Democracy's Global Impact Resonates Amidst Growing Concerns of Backsliding

Published On: March 6, 2024 08:30 AM NPT By: Rajaram Bartaula

Populism is taking the centre stage on the global sphere while democracy is declining

The year 2024 is becoming an election year in the global arena. An overwhelming 2 billion voters in 50 countries will turn to the polling centres to cast their ballots exercising their universal franchise, a beauty of democracy to elect their representatives to govern. At the forefront is the Presidential race in the United States, where in global political affairs the political pundits are holding their breath to see the outcome of the November election. Former US President Donald Trump who lost against incumbent Joe Biden in the last election is again attempting his bid to regain his lost glory. Despite several legal cases pending in the court with four criminal cases and 91 felony charges, Trump has dared to fight the presidential race. To the surprise of many, he is getting hold in the primaries and possibly, if not obstructed by any legal hurdles, will become the candidate for the November election. Trump, who does not believe in free and fair elections, had instigated his supporters to opt for vandalism in and around the Capitol Hill three years ago after he lost the election.

It has been considered as the rise of populism with a nationalist flavour as well as a deep faith in ultra-nationalism and conservatism then and now occurring everywhere on the global scene. The democratic credential of the USA is also under scanner being shattered by the rise of Trumpism. 

The alliances between Biden and Modi, as well as Trump and Modi during his previous term, were also viewed through the lens of ultranationalism.

When people undergo a sudden change in perspective or shift their stance towards unusual ideas, it may not be an exaggeration to consider that, at the core, these shifts are rooted in genuine concerns and beliefs related to identity, culture, religion, human needs (both physical and psychological), and financial security. Factors such as anomalies in identity and cultural differences, along with various human needs, can influence and impact the way individuals think.

Fundamentalism of any sort becomes present in any doctrine, in defiance of their inherent character, so in a democracy, many elected governments have easily turned into authoritarian over time once they hold the most coveted seat. The former President of India S. Radhakrishnan in his book “Living with Purpose, Turning Dreams into Reality” aptly said that “Democracy is something which is perpetually expanding to the changing aspirations of the people and times, moving forward; if it is not responsive, it is not democracy.”

There is also an election to the European Parliament in June where more than 400 million voters across 27 countries would participate in what is deemed the world’s largest transnational election. It would also have its effects on democratic exercise not only within Europe but also throughout the globe. 

In South Asia, this year happens to be an election year. Elections for the National Assembly and Council were held in Bhutan on November 30, 2023, and 9 January 2024. The People’s Democratic Party with the majority of 30 seats in a 47-seat national assembly has formed a new government in Bhutan. Voters’ interest in political change has been reflected with popular support for a new party led by Lotay Tshering. 

In an election held on 8 February 2024 in Pakistan, which was followed by controversies marred by allegations of large-scale rigging in the election, Shabaz Sariff, President of the Pakistan Muslim League Party has been elected as Prime Minister in alliance with the PPP. Around 48 percent of 128 million registered voters cast their ballots for National Assembly and Provincial Assembly. Interestingly, following the ban of PTI from contesting elections and using its election symbol, the candidates contested as independents and won 93 seats. 

The story of Bangladesh is also not different concerning electoral strategy to win and using electoral methods for barring oppositions to gain in elections. The 12th General election in Bangladesh was held on January 7, 2024, despite protests and boycotts from 18 opposition parties. In the election, the incumbent prime minister’s party the Bangladesh Awami League secured a two-third majority and formed the government for the fourth consecutive term.

Here too, the turn-out was a meagre 41 percent. Along with the foreign observers, some nations including the USA and the UK criticized the election as not credible, free and fair because of the use of intimidation and violence during the electoral campaign.

In April-May of this year, India, the world’s largest democracy, is also having a general election for the 18th Lok Sabha, since the tenure of the 17th Lok Sabha is going to end on 16 June 2024. The incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been at the helm of the governing seat since 2014, it would be interesting to see the election result and whether the story repeats as the popularity of BJP has not diminished but rather increased among the masses. To unseat Modi from power, the 29 opposition parties have formed an electoral alliance with the acronym I.N.D.I.A. With a staggering 900 million voters, the fate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi hangs in the balance.

Taking into consideration the trend of elections anywhere in the world, intolerance toward the opposition parties has become a common stand within a democratically elected government.

Upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that in South Asian countries with elected democratic governments, instances arise where leaders, driven by their narrow party interests, tend to adopt authoritarian practices. This often involves initiating investigations into corruption or criminal charges, leading to purges specifically targeting opposition party leaders. This trend is observable in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India.

The situation of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in Bangladesh, PTI in Pakistan and Congress in India are similar to marginalization.

The reluctance of people towards voting may indicate their dissatisfaction and displeasure with the functioning of democracy, governance, or what is often referred to as capitalism or liberalism.

Low turnout of voters is an indication of voters’ distrust towards democracy. The elected representatives need to examine the causes and effects of the sustainability of democratic value and practice.

At a time when the Western form of capitalism and the Chinese model of state-sponsored socialism are competing for global dominance to prove their supremacy, the low voter turnout at the polling centres is, in fact, a matter of concern for the democratic dispensation and its principles. Meanwhile, the socialists have come up with the idea that “another world is possible.” During the “World Social Forum, 2024” held in Nepal in February with the participation of 92 countries, the participants discussed the issues of neoliberalism and capitalism. For them, the authoritarian model of governance led by China is more attractive than liberal democracy.

In conclusion, populism is taking the centre stage on the global sphere while democracy is declining. Nepal is not an exception, where the influence of the grand old democratic party is marginally declining from the popular base and populists and communists are gaining their hold on mass combined with scattered communists votes making the majority in the House of Representatives.



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