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Is Democracy in Global Retreat?

The word Democracy is derived from the Greek word "dēmokratia" which was derived from the phrases dēmos (people) and kratos (rule)1. Democracy, which simply translates "rule by the people" gives citizens more authority to assert political influence over the structure and operations of their government. Although democracies have many different forms, they all share the same elements, including competitive elections, freedom of speech, and the protection of civil freedoms and human rights2.

However, it has been seen that democracy is waning globally as a result of different incidents. Many parts of the world are displaying signs of shifting toward authoritarian or non-democratic political systems3. This is the first time in the 50 years that it has tracked democratic indicators in what is now around 160 countries that the number of nations going in the direction of authoritarianism is three times more than those moving in the direction of democracy4.

Liberal democracy is evolving into popular democracy in a number of nations, losing its liberal connotation. In other cases, it is falling so drastically short of what the Greeks characterized as a kakistocracy-the rule of the least qualified or capable citizens-in terms of representation, planification, and accountability.

On the other hand, it is true that democracy still retains a strong international appeal despite all of its flaws, and even the majority of authoritarian regimes assert that they are democratic because they believe they represent the interests of the people as a whole and have created the most cutting-edge strategies for winning over the populace.

What Is Democracy?

Democracy is one of the key factors, according to the United Nations. The UN Commission on Human Rights identified certain fundamental components of democracy in 2002, which are listed below:
  • Respect for fundamental freedoms and Human Rights
  • Freedom of association
  • Freedom of expression and opinion
  • Access to power and its exercise in accordance with the rule of law
  • The holding of periodic free and fair elections by universal suffrage and by secret ballot as the expression of the will of the people
  • A pluralistic system of political parties and organizations
  • The separation of powers
  • The independence of the judiciary
  • Transparency and accountability in public administration
  • Free, independent and pluralistic media. 5
According to the UN, the foundation for democracy is founded on "global principles, norms, and standards, with an emphasis on the mentioned parameters that have been universally agreed upon.

Is Democracy At Risk?

In a thorough analysis published in November 2021, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)6 described how many democratic nations began implementing authoritarian policies in a rush as a result of the Covid 19 epidemic.

The survey looked at 165 nations using five key metrics mentioned herein below:
" representative government; fundamental rights; checks on government; impartial administration and participatory engagement"7

Additionally, the study indicated that in 2020, authoritarian approaches were adopted in more nations than democratic ones; this tendency was accelerated and aggravated by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Brazil, India, the United States, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia are among some countries that IDEA listed as having seen democratic "backsliding." The previous ten years have seen the highest number of nations experiencing a democratic backslide.

More than 30% of the world's population lives in major, democratically regressing nations. In actuality, 70% of the world's population presently resides in nations with undemocratic governments or with declining democratic standards. Only 9% of the world's population resides in democracies that are functioning well8.

Backsliding democracies as opposed to outright authoritarian regimes, employ parliamentary majorities won via initially free and fair elections and there is widespread support for the gradual destruction of checks on authority, freedom of expression, a free press, and minority rights from within the democratic system. Oftentimes, this democratic reversal proceeds slowly.

There are several factors that contribute to democratic decline and are mentioned below: 9
  1. Significant rise in the number of populist and illiberal parties in power:
    The features of elected governance, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, and freedom of movement all suffer during times when such administrations are in power.
     
  2. Political and cultural fragmentation is rising, while support for democracy is declining:
    Countries that have severe political divisions, harsh political disputes, and low levels of general support for democracy are more likely to experience democratic backsliding. Political parties that employ hate speech or spread untrue information throughout their campaigns serve to intensify this.

    Moreover, Public disapproval of democracy may be related to governments' perceived incapacity to address social needs, views of inadequate governmental competence in addressing the impacts of the economic crisis, corruption, and inequality, or increasingly hostile political conflicts eroding the legitimacy of democratic structures.
     
  3. Economic Turmoil:
    This is one factor connected to democratic support declining and democracy retreating. The start and persistence of democratic backsliding are facilitated by reduced and declining economic growth rates.
     
  4. Challenge to strike a balance between public safety and freedom of speech:
    In today's world, digital media plays a significant role in politics, and a number of countries are constantly battling to address a variety of issues such as worrying and fake news, foreign governments' use of social platforms to sway public opinion, data privacy and security, and the firm's monopoly and lack of transparency.


