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Democratic recession continues

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08th-Mar-2019       
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Bappi Mea :
It has been over 21 years ago in 1997 famous Indian-American journalist, author and popularly known CNN's GPS(Global Public Square) show host Fareed Zakaria introduced the term 'illiberal democracy' in the November-December issue of the Foreign Affairs journal with the headline- "the rise of illiberal democracy". Now it seems that day by day that term is getting popularized and higher relevant in world politics especially in the discussion of democracy in 21st century. Beside this, now terms like 'democratic autocracy', 'pseudo democracy', 'hybrid regime', 'competitive authoritarianism', 'electoral authoritarianism' and most exclusively 'dominant party system(DPS)' are also well known to us who regularly follow on the democracy issue. So, why these yummy and interesting words getting much relevant to the time we are passing through? Why these words are being buzzwords and what are the reasoning behind this? Aren't these indicating that we are going through an actual democratic retreat?
First of all, this is always a hard task and also risky to define democracy or it has no universal definition. I'm not going to define that here but of course there are some pillars or features upon which democracy stands and by this approach one can assume what democracy actually refers to.
Over the century democracy has been defined as 'liberal democracy' in the west and liberal democracy is defined as a political structure marked by the preservation of fundamental freedom and fundamental rights, rule of law, separation of power, free-fair and credible election, functional parliament with strong opposition, democratic pluralism, decentralization of power and of course preservation of public opinion and freedom of media as well as being non-belligerent to other countries.
These are the regulative ideals of a democracy. When any of these pillars being collapsed or retreated, illiberalism starts from that point and on the dosage of this retreat it expand from illiberalism to pseudo democracy, hybrid regime, dominant party system to democratic autocracy etc. And by this process, democratic recession continues through endangering the future of mankind's freedom and emancipation.
Fareed Zakaria in that time before 21 years ago gave example of the then illiberal democracy alleging Belarus and Kazakhstan as near tyrannies to Argentina as a modest criminal. In today's perspectives, there will be so many countries' governments alleged for illiberal democracy with its inherent feature of taking place election regularly but the citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties as it is not an open society.
 It is not just happening in the third world's unripe democracy like Bangladesh but also going on in the fertile land of democracy like the present United States(USA) under Donald J Trump or France under Emmanuel Macron.
This wave is extending from Asia-Africa to Europe and America. If we just consider alone the countries what are itself 'by name' democracy in Asia like India under Narendra Modi regime, Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte, China under Xi Jinping, Pakistan and Myanmar under the real rule of military juntas -- all are contributing to the recession with the severe allegation of human rights violation, censorship on media and politics of populism & identity. On the other hand, the whole Africa is passing through acute crisis in democracy with ruler like Joseph Kabila of the DR Congo (DRC) who has been in forced power for continuous 17 years. Alongside of this, in USA under Trump who is manipulating state power playing the politics of populism and identity, in the birthplace of democracy in Europe where Macron of France showing intolerance to the opposition e.g. violence in the recent Yellow Vest movement, Victor Orban of Hungary who is in power using force since 2010, rising authoritarianism of Erdogan in Turkey or the super rising authoritarianism in Russia under Putin.
There are many more examples despite these selected some. According to the 2018 report of the US based research institution Freedom House, among the 195 countries of the world 25% are not free, 30% are partly free and 45% are free (Freedom House 2018).
They headlined the report 'democracy in crisis'. On the other side, the research division Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of the UK based weekly Economist conducted research on 167 countries in 2018. According to them, the number of full democracy in 2017 is only 19, flawed democracy 57, hybrid regimes 31 and authoritarian regimes are 52 (EIU-2018).
So, overall why these crises are happening? Recently a book 'How democracies die: What history reveals about our future' has been written by two Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt and in this brainstorming book they showed how democracy dies in any country in this era.
 In an abstract of this book they wrote that today democracy usually no more dies in the hand of military junta but it happens through voting ballots!  Nowadays in many countries elections are held in a circumstance where constitution and other democratic institutions are lived only by name and by this way elected authoritarians come and they kill democracy; a quasi or pseudo democracy being present there.
The retreat in cooperation, crisis of affirmative social capital, unwillingness to politics, politics of identity, shortage of civic education and decline of middle class etc finally working behind the democratic recession. To overcome the scenario a U-turn in the area of crisis must happen as well as justice in the social distribution must come. After all, democracy isn't the oppression by majority; it is about a culture of tolerance, equal treatment of law, transparency and accountability of the ruling authority as well as it is about the slogan-'let us agree to disagree'.
There is no short cut solution to overcome this recession.  In this regard, Ali Riaz- a distinguished professor of politics at Illinois State University, USA said in 2018 that "only continuous exercise can ensure a flawless and more effective democracy and there is no alternative of democracy as it is the most flexible system that allows to take wrong steps and to change that also".

(Bappi Mea, Undergraduate Student, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka)

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