Democracy’s peril

VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

This 2024, more than half of the globe, or four billion people in 60 countries, will hold an election to choose their leader, making it history’s biggest election year.

Elections are democracy’s finest rite. Yet this year, elections in a number of countries could mean democracy’s demise.

In these elections, autocrats and so-called democrats with authoritarian tendencies are ascendant, with a commanding upper hand over their perceived rivals. You can say that in 2024, democracy as we know it today is in great peril, ironically, thanks to elections.

Among nations choosing their leaders are: India, the world’s largest democracy; Russia, the world’s most resilient autocracy; Indonesia, Asia’s largest democracy; Taiwan, the world’s most strategic island province (China’s claim) and of course, the United States, the world’s most unruly democracy.

Mexico elects a new president June 2, this year for a six-year term to succeed Manuel Lopez Obrador. Said Brookings of Mexico: “Under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a pugnacious and charismatic leader who swept to power in 2018, Mexico’s independent institutions are slowly losing their ability to serve as a counterweight to the executive.” Lopez’s ruling party, Morena, is ahead, 2-to-1.

South Africa will elect a new national assembly this year, its seventh general election since the end of apartheid in 1994. Since then, South Africa has fallen into corruption and inept governance, with basic services undelivered.

With more than 900 million voters out of 1.4 billion people, strongman Narendra Modi, 73, seeks to extend his nine-year reign, to cruise easily to a third successive term as India’s prime minister, becoming the first Indian leader since Nehru to lead his party to three consecutive victories. Modi’s popularity rating is 77 percent.

With an 85 percent approval rating and an expected voter turnout of 67 percent (higher than the US’s), Vladimir Putin seeks a ninth term to make him the longest serving Russian leader since Stalin. Putin’s main rivals are behind bars. The one who challenged Putin recently died in plane crash.

Putin’s victory means extension of the Ukraine war. He has survived Western sanctions in capturing 20 percent of Ukraine. Only America can stop Putin’s retaking of Ukraine, a former Soviet Union republic.

In February, Indonesia chooses the successor to Joko “Jokowi” Widodo with 205 million voting. The hugely effective Jokowi is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.

Joko’s likely successor, ironically for a nation that used to be under the stranglehold of generals, is – a general, Prabowo Subianto, 72, with Jokowi’s eldest son, Gibran, 36, as a strong bet for vice president. Subianto lost to Jokowi in the 2014 and 2019 elections. Pundits say the race could be a tossup with Granjar Pranowo, 54, of Joko’s ruling PDI-P party. Subianto, however, leads surveys, with less than 38 percent.

Taiwan holds its eighth direct presidential election this Jan. 13, Saturday, with Vice President Lai Ching-Te as the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. President Tsai Ing-wen is barred by term limits from running again. The fear is that in 10 years or less, China could invade Taiwan to assert its ownership of the island. Only America can stop that.

To most democrats and to most Filipinos, the election that matters is that of the US. America’s choice is one of sanity vs insanity, democracy vs. despotism.

Warned the New York Times in its Jan. 6, 2024 editorial:

“By now, most American voters should have no illusions about who Mr. Trump is. During his many years as a real estate developer and a television personality, then as president and as a dominant figure in the Republican Party, Mr. Trump demonstrated a character and temperament that render him utterly unfit for high office.

“As president, he wielded power carelessly and often cruelly and put his ego and his personal needs above the interests of his country. Now, as he campaigns again, his worst impulses remain as strong as ever — encouraging violence and lawlessness, exploiting fear and hate for political gain, undermining the rule of law and the Constitution, applauding dictators — and are escalating as he tries to regain power. He plots retribution, intent on eluding the institutional, legal and bureaucratic restraints that put limits on him in his first term.”

The Times noted:

“Mr. Trump does not offer voters anything resembling a normal option of Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, big government or small. He confronts America with a far more fateful choice: between the continuance of the United States as a nation dedicated to ‘the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity’ and a man who has proudly shown open disdain for the law and the protections and ideals of the Constitution.’

“Mr. Trump’s forays into foreign affairs remain dangerously misguided and incoherent. During his presidency, he displayed consistent admiration for autocratic leaders – including Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un – and contempt for our democratic allies. While in the White House, he repeatedly threatened to leave NATO, an alliance critical to the stability of Europe that he sees only as a drain on American resources; now his campaign website says, without elaborating, that he plans to ‘finish’ the process of ‘fundamentally re-evaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission.’

“He has announced his intention to abandon Ukraine, leaving it and its neighbors vulnerable to further Russian aggression. Encouraged by an American president, leaders who rule with an iron fist in Hungary, Israel, India and elsewhere would face far less moral or democratic pressure.

“Mr. Trump has made clear his conviction that only ‘losers’ accept legal, institutional or even constitutional constraints. He has promised vengeance against his political opponents, whom he has called “vermin” and threatened with execution. This is particularly disturbing at a time of heightened concern about political violence, with threats increasing against elected officials of both parties.”

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Email: [email protected]

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