in Russia and the rest of the Nations in Transit region’s eastern half, this pattern has taken a noticeable turn toward deepening autocratization.

For the first time in the report’s history, Russia’s score on the National Democratic Governance indicator bottomed out, reflecting President Putin’s absolute control after the fraudulent 2020 constitutional referendum and his vicious efforts to silence dissenting voices. The attempted murder of Aleksey Navalny in 2020 and his imprisonment in a notorious penal colony this year was just the most prominent demonstration of the regime’s cruelty. The suppression of protests with unprecedented severity, the extension of the foreign agents law to practically any citizen involved in political activities, and plans to tighten state control over the internet all suggest that the Kremlin is fearful of its critics and determined to secure a choreographed victory in the fall 2021 elections by any means necessary.

Similarly, in Belarus, the brutal crackdown on protests that followed the fraudulent 2020 presidential election represented a significant escalation for Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime. After years of repression punctuated by periods of diplomatic thaw, Lukashenka faced a groundswell of opposition as protesters from all walks of life united behind the prodemocracy candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Yet after months of mass arrests, beatings, torture, and the incarceration of scores of political prisoners, the vision of a more democratic Belarus now seems increasingly distant.

Kyrgyzstan, the only country in Central Asia that was reasonably close to emerging from the category of Consolidated Authoritarian Regimes, experienced a violent and extralegal power grab in 2020 by a political outcast and former prison inmate with links to organized crime. The confirmation of Sadyr Japarov’s rise to the presidency in January 2021, even if he is supported by a significant portion of the population, signals a return to strongman rule, and upcoming changes to the constitution are likely to further fortify his dominant position.

Perhaps the only bright spot in Eurasia was civil society’s incredible resilience in the face of democratic deterioration and the coronavirus pandemic. Organized civic groups, ad hoc grassroots initiatives, and conscientious citizens joined forces to fill the void left by the state in 2020. This exposed the massive governance failures of autocratic regimes while providing the population with much-needed help and hope in a time of crisis.

Reform movements losing steam

Nations in Transit is a catalogue of reform efforts; its methodology is rooted in the assumption that transition away from a nondemocratic system and toward something more democratic is both possible and desirable. Yet 2020 was not a good year for reform, and in many countries where there had been hope for change, much of the momentum seems to have drained away.

In Armenia, the war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has triggered a domestic crisis that risks undoing the success of the 2018 Velvet Revolution. The country’s democracy score declined for the first time since the revolution, and developments to date this year, including tensions between the military and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, demonstrate that the situation could grow worse. In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s reform efforts met with strong resistance from the judiciary as entrenched interests fought to preserve the status quo. The opportunity to uproot Ukraine’s corrupt, oligarchic system is closing, and steps in early 2021, such as the controversial shutdown of oligarch-owned television networks, underscore the difficulty of upholding democratic principles while confronting a stubbornly undemocratic establishment.

In Moldova, the election of Maia Sandu as president in late 2020 raised hopes for change, but her attempts to overcome hostility in the parliament in 2021 have led to protracted political and interinstitutional struggle, which could further weaken democratic safeguards. In Georgia, the opposition’s boycott of 2020 parliamentary elections and the February 2021 arrest of opposition leader Nika Melia clearly demonstrated the end of the country’s recent reform attempts. Georgia’s democracy score is now close to where it was a decade ago, before the current ruling party rode to power on a wave of public frustration with the increasingly autocratic incumbents.

By contrast, in North Macedonia and Uzbekistan, piecemeal efforts have yielded some positive change on the ground, resulting in improvements in the countries’ scores. The reforms in Uzbekistan—including in the agricultural and judicial sectors—are improving citizens’ lives, though they are clearly not aimed at cultivating democracy or allowing genuine political pluralism. In North Macedonia, meanwhile, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s center-left government has repaired some of the institutional damage wrought by his right-wing populist predecessor, and still has a chance to deliver the benefits of democracy.

A success story is especially needed in the Balkans, where democratic gains have been rolled back in most countries. While important transfers of power took place in Montenegro in 2020 and Kosovo in 2021, it is still unclear whether they will lead to an improvement in democratic institutions. And without such institutional transformation, any political opening is extremely difficult to sustain.

Democracies must take the field

The turn away from democracy and toward antidemocratic alternatives in the region will have global implications. The leaders and parties in question are openly demonstrating their rejection of democratic norms, which often comes hand in hand with the adoption and promotion of “authoritarian counter-norms.”

That such steps are taken by elected leaders claiming to act in the national interest—or according to an ideological agenda—can sometimes obscure the underlying reality: the ultimate goal of these practices, from institutional capture to the scapegoating of vulnerable groups, is to keep ruling parties and elites in power indefinitely. If antidemocratic norms are allowed to spread, they will legitimize a broad range of abuses and make life more difficult for millions of people, not just in autocracies but also in the gray zone between democracy and dictatorship.

The challenge faced by democracy’s defenders is significant, but not insurmountable. As antidemocratic leaders grow more ambitious and strategic, it is time for democrats to go beyond simply recognizing the threat. Rather than watching with concern on the sidelines, they need to take the field.

Best practices and lessons learned should be shared among democracies, just as autocrats have been exchanging their ideas. Democratic states also need to coordinate their foreign policies with a focus on core principles, not just security concerns or geopolitical competition. In ailing democracies and hybrid regimes, attention should be concentrated on keeping the door open to progress and buttressing the institutions that facilitate change, primarily the electoral framework and the media. And in authoritarian regimes that are ramping up oppression, democracy advocates will need to enhance monitoring and assist victims of persecution, while preparing to respond to any future opportunity for change.

Ultimately, however, democracies must deliver the benefits of free self-government to their people. Citizens will have to be presented with tangible results to restore trust in the system and build support for the shared mission of defending democratic ideals in an increasingly hostile world.

Source : Freedom House