Democracy strikes back
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - December 3, 2019 - 12:00am

Front page and headline news in the main and social media last week was the local elections in Hong Kong, wherein the pro-democracy candidates won 90% of the council seats with a 70% voter turnout. This came after five months of protest demonstrations, some of which were violent that were condemned by Beijing, overseas Chinese, and some HK business people. This was followed by the signing by US president Donald Trump of a bi-partisan US law supporting the HK democracy which imposes economic sanctions if there are human rights violations and anti-democratic initiatives by the HK government.

Elsewhere, around the world like in Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Iraq, Lebanon, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe, protests and demonstrations against corruption, and lack of public services are continuing. In Lebanon and Iraq, the prime ministers resigned, and in Zimbabwe the public doctors protested the inadequate/deplorable health services in the country which is nearing genocidal conditions. There were a short-lived protest demonstrations in Russia and Turkey, and in the developed countries in Europe and Scandinavia, protests on climate change are happening sporadically. It seems, in the last 12 months, many people from many countries have found their voices and are expressing them.

The reasons for this activism, are economic, social, and political. For the developing countries, the declining living conditions and the unfulfilled promises of populist leaders are major reasons. These are aggravated by the reach of the internet which allows 61% of the people in the world to know and be aware of the living conditions in other countries. The failures and excesses of their government are coming out in the open and feeds on dissatisfaction. The internet promotes and advances transparency, and transparency leads to accountability which exposes the conflict of interests of politicians and government officials. Another reason is the push of some populist governments toward more authoritarian rule to control the people. There is a natural push back by the people who have experienced democracy, freedom of expression, and other liberties. In fact, the classic response of governments to restrict or shut down the internet during demonstrations and protests, actually fuel more protest actions, as the digital space is also the medium used by the protesters to gain sympathizers and coordinate the actions and venue of the demonstrations.

While only 50% of the countries and the people in the world are enjoying democratic space, the massive information distribution and dissemination by digital technology is the strike back for democracy. Even the controlled press and internet access in authoritarian states like Russia, China and some Middle Eastern and eastern European countries are leaking. The extremely confidential China policy on the Uighur detention camps, the influence of Iran on Iraq’s politics, and Russia’s meddling in the US elections, have become public knowledge. Authoritarian and especially totalitarian regimes will always restrict the access to information of their people, but as market freedom and liberties are allowed to grow their economies, digital internet access will increase and socio-political awareness and reforms will have to follow.

As the song from “Les Miserables” goes. “Do you hear the people sing/ Singing a song of angry men/ It is the music of a people/ Who will not be slaves again/ When the beating of your heart/ Echoes the beating of the drums/ There is a life about to start/ When tomorrow comes/ Will you join in our crusade/ Who will be strong and stand with me/ Beyond the barricade/Is there a world you long to see/ Then join in the fight/ That will give you the right to be free.”

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