Is Indian Democracy At Stake?

In their book To Kill a Democracy10 Debasish Roy Chowdhury and John Keane offer a somber account of how the nation's democratic government has been slowly deteriorating over the past several decades. Moreover, the authors persuasively contend that India may be trapped in an unstoppable decline toward autocracy with a democratic fašade unless present developments are either reversed or restrained.

For instance, Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest and tribal rights advocate who had been detained on the questionable suspicion of having connections to India's Maoist rebels, passed away on July 4th, 2021 in a Mumbai hospital as a result of complications with covid-19. He had caught the virus while he was detained for several months while his case was being investigated. He was regularly denied bail by Indian courts.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), India's leading counter-terrorism agency, instructed them to proceed with their instructions. As a result, Nationwide demonstrations regarding the judiciary and NIA's indifference were sparked by Swamy's demise. Swamy's unfortunate death while in detention serves as an example of some of the numerous problems that India's democracy is currently experiencing. One such flaw is that the previously fiercely independent judiciary now submits to the whims of the executive branch11.

Another instance illustrating the demise of democracy in India is when in the 2014 national elections, there were sixteen fatalities and up to 2,000 injuries. And the flaws with the electoral system are widespread: Due to India's poor electoral regulations and lack of public campaign finance, the amount of black money in both national and state elections has escalated, further jeopardizing the integrity of the voting process.

People all across the world still adhere to the notion of democracy even after it has been decimated. By funding democracy education at all levels, government institutions, civil society, and the media can reduce the threat of authoritarianism and the degradation of democracy.

Participatory Engagement
The key to limiting the danger of disruption in the next few years and restoring democracy in the long term is to guarantee that democratic channels of communication and accountability between states and citizens are resurrected, scaled up, and formalized through new channels as well as conventional elections. In order to ensure that such connection is available, initiatives for spreading digital access to the most remote regions must be included.

It will be a mandate in certain nations to modify the binding norm between citizens and the government, since such a process based on wide involvement would result in a framework that is more citizen oriented and publicly respectable. Citizens are more inclined to follow regulations if they have a say in their formulation, and there will be motivation to safeguard their own integrity. Chile is a particularly promising example12 of this, demonstrating how new social contracts may be redesigned to suit prevailing social demands.

Conclusion
Democracy, which is gradually emerging from Covid-19, is at a juncture. On the one hand, the survival of democratic ideals and governance is at stake in a more authoritarian world, which is characterized not just by increased repression in existing authoritarian circumstances but also by democratic nations' adoption of conventionally authoritarian methods.

The majority of governments and citizens, on the other hand, are starting to realize that democracy must adapt and revive itself for future generations as they will encounter a variety of challenges, such as rising inequality and climate change. Also, in order to ensure the survival of basic political freedoms, there are many innovations and reforms being implemented.

Democracies must come forward, reclaim their strengths, and demonstrate to the rest of the world why democratic administration is the greatest alternative in order to overcome the current difficulties and provide more tenable circumstances for a durable, inclusive, and responsible recovery. The changes must be put into place in order to appropriately deliver the services necessary for upholding human dignity and enabling individuals to accomplish their goals.

References:
  1. Available at : https://www.britannica.com/topic/democracy/The-Roman-Republic ( last visited on June 28, 2022)
  2. Robert Longley, "What is democracy? Available at:
    https://www.thoughtco.com/democracy-definition-and-examples-5084624 (last visited on June 28, 2022
  3. Andrew Hammond, " Why democracy is in retreat across the globe", Available at: https://www.arabnews.com/node/1975496 (last visited on June 28, 2022)
  4. Supra
  5. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/democracy (last visited on June 30, 2022)
  6. Available at: https://lordslibrary.parliament.uk/democracy-under-threat-a-case-for-co-ordinated-action/ (last visited on July 1, 2022)
  7. Supra
  8. International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. "The Global State of Democracy 2021, Building Resilience in a Pandemic Era", pp.6, 2021
  9. Supra
  10. To Kill a Democracy: India's Passage to Despotism. By Debasish Roy Chowdhury and John Keane. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021. 320 pp.
  11. Sumit Ganguly, "India's Endangered Democracy", 32 Journal of Democracy 174-77 (2021)
  12. Supra note 8 at 3

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