Discussion on the decline of democracy

Democracy Goes into Reverse

In many of these regionally important countries, the decline of democ-

racy has been so sharp that it has shocked people who lived through the

initial period of demo cratization. In the Philippines in the 1980s, crowds of

nonviolent Filipinos thronging Manila’s Edsa Avenue invented the “people

power” movement that inspired uprisings from the “color revolutions” in

Eastern Eu rope and Central Asia to the Ira ni an Green Movement of 2009,

to the Arab Spring of 2011, which swept through Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and

other nations. Now, as one demo cratically elected Philippine government

after the next becomes mired in corruption and self- dealing, Filipinos are

increasingly disenchanted with demo cratic rule.50

African nations that had made major progress in the previous de cade

also have regressed badly. Kenya, where, after the rule of longtime dictator

Daniel arap Moi, many people believed that the country— the wealthiest

and most globalized in east Africa— would become a vibrant democracy,

has collapsed into interethnic battles and newly repressive governments.

This decline is being repeated in Nigeria, the most vital nation in west

Africa. In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, who had amassed enormous pop u lar

goodwill for ending confl icts and rebuilding the economy after the disas-

trous regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin, had promised to only serve

only four years when he became president in 1986. Yet he kept fi nding

reasons to stick around, until he fi nally forced through a constitutional re-

write in 2005 that removed presidential term limits altogether.51 By 2011,

after he won another presidential term in a fraudulent election, his security

forces had to repeatedly clear the streets of Kampala with massive shows of

force.

Under Vladimir Putin and his protégé Dmitri Medvedev, Rus sia,

which in the 1990s had developed a vibrant media and a robust if chaotic

democracy that provided an example to many other former Soviet states, has

discovered a nostalgia for Soviet repression. The last truly in de pen dent Rus-

sian po liti cal party, the Union, or Right Forces, merged with pro- Kremlin

parties several years ago, leaving virtually no opposition in the Duma.52

“Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the basic idea that po liti cal

opposition is a useful, legitimate po liti cal phenomenon remains remarkably

weak in much of the [post- Soviet] region,” noted Thomas Carothers of the

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in a study of democracy’s

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Democracy Goes into Reverse 23

global challenges. “Dominant po liti cal elites treat po liti cal opposition as

inherently disloyal.”53

By 2009, according to an analysis by Freedom House, the former Soviet

Union was one of the least free regions of the world—- even before Putin

announced that he would again be taking total control of Rus sia, the most

important post- Soviet state.54 Belarus, the country closest to Rus sia po liti-

cally and culturally, fl irted with reform but, by the end of the 2000s, had

retreated into an authoritarian, statist regime little different from the

Belarus of the early 1990s. Its long- serving leader, Alexander Lukashenko,

won reelection in 2010 with a farcical 80 percent of the vote; protesters who

gathered to demonstrate, sometimes simply by standing in public places and

sarcastically clapping their hands, were beaten and jailed.55 Two of the

greatest hopes for the former Soviet states, Georgia and Ukraine, also are

going backward, with Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, installing

Putinesque policies that crushed any opposition and resulted in the arrests

and jailing of many politicians, including, in the summer of 2011, the oppo-

sition leader and former presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, who was

given seven years in prison in a trial that was clearly predetermined. Along

with Tymoshenko’s trial, the Ukrainian government passed new mea sures

giving the president nearly unlimited powers and curtailing the country’s

vibrant civil society, and launched investigations of eleven other opposition

fi gures. Yanukovych simultaneously emasculated the Ukrainian parliament,

made much of the country’s court system subordinate to his decrees, and had

the country’s constitution altered to give the president domineering power.56

In Asia, other supposed success stories have regressed as well. The

Malaysian government, which once had vowed to uphold total freedom for

online media in order to promote the country as a high- tech hub, began

developing new ways to censor both the print and the online media. The

regime started arresting po liti cal opponents, whistleblowers, and civil soci-

ety leaders, including opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who himself faced

jail on dubious charges of sodomizing an aide.57 (Anwar ultimately was

acquitted and then hit with new charges related to or ga niz ing a po liti cal

protest.) Once such people are in custody, strange things can happen. In July

2009, a man named Teoh Beng Hock visited the offi ces of the country’s

anticorruption commission in order to testify about witnessing the misuse of

